The Think Progress Post that Doesn’t Think
(And the Far Left that Isn’t Thinking Much Anymore, Either, Because of Righteous Indignation)
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN MARCH 2016, with UPDATES NOTATED IN TEXT:
This is something I wrote last week. But it’s better late than never to post my first Medium article, because the 2700 shares of this Think Progress piece about the “execution-style” shooting of three Muslim young black men with the insinuation that it’s a Hate Crime (actually, two Muslim, one Christian) highlights a bigger problem: The lack of logical thinking on the Left when it comes to tragic events exploited for political points. And the logic is simple, and I’ll get to it more expansively, but here’s the short version: It’s more than 600 times likely these men in Indiana died from “gang violence” than racist “hate crime” triple homicide. I have no idea how they died. I’m sympathetic to the families, but their anger is misdirected in my eyes (#OurThreeBoys Facebook meme shared 6800 times and counting) — against the country that welcomed them — based on hyper-inflated fears that originate in ideology, identity politics, the occasional hateful act (5500 interpersonal hate crimes a year counted by the FBI, or 250,000 according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, take your pick), and media co-option.
[And Update Mar 17, 2016: I hate to validate my argument before I even start. But one can read the comment section of the above Think Progress post to find more fact-finding and “thinking” than the article itself. (Dec Update: Think Progress deleted — or censored — those comments, yet keeps its discredited article.) I had meant to delve deeper into those comments skeptical of the original post. But I think my argument here isn’t about what’s accurate or not regarding these murders, though certainly important, but how different ideologies spin tragedies, and the proportionality of attention we pay to certain crimes, such as the 6800 Facebook “shares” I mentioned above. Indeed, on March 1, one full day BEFORE Think Progress posted their story, it was already published in the local Fort Wayne, Indiana, newspaper that Abdelaziz Hassab, who described himself as a cousin of one of the homicide victims, “Specifically thanked Fort Wayne Police Chief Garry Hamilton for good communication with the families.” Indeed, the family and an Islamic leader — two fathers of the victims were present at the press conference — had nothing but praise for the police and authorities, and thanked them for their handling of the case. From the article: “Gohar Salam, president of the Universal Education Foundation Islamic Center, said after the press conference that [Police Chief] Hamilton contacted leaders in Fort Wayne’s Muslim community shortly after the killings last week to offer any aid his department could in supporting the victims’ families.” Hassab himself said, “We have no reason to believe, at this point, that this is a religiously or politically motivated crime.”]
Quick aside: I’m solidly liberal. I’m white, I don’t know what people of color face everyday, and I don’t get to read racist tirades when I try to draw attention to an issue I care about. I admit I have an assumption that “people see what they want to see” based on how I’ve analyzed some numbers around police violence, for instance. I know stats, like 58% of hate crime perpetrators are white (fuzzily including Hispanics, which happens at times), and a vast majority of race-based hate crimes are against black persons. [Update Jan 2017: Yet, it’s still hard to make sense of data like that, because 63% of Americans are non-Hispanic White, and almost 80% if you include Hispanic in the “white” category, which is frankly done far too often. See my Medium analysis on post-election “hate crime” acts of battery violence that are LESS than incidents of battery violence against white Trump supporters by more than 2 to 1 (or 7 to 3, by my count). I also point out in that Medium analysis, that according to the U.S. Justice Department’s Hate Crime Victimization Report: “Whites, blacks, and Hispanics had similar rates of violent hate crime victimization in 2007–11.”]
Despite your own ideology, do you ever think some case examples or selective media stories create “mountains out of molehills”? The right-wing in this country has done the same thing I’m talking about for years: sensationalize fears of Islamic terrorism, plead ignorant to realities of poverty, and arguably embolden irrational anger towards of other races (think “dog-whistle racism” in politics from George HW Bush’s 1988 Willie Horton ad to Trump circa 2016: Clown Car to the Nomination). I just find many on the Far Left do essentially the same thing for different ends, and they’re shaking hands with their ideologically polar kin far around the corner of common sense.
