30 Million Germans Can Be Wrong

While writing the last post, I was about to insert a sentence about the Tagesthemen news broadcast aired last Thursday between the first and secocnd half of the Germany-France soccer match. However, I couldn't find it in time.

But now I have!

As I watched the news segment about the recent killings of two black men by police, I practically did a spit-take when the voice-over narration stated (here (g) at about 7:00) that "black men are 9 times more likely to be shot by police than whites". As the last post shows, that certainly can't be right. Yet it was broadcast to something like 30 million (g) Germans, most of whom surely swallowed it like the credulous lemmings they are.

The assertion in the German TV news was probably based on this Guardian article, which notes that young black males were nine times more likely to be shot by police than other population groups. But that statement is completely meaningless on its own, unless you live in a world in which 75-year-old grandmothers are as likely to commit rape, armed robbery, or assault as 21-year-old men. (If you do, you have my condolences).

Why might it be the case that young black males are more often the target of police violence? If you guessed that one reason might be that they commit more crimes, you are right. Here is a graph from The Color of Crime, a survey published by a nativist-conservative website in the US (As with all websites, I don't endorse everything you might find there, but I have never seen a critique of this report as inaccurate):

Fig-5Blacks make up 13% of the population, but nationwide account for approximately 50% of murder suspects and convicted murderers. That is, they commit murder at a rate almost four times higher than their representation in the population. And the comparison with arrest rates in other racial groups is shown by the chart above. In New York City, blacks were arrested for murder at a rate 30.9 times higher than whites.

Not 30.9 percent higher, 30.9 times higher.

Even if you attributed 2/3 of this disparity solely to biased policing, multiple arrests, arrests which didn't result in conviction, etc. (absurdly unlikely, given that murders universally have the highest clearance rates and the most reliable convictions of all crimes), there would still be a staggering racial disparity. And the disparity in shootings -- unlawfully firing a gun -- is almost 100 times.

The racial disparity in criminal offending varies from region to region, and it is smaller than New York's in many regions. But it is very large -- a matter of multiples, not percents -- everywhere in the USA. And everywhere measurements are made, young black males top the list of social groups most likely to commit violent crimes.

Anyone who discusses biased policing in the USA without mentioning these uncomfortable facts is playing you for a sucker.


America: Still Not on the Brink of Civil War

Every time there's a controversial police killing in the US, Angstlust and Schadenfreude combine into a moist throbbing supernova in the bowels of German journalists, and the only release is to ejaculate yet another think-piece onto the pages of some newspaper: The United States is self-immolating, a failed state, teetering on the brink of civil war.

And yet, every time, America somehow survives. This never stops the next prediction, of course. As the old joke about economists go, Germans have predicted 492 of the last zero collapses of American civilization. Whoops, I meant "civilization".

And America's going to survive this week as well!

A few numbers to put things into perspective:

In 2015, 258 black people were killed by US police, representing over 26% of deaths.

For 2016, the trend seems similar. As of July 7, US police have shot dead 509 people this year, of whom 123 were black.
 
Even counting only the deaths of black people who were unarmed, the results are staggering. A conservative count puts that death toll at 38, right in line with the average during Jim Crow.

These statistics are taken from an article which is intended to compare current numbers of blacks being killed by police to the number of lynchings back when racial segregation ('Jim Crow' laws) was the law of the land.

But what they also do is highlight a few facts which will be unknown to the average German. First, that the overwhelming majority of people shot dead by the police in the United States are not black. Second, the majority of black people killed by the police were armed

Let's take the number 258 black people killed in the USA in 2015. The black population of the United is 42 million, more than half the entire population of Germany. Dividing 258 by 42 million yields a number so tiny it is expressed by scientific notation. The chance that a black person will be killed by the police in any given year is microscopic. Since the majority of the people killed by the police -- including black people -- are armed, the number of unarmed black people killed by police is even smaller.

It may still be too high, of course. Some of these police killings, no matter who the victim is, could be prevented by better training and equipment. Even confrontations with armed suspects should not have to end in death or serious injury. Many American police departments, like the Dallas police department, are changing policies to emphasize de-escalation, with some success.

But the image gleefully propagated by mainstream German media -- that black Americans can't leave their houses without fear of being gunned down by cops for no reason -- is false. And pace all those dull conformists in the German media, America's not going to melt down this time, either.

And one other thing, German journos -- you should know that Germany's quaint 19th-century laws on image protection make it illegal to broadcast videos excessive force by German cops. When it comes to police accountability and transparency, the US is light-years ahead of backward, insular Germany. Funny how German journalists never seem to notice this.

