A recent article in the New Yorker wrongly claims that two-thirds of emergency room visits by Americans aged 15 to 34 were the result of police violence. The article, written by Harvard University history professor and longtime New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, tells of a “crisis in policing” which Lepore says is the “culmination …
A recent article in the New Yorker wrongly claims that two-thirds of emergency room visits by Americans aged 15 to 34 were the result of police violence.
The article, written by Harvard University history professor and longtime New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore, tells of a “crisis in policing” which Lepore says is the “culmination of a thousand other failures—failuresfosh of education, social services, public health, gun regulation, criminal justice, and economic development.” The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, she writes, “cannot be wished away as an outlier.”
Then she cites a 2016 paper which she wrongly uses to suggest that “two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.”
After being asked to clear up the meaning of the statistic on Twitter, Justin Feldman, the lead author of the paper, replied,” Oh weird, the rate being the same as car accidents is true, but the other part is definitely not.”
Freelance reporter Louise Perry, who discovered the error, points out that while Lepore rightfully draws a comparison between the rate of ‘legal intervention injuries’ and the rate of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles — though only among men aged 15-34 — that it is unclear where Lepore arrived at the ‘two-thirds’ figure.
Perry suggests that Lepore misunderstood a line from the paper that says 61.1% of people injured by police were between 15 and 34 or another statistic from a Harvard press release about the study, which says 64% of the estimated 683,033 injuries logged between 2001 and 2014 among people in that age bracket resulted from an officer hitting a civilian — meaning that they were injured by hitting, not a use of force.
After undertaking her own arithmetic, Perry finds the true proportion of 15-34 year olds visiting the ER who had suffered legal intervention injuries at 0.2%, which varies from Lepore’s two-thirds figure by a factor of several hundred.
The New Yorker has long been considered the gold-standard of fact-checking by many in media. Perry suggests it was political bias that led Lepore astray and allowed the mistake to slip through the cracks.
“Lepore read Feldman’s research and she misunderstood part of it, despite being an exceptionally intelligent person,” Perry writes. “Like many other Left-leaning Democrats, she is convinced that police brutality is a huge, under-acknowledged problem in the United States, and she therefore jumped to the conclusion that this wildly inflated ‘two-thirds’ figure was plausible.”