I constantly ask: Why is there such intense focus in pockets of the Left in countless stories such as the Indiana murders? Do any of these stories of anomalistic injustice align with statistical reality or proportionality to the coverage they get and the anger they create? I’m going to argue simply today: No.
Neither with unjust, excessive police violence or hate crimes in general that cause severe (or deadly) harm. Both of which I have a hard time statistically finding overwhelming bias. In fact, I find no bias relative to known victimization statistics. You see, I see dead Americans — each tragic — as “the canary in the coal mine” to any argument concerning greater injustice we keep talking about these past few years.
The fact is: there’s a plethora of different colored birds dying for innumerable and complex reasons, and very few from racism or bigotry.
There’s a reason I can’t read Think Progress anymore without shaking my head, or other leftist websites I used to love (Salon, Common Dreams) that morph news into preordained narratives to solicit internet clicks. Far often, they don’t “think.” They just “react.” Like so many people today. It’s as if there’s this giant cognitive dissonance on either side of the political aisle, or even color lines. It’s like “racism” (“reverse racism” or “real racism”) is treating me so bad. But actually it’s Billy down the street who shot me. (Or my high-rise neighbor in the wheelchair.) Or me, myself, who didn’t look for a job today — I just talked about it. And others in working class (yes, white) communities are like “Oh, those folks doing crimes in the G-H-E-T-T-O. Oh, those immigrants taking our jobs.” Well, I don’t know who uses that word ‘ghetto’ anymore, but if they do, I’d say straight to their face, no hesitation: “Shut the hell up. Your immigrant ancestors committed arguably the worst atrocity of all time: Slavery. It has a motherfucking hangover for decades, if not centuries. These problems aren’t inherent to a culture; they’re created by something bigger than individuals.” I argue: It’s BOTH the outright denial of racism and hyperbolic exaggeration of racism that are attitudes keeping us from moving forward collectively as a nation — as a global community. The Extreme Right and Left pick-and-choose “stories” but more and more in the Internet age, they lack deeper insight or context. (Hell, they lacked it before in the age of print.) Where is the sensible middle ground, I ask? Why can’t we address societal problems (sociology), but also talk openly and honestly about the individual choices people make that manifest in thousands of very real aggressions that cause us stress or death? Why can’t we understand hurt people hurt other people, and work on reducing that as part of the national debate? Why can’t we have a more frank conversation with multiple points of view, even “conservative” ones?
This is knowing full well the disadvantages in many pockets of the United States, from South Side Chicago three miles from where I’m writing this, to the isolated crumbling towns across the United States. Clearly, too, there’s an intersection of poverty and race — but what that means, I believe, is interpreted differently by honorable, well-informed people. Are the barriers of the institutions bigger than those of our minds? I can’t answer that from my perspective, but I don’t think it’s above asking. Such as I don’t think it’s above asking why it’s automatically assumed it’s racism that’s a factor in in unequal suspensions of black and white students, and not the behavior that may manifest in challenging situations at home or in their communities before reaching school. Is it too taboo to mention two-thirds of black children were born into single-parent homes while the two-thirds of white children were born into two-parent homes?