 


Random Crime by Migrants and Trust in Strangers

Anyone who grew up in the US during the crime wave of the 1970s-1990s learned never to open the door to strangers. If a stranger knocked at your front door claiming to need help, you were supposed to communicate with them through the door, and offer to call help. That's all. Criminals often faked accidents to gain access to homes, then robbed, raped, and/or murdered the occupants. As in this case. Of course these incidents were rare. Certainly 99% of the time, the people knocking at your door genuinely needed help.

But what if you opened the door to the 1%? Humans make decisions based on rare, spectacular, and recent risks. One random crime by a stranger has more effect on society than a thousands crimes committed by people who know each other.

Which brings us to the latest random murder committed by a recent migrant in Germany. The suspect is a Pakistani man who has been in Germany for 3 years. So far, there is no information about why he was allowed to stay that long. He has already compiled a criminal record. A week ago, he gained access to the home of a 70-year-old woman who lived near his migrant shelter in Bad Friedrichshall. He then beat her to death (g), stole property from the home, and left messages in English and Arabic in the home. Police say there is no evidence of any connection between the suspect and victim. DNA evidence ties him to the scene, as well as his possession of property stolen from the home. There were no signs of a break-in, suggesting the woman let him into her house.

Germany who visit the USA are often shocked by how inhospitable Americans are to strangers knocking at their door -- especially when the homeowner shoots at someone he thinks was a threat.

Now that Germany has imported tens of thousands of career criminals and mentally unstable persons from the Middle East and North Africa -- and spread them throughout the country -- Germans are going to have to unlearn their touching trust in strangers. It'll happen slowly, like the proverbial frog in boiling water. But once it's gone, everybody will notice.

Welcome to 1980s America, Germany. You're not going to like it.


A Fine Article About Justice in Texas

I’ve been hard on many German journalists who report on the USA. Sometimes tough love, sometimes tough hate! The cardinal sin of German reporters is not getting facts straight and not correcting mistakes even after I or someone else points them out.

The venial sin – by no means limited to coverage of the USA – is telling us what they think about everything they report. I know you have a lot of profoundly civilized feelings about guns or prisons or the death penalty or racism, Maximilian or Felicitas, but they don't interest me. I neither know nor care very much who you are. Tell us what you saw and heard, not what you think about it, and certainly not what you think we should think about it.

That’s why it’s a pleasure to recommend this fine in-depth piece (g) by Andreas Ross about a ‘drug court’ in Dallas, Texas. The point is to single out those criminals whose basic problem is drug addiction, and to divert them into an alternative program designed to keep them straight and out of jail. It’s still pretty strict – participants have to pass constant random drug tests and can be summarily thrown in jail if they mess up – but it’s been effective. And keeps people out of Texas prisons, which have a deservedly awful reputation. The author drills down into the subject, lets people speak for themselves, and stays in the background, where you always find the best reporters.

Well done!


200 Break-Ins and Still Going

A few weeks ago I posted a scholarly paper from 2011 noting that overall in Europe, crime rates have been increasing over the past few decades, while they've been decreasing in the USA. The authors of the paper put forward some tentative explanations for why this might be, and one of them was that (1) sending people to prison does deter crime, and (2) Europe doesn't imprison enough people. I like the contrarian aspect here: the United States earns a lot of criticism from Europeans for being too harsh on criminals (much of it justified) , but what if Europe is being too lenient?

Which brings us to a recent news story (g) from Hofheim, a burg in the German state of Hessen. A 30-year-old man heard suspicious noises in the basement of his apartment building, went down to investigate, and found a burglar rummaging around there. The burglar had a screwdriver with him. The man punched the burglar a few times and held him until police arrived. The man is going to be charged with assault, but may be able to plead self-defense.

The police note that you are allowed to detain someone in this situation, but not assault them. Of course, they advise residents who find a burglar to dial the police emergency number 110, not to confront them. But 85% of residential burglaries in Germany go unsolved, and burglaries are increasing. And even if the police find the criminal, that hardly guarantees you'll get your property back. So if the guy leaves before the police arrive, you can probably give up hope of finding anything he stole. Under these circumstances, how can you blame someone for wanting to stop the burglar right away? 

Which brings us to the perpetrator in the Hofheim case, a 17-year-old who, according to police, has already compiled a record of over 200 property crimes, including break-ins, bike thefts, and the like. That's not a typo, 200. Like all mainstream German press reports about crime, this one is almost tauntingly vague about details. In particular, we learn nothing more about the burglar or why, in particular, he is still free after committing 200 crimes.

