Like so many, I’ve watched with a heavy heart the malicious violence that is sprouting like poison ivy across the country, germinated by liberal applications of incendiary rhetoric and misplaced indulgence. In the city in which I was raised, Baton Rouge, three police officers were assassinated and three officers were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. One of the dead, a black officer with 10 years on the force, had recently posted on Facebook about the angst and mounting pressure he felt from the very community he ultimately gave his life defending. Does his black life matter? Where are the protestors on his behalf?
Yet the list of horribles continues. On the same day officers were killed in Baton Rouge, officers in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were dispatched on a domestic disturbance call where a 20 year-old with two felonies on his record opened fire on the police car, wounding an officer inside the vehicle. Eight officers have been killed nationwide in 11 days. Here in Memphis a week ago, protestors took to the streets with their signs and chants and didn’t stop until they had shut down Interstate 40 in downtown Memphis.
For more than five hours, truckers, travelers, parents, and children sat, helplessly stranded on the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi River. (And you think the kiddos can be a challenge when the car is moving!) In one case, paramedics struggled to extract a sick child from the stranded traffic and transport the child to the hospital. How many others who needed medical attention remained stranded is unknown to us and to the resolutely impervious crowd that held commuters hostage.
Naturally, I was interested to see what my colleagues at The Federalist would have to say about events, and went right away to David Marcus’ very moving essay, “This Week We Are All Black Lives Matter.” While the overall appeal to greater understanding and empathy was laudable, somewhere along the way David was carried aloft on the headwind of his good intentions, and deposited somewhere between sentimentality and mawkishness.
The Disproportionality Runs the Other Way
Highlighting the fatal confrontations of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile with the authorities, David writes, “Every white American paying attention already knew that police kill black men at alarming rates.” That’s a pretty sweeping statement on behalf of a lot of people David has never met, and it needs some further scrutiny.
In 2015, according to information collected by the Washington Post, 26 percent of the people killed by police officers were black. Now, if that is alarming, what then are we to make of the fact that a full 50 percent of people who died at the hands of police officers were white? Should the fact that whites were killed by the police at nearly double the rate of blacks take us from alarm to outright panic? Should we shout that white lives matter and wreak havoc, or should we take a deep breath and dig a little deeper into the facts?
Heather Mac Donald, author of “The War On Cops,” has done a stunning and thorough amount of research which has yielded, among other things, the fact that blacks make up just 15 percent of the population in the nation’s 75 largest counties (2009), yet comprise 45 percent of all assault defendants, 62 percent of all robbery defendants, and 57 percent of all murder defendants. In New York City alone, where blacks comprise 23 percent of the population, they account for 75 percent of all shootings, 70 percent of all robberies, and 66 percent of all violent crime.
The wonder therefore, isn’t that a group so highly represented in violent crime comprises 26 percent of deaths that occur in altercations with authority, but rather that the rate isn’t higher still. Whites, who account for 33 percent of New York City’s population, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings, 4 percent of robberies and 5 percent of all violent crime while having the highest fatality rate in confrontations with police. Happily, they haven’t resorted to blocking interstate highways and targeting the police and show no interest in doing so.
It’s Not Necessarily Racism to Pursue Black Suspects
“As black Americans shout, yell, and cry that their lives matter, the eerie silence of white Americans carefully balancing causes and solutions whispers back, ‘No, they don’t,’” David Marcus writes. To divide a group of people by race and assume that they think monolithically is not only erroneous on its face, it’s the sort of presumptuous tribal division we usually associate with the hard left. To further presume to reach into the minds of these people en masse and hear them whisper that black lives don’t matter is insulting.
“The hand that holds the gun is the only system,” David continues. “In those long, deadly moments choices are made, threats assessed, and actions taken. We must never accept the color of a person’s skin influencing the police officer facing these situations.” Well, given the facts presented above, which I assume he must have been unaware of, the burden of proving that skin color is influencing the police falls to David. But he will need to come to terms with the following as well, which Mac Donald presented recently at Hillsdale College:
These disparities mean that every time the police in New York are called out on a gun run — meaning that someone has just been shot — they are being summoned to minority neighborhoods looking for minority suspects. Officers hope against hope that they will receive descriptions of white shooting suspects, but it almost never happens. This incidence of crime means that innocent black men have a much higher chance of being stopped by the police because they match the description of the suspect [emphasis mine]. This is not something the police choose. It is a reality forced on them by the facts of crime.