And there’s so much bullshit lately. And it’s not just being an election year. I believe it’s because people are walled into silos of information and ideology, and they resist arguments made from the other side. It’s also a theory I’m chewing on, that this New Correctness where even saying what I’m saying now could upset people, creating an uneasy firestorm in the belly of certain audiences. Particular personalities. Thus, I feel more and more people censor themselves. And get resentful. You’ve seen it said, and you’ve read the headlines. “You’re not an ally.” “You shouldn’t say that; you should only listen.” “Check your privilege.” Sometimes, it can be judged in all sorts of ways by someone simply seeing your melanin deficient thumbnail Facebook pic after you comment or post. Huffington Post headlines like, “Trump Won Super Tuesday Because America is Racist,” even though there’s much evidence we’ve shifted greatly, like 87% of Americans approving of black-white marriages. So I ask, “How much racism does it take to make a whole country racist, or “exceptionally” racist in the case of the USofA, because there is racism and prejudice in every country?” (Click link to see how often racial intolerance is arguably worse outside North America.) Some point to the semi-dubious poll where 20% of Trump supporters are “pro-slavery“ because 1 in 5 don’t agree in federal laws banning slavery. Which calculating the total Trump support (which is huge), I put at 4% of the country. My gut says roughly 10% of the country is racist and/or outright bigoted, but it’s difficult to measure. That’s a real hurdle, I acknowledge. Not every country had slavery, no, but I wonder how far the hangover I mentioned above lingers? I’m imagining a few more centuries, but I’m hoping for decades.
For now, if you don’t agree Hillary Clinton is racist for saying the words ‘superpredator’ in 1994, then you’re privileged, racist yourself, and/or don’t “get it.” You should agree with the entire premise of the Black Lives Matter activist who interrupted her at a private function: “I’m not a superpredator, Hillary Clinton. Will you apologize to black people for mass incarceration?” Or perhaps you could be thinking that in 1994 more than 23,000 people were being killed, and that gang violence murders constituted nearly 15% of that total (or even half at 7%). And perhaps that knowledge might allow for a contingent of superpredators in there, regardless of race. The “racially coded language” is an interpretation, not a bound fact, and her full quote referenced the mostly white gangs of the first half of the 20th century. “We also have to have an organized effort against gangs,” she said. “Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob.” Did she call all Italians mafia? No. Again, we’re talking about real crimes, which we see today when 9-year-olds get executed in Chicago. People can debate the effectiveness of the 1994 Crime Bill — supported by nearly two-thirds of the Black Caucus and Bernie Sanders — that First Lady Hillary Clinton was referencing, or the prevalence of a sharp increase in “superpredators” was subsequently acknowledged by its own author as non-phenomenon by the start of the 21st century. (Perhaps, in part, because of the Crime Bill and the growing economy?) But there’s no denying that by 1999, 8000 less people were being killed every year than in 1994. And those lives mattered.
And, yes, I know all about the Age of Black Incarceration by the esteemed Ta-Nehisi Coates (Atlantic Monthly) because I picked up a copy and read most of it on the train to Detroit. Interestingly, he buries a very important point thousands of words into the article about how few “nonviolent drug offenders” actually exist to be let out, stating:
One 2004 study found that the proportion of “unambiguously low-level drug offenders” could be less than 6 percent in state prisons and less than 2 percent in federal ones.
And those on the right-wing margins of society find themselves saying, after seeing the uproar about events they may not see as black and white, or feel inundated with academic heavy-handed abstract arguments: “What is this world? I don’t recognize my childhood (of Nixon or Eisenhower) anymore.” It’s beyond Gay Marriage. So some may move towards Trump and his anti-PC rhetoric. Just like “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” was saying 11 years ago, people are voting against their self-interest because, among several reasons, the social issues and the world they understand is being framed better by the Right. They’re possibly sick of Ivory Tower bellowers — fodder for the Conservative talk radio hosts — telling them them they’re dumb, their religion is ridiculous, their beliefs can’t be accommodated (and sometimes they shouldn’t, honestly; but considerate tone helps to bridge divides). I raise my hand as an accomplice in the age-old culture wars, with pat excuses, “Yes, I have mocked religion; but I also grew up in the most extreme American form of it.” And so, some people may run to the Right, and to candidates like Trump, for reasons other than racism alone, because they feel neglected or sold out by elitists. Or to the Republican party in general, who offer few solutions beyond “capitalism will work for you, trust us.” It hasn’t, overall, but they go there anyway.
Still, I see the middle-ground. There’s a reason Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mocked Republicans for making Political Correctness as campaign issue #1. And I mostly agree with the all-time NBA scoring leader and current Time magazine columnist.