But shouldn't that be the first question anyone asks? Presumably each individual crime was not considered serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence, particularly for a 17-year-old. And apparently German law lacks the facility to take into account a history and pattern of crime when sentencing an offender for each fresh offense. That's my guess, but if you've got more information, I'd be happy to have it.

This is why I don't get as excited about the Bild tabloid as many people I know. I can easily imagine a headline with the blurred-out picture of the young man: '200 Thefts -- And the Court's Can't or Won't Stop Him!' The breathless headline would immediately be condemned by Bild critics as pandering to Joe Sixpack's ignorant lust for revenge. And if the thief is named Ali S. or Mehmet G., xenophobia as well.

But if it is the case that the justice system is not taking property crimes seriously -- and a 15% clearance rate and 17-year-old roaming about with a record of 200 thefts seems to show it isn't -- this is an important policy issue. There should be a debate about this, and police and judges should be confronted and forced to respond about why they are apparently unable to protect citizens' property. If the 'respectable' press won't do this, then only Bild will bother.


Violent Crime is More Common in Europe than the USA

An interesting 2011 paper looks at crime rates since 1970 in the United States and 8 major European countries. The authors, mostly Italian, come to a conclusion that will surprise many people: Europe has become more dangerous than the United States: 

In 1970 the aggregate crime rate in the seven European countries we consider was 63% of the corresponding US figure, but by 2007 it was 85% higher than in the United States. This striking reversal results from a steady increase in the total crime rate in Europe during the last 40 years, and the decline in the US rate after 1990. The reversal of misfortunes is also observed for property and violent crimes.

A few charts:

Crime Rates in the USA and Europe Violent crimes usa europe
An important caveat is that these numbers exclude homicide. The US homicide rate is currently 3-4 times higher than in most European countries. As I've pointed out, this fact is due mostly to two factors: the extremely high rate of black-on-black homicide in the US (52% of all persons arrested in the USA for homicide are black), and of course the wide prevalence of guns in the USA.

Homicide is actually not terribly relevant to public safety. It's much more rare than all other violent crimes, and is overwhelmingly concentrated among certain subgroups. Most homicides occur within an existing relationship, and many others occur among criminal subgroups such as gangs or drug users. The chance of an ordinary European or American being murdered by a stranger in a crime of opportunity is infinitesimally small.

As for general background violence in society, Europe is, statistically, more dangerous. It's interesting to speculate about why this might be. I suspect mass hooligan confrontations between football fans probably plays some rule: Every weekend there are dozens of unruly confrontations between rival football fans which may generate dozens of arrests at once. But still, these have been going on for quite a while.

The authors of the study perform statistical analyses to try to determine why European crime has increased. They do not identify immigration as a significant factor, although they say this is mainly for lack of data. The one factor they do identify as significant is length of incarceration. They argue that Europe's comparatively lenient criminal-sentencing regimes help to explain the crime increase. They find that length of criminal sentence does have an effect on crime rates, and suggest that Europe should increase prison sentences.

At the end of the day, the universal rule for all developed societies holds: crime is concentrated among poor and minority areas, and if you avoid these, your chances of being the victim of a violent crime are minimal. But still, anyone who praises Europe as safer than the USA needs to update their stereotypes.


Why does Sweden Have One of the Highest Sexual Assault Rates in the World?

Every year when comparative crime statistics are updated, there's a head-scratcher: why does the nation of Sweden have one of the the highest rates of sexual assault in the world? The Wikipedia article "Rape in Sweden" consists of little other than a long series of convoluted explanations for this puzzling state of affairs, including expansive legal definitions of sexual assault, awareness campaigns to encourage reporting, and other factors. The problem, of course, is that all Nordic countries have similar cultural and legal environments, but Sweden's rate of sexual assault is 6 or 7 times higher than all neighboring countries. According to a Gatestone Institute report by Swedes Ingrid Carlqvist and Lars Hedegaard:

[I]n 2008, Sweden's neighbor Denmark only had 7.3 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 53.2 in Sweden?

Danish legislation is not very different from Sweden's, and there is no obvious reason why Danish women should be less inclined to report rape than their Swedish counterparts.

In 2011, 6,509 rapes were reported to the Swedish police -- but only 392 in Denmark. The population of Denmark is about half the size of Sweden's, so even adjusted for size, the discrepancy is significant.

