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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Response 2: Sheriff Morgan's "Super Predator" Thesis Debunked Again


The concept of the "Super Predator" rests upon the assumption that the rate of illegitimate births would increase.  Young males, but especially young Black males, would grow up fatherless.  Lacking a high school education, they would consequently have no moral compass and no internal mechanism to control their urges to rape, steal, beat, and murder.  These ideas were covered in a previous Street Report article and the Retro Report documentary on the Super Predator.

This Street Report demolishes the basic assumptions of the "Super Predator" thesis by showing that contrary to Sheriff Morgan's assertions, the birth rate for Black teenage girls has declined; the birth rate for Black unwed mothers has not changed in two decades; and, the proportion of people 25-years of age or older without a high school education has steadily declined over two decades in Escambia County.

In other words, Sheriff Morgan's thesis that the "Super Predator" is a valid law enforcement model is shown to be an empty assertion.  Data specific to Escambia County and Florida fail to provide support.  It is an urban myth promoted by a Sheriff who is hopelessly and grossly misinformed.

Unfortunately for the resident of Escambia County--but especially the young Black males who are the intended target of the Sheriff's "Super Predator" thesis--they will suffer the consequences of this misguided, bewildered Sheriff's policies.

Sheriff Morgan Makes His Case for the "Super Predator"

In the video clip taken from the same August 29, 2013, Internet broadcast Sheriff Morgan makes the following two claims: (1) the illegitimacy rate in the Black community is 73 percent and the rates for the white and Hispanic communities are "not far behind;" and (2) that we are allowing illegitimacy "to be the norm."  The Sheriff also told the story of an Escambia County Sheriff's Office contractor who found that among Black male inmates at the Escambia County Jail that in excess of 70 percent lacked a high school education and a father in the family.

Regarding the latter point, the way he described the study suggests that the contractor sampled on the dependent variable.  This is a fallacy in social science research.  The men were already jail, which the dependent variable.  The contractor then determined the statistics for dropping out of high school and not having a father at home.  The proper methodology would be to take a representative random sample of the community and test whether these variables were correlated with having been sent to the Escambia County Jail.  Thus, we will disregard this assertion.

NOTE:  This video runs in the original video from 11:22 to about 12:39.

The Statistical Mirage of the Rise of Black Teenage Births

When Sheriff Morgan mentioned that the illegitimacy rate in the Black community was 73 percent, the figure sounds alarming.  But, that figures masks very positive developments in the Black community.

Tim Wise, probably the leading anti-racist activist in the United States, explained this development in a December 2014 article.  First, he explained that Black women were demeaned by the dominant culture for producing Black males that the dominant culture considered to be physical threats and criminals.  Both Black men and women had been criminalized by law enforcement and suffered deaths at its hands.  Second, Black women were "pathologized and demeaned" for "their unique contribution to the production of such men (and more women such as themselves) as breeders of illegitimate children--literal incubators of social decay."

In essence, Wise is describing what Sheriff Morgan posited as integral to his "Super Predator" thesis.

Wise noted that associated with this pathological characterization of Black women was the "commonly held belief that out-of-wedlock births were out of control in the black community" and the "phenomenon of teenage childbearing."

Wise explained that two positive trends resulted in the perception of a rise of out-of-wedlock births.

First, the birth rates (live births per 1000 such women) for unmarried Black women fell by one-third between 1970 and 2010--the very era that was supposed to produce the "Super Predator."  They declined from 95.5 live births per 1000 unmarried Black women to 65.3 live births per such woman.

Second, the birth rates for married Black women fell even more dramatically.

Third, this produced the statistical mirage that that the "share of children born in the black community who are born out of wedlock has indeed doubled since the 1970s."  It is a mirage because the only thing that changed was the proportion of out of wedlock births relative to the birth rate for married Black women.  Remember, both birth rates fell, it is just that the birth rate for married Black women fell more.

Fourth, Wise pointed out that the largest drop in the birth rate occurred among Black teenagers, which declined 63 percent between 1991 and 2013.  Among Black teenagers, in any given year only four percent will give birth, double the rate for white girls.

But, Wise pointed out, given these trends in Black teenage birth rates "hardly constitutes some kind of cultural or group norm."

Thus, national data completely undermine Sheriff Morgan's central claim.

The coup d'grace comes from data collected and collated by the Florida Department of Health.  All charts and data points come from their website  I have produced the graphs to demonstrate the falsity of Sheriff Morgan's claims in Escambia County.

The Decline of Teenage Birth Rates in Escambia County

The chart below looks at the birth rate for white and Black girls, aged 13 to 19 years of age, from 1992-1994 through 2011-2013, with three-year rolling averages to smooth the data.

The birth rate for teenage Black girls in Escambia County (green line) declined from 100 at the start of the period to 40 at the endpoint--a 60 percent drop.  This trend mirrored the decline in birth rates for Black teenagers in Florida (gold line) which declined from just over 80 live births per 1000 such girls to about 30 live births.  The figures for white girls in Escambia County and Florida (red and blue lines, respectively) show a 50 percent decline--from around 40 live births per 1000 such women to around 20 live births per 1000 such women.

In other words, the data show that contrary to Sheriff Morgan's statement that teenage births are the norm in the Black and white communities in Escambia County, birth rates for teenagers showed a steady, consistent decline over two decades.  It shows that Black and white girls are acting more responsibly.

Source: Florida Department of Health

Even when we examine the birth rate for unwed mothers between 13 and 19 years of age for white and Black females, the data show no rise in the birth rate.  To be sure, the Black unwed birth rate does not fall, but the white unwed birth rate rises to nearly match it.  Again, there does not appear to be any (growing) cultural norm of illegitimacy in the Black community.

Since the Black unwed birthrate appears impervious to change over two decades, there does not appear to be any cultural driver internal to the Black community capable of moving this birth rate upward.

On the other hand, the white unwed birth rate for Escambia County and Florida show a roughly 30 percent increase over the same time period; the "problem" of increasing teenage unwed births appears to be a problem unique to the white community state-wide.

Source: Florida Department of Health

Furthermore, Sheriff Morgan had argued that these (non-existent) trends were condemning these children to a "life of poverty" due primarily to a lack of a high school education.

Once again, the data for Escambia County and Florida contradict the Sheriff's assertion.

The chart below shows that in Escambia County the proportion of individuals 25 years of age or older (the only dataset available) without a high school diploma has been steadily declining over the past two decades.

Source: Florida Department of Health

Concluding Observation

The three so-called drivers of Sheriff Morgan's "Super Predator" thesis--a rise in the Black teenage birth rate, a rise in Black unwed teenage mothers' birth rate, and a rise in the number of people without a high school diploma--show results completely opposite of what Sheriff Morgan so confidently put forth to the media and organizations around town.

Sheriff Morgan's "Super Predator" thesis is not supported by data provided by the Florida Department of Health.

If the Sheriff persists in taking his pathetic dog-and-pony show to the media and organizations in the county, someone needs to call him out.

Just as the national "Super Predator" thesis was debunked by data in the mid-1990s, so too, Sheriff Morgan's "Super Predator" thesis has been debunked by data.  If he persists in promoting this debunked, urban legend that was based on racist speculation in its early formulation--he will have proven himself to be an ideologue and a fanatic.

In a future article, I will examine efforts by scholars, business groups, and consultants to figure out how improve the economy of northwest Florida and southern Alabama.

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