However, I don’t give a give two kidneys about the New Correctness. This is where inflated accusations of racism and sexism create a “chicken little” effect when the real deal manifests — and by then, no one pays attention because you’ve used up political capital on dubious claims . But I do believe in being respectful, the opposite of what the term “anti-PC” has transformed into (“being a jerk”). I know who I am. I’m lucky, to be honest. So I will tread lightly, as I also speak forcefully on some complicated issues around bigotry and racism. Thus, let’s head back to that Think Progress article. Scan it. See the link at the end. It says we have to act in the name of justice. It’s here:
The current response from law enforcement — immediately being dismissive of the idea that this might be a hate crime and hinting at gang violence, is deeply troubling in a time of growing Islamophobia and mass criminalization of Black youth.
OK, I get it. There’s “a lot” of Islamophobia during times like these, but how often do right-wing racist attacks end with dead bodies? Not often. In fact, in this case, up to 666 times less compared to the rate of gang violence. (And if we go with gang deaths at 7% and hate crime murders as .04% of overall homicides, 6 total, then 175 times less — if you want to be on the low-end side.) The following is how I get those numbers:
How do facts and statistics help guide us to a logical assumption? Let’s start with quick math: US population is 319 million. Homicide rate is 4.6 per 100,000. That equals 14,674. So let’s round up to 15,000.
2000 of 15,000 annual murders are arguably gang-related at the 13% rate mentioned here at the National Gang Center. Gangs and guns. Chicago knows. America knows.
Pesky crime stats. I’ve gone back to this Wikipedia link several times. Note how often crime takes place within racial groups (we kill who we know; not who we don’t know and supposedly fear). Unfairly, from a long history of racism and lingering poverty, 12% of the population that is black becomes 50% of the homicides:
4-5 of 15,000 annual murders are Hate Crime-related, according to the anti-racist left Southern Poverty Law Center.
(Fall 2016 UPDATE: This number is double-verified. Buried under my nose — though difficult to find in many Google searches — was the U.S. Department of Justice’s mention of the UCR Hate Crime Reporting Program total on hate crimes on page 9: “Since a high of 14 homicides in 2003, the number of hate crime homicides ranged from three to nine victims each year between 2004 and 2011. This was an average of 6 homicides per year.” This puts it directly in line with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s figures.)
And 3 out of 15,000 annual murders, on average, are either classified as Jihadist murders or Far Right murders, as those two distinct groups run about equal on the carnage from deadly attacks since 9/11 (and compared to 2000 gang murders, that’s 666 times less).
(Summer and Fall 2016 UPDATE: Make that 6 annual Jihadist murders in the U.S. after the June 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, and that’s according to the “updated” link above and website redesign by The New American Foundation. Sadly, we also maybe now have a huge spike in extremist killings against the LGBT community, whereas I and many others consider Orlando both a “terrorist” crime and a “hate” crime. Almost proving the point of how anomalistic these tragedies are, this one incident practically doubles the annual average of “hate crime” and “jihadist extremism” totals since 9/11/2001. Luckily, and I’m not being trite here, on November 28, 2016, the American average avoided being “Lucky 7” annually because a radicalized Somali refugee didn’t use a gun, but he instead a knife and vehicle before being killed by police. Some people quibble if “lone wolf” attacks like Omar Mateen’s in a gay night club should “count” as Jihadist attacks. Wikipedia says it’s an Islamist terror attack. President Obama calls it both a hate crime and terrorism. The New American Foundation is a non-profit think tank with a diverse and intelligent board of directors and was launched in 1999 with two decidedly non-right-wing founders, The New Yorker magazine writer Steve Coll and CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt; along with significant funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Basically, I trust it and have referenced it dozens of times.)
