Positing that “Black Lives Matter” is such an obvious fact that repeating it sounds banal. Only an outright racist would question this premise. Therefore, the frequent “All Lives Matter” retort of critics often inflames the sensibilities of activists, with many in the BLM movement find this assertion objectionable on the basis that it misinterprets their message. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” is not a declaration that other lives are unimportant, activists say, but an affirmation that black lives are worth protecting.
Activists usually invoke the controversial killings of black men by the police to argue that black lives are treated as insignificant in America. But while footage depicting black men shot by police may draw raw emotions, such cases are extremely rare.
Although protesting police brutality is entirely legitimate, the BLM movement is built on the specious claim that as a result of systemic racism, black men are disproportionately killed by the police. So, by mischaracterizing the problem as “systemic racism,” the BLM movement will ultimately fail in its pursuit to save black lives.
Let’s Be Honest About ‘Systemic Racism’
The BLM movement could be an effective force for police reform, but activists wrongly direct their anger at eliminating the element of “systemic racism” they say permeates police departments, despite the lack of data implicating its existence. Several studies have shown that the claim of widespread racism in law enforcement is baseless. For instance, a study published by Harvard economist Roland Fryer found that black Americans are less likely to be shot by police when compared to their Caucasian counterparts, even when black Americans wield weapons.
To some skeptics, this may not be enough to disprove systemic racism. Cynics postulate if police officers could get away murdering black Americans without facing the consequences, then they would do so. Yet in the article “The Reverse Racism Effect: Are Cops More Hesitant to Shoot Black Than White Suspects?” researchers show that due to trepidation stemming from possible legal and social consequences, police officers are more circumspect when deciding to shoot black suspects than Caucasians. This, in turn, leads to fewer mistakes and slower response times in a simulated policing environment. If racism is rampant in the police force, why would officers refuse to act on this impulse in real-life situations because they fear the resulting implications, then act on it under simulated conditions when they can kill blacks with impunity?
Yet even if black Americans were disproportionately killed by police, would this be evidence of systemic racism? Contrary to the speculations of activists, research suggests the answer is “no.” In an article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found “no evidence of anti-black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and White officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-white officers.’’
The study, however, further notes that “as the proportion of violent crime committed by black civilians increased, a person fatally shot was more likely to be black.” Similar trends were also reported for Hispanics. It can reasonably be concluded the greater likelihood of black Americans being killed by officers is a result of their higher level of exposure incidents involving police.
Police Killings of Unarmed Black Men Are Extremely Rare
Despite the moral indignation of activists, there is no logical justification for so many of their beliefs. Even when we are discussing the matter of extrajudicial killings, the evidence suggests that American police kill very few unarmed individuals. According to the database of the Washington Post, only 15 unarmed black Americans were killed in 2019. The figure for Caucasians was only slightly higher. Additionally, unarmed does not mean non-violent — even a suspect who physically attacks a police officer is classified as unarmed.
The argument that black Americans are inordinately killed by the police when accounting for their size in the population is also fallacious. Although they are only 13 percent of the population, the fact remains that black Americans are responsible for a much higher percentage of homicides in America relative to their share of the population.
In a recent article, researcher Heather Macdonald aptly describes the extensive involvement of blacks in crime: “Between 2012 and 2015, blacks committed 85.5 percent of all black-white interracial victimizations (excluding interracial homicide, which is also disproportionately black-on-white). That works out to 540,360 felonious assaults on whites. Whites committed 14.4 percent of all interracial violent victimization or 91,470 felonious assaults on blacks.”
If major players in the BLM movement care about black lives, then they ought to focus on reforms that can improve the quality of life for black Americans. Presently, several activists have been recommending that states defund the police force. But the effect of this policy will be the reverse of what lobbyists desire. Defunding or abolishing the police will make it harder for officers to police crime-ridden inner-city communities, mainly occupied by blacks Americans.
Real Criminal Justice Reforms Are Needed
Ending the war on marijuana is a worthwhile alternative to reduce hostile interactions between blacks Americans and the police as well as reducing the black incarceration rate. During 2015-2017, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined. This proposal will not only result in fewer black Americans being imprisoned, but more resources will be devoted to solving and preventing serious crimes; thereby saving the lives of black Americans who are more likely to be victims of violent crimes.
It is good that the BLM movement is working to ensure that black Americans are protected from police brutality. Yet it should also work to eliminate other policies instituted by the American government that can indeed become obstacles to justice. One such policy usually criticized by Libertarians is prosecutorial immunity. As Clark Neily illustrates in his essay “A Libertarian Vision for Criminal Justice”:
Absolute prosecutorial immunity is precisely what it sounds like: a complete bar on suing prosecutors for anything they do within the scope of their job as a prosecutor. Incredibly, that includes deliberate acts of malfeasance, such as knowingly and even vindictively prosecuting an innocent person and even suborning perjury to help secure an unjust conviction.
For the BLM movement to become a serious organization, its adherents must propose sensible policies that can ameliorate the conditions of Black America.
Stable Families Benefit All of Society
Another variable that is often not mentioned in this debate is the role of families in improving outcomes for black Americans. Research has shown that young people raised in stable two-parent homes generate higher incomes than their contemporaries raised by single parents.
Sociologist David Popenoe has spent a career documenting the appalling effects of fatherlessness. Based on the findings of a landmark study, “racial income gaps are smaller when more fathers and married adults are present in a black boy’s community, irrespective of his own personal situation.”
Communities with stronger families are richer in social capital and opportunities; hence the benefits of residing in such neighborhoods, also positively affect children, whose own parents may not be living together. Fixing black families, therefore, will produce a beneficial effect for black Americans overall.
It is incredibly important that leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement take an inward look by examining how blacks Americans can create stronger families. The improved outcomes that will result will, by extension, reduce the negative externalities caused by unstable families which can manifest in criminal activity.
The BLM movement must dismiss hysterical recommendations. It must advocate serious reforms of the criminal justice system that ensure that the application of justice is fair and equitable. Furthermore, activists cannot expect most people to endorse the BLM movement when supporters seem to ignore the facts that black Americans so frequently take the lives of other blacks.
Black Lives Matter will not be a legitimate movement until activists begin to care about all lives — not just those killed by the police. Unless and until the BLM movement accepts the facts of reality, it will always remain a rogue group.