A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Paul’s Injustice Inaccuracies

Sen. Rand Paul used a recent speech to Maryland Republicans partly to address injustices in the legal system. But he botched one statistic and slightly exaggerated another one.

  • Paul said: “In Ferguson, for every 100 black women, there’s 60 black men. Because the other 40 we’ve incarcerated.” But the New York Times article cited by Paul’s campaign didn’t say that. It only said that those 40 men are “missing” from daily civilian life.
  • He also said that “the arrests in Baltimore are 15-to-1 black to white for marijuana arrests.” The ratio was closer to 11.6-to-1, according to a 2013 report based on 2010 FBI crime data. What’s more, the arrest rate, which factors in the population, was actually 5.6-to-1.

Paul, a candidate for president, made those claims as the featured speaker at the Baltimore County Republican Party’s Lincoln-Reagan dinner on June 9. It’s just one of the many times he has spoken recently about a need to overhaul the U.S. criminal justice system.

‘Missing’ Black Men

Paul, near the end of his speech (around 32:30), said that “in Ferguson, for every 100 black women, there’s 60 black men. Because the other 40 we’ve incarcerated.”

Paul’s campaign told us that the claim was based on an article by the New York Times. But Paul misstated the findings in the report, which didn’t say that.

The Times, on April 20, published a report titled “1.5 Million Missing Black Men.”

“According to the Census Bureau, there were 7.046 million black men 25 to 54 who were not incarcerated in 2010 and 8.503 million black women in this category. The difference between these two figures leads to our headline of 1.5 million missing black men,” the Times wrote in an explanation of its methodology.

And Ferguson, Missouri, the Times said, has “40 missing black men for every 100 black women.” But the Times didn’t say those black men were all incarcerated.

That’s not to say that incarceration doesn’t play a big part. It does.

“Using census data, we estimated that about 625,000 prime-age black men were imprisoned, compared with 45,000 black women. This gap — of 580,000 — accounts for more than one-third of the overall gap,” the Times said of the 1.5 million figure.

But other factors, such as early deaths, add to the number of “missing” men.

As the Times noted in its article, Stephen Bronars, now a partner at Edgeworth Economics, covered some of the other factors in his guest post for Forbes.com in March on why “Half Of Ferguson’s Young African-American Men Are Missing.”

Bronars, March 18: What has happened to young African American men in Ferguson? There are several possibilities. First, the Census counts only the civilian population, and excludes individuals serving in the Armed Forces. Second, tragically, some of these young men have already died. Third, Census figures do not include individuals who are incarcerated at the time of the survey. Finally, the Census Bureau may undercount homeless men, men who are marginally attached to the community, and men who are primarily engaged in criminal behavior.

The Times also referenced some of those factors in the methodology of its analysis.

So, while Paul has a point about the large number of young black men in jail, that alone is not the reason that so many are “missing” from daily life in Ferguson and other places.

Marijuana Arrests in Baltimore

Paul also pointed out that blacks are arrested more often than whites for possessing marijuana. He mentioned arrests in Baltimore specifically.

“The arrests in Baltimore are 15-to-1 black to white for marijuana arrests,” he said.

Paul’s campaign said that the statistic came from a 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union titled “The War on Marijuana in Black and White.” That report said that, in 2010, according to FBI crime data, blacks accounted for almost 92 percent of all arrests for marijuana possession in Baltimore City. There were 6,461 arrests of blacks and 555 arrests of whites. That’s a ratio of nearly 12-to-1, so Paul was fairly close.

But Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, said that it is better to refer to the arrest rate, which accounts for population.

“The reason this is more accurate for comparing rates is that whenever one is measuring occurrences within the population, one has to adjust for population size, which is normally done per 100,000, and then one can compare likelihood within different populations,” he wrote in an email to FactCheck.org.

According to the ACLU report, in 2010, blacks in Baltimore City were 5.6 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possessing marijuana. The arrest rate for blacks was 1,622 per 100,000, and the rate for whites was 288 per 100,000.

“Looking only at total number of arrests and comparing those is useful if one wants to say that there were x times more black arrests than white arrests, but it does not tell you the difference in arrest rates because it does not take population into account,” Edwards wrote.

So Paul is correct that blacks, based purely on the numbers, were arrested far more often than whites for marijuana possession. But when looking at the rate of arrests, the gap wasn’t nearly as large.

D’Angelo Gore, with Rebecca Heilweil