In a previous post, I criticized Jack Marshall’s post about the connections between protesters and cop killers. Jack tried to respond, but apparently my comment system is acting up again, so he emailed it to me. I started to write a response, but I guess Jack decided he had enough material for a full blog post, so I’ll respond to that instead. Or at least as much of it as I can. As it is, it’s taken me a while to put this together, and in the meantime Jack has posted several more pieces about the protest movement. Serves me right for arguing with a guy who thinks about these things for a living.
Two quick notes before I get started: First, I do need to back off on something a bit and apologize. When I was drafting that first post, I started with quotes from several people who had tried to blame the shootings on activists and protesters. When I added Jack’s rather substantive post to the mix, it grew so long that I decided to shorten it by leaving out the other statements. Those other quotes could, I think, have fairly been referred to as smears, but if I’d been more careful, I wouldn’t have left the word “smear” in as a characterization of Jack’s post. Smearing implies lying about someone to make them look bad, and while I disagree with what Jack says, I don’t think he was lying. His post was sincere and substantive, and I was careless not to change that before publishing. (Sorry, Jack.)
Second, to get an idea of where Jack is coming from, I encourage any of my readers with an interest in this topic to read Jack’s original post, then my response and then what Jack has to say about it. (To get even more of an idea where Jack is coming from, you might also want to read a post where he blames Obama for declining race relations, another post where he argues the protests aren’t really non-violent, and just for fun, a post from 2012 where he argues that Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 0% approval from black people means blacks are racially biased.)
At the end of Jack’s post he lists several reasons why he thinks mine fails:
It fails because it adopts the straw man that the issue is merely police abuse, rather than police racism that culminates in the murder of blacks, as part of a larger racist culture.
I’m not quite sure what Jack is getting at here. He seems to think that whenever I or some of the protesters refer to “police abuse” we’re really using code words to disguise the fact that we’re accusing the police, and by implication the justice system and American culture in general, of anti-black racial bias.
My post had several paragraphs about racial bias, so I thought my position would be obvious, but I guess I’ll have to be more clear: Yes. I’ll own that. I am accusing the police, the justice system, and American culture in general of anti-black racial bias. As I explained, it’s not all police, it’s not everyone involved with the justice system, and it’s certainly not all Americans, but there’s enough racism in the mix to justify vigilance.
I’m not talking about white supremacist groups like the Klan, which have been pushed out onto the fringe for decades — and which really got their asses kicked when millions of white Americans voted for a black President. I think that kind of powerful organized racist thuggery is gone for good.
Nevertheless, I think there’s a systematic and often callous disregard for black interests, black welfare, and black lives, and this has led to laws, policies, institutions, attitudes, and individual decisions that add up to a powerful, but not necessarily intentional, racial bias.
Getting back to Jack’s summary of my post’s failures:
It fails because it continues to rationalize the “hands up” narrative,
Jack asserted that protestors were wrong to protest because there was no evidence of racial bias after the Michael Brown shooting, but the fact that multiple witnesses were saying he had his hands up is actually pretty good evidence of racial bias. That this evidence eventually didn’t pan out very well doesn’t mean protesters were wrong to make some noise about it when it was the leading account.
(Also, it’s not as if Mike Brown is the only unarmed black man alleged to have been shot with his hands up. Sometimes there’s video, as when Trooper Sean Groubert fires a final shot at Levar Jones while he is backing away with his hands up. Jones lived, and Groubert is facing felony charges.)
because it conveniently ignores the Trayvon Martin references—which have nothing to do with police–in the rhetoric of pundits and activists.
It is because they have nothing to do with the police that I ignore the Trayvon Martin references.
It fails because it can’t explain, if the issue isn’t race, why white victims of excessive police force aren’t part of the discussion.
It’s black people who show up in large numbers at the protests, it’s black civil rights leaders who are leading the major protests, and the slogan is “black lives matter.” Of course the issue is race. I didn’t think anyone was trying to hide that.
The racial issues overlap with the issues of over-criminalization and police militarization, which are of considerable concern to those of us with libertarian leanings. There is some tension between the groups, with each side feeling that the other is addressing a side issue, but a consensus position might be that police have too much power and control over our lives, which they sometimes abuse, and that this is worse for blacks than for whites.
Most all, it fails because the underlying belief that the simple fact of a white individual taking action that results in negative consequences for an African-American is evidence of racism is racism itself.
It’s certainly not enough to prove racism, but it’s one of the requirements. More importantly, it’s not just about individuals taking action, it’s about the last 400 years of black people in America, at least 350 of which were pretty damned awful.
Further, police departments have a long history of racism. I don’t know if it’s worse than in society at large or if the racism in police departments is just scarier because cops hold positions of trust and authority. Studies generally show that black people are stopped by police more often, they’re searched more often, they’re arrested more often, they’re jailed more often, and they’re shot by cops more often. Even skeptics like John Lott admit there is some evidence to suggest that police disproportionately kill black people, and that comports with the reported experiences of black people. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio did not invent the idea of parents instructing their black children to be extra-careful around police officers.
