The brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin in broad daylight in front of many witnesses has sparked outrage all across America. Chauvin was not immediately arrested which led to protests and marches in Minneapolis that spread across America and even internationally. But protests against police violence toward unarmed black men quickly descended into rioting and looting.
Publicly, everybody supports the black community in their outrage. The media have been very sympathetic. No one wants to offend a black person or the black community in general by denying them their right to be outraged by their treatment by the police. And by white people, in general. They claim that America is locked in systemic racism that must be eradicated.
But is this outrage and the demand for transformational change justified? In a recent editorial Wall Street Journal editor Jason Riley cited a study by Harvard economics professor, Roland Fryer, about racial differences in the police use of deadly force. To his surprise, Professor Fryer found no evidence of police bias in police shootings. A second study by researchers from the University of Maryland and Michigan State University 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.”
But as political commentator Heather Mac Donald has frequently pointed out, blacks have higher crime rates than whites and are more likely to have interactions with police. And if those interactions turn violent it is black people that are more likely to be hurt or killed. According to the Washington Post, in 2019 police shot and killed 376 white people and 236 black people. One can justifiably say that police in America killed way too many people, but it is much harder to say that racism is a principle cause.
As an old white guy, I thought race relations should be getting better as racism has receded in America. It is true that some people still hold racist opinions about blacks. But they are much fewer than in my youth and are generally held in contempt by most Americans. Discrimination now is more subtle and less violent than before. Racism may be a partial explanation for the income disparity between blacks and whites, but poor education and criminal history as also contributing factors to the disparity. It is not racists that keep inner city kids trapped in crappy schools, but left-wing teachers’ unions that try and block charter schools that are only trying to give minority kids a chance. It is liberal apologists that excuse pregnancies to unwed mothers that trap poor people and their children in poverty generation after generation.
In an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box, AT&T chairman Randall Stephenson spoke at length about how businesses need to do more to end racial bias. Citing Rudy Giuliano’s Broken Windows Policy, Stephenson said that if we treated the elimination of racial bias like the petty crimes targeted by the Broken Windows Policy, we would end racial bias. But it was the enforcement of Broken Windows Policies such as arrest for petty infractions of the law and “Stop and Frisk” that the black community complained about.
But Mr. Stephenson had no specific policy recommendations other than increased dialogue between the business community and the black community. But maybe he has a point. Government has done about as much as it can do to improve race relations. America fought a bloody war to end slavery and has amended its Constitution to guarantee civil rights and made discrimination illegal. It is now up to the people to change their hearts and accept each other as fellow human beings. And I think there has been a lot of progress to that end. It is not that bias and racism have merely gone underground. I think people’s hearts have truly been changed over time. But it is a slow process. Riots and looting only make the process slower.
We have to recognize why it is so hard to end racism. The “Us-versus-them” response is buried deeply into our intuitive brains and is not easy to eradicate. But its power can be reduced by expanding the definition of “us.” You can see this happening in the protests against George Floyd’s murder, as blacks, whites and many others join the throngs of people protesting. Many people think these widespread protests represent a defining moment in America’s history of racism. Just as they did in the protests for Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray.
There is probably some room for new programs to increase police sensitivity to racial discrimination, training on the de-escalation of confrontations, and the reduction of police violence in general (tough to do given the firepower of the criminals). Most police forces are already pretty (although not perfectly) diverse. The chiefs of police of the cities trying to control the protests and stop looters are black. Any change will be incremental, not transformational. Most of the protestors are young. They lack perspective. Over the course of my life I have witnessed enormous changes. For the better. And those changes are continuing.
But the impact of reforms to the institutions that make up our civilization will be limited because of the flawed human beings that make up those institutions. But as the former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, “Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.”
The rioters and looters that have infiltrated the peaceful protests of George Floyd’s murder and who then come out at night falls to trash and burn, have little intention of honoring the memory of Mr. Floyd. They have a very different agenda.
There are rumors that they are Antifa, a loosely organized (or at least so we thought) group of far-left anarchists who revel in violence. Or perhaps they are, as some suggest, white supremacist groups that want to undermine the validity of the protests. Whoever they are, we will eventually find out. Thousands have been arrested and will eventually be processed. Many people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic are desperate and may have been involved. But there are also reports of organization of the looting with the people on walkie-talkies and police scanners telling rioters how to avoid the police. The taking of George Floyd’s life was a heinous crime. But when you take someone’s property or burn down their mom-and-pop stores, you are taking the thousands of hours those people put into earning that property and those stores. The looters are stealing the lives and livelihoods of the owners of those stores.
And now the political organization Black Lives Matter wants everyone to sign a petition to defund the police. Black Lives Matter does not believe in the American ideals that were expressed by General Mattis. They also have a very different agenda.
But their hatred of the police in this instance is misinformed. Professor Fryer’s study as reported by Jason Riley that discovered a lack of bias in police shootings also led him to a different discovery. In city after city where these incidents occurred (Chicago for Laquan McDonald, Ferguson Missouri for Michael Brown, Baltimore for Freddie Gray) the intense investigation of police procedures and the scrutiny of the police led officers to depolice, to withdraw from interactions with civilians in order to avoid potential repercussions if the civilians complained about police actions (also called the Ferguson Effect). In Chicago, police-civilian interactions dropped 90%. In Baltimore they went practically to zero. But when police backed off, crime surged. In Baltimore homicides increased 63%. That was 133 people who died because the police were afraid to do their job. Chicago had a similar spike.
Robert L. Woodson has reported that 86% of police chiefs in the United States said recruitment had declined since 2014. There are reports of declines in 911 calls even though crime is increasing. Mr. Woodson says that, “If racial profiling is wrong, it is equally wrong to stereotype all police based on the actions of a few.”
Black Lives Matter is wrong to want to defund the police. They are wrong to want the police to back off of black neighborhoods. And so are the Hollywood celebrities and well-meaning but ill-informed suburbanites that support BLM. They will be killing people (mostly black people) if they are successful in their efforts.
Oh, and by the way. Fryer, Riley and Woodson are all black.