The report cites a statistic from the Swedish National Council on Crime Prevention that 58% of these sexual assaults were by strangers, which is a lot. The report goes on to suggest a different explanation for Sweden's dubious distinction: immigration. This is total immigration and emigration from Sweden for the past 150 years:

900px-Invandrare_utvandrare_Sverige_1850-2007.svg

After observing that Sweden, like many other European countries, does not keep records on the ethnicity of criminals (how can you be accused of discrimination when you don't keep the numbers that would reveal it?), the Gatestone Report notes that there have been a few -- very few -- academic studies on the prevalence of sexual assaults by immigrant Swedes. The ones that were performed came to rather startling conclusions:

Since 2000, there has only been one research report on immigrant crime. It was done in 2006 by Ann-Christine Hjelm from Karlstads University.

It emerged that in 2002, 85% of those sentenced to at least two years in prison for rape in Svea Hovrätt, a court of appeals, were foreign born or second-generation immigrants.

A 1996 report by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention reached the conclusion that immigrants from North Africa (Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia) were 23 times as likely to commit rape as Swedish men. The figures for men from Iraq, Bulgaria and Romania were, respectively, 20, 18 and 18. Men from the rest of Africa were 16 times more prone to commit rape; and men from Iran, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, 10 times as prone as Swedish men.

Now, I don't read Swedish, and can't thus vouch for the accuracy of these statistics. But the previous article from the conservative Gatestone Institute largely checked out, so I am willing to bet they are right.

In any case, I cannot find any detailed refutation of this report, which is packed with statistics, citations and references to original-language sources. It seems to have been met, as is usual with these sorts of reports, with uncomfortable silence. The report cites a telling story of Swedish journalists misleading their readers about who exactly committed a highly-publicized gang-rape:

This month, all major Swedish media reported on a brutal gang rape on board the Finnish Ferry Amorella, running between Stockholm and Åbo in Finland. Big headlines told the readers that the perpetrators were Swedish:

  • "Several Swedish Men Suspected of Rape on the Finland Ferry" (Dagens Nyheter).
  • "Six Swedish Men Raped Woman in Cabin" (Aftonbladet).
  • "Six Swedes Arrested for Rape on Ferry" (Expressen).
  • "Eight Swedes Suspected of Rape on Ferry" (TT – the Swedish News Agency).

On closer inspection, it turned out that seven of the eight suspects were Somalis and one was Iraqi. None of them had Swedish citizenship, so they were not even Swedish in that sense. According to witnesses, the group of men had been scouring the ferry looking for sex. The police released four of them (but they are still suspects) whereas four (all Somalis) remain in custody.

In any event, if it is the case that immigrant males from Arab nations are "23 times as likely" to commit rape as Swedish males once they reach Sweden, wouldn't that perhaps be of relevance, considering that Sweden is currently slated to import tens of thousands more young males from Arab countries? What can Sweden do to reduce the risk of this group of immigrants behaving in a similar fashion? Should immigrants receive special instruction on Swedish laws about sexual assault? I consider these to be important public-safety questions that deserve discussion, not paranoid right-wing fantasies.

And now let's look at it from a left-wing angle. Unless your trust in the Swedish justice system is absolute, you might be tempted to raise another question: is the fact that 85% of all men in prison for serious sexual assault in Sweden are foreigners a true representation of social reality? Or is it possible that they are being singled out or discriminated against? Perhaps Swedish judges are less likely to believe foreigners' explanations for disputed sexual encounters. Perhaps the language barrier or lack of resources plays a role. Perhaps immigrant suspects are getting longer sentences than ethnic Swedes for similar crimes ?

European journalists immediately assume that the over-representation of black Americans in prison signals racism in the justice system. Could something similar be going on in Sweden? Why aren't crusading journalists like Mikeal Blomkvist trying to find this out? Is it because they trust the Swedish justice system to always reach the right conclusions, no matter what? Is it because they are afraid of finding out that the conviction rates actually do reflect reality?

An another question: conservative (but not just conservative) Europeans denounce the mainstream press for actively downplaying immigrant crime, giving citizens an inaccurate picture of what is actually happening in their societies. And looking into the matter, it is clear that European journalists actually do this. It's not just a crazy accusation by right-wing tub-thumpers. If you refer to rape suspects who don't even have Swedish citizenship as "Swedish men", you are lying to your readers. Since this actually happens, the conversation should move on: why does it happen? Perhaps journalists have an explanation for deceiving their readers on this point. Perhaps this explanation might be convincing. But they never even give one. They simply deceive their readers, and then when caught, perhaps make a few hasty edits.