(And lest you think that was all in our disgraceful past, black NYPD officers talk about how they’ve been treated by police when out of uniform.)
Now let me respond to a few other points…
“It’s not like the civil rights advocates, activists, journalists, and pundits are just making stuff up.”
Sure they are! They are made up the narrative that Brown was harmless, and used a photo that made him look like Gary Coleman.
What, any photo where he doesn’t look like a straight-up gangsta is a lie? So Jack, if the cops gun you down, which photo of you should they use? For me, I want this one:
Back to Jack:
They treated the “hands up” story, which came from Brown’s pal, as if it was fact. Then after it was shown to be unreliable, they continued to treat it as fact, and do to this day. I guess it doesn’t count as “making stuff up.”
The sentence Jack quotes about “making stuff up” was in response to his putting “police shooting unarmed black men” in scare quotes. My point was that the protesters were not making up the pattern of police shooting unarmed black men. There was solid factual basis to their accusations, in the form of a bunch of unarmed dead black guys.
That said, I will certainly concede that some of the activists are liars. In fact, maybe it will clear up a bunch of the conflict between Jack and I if I say that as long as we’re talking only about Al Sharpton, I don’t much disagree with his point. I’m old enough to remember Sharpton’s involvement in the Tawana Brawley mess, and while he seems to have mellowed since then (or just gotten more careful), that’s not saying much.
It might not be clear from my original post, but I’ve never been a Mike Brown true believer. From my very first post on the shooting of Mike Brown — before the grand jury report, before we knew the officer’s name, before we knew much more than that a cop had shot an unarmed black kid — I was saying the shooting might be justified, or at least an understandable. I haven’t read the grand jury report, but I gather from other people that it tends to confirm that the shooting was justified.
Personally, I think it’s been a mistake for those accusing police of racism to pin so much of it a single incident. on Darren Wilson’s shooting of Mike Brown, since the facts were far from clear. On the other hand, I don’t think it was unreasonable to question the shooting early on, and I don’t think it was unreasonable to accuse Wilson of some form of murder in the court of public opinion to keep the pressure on.
This brings me to what Jack calls my “second worst argument.” I wrote:
“However, Jack’s assertion that Michael Brown activists should not have made accusations before the investigation was complete is hypocritical nonsense. He is making that assertion in the middle of a post in which he accuses civil rights leaders and activists of creating the atmosphere that motivated cop killer Ismaaiyl Brinsley. In other words, just hours after the shooting — long before the NYPD investigation could possibly be complete — Jack claims to know who the murderer was, why he did it, and the identity of the people whose anti-cop rhetoric supposedly influenced him to do it. Jack is doing exactly the same thing he’s criticizing others for doing. The next time a cop kills an unarmed black man, should we hold Jack accountable for creating the conditions that made the cop fearful?”
In the case of Wilson, he was publicly accused, with nothing but the testimony of Brown’s accomplice in crime and a proven liar, of executing an unarmed man who was in a position of surrender (that was after Darion Johnson abandoned his earlier claim that Brown was shot in the back, and that Wilson fired a final shot into him, execution style, as he lay on the ground). When I wrote about Ismaaiyl Brinsley, there was no substantial question that he was the killer, and the evidence of his Instagram message announcing his intent and motivation was online for all to see.
None of which contradicts my point that the investigation has not been completed. I was being a bit pedantic, but I stand by my point that Jack is drawing conclusions and assigning blame without knowing everything possible about the shooting, which is the same thing he complains about.
In any case, saying that the protesters in Ferguson should have waited until the investigation was complete is dodging the issue. Getting all the facts is important, but sometimes the people urging you to wait until the facts are in are the same people who are trying to keep you from ever getting the facts. The Ferguson police department went into “Our officer did nothing wrong, nothing to see here, move along before we gas you” mode almost immediately. Without the protests and press attention, I’m not convinced this would have ever gone to a grand jury.
Jack actually provides an example of this in his comment, when he mentions the killing by cops of a white guy named John Geer and wonders why no one is interested in that case. That’s a good question. That’s not the first suspicious police shooting in Fairfax County, Virginia, where authorities have refused to identify the officers involved or explain why the victims were killed. (Since I wrote that post, the officer who killed David Masters was identified and fired.) When a secretive group kills people in other countries, we call it a “death squad.” Although I don’t really think the Fairfax police are engaging in an organized murder campaign. It would be nice to not have to take their word for it.
Perhaps if protesters had taken to the streets after the killing of John Geer — before the investigation was complete and all the facts were in — we’d know more about what happened to him.