Add to this the fact that the number of cops who’ve been killed in shootings has more than doubled in only the first three months of 2016, and the fact that a police officer’s chances of being killed by a black person is 18.5 times higher than the odds an unarmed black will be killed by a police officer, and the risks associated with an officer responding to violent crimes in the places where they usually occur come into sharper focus. To lump these and other relevant factors under the blunt title of someone’s skin color “influencing the police officer” betrays a rather incurious simplicity regarding a complex topic.
A protestor who admitted he was taunting Dallas police later told how some officers rushed him and pushed him away from the gunfire when the shooting started. He told of seeing one of those officers fall to the ground, shot while saving the protestor’s life. Decisions that save lives, like those that take them, are not made in “long, deadly moments,” as David dramatically contends, but rather in the heat of the moment and in a fraction of a second.
Police Aren’t the Major Problem for Black People
To the extent that the deaths of blacks has become an issue of race, it has been made so by race hustlers from Barack Obama on down to the usual suspects who rather conveniently fail to address the fact that blacks nationwide commit homicide at eight times the combined rate of whites and Hispanics, and that black males aged 14-17 commit homicide at ten times the combined rate of white and Hispanic male teens.
The question then becomes: Black lives matter to whom, exactly? Because the numbers show it isn’t police officers who are hunting down innocent African Americans. Rather, the awful fact is that the last face a black homicide victim is likely to see is the black face of his killer. Closing the nation’s highways, looting business in the black community, and disrupting the lives of law-abiding citizens will not change that reality even a little bit.
When Memphis’ interim police director met with Black Lives Matter protestors on the I-40 bridge Sunday evening, they all agreed to a cease-fire in the city’s ongoing homicides, which have reached more than 120 people in 2016. No more killings, they said, for the next 30 days. Less than 24 hours later, predictably, another homicide took place.
So we are entitled to ask: Do black lives matter to the thugs who prey on the innocent in their community, who steal from them and assault them? Do black lives matter to a culture that demeans and dehumanizes women in its music and its actions? Exactly how precious are black lives in Memphis, where I live, where young black males regularly swerve on their motorcycles and in their cars across busy interstate highways at speeds in excess of 100 mph, wantonly endangering and sometimes taking the lives of motorists of all races?
Stop Blaming Poverty
In his 1984 book, “Civil Rights, Rhetoric or Reality?” Dr. Thomas Sowell, himself a product of Harlem, wrote:
Few people today are aware that the ghettos in many cities were far safer places two generations ago than they are today. Incredulity often greets stories by older blacks as to their habit of sleeping out on fire escapes or on rooftops or in public parks on hot summer nights. …In the 1930s whites went regularly to Harlem at night, stayed until the wee hours of the morning, and then stood on the streets to hail cabs to take them home. Today, not only would very few whites dare to do this, very few cabs would dare to be cruising ghetto streets in the wee hours of the morning.
So what happened? Dr. Sowell continued:
…If crime is a product of poverty and discrimination as they say endlessly, why was there so much less of it when poverty and discrimination were much worse than today? If massive programs are the only hope to reduce violence in the ghetto, why was there so much less violence long before anyone ever thought of these programs? Perhaps more to the point, have the philosophies and policies so much supported by black leaders contributed to the decline of the community and personal standards, and in family responsibility, so painfully visible today? For many, it may be easier to ignore past achievements than to face their implications for current issues.
Hillary Clinton says she wants to have a conversation about race. Fine. Let’s start with Sowell’s observations and explore whether such programs as Mrs. Clinton and President Obama have long advanced have helped or hurt the black community. Let’s explore whether a system that has encouraged generational dependence on government have yielded the results that were promised when its central programs were enacted more than 50 years ago.
By all means, let’s explore the liberal commitment to the lives of black children, for whom the most dangerous place in the world is in their mother’s womb. As Alveda King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, noted in 2014:
Right now in America almost half of our babies are being killed in the womb, and in certain parts of America more of our babies are being aborted than being born. While we were marching in the sixties, a place was being prepared for us at Planned Parenthood. We were trying to get off the back of the bus, and they were going to have a space for us in the front of the abortion mill.
Where are the protestors lamenting the hundreds of thousands of black lives claimed by the abortionist each year? Where are those who would confront Mrs. Clinton about her admiration for eugenicist Margaret Sanger, who referred to blacks as “human weeds?”
Yes, there is much to talk about, but we do not advance the conversation by ceding ground to the progressive mythology of racist cops or the progressive habit of dividing people by race for the purposes of assigning collective guilt or deification. Rebuking an entire race for imputed racism is a horribly misguided and repugnant exercise, whether it comes from the Left or the well-intentioned among us.
We are Americans, and we are individuals first and foremost, and we do not advance our country, our communities, or our neighborhoods by suspending the standards of civil society and civilized conduct, or by excusing lawlessness and anarchy—period.