At a recent youth forum, Black Lives Matter Manchester member Eli Kendrick told the audience he’s “paranoid to drive every day” in New Hampshire.
“I don’t drive with anything in my pockets. I’ll either put it on the dashboard — my wallet, my phone, anything like that, just so if I get pulled over it doesn’t seem like I’m reaching for something. I want you guys to really understand how crazy that is for us that I have to do that every day.”
But does he have to?
According to the Washington Post’s database of fatal shootings by police — currently the gold standard for this data — New Hampshire officers have shot and killed 13 people since 2015. All of them were white.* All except two were armed. Of those two, one was mentally disturbed and advancing on the cops brandishing a Umarex XBG BB gun, which appeared to be a real gun.
The other was fleeing police while literally shouting, “I have a gun and I’m going to shoot you.”
The absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, and it’s possible New Hampshire police treat black citizens terribly but just don’t happen to have lethal encounters with them.
At the same time, with around 60,000 reported crimes a year and hundreds of thousands of traffic stops in the Granite State since 2015 — and not a single fatal shooting of a person of color — that’s hardly proof of BLM’s argument that New Hampshire police have a racism problem.
What’s undeniable, however, is that African-American activists in the state’s Black Lives Matter movement believe they do.
BLM Nashua Communications Director Samantha Searles told NHJournal about making a trip to the Merrimack Police Department to arrange for a BLM event in town. “The chief was very disarming, she started a conversation, but I had to tell her ‘to be honest, my blood pressure is so high right now.’ And there was no real reason to be afraid — except that I was a black person talking to the police.”
“That emotional response is everywhere,” Searles added.
Perhaps. But what’s not everywhere is evidence to substantiate the fear that New Hampshire police are targeting people of color.
Woullard Lett, a former Manchester police commissioner and the city’s current NAACP chapter president, told NHPR his organization only gets about 10 complaints per year regarding law enforcement across all of southern New Hampshire.
BLM advocates often point to crime stats that, they say, indicate police racism: “Blacks and Hispanics make up less than 5 percent of New Hampshire’s population, but account for 9 percent of the state’s arrests,” for example.
And it’s true that black Granite Staters are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated given their small numbers — less than 2 percent of the population.
But it’s also true that people of color commit a disproportionate amount of crime.
“Nationwide, black Americans have a homicide rate about eight times higher than that of whites,” Rafael Mangual of the Manhattan Institute told NHJournal. “Black males are just 7 percent of the population, but represent about 50 percent of both homicide perpetrators and victims.”
The numbers in New Hampshire aren’t nearly as dramatic, because the overall crime rate in the state is extremely low. In fact, in 2017, it had the lowest homicide rate in the country. In 2018 — the most recent numbers available — it was second-lowest in the U.S.
Is it significant that African Americans committed two of the 21 homicides in 2018 (or 9.5 percent)? Or that 11 percent of the state’s violent assaults were committed by the 1.8 percent or so of the population that’s black?
Significant or not, these numbers tend to validate the rates of arrest and incarceration BLM supporters see as a sign of discrimination. Arresting people who commit crimes isn’t bigotry. It’s basic police work.
One area where the data may indicate race-based policing is in marijuana arrests.
Gov. Chris Sununu frequently touts the fact that possession of small amounts of pot was decriminalized in 2017 on his watch. But the ACLU reports that since decriminalization, black Granite Staters have been 4.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana violations than white residents.
Here again, the raw numbers are telling: Of the 8,521 drug offenses in 2018, just 531 were committed by African Americans. That’s 6.2 percent of the crimes committed by 1.8 percent of the population. In a community so small, a minor shift in the numbers makes a significant difference in percentages.
These small numbers may also explain why people demanding major police reform tend to repeat the same few examples of alleged police abuse.
“You have the boy who was lynched in Claremont, and that story was only in the press for a week,” Searles told NHJournal, “And the case of the man who got dragged out of his car by his dreads is just re-surfacing now.”
The state attorney general’s investigation found that the biracial 8-year-old injured in a near lynching in Claremont in 2017 had in fact “looped the rope of a tire swing around his neck, after two older friends had done so and jumped from the picnic table as a prank.”
As for the driver “pulled out of his car by his dreadlocks,” the two female state police troopers in that case repeatedly asked the driver, Jean Saint Preux, for his license and registration. He refused to comply. Eventually, they forced him out of his car, at which time he resisted arrest. An investigation concluded that they followed protocol.
Perhaps the protocol is wrong. But it’s also probable that a suspect of any race, creed or color who acted the way Saint Preux did would likely meet the same fate.
Still, statistics are just numbers and don’t have the impact of personal feelings and experiences.
“We know we are a minority in this state. And if you have a majority of this minority saying ‘hey, we’re seeing these problems and they’re something we have to deal with every day, all the time,’ then something needs to be done,” Searles said.
*The Washington Post has one fatality, Jesse Champney, listed as race unknown. Mr. Champney’s photo is here.