Jack is critical of black leadership for not doing exactly that — for not taking up the cause of unarmed white people killed by police under suspicious circumstances — but that just seems like a case of people choosing their own priorities. Black leaders are organized to fight for causes that affect black people, and about 95% of the young men killed by police are black. If we demand they expand the scope of their operation, then why not insist they also address the problems of Palestinians in Israel, or Shiites in Sunni-controlled territory (or vice-versa), or North Koreans in North Korea? (Or if they want to help black people, how about helping black people in Africa? Because really, if you want to help black people, forget marching in the protest line. Spend the same amount of time on a part time job and donate your earnings to fight African Malaria.) Better to let people choose their own priorities.
And he was already dead. I wasn’t contributing to the conviction by rumor of a man who hadn’t been yet shown to be guilty of anything, and would have to live with the results.
No living individual at risk? You don’t think Al Sharpton, Mayor de Blasio, Eric Holder, and Barack Obama aren’t getting a lot more death threats now that so many people are blaming them for two cops being killed? I’m sure there are nutcases out there who are forming feeble-minded plans to kill them. (Although, if history is our guide, if anyone does respond violently, they will more likely kill some random stand-in victim that is easier to get to, just as Brinsley did.)
This brings me to my worst argument, according to Jack. I wrote:
“This is not the first time Jack has criticized activists for claiming there was racial bias in the Michael Brown shooting when ‘there is no evidence of this at all.’ Technically speaking, Jack is plain wrong. As Jack more-or-less admits, the simple fact that a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager is evidence of racial bias. It’s not very strong evidence, and it’s subject to interpretation and possible refutation by other evidence and testimony. But it’s still evidence.”
I never “admitted” any such thing.
Crap, he’s right. I was referring to his statement that “There is no evidence that Brown or Garner, or other shooting victims like John Crawford or 12-year old Tamir Rice were shot because they were black, except that they were black,” which doesn’t quite get me where I thought it did. I’ll expand on this in a minute.
The fact that a white man ends up killing a black man is no evidence of racial bias at all, unless you believe, as the activists do, that whites are inherently racist.
There’s a little more to the evidence than that. Let’s restore a couple of details that Jack seems to think are irrelevant: (1) I wrote “white police officer” not just “white man,” and (2) I wrote that the black person was unarmed. So now Jack’s question should not be whether whites are inherently racist, but whether white police officers are inherently racist. Further, “inherently racist” is not how I would describe the police. Perhaps a more accurate phrase would be “historically racist.” I think that’s pretty much undisputed.
Put all that together, and here’s the worst-case description of what happened to Mike Brown: A member of a group with a history of racist violence, equipped with a sidearm, possibly body armor, and several non-lethal weapons, confronts an unarmed and comparatively vulnerable black man on the street, and despite having a car which can be used for either cover or escape, he gets out and chases the black man down the street and shoots him dead. We have a lot more details now, some of them very important, but I believe that is an accurate summary of what we knew when the story broke that weekend in Ferguson. Further, I don’t think anything in that version of the story is contradicted by anything Officer Wilson has said since.
Obviously, that is by no means a fair version of the story, but suspicions never are. If my wife were murdered by an unknown assailant, police would almost immediately suspect that I had killed her. They would begin investigating me, even if they had no particular reason to suspect me, purely because of the long history of husbands killing their wives. Without any other evidence, the mere fact of her death at the hand of another would be enough evidence to raise their suspicions against me, and those suspicions would guide their investigation. By similar reasoning, when a cop kills a black man, that alone is reason to take a careful, suspicious look at the incident.
Every homicide, including by police, is either an accident, self-defense, or murder. If a cop shoots a guy six times, we can rule out an accident, which makes it either self-defense or murder. Cops shoot lots of people in self-defense, so that seems like the most likely explanation. But given that the dead guy didn’t have a weapon (and lacking a definitive narrative), we should at least consider the possibility that it wasn’t self defense, which brings us to the question of motive. Why would a white cop murder a black guy? There’s whole list of possible reasons, but unless there’s some history between them, racism is right near the top.
Does a white judge sentence a black prisoner harshly? Racism. Does a white superior reprimand a black subordinate? Presumptive racism. Does a black candidate for a job fail to get hired by a white interviewer? Must be racism. A white cop gives a black driver a speeding ticket. Well, look at their colors, man! Racism! Is a white blogger convinced that a black President is a catastrophic, epic, tragic failure? Isn’t that racism? I’m told it is, almost every day.
Statistics matter. History matters. Is there a history of white judges sentencing blacks more harshly than whites? Does the white manager have a history of reprimanding black employees more than white ones? Does the interviewer have a history of rejecting qualified black candidates? Do the police have a history of using their discretion to ticket more blacks than whites? Does the blogger have a history of anti-black racism?
If that answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” that still doesn’t prove racism in a specific instance, but it’s a reason to take a closer look.