Open call for a real statistician or criminologist: How come we can have 1.2 million victims of violent crime in the USA every year (5.4 million violent victimizations), and nearly 15,000 homicides on one hand? And on another hand, we can also tabulate “250,000 Americans over the age of 12 are victimized every year by hate criminals,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (using stats backed by a 2013 U.S. Justice Department report), but under 5 “hate crime” murders annually, 2003–2015? So this is a mystery. But it makes me question how loosely the term “hate crime” is applied.
Basically, when FBI stats show that 1 in 500 violent acts are hate crimes and 1 in 2500 murders are hate crime-related, how can those averages be so far off by a factor of 5?
And how are “hate crime” stats measured, because I read everything “official” from well under 10,000 a year (FBI) reported up to one-quarter million (U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics)? Either way, those crimes leading to significant bodily harm or death are drastically low. I know this is apples and oranges, but bear with me. On the lowest numbers I mention in the paragraph above, 1 “hate crime” death is measured for every 2000 “hate crime” acts (10,000 divided by 5). And, overall in the population, 1 death is measured for every 80 violent crime victims (1.2 million divided by 15,000). U.S. Justice Department “hate crime victims” compared to “hate crime homicides” is a 50,000:1 ratio. That’s quite a difference, no matter how you look at it. Which mostly tells me, “We should really worry about plain-old violence in this country.”
And I also ask: If “hate crimes” are so ugly and omnipresent, how come they lead to so few deaths? How “severe” are “hate crime incidents” if the likelihood of each one leading to death can be a 2000:1 (FBI) or 50,000:1 ratio (DOJ). Is there a massive over-inflation what a “hate crime incident” is, or a massive under-count on “hate crime” deaths? With so much talk about “hate crime” as a major social problem, this is a curiosity to me.
I’m gonna point it out again and again, with links below to show why this article (and petition for “justice & accountability” of the 3 killings) is unnecessary noise. And frankly, bullshit. I tabulated with simple math today that around 1/25th of 1% of murders are labeled “hate crimes” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose very existence is to shed light on racism. But I have a strong inkling the Think Progress article got 2700 shares because of, ahem, “Racism.” That’s what some people “feel” or “imagined” might have happened in Indiana. Hell, I get that. I read the 70-odd incidents of Islamophobia since Dec 2015’s Paris Attacks and San Bernardino shootings, many acts one by one. I immerse myself in cases of false convictions and ethnographic information. But then, I put on the math hat: Gang murders are up to 666 times more likely to happen, because they’re nearly 15% of total murders as opposed to .04%. Also: Most homicides are intraracial: 93% of black victims are killed by blacks, as around 85% of white victims are killed by whites. Oh, shit. Logic.
The root of most of these problems: Poverty.
Poverty comes from: Longstanding class conflict (unequal funding for schools, gutting of programs such as mental health) and historical racism (slavery, segregation).
People talk about structural racism, and you’re on solid academic ground to argue the many limitations persons of color face in our society. But I also see buses that run, tax-payer schools that still function (somewhat), and churches and families that don’t have “institutions” controlling them every minute. I see firsthand daily Medicaid still taking care of many of the extreme poor or sick, yet equitable healthcare outcomes are still far off. I know updated Obama-era Fair Sentencing Act crack laws still aren’t comparable to white powder cocaine penalties (street market price is still 10 times less, I’ve calculated). I also know as many people get thrown in federal prison with mandatory minimums for meth as do for crack, a little more than 5000 annually each; and 79% of the crack convictions were black, but only 2% of all meth convictions. Divide those two groups and get approximately 35% of mandatory minimums are black for crack and meth, but then again, blacks are 29% of drug arrests in 2014, again calling into question the hyperbolic cries of racism in sentencing. So there goes that narrow “racist drugs laws that target blacks” argument. I also calculate the mandatory minimums sentences require several $1000s of dollars of drugs on you, so holding a a reasonable amount of marijuana — or low amounts of MDMA or cocaine — isn’t going to lock you up alone. Even removing drug sentences entirely would only drop the African American prison population a tiny percentage. Still, I constantly hear misdirection, embellishments, or accusations of racism and unequal applications of justice under the law. For example, the “suits” on Wall Street aren’t being arrested. OK. But do you know how many there are? (Hint: there’s just less than 10,000 white-collar crime cases annually, which is more than I suspected.) I’ve seen the host of figures on Institutional Racism, and while I find merit in many points, I always wonder: To what degree is it affecting daily lives? Heavily, partially or significantly less than different people with grounded methodologies and ideologies think? How much progress and many decades will it take to rectify this? Who knows? This isn’t about pathology. This isn’t about the boogeyman of racism pulling the trigger. Will anybody split the difference of arguments posted by the polar factions in this country to make any sense of the real problems we face in our nation’s health? ‘Cos we’re splintering without sound, sensible solutions.