Can anyone point me to an example of a European journalist giving an open, honest, forthright, thoughtful explanation of why many press organs downplay immigrant crime?

Fragen über Fragen, as the German saying goes: Question upon question...


Stolen Mataré and the Weirdness of Art Theft Investigation

From Interpol's most recent flyer showing the most-sought-after works of stolen art, I see that a sculpture by Düsseldorf-based artist Ewald Mataré is on the list:

Matare

One of the interesting things about these posters is how little information there is about the stolen artworks. You learn only the name and place of the theft (e.g., Rome -- a 'church') and some descriptions, not even the title of the artwork. Ordinarily when you're spreading information about a crime, you add as many details as possible. Not here. 

I wonder what the strategy behind this is? Interpol obviously knows the details but is choosing not the share them. There must be some reason for this. Perhaps to make it easier for someone to report or return the work of art anonymously? But that's just a guess.

Another interesting wrinkle is the American authorities' method of investigating the biggest art theft in modern history (by value, at least), the 1990 theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. Two men posing as cops stole art worth hundreds of millions -- 2 Rembrandts, a Manet, a Degas, a Vermeer. Still unaccounted for. Hints of mob involvement. The US authorities have repeatedly announced they think they know who committed this theft:

In March 2013, the FBI said it believed it knows the identity of the thieves. They believe that the theft was carried out by a criminal organization based in the mid-Atlantic and New England, and that the stolen paintings were moved by a criminal organization through Connecticut and the Philadelphia area in the years following the theft. The FBI believes some of the art may have been sold in Philadelphia in the early 2000s.

...

On August 11, 2015, FBI special agent Peter Kowenhoven revealed that the two suspects of the theft, previously identified by the FBI but not revealed publicly, are deceased. In an interview with the Associated Press, Kowenhoven declined to identify the individuals.

They have questioned people, but have not arrested or prosecuted anybody. Again, the puzzling ambiguities. Why announce that you think you know who did it without any searches or prosecutions? It's one thing to not have enough evidence, but what purpose is served by announcing that you don't have enough evidence? Just recently it turned out that one of the security guards who were 'overpowered' during the incident was seen buzzing someone into the museum against policy the day before the theft. But he was not arrested.

What tactical purpose does all this caginess serve? Anyone have an idea?


When Can German Police Stop and Question You?

Public service time! In the USA, there is a cottage industry of people spreading the word about what rights citizens have during encounters with police. One of the best videos is from 'Flex Your Rights'. It's just below. The video addresses automobile stops and house searches, but I decided to concentrate on this post on police stopping and questioning people on foot. The video starts just as a a police car pulls up to question a young black male. The cops are investigating illegal graffiti in the area. The lawyer comments on each step of the transaction: 

So what's the situation in Germany? A popular German legal website has a short but informative article here (g). The basic ground rules:

Police must always give you a reason for stopping and questioning you. However, this reason does not alway have to be a concrete suspicion. In certain circumstances police are permitted to stop people as a preventive measure to avoid dangers to public safety (Gefahrenabwehr). These are not intended to assist in investigating a crime, but rather preventing one.

For this justification to apply, it needs to be shown that a danger to public safety exists at a particular location -- for instance, a demonstration in which disturbances are likely to take place, or a well-known drug market where crimes are routine.

Such places are often named specifically in your local state's local-policing law -- for instance Bavaria allows suspicionless public-safety searches where large numbers of prostitutes gather. Also, in special circumstances police can declare entire regions of a city 'danger zones', as Hamburg did in 2014 during left-wing demonstrations.

And what if the police do stop you based on general location? You are required to answer basic questions: your name, your address, your nationality, date and place of birth. The police can ask you to present an identification card (either the German national identity card or a passport), but you are not required to carry this identification around with you everywhere, so if you don't have it with you, that is not against the law.

The police may ask you further questions, such as where you are coming from and where you are going, but you are not required to answer them. A lawyer quoted in the article recommends that you do answer them in a polite but very curt manner, since this is likely to de-escalate the situation.

Note that this applies only when the police stop you without any concrete suspicion you have committed a crime. If they do have such a suspicion, they may be entitled to ask more questions.

The police are also permitted to engage in questioning of random people without individualized suspicion of crime at airports and train stations and trains. The purpose of these stops is usually to try to find illegal immigrants. A German court has found that stopping someone based solely on their appearance or skin color is unconstitutional according to the German Basic Law. (The lawyer in me says they will almost certainly find other ways to justify the search, though.)