Although I am white, I feel no guilt about the cortege of atrocities of the slave trade, of slavery, and of racial segregation. Perhaps it’s because my ancestors were dumbly digging potatoes in central France when all that happened. So it’s up to me it seems to go past the mind-numbing platitudes, the lies, and the half-truths following the assassination of five police officers in Dallas.
First, Black Lives Matter, the organization, has blood on its hands although it probably was not premeditated, and not the Dallas group, it seems but others in other cities. I will not forget the incantation to “fry them [cops] like bacon.” Exaggerations matter because there are always sociopaths listening who will take them as suggestions or even as orders, we were just reminded. With the social media,. there are many more sociopaths within earshot than there used to be. In fact, if you repeat something often enough you can almost be sure that someone will act on it. Also, if you keep repeating the same horrors over and over again, they begin to feel like normalcy.
The national narrative is being shaped by the president and by liberal voices in the media (same thing, mostly) because conservatives are paralyzed. The narrative is full of holes. Its main anchor, although it’s only implicit, is that police officers killings of black men are racially motivated. I have seen images that made me sick of a suspect shot in the back when on the ground. I have seen a cop shoot a fleeing suspect also in the back. In both cases, the officer was white and the victim black. Those looked to me like judicial murders. A district attorney and a jury will decide. Murder is murder.
In the deplorable event where a young black man was shot to death in Minnesota, recently (an episode that prompted the protest in Dallas), the shooter was a police officer with a Hispanic name. You may also remember the lamentable incident in New York city a couple of years ago when a small-time cigarette trafficker was mishandled by police until he died. The ranking officer on the scene was black and a woman to boot. Of the six officers involved in the admittedly stinking death of a Baltimore arrestee in a police vehicle, three are black, including the ranking officer. Am I supposed to start believing that these black cops, this Hispanic cop kill black people out of racial hatred? Am I stupid?
In the best known recent case, that of a young large black petty thief killed by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, enormous means were brought to bear to try and prove racism and they had to be abandoned. Reminder: both Missouri authorities independent of the town where the shooting took place and the [federal] Justice Department investigated and could not find evidence to indict the officer, of murder, even of manslaughter, or even of any civil rights violation. This although the shooting took place in front of many witnesses, most of them black. That incident gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement through a fallacious recounting of events faultlessly supported by the liberal press. Incidentally, from what I have read, the Ferguson killing was avoidable and possibly hasty. Yet, it says nothing about race or racism.
I would be curious to know – and someone might dig the relevant numbers and supply them here if they exist – whether white cops or black cops are more likely to shoot black citizens. I am guessing, black cops, but by a small margin. (Yes, you read right: I think black cops are more likely to shoot blacks.)
A narrative can be faulty as much because of what it does not cover as because of what it covers falsely. The facts of black criminality are being ignored as if by an implicit collective, all-American agreement.* Here are two numbers that tell a story. Adult black males can’t be much more than 6% of the total American population. Yet, from year to year, they are responsible for somewhere between 40% and 50% of homicides. (If my figures are wrong by as much as 1/4 either way, it changes little, you will notice.) Members of police forces everywhere are aware of these facts, at least in a general way.
The long and the short of it is this: Black males as a category** are dangerous.
It changes little that most black males are not dangerous, that few black males are dangerous. We think in categories; we have to think in categories until we know someone personally. Take categories [breeds] of dogs. Many German shepherds are sweethearts and some French poodles are aggressive a..-h….. But I am much more likely to have my arm mangled by a German shepherd than by a French poodle. It’s a fact. Armed forces everywhere and companies in the guarding-anything business are not confused about this. They rely on German shepherds rather than on French poodles 10,000 to one, if that.
It’s true that if I am a white man living in a white area, I am much more likely to be killed by a white person than by a black person. It’s also true that blacks kill primarily blacks. Police officers, though cross barriers as part of their job. Cops of all races are much more likely to be killed by a black man than I, a white civilian, am. They know it, also in a general way.