We need a new war on poverty. It starts, in my opinion, by being race-blind in the proposals: Push programs that help the poor and educate them, that gives jobs directed at communities with highest rates of unemployment. I promise: It may not “win” in this 2016 environment (maybe 2018? 2020?), but it will be more politically palatable and will help communities of color the most, in the end, because of the intersection of race and poverty. These have a chance at winning, but I’m not hearing the clarion call, outside a handful of progressive politicians. (And even with Bernie Sanders, I hesitate to fully praise his ability to “sell” economic injustice at times; even if I generally agree with his rhetoric and endorse his candidacy.) Saying the “correct” things that appeal to your friends or specific groups won’t fix the problem of inequality — they’ll just piss off different, arbitrary groups off more, and some will use it as ammunition run into the arms of Trump. People will ask, “Where’s the evidence to that?” and to that I’ll say: “Which entity is going to do that poll question? Which institution is going to look at extremism on all sides and how it effects THE OTHER side of the spectrum?” Because it seems like more and more they exist to support one another: We are what we are not, essentially. We need bigots to be righteous. We need “Feminazis” (thanks Limbaugh) to be “strong patriot Christians.” We need the punks so we can be the mods, etc. It’s all so high school. I wish more people understood that.
Honestly, I don’t know if many people know what the fuck you’re talking about with “White Privilege” because when you’re white and poor you indeed don’t feel privilege. You can blend in more places when nearly nearly two-thirds of your country is Caucasian, sure. You probably won’t be followed around the occasional store. If you’re black, you’ll receive 10% (and up to 20 %) longer penitentiary sentences. But one may not feel that privilege when you’re 40% of the food stamp recipients (13% unknown), by far the majority recipient. “Oh, but of course, you’re 63% of the population.” That’s true. Race and poverty are intertwined, and on a per capita basis, whites are still ahead in this country. On average as an aggregate, your life outcomes are better than black lives. No one should argue differently. Yet some conservatives make nuanced arguments that split the difference from the 1980s race-blind mantras to today’s heavily race-focused perspectives.
But you know what absolutely fascinates me, and highlights “magical thinking” in terms of how people construct arguments: The demographic breakdown for receiving aid for food AND being shot by a police are almost EXACTLY the same. But the headline to the 2015 Huffington Post article I Googled says dramatically, “Who Gets Food Stamps? White People, Mostly.” Take 15 seconds and think about that in the context of #blacklivesmatter.
(1, 2, 3 … Okay, 15 seconds.)
If you clicked the link, you’d see it says 40.2% are White, 10.3% are Hispanic, 25.7% are Black, 2.1% are Asian, 1.2% are Native American, and 12.8% are race unknown. This could be construed as an indicator of poverty, and the numbers nearly match the % of police killings in 2015 total in The Guardian, or the Washington Post. When we talk about who’s incarcerated it’s mostly minorities, which is true. Ironically, the “Who Gets Food Stamps? White People, Mostly” headline is a standard liberal argument going back for decades when so-called racist (often Republican) politicians scream “Welfare queens of Harlem” who are disproportionately “abusing” the system and the counterpoint is often, “No, it’s mostly white people.” Point is: When’s the last time anywhere outside a conservative source focused on the majority white lives lost in the police killings at the hands of police debate? Are we paying attention to the mental gymnastics advocates make to erase, or conversely highlight, a particular race to make an ideological point?
How come the white militia supporters scream “murder by law enforcement” regarding the shooting death outside Burns, Oregon, January 26, 2016, yet are silent in Ferguson? And the #blacklivesmatter supporters have “Hands up, don’t shoot” as the mantra against illegitimate government-sanctioned killings in Missouri, but are mum about Oregon, if not outright outright derisive. Except for this Antiwar.com writer who points out the identity politics involved and calls both state-sponsored “executions.” I disagree with such cynical, conspiracy fueled thinking — but appreciate pointing out the double-standards in our polarized politics.
I wrote this and edited this point below for most of the last 16 months (yes, up until now, almost all my arguments have been self-censored and trapped in the world of Google docs):
QUICK FACTS: % of black people killed by police matches % of blacks arrested (approx 28–32% or nearly 1 in 3 (Vox 2015).
UPDATE: 26% of people killed by police in 2015 are black; 50% are white. (via The Guardian, which has among the highest totals of an media reporting.)
All below are FBI or Wikipedia stats for Black Americans:
Homicide offender (and victim) rate of African Americans = 50–55%
Arrests = 28%.
Incarcerated = 37%.
Violent crime arrests = 39%.
Weapons = 40%.
43% of cops are killed by black persons
56% of carjackings are by black persons
And very important, too, is pointing out that the victims are within communities: See Department of Justice Report: Black Victims of Violent Crimes.
SO THE KEY QUESTION: If police killings of the black population are by most every measure equal or LESS than their contact points with each other — potentially violent interactions justified by actual crime taking place (case reports, victims stats, arrest rates) — does that mean these killings are not disproportional? And if that’s true, would this debunk the idea that death by the hands of police indicates racial bias in the USA?
Disconcerting to me is that only conservative blogs will make this point, ones I rarely agree with, in general. And conservatives rarely address the sociological factors of poverty — based in historical racism — that lead to such outcomes.
Opinion: Police may or may not be shooting too many people.
Fact: It’s not “systemically racist” in killing too many person of color. Based on contact points backed by verifiable crime stats, they’re getting killed less than white persons.
Yet, when I make arguments like those above, it often becomes clear people aren’t comfortable looking at this information. It’s race-baiting, they may say. Stats don’t show the whole picture. The last FBI stat is certainly an unnecessary aside (why mention that?) unless we honestly admit the national conversation on police-on-black-killings are so often framed as white-police-on-black-killings.
In the end of 2015, The Guardian posted their totals of people killed by police at more than 1100 total (the most of any publication I saw, and includes anyone from prisons to the street), and blacks were indeed double their percentage population: 26% of people killed are black* (74% are not, 51% are white) [* by police; by society the black population of 12.6% is both victim and perpetrator of around 50% of homicides]. Even for unarmed persons shot by cops (10% of total), 40% are black — again, the per capita gap shrinks, and that could indicate systemic racism. Still, 43% of the cops killed are by black persons, though that total number is small (usually under 50 police officers per year).
Indeed, as I statistically pointed out above, the the murder rate, violent crime rate, and arrest rate are HIGHER than the police-killing-black-men rate, which to me is the “canary in the coal mine” of racism.
Or super-duper simply: White people and black people, as individual demographic sets, are roughly 40% of those in prison and 40% of criminals and crime victims in many categories. But police in 2015 killed more than 1000 persons, 10% unarmed (90 total in 2015, according to the Washington Post), and about 50% were white and 25% were black.
Yet what are activists and the media predominantly paying attention to? It’s not killings of unarmed white kids in Utah.