Human beings are constantly, ceaselessly playing the odds. It’s probably the way Mother Nature intended it for weak, slow, unarmed creatures with big food requirements like us.
To expect police officers to abandon this normal, habitual human preferred strategy when their lives may be at stake verges on madness. Given the same circumstances – absent any racial prejudice – police officers are more likely to shoot dead a black man than a white man. Given the fundamentally rational nature of the odds strategy, this must be true of black cops, of Asian cops, of Hispanic cops. This is not to assert that there is no racial prejudice but to say that racial prejudice is a superfluous explanation for the readiness of police officers to kill or to severely harm black citizens.
The last part of the narrative currently being peddled is to turn every bloody shooting incident into an argument for gun control that many people – including me – see as an unconstitutional assault on the Second Amendment. President Obama seems to want gun restrictions to be the last page of his legacy. We don’t yet know as I write (07/09/16 ) the details of the killing of five Dallas officers in cold blood by a black man with a long gun. I must say that this incident comes closer to providing a rationale for restricting some gun ownership than anything I have seen in the past four or five years. (The fact is, that the killer couldn’t have done what he did with any handgun.) Yet, this idea seems futile because there are at least 300 millions privately owned firearms in America. That horse left the stable long ago. And the old saw remains true that when guns are outlaws, only outlaws will have guns.
I think the way to reduce officer killings of citizens (of all races) is a deep transformation of police culture. I believe American cops shoot too easily as if no other means of incapacitating a subject, such as Tasers and pepper spray ever existed. I have heard that the police doctrine in most places is that if an officer takes out his firearm, he should aim to kill, not even think of wounding, of making the suspect unable to fight. (I may have heard wrong; I hope someone will correct me here if I did.) This ought to change. Police work should not be like war. Citizens are not enemies.
In general, I am pessimistic about deliberately changing a culture. I am not in this case for two reasons. First nearly all policemen in America receive formal training. Their training could be inflected toward lesser lethal use of firearms. There could be emphatic training in techniques to controlling suspect involving no firearms. Second, police officers are not private citizens. They operate under orders and within hierarchies. The people at the top of police hierarchies can decide to reward certain behaviors over others. This is not utopian. Occupational cultures are often modified through conscious decisions. I also suspect (suspect) that more could be done to screen out volatile or even sadistic types from police forces. After all, there is no shortage nationwide of recruits for police work. We can afford to be demanding and choosy.
Update 7/ 18/16 A professor of Economics at Harvard conducted a comparative study of about 1,000 police shootings across the nation. He reports that there is zero (No) evidence of racial bias in police shootings:
Fryer, Roland G. 2016 “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force”
Prof. Roland is a secret member of the KKK, of course. Oops, my mistake, he is African-American!
* Every time I try to talk about this around a liberal, he immediately tries to change the subject to the alleged causes of black criminality. That’s another topic altogether. If superior black crime is a result of injustice, past and present, or of poverty, or of a correctly perceived lack of life opportunities for young black men, it does not change my analysis at all.
** Why “blacks” (African-Americans) became a highly relevant social category as opposed to say, blondes, or geniuses, or dog owners is a complex story with several historical roots, a story I will tell sometimes if someone asks me. The efforts of black organizations in the twentieth century and until now also have something to do with the social relevance of that category. You can’t have it both ways, speak of a black “community” one day, demand special privileges for members of a category, the next and insist at the end of the week that there are only black individuals.
On police culture, see also on this blog: https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/fourteen-year-old-girl-in-bikini-threatens-armed-cop/
This is a good reflective opinion piece.
Decades ago, I lived on the edge of the vast black slums of Chicago. I was told that black suspects and arrestees were treated much worse, on average, when the arresting officers were black than when they were white. The black officers knew they could strike with relative impunity.
My spouse suspects that steroid abuse is common among those who patrol the streets; hence the hairtrigger mentality of some cops.