You can hide bruises, but you can’t hide dead bodies, or so the newspapers of UK and USA found in 2015. (Or the propaganda arm of Russia, RT News, cited by so many radicals hoping to make a point with false headlines.) If one wants to argue that racist systemic violent abuse by police is much higher than their rate of fatal shootings, I encourage you to lay out that argument as I have (as I acknowledged several disparities, including drug convictions despite arguably equal rate of use; which could be chalked up to, again, “low hanging fruit” by patrolling high crime areas and open-air drug markets). These killings that took over the world’s headlines could simply indicate that the areas police work are a little more hostile and scary for a reason: Because violence begets violence, violence is often concentrated, and perceived threats can come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Yes, we have now have websites dedicated to how not to get shot by a police officer. No, despite the numerous times I’ve heard people actually say this, police cannot shoot people to wound, such as in the leg (a black ex-Cook County Sheriff who drove me home in a Lyft taxi this past month said shooting a leg would hold an officer liable for unlawful conduct, while a chest shot would not). Until the rules and American culture changes, and police officers’ collective mentality and training changes when it comes to the preeminence of personal safety, then we’ll keep having shootings. Indeed, we can and should do better to lower crime and restore trust through CAPS programs and the like, which like most things in this country is drastically underfunded. Like the Ferguson Department of Justice report mentions, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have the police force match demographically the people they serve. (“While approximately two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are African American, only four of Ferguson’s 54 commissioned police officers are African American.”)
Still, despite all the parts of our U.S. justice system that can be critiqued, The Guardian’s year end results highlighted by #blacklivesmatter show cops killing 250 black people out of a thousand compared to 500 white persons. Alas, Hispanics and Asians get cut out of the discussion, predominantly, just like the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, where those two minority groups in films are the statistical “victims” many times more than persons of African descent. Washington Post points out 4% of killings by cops are unarmed black men, i.e. the ones we constantly hear about, to the point that it’s on my NPR station weekly, if not daily sometimes. What does that mean? It’s all LESS than you think it does. I’ve never been able to alter my view of police shootings: It’s a symptom of our violent nation. Guns. Inequality of wealth. Yes, a racist and blindly capitalist past that set much of this in motion. We just need to rectify the loss of trust.
I’ll write another column about how police are not being held accountable by a factor of 5 to 10, meaning that the 1% of police shootings being held accountable and punished, give or take, is also bullshit. But I’ll also point out that if 10% of police shootings were out-of-line, for an average human no matter race/age/sex, you’re also 110 times more likely to be shot-and-killed by your fellow human (110 bodies to 1 unjustly killed by police). And if black, you’re 175 times more likely to be shot dead than killed in any manner by police (175:1). So who are you fearing, again? The racist? The cop? Or Billy down the street?
It’s my belief that people are sick of “the sky is falling down” hyperbole that’s not substantiated by reasoning, balance, facts-on-the-ground, or nuance. The racist cop isn’t going to kill you 99 times out of 100, necessarily (yes, some do). It’s your neighbor, your husband, your wife (maybe not the girlfriend/wife by a factor of 10+ because murder is still gendered). The police officer (“po po”) may treat you badly ‘cos your skin is dark, and they may very well be treating you badly ‘cos you’re cursing them out or raising your voice when they’re talking to you. What potentially happens when tensions raise? Violence. That doesn’t make the person pulling the trigger always right, but how often do we have to agree every death in custody — cough, Sandra Bland — is emblematic of racial injustice killing people? Or can we simply understand in a country with a gun for every man, woman and child and 1.2 million violent crime arrests per year, and a shit-ton of paranoia, bad shootings will happen. Maybe you know this already.
We can and should do better, and my future argument will address that. As many as 50 to 100, or even 300 police killings can be prevented through radical change in police policy (yet maybe more cops could be killed or hurt, we’ll see). Politicians should seek correctives, in key areas, as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are (though, I see them pandering, as well).
So I come back to what I said this after the Ferguson decision: Let’s not treat one another as “the enemy.” Let’s give some respect. And let’s start by respecting the facts in proportion to reality.