Do keep in mind that when an American police officer pumps a bullet into someone, what happens subsequently is very different from what would happen in France. The investigator is usually a minor local politician with a law degree, called the DA (the county sheriff too is elected). The DA’s refusal to prosecute cannot be appealed. When he does agree to move a case forward, he takes it to a grand jury, which only hears what he tells them, and whose proceedings are minuted, but strictly confidential. A DA who is in bad faith has many means at his disposal that make it very likely that the grand jury will decline to indict. If the grand jury declines to indict, that too is the end of the story. If the case goes to trial, the DA can assure an acquittal by being half-hearted about advancing his case, or by making deliberate procedural errors that will turn the jury against the prosecution, or that will guarantee the success of an appeal by the defendant.
The upshot is that very few police officers do a long stretch of hard time for excessive violence in the performance of their duties. This is the fact that enflames the BLM movement. At the same time, BLM is resolutely blind to about two sobering facts: (1) about half of the people shot and killed by police officers are white, and (2) the USA has a horrendous rate of blacks killing blacks.
I agree with Jacques that the selection and training of police officers could be done much better. To that I add abolishing grand juries, legalising private prosecutions for criminal offences, and most important, having police misconduct investigated and prosecuted by an agency that reports to the state’s Attorney General. Everyone working for this agency would be a career civil servant.
Interesting analysis. I have to comment that the French are moving away from their instructing magistrates system and toward a DA system where; however, the DAs won’t be elected. I have a hard time finding objectionable that DAs are elected because much the same arguments could be brought to bear against the election of mayors. governors and, in the end, presidents.
I did not only say that selection and training could be done much better because that is always true. I think the prevailing police doctrine on how to incapacitate should be changed with deliberateness. I half believe that public opinion could achieve this, especially if it were not misdirected by the falsehoods of Black Lives Matter.
I am anxious to read you on this question « why some part of a population became a highly relevant social category?” because we in France have the problem with the Maghrebi muslim community.
Thank you. Remind me later.
“Jack” means “Jeannot”. No excuse because you had the same English teacher as I did.
Jeannot, comme c’est mignon! c’est comme çà que Jean Cocteau appelait Jean Marais à l’époque où l’homosexualité était réservée aux riches et aux artistes.
O tempora, o mores ! (Ciceron – les Ctilinaires)
This was fun to read because it told me what I already believe in a new, well written and insightful manner. I have a few points to add:
You say that, “conservatives are paralyzed”. This BLM phenomenon has glaring logical flaws which conservatives are quite good at calmly pointing out. But conservatives can’t seem to counter the rhetoric and shape the public narrative. Also, many liberals are completely horrified by BLM. Both Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders got shouted down by the BLM crowd.
Many people that police are racist against blacks just because that is being shouted in their ears over and over.
Many BLM protester types are upset about unrelated issues in their lives and BLM just serves as a socially approved platform to act out and attack whatever grievances that they have.
Lastly, normally a protest movement is ideologically at odds with the power structure. Yet, the president and other social leaders explicitly endorse the protesters main points, encourage the movement, and defend it from criticism. To get such nurturing, encouragement, and social PR support from leaders of society makes it pretty absurd to consider this a real protest against anything.
If you cite the Ronald G. Fryer study, it’s only fair that you also mention their other major finding: that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to experience some form of force (typically non-lethal) in their encounters with the police, even if you control for things such as whether the encounter took place in a low-crime or high-crime area, and how the civilian behaved during the encounter (whether they provided ID, disobeyed direct orders etc.).
Nahim: Your point is well taken and I am glad you mention these findings. However, I have really no moral obligation to mention them. I was not giving a summary of the study but using what is to me its main finding to illustrate a point a I made under my own speed.
I have criticized police brutality several times on this blog: American can police officers kill far too many people AND the Black Lives Matter narrative is a lie greedily swallowed by the ever-silly white liberals.