Black Lives Matter Is Not About Statistics
Mar. 4, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — #BlackLivesMatter is one of the few examples of a Twitter hashtag to escape the gravity of Twitter slacktivism. Though it started after the George Zimmerman acquittal, it really gained prominence after the shooting of Michael Brown and the Ferguson riots. It has even penetrated into the mainstream during Beyonce’s Superbowl 50 halftime show.
Because it was a ground up movement, it’s hard to say exactly what the movement is about. But the so-called founders of the movement believe that it includes issues such as globalism, queer and transgender affirming, and black women. The website states the following:
Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes. It goes beyond the narrow nationalism that can be prevalent within some Black communities, which merely call on Black people to love Black, live Black and buy Black, keeping straight cis Black men in the front of the movement while our sisters, queer and trans and disabled folk take up roles in the background or not at all. Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.
Who knew? In any event, the aspect of Black Lives Matter that is most present in the minds of the general public is the whole extrajudicial killing part, particularly by law enforcement officers. In less opaque terms, it means cops should not kill black folks on the street. Putting aside whether ‘extrajudicial killings’ can ever be justified by self-defense, as a general matter, no one really objects to a group asking for killing less people in the street. Okay, maybe not no one:
It’s time to expose the Black Lives Matter [BLM] movement for what it is: a racist, violent hate group that promotes the execution of police officers. The evidence is in their rhetoric and written on their shirts.
Black Lives Matter is a motley-looking group to this septuagenarian grandmother, an activist in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many in my crowd admire the cause and courage of these young activists but fundamentally disagree with their approach. Trained in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., we were nonviolent activists who won hearts by conveying respectability and changed laws by delivering a message of love and unity. BLM seems intent on rejecting our proven methods. This movement is ignoring what our history has taught.
The baby boomers who drove the success of the civil rights movement want to get behind Black Lives Matter, but the group’s confrontational and divisive tactics make it difficult. In the 1960s, activists confronted white mobs and police with dignity and decorum, sometimes dressing in church clothes and kneeling in prayer during protests to make a clear distinction between who was evil and who was good.
But at protests today, it is difficult to distinguish legitimate activists from the mob actors who burn and loot. The demonstrations are peppered with hate speech, profanity, and guys with sagging pants that show their underwear. Even if the BLM activists aren’t the ones participating in the boorish language and dress, neither are they condemning it.
If you’re trying to follow along, God bless you. Now, add politicians to this witch’s brew and watch what creature emerges.
Politicians and populist movements are made for each other, so it was not really surprising that the issue came up during the Democratic Presidential Debate. Every candidate asked gave the ‘right’ answer except Jim Webb, who strangely uttered that all lives matter. Before that debate, candidates Sanders and O’Malley too had made the mistake of saying something similar and were cowed into compliance. Somehow we’ve ended up moving from the agreeable idea of not killing folks on the street to rejecting the basic idea of equality. Go figure.
Because this movement primarily centers on the use of force by law enforcement, it is primarily about changing the criminal justice system. From that we’ve received 10 proposals:
1) End Broken Windows Policing, 2) Community Oversight, 3) Limit Use of Force, 4) Independently Investigate & Prosecute, 5) Community Representation, 6) Body Cameras, 7) Training, 8) End for-profit policing, 9) Demilitarization, 10) Fair police union contracts.
Mostly broadly framed ideas there, but it is a far cry from advocating assassinating police officers. Yet, what if the whole premise of the movement is wrong? Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute thinks so:
But what if the Black Lives Matter movement is based on fiction? Not just the fictional account of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., but the utter misrepresentation of police shootings generally.
To judge from Black Lives Matter protesters and their media and political allies, you would think that killer cops pose the biggest threat to young black men today. But this perception, like almost everything else that many people think they know about fatal police shootings, is wrong.
The Washington Post has been gathering data on fatal police shootings over the past year and a half to correct acknowledged deficiencies in federal tallies. The emerging data should open many eyes.
MacDonald then goes on to share her data that she believes will open those many eyes, because, you know, objective data and reasoning moves anyone, particularly outside the realms of academia. You can be forgiven if you thought she was a social scientist—she’s not; she’s a non-practicing lawyer.
Black Lives Matter was not started because after a couple of peer-reviewed studies showed that there was statistically significant evidence of an epidemic of racially motivated police shootings. No, it was launched because enough people perceived institutional bias against blacks that activists could grift help them.
Before this, MacDonald was applauded by former prosecutor and former federal judge Paul Cassel for other work where she found no evidence of racism regarding incarceration rates:
Heather MacDonald has this great article in the City Journal, persuasively debunking the myth that high black incarceration rates result from racial discrimination. She reviews the available empirical evidence, which finds no evidence of systemic racism. Instead, the studies show that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are in prison because they have committed a disproportionate number of serious crimes.
It is a tragedy that so many minorities are languishing in prison. But the “solution” that the Left often proposes of targeting racist cops or racist prosecutors is, as MacDonald demonstrates, wide of the mark. Instead, we need to look at the causes of higher rates of minority offending.
Surely more than a few progressive-minded folks shivered after reading that. Let’s suppose all of this is indeed factually true. Racism has nothing to higher incarceration rates, death by police shooting, or stop and frisk policies. And let’s suppose further that there is good data and evidence demonstrating that it is all indeed true. So what?
When an educated, professional black woman gets arrested in a routine matter, she is sure that she is targeted because of her race. And she has no hesitation to lie about the encounter, making the treatment seem unprofessional. Would MacDonald’s data ever convince this woman that she is not a constant target before of her race? Doubtful. And who knows, maybe she really is a constant target.
Prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and judges are the main targets of Black Lives Matters ire. What we all have to recognize that saying to the families of a dead kids ‘there is no problem, just look at these statistics’ is both unpersuasive and fruitless. MacDonald is something of a public intellectual. She’s trying to shape the public debate, and she’s choosing to do so with statistics. But those on the frontline do not have that luxury. People in your neighborhood care primarily about their own kids, friends, and neighbors. 258 is just a number; it’s not a person the grieving mother is going to care about.
Suppose a white officer shoots a black kid and then is pegged a racist with an itchy trigger finger by Black Lives Matter, pointing to MacDonald’s research will be unavailing. In fact it will likely be counterproductive, probably seen as blaming the victim or hiding behind silent-yet-real institutional racism. If you doubt it, just ask Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty. And he tried to respond with the law and facts, yet was still condemned. This is the same prosecutor that started a conviction integrity unit in his office. The public can be fickle.
Ultimately, officers, prosecutors, and judges have to deal with and address the perceptions. That does not mean pander and cater to advocacy groups, but likewise it does not mean dismissing those feelings with cold, pitiless numbers. Moreover, sometimes you just have to do the damn job you volunteered to do, regardless of the lack of appreciation you think you were owed by the public.
Marq Claxon, from the Black Law Enforcement Alliance, addressed how he thinks police officers should deal with criticism:
News flash: The job and the world changes, and so do enforcement models, strategies, technology and job emphasis. The law enforcement community cannot refuse to evolve.
Police work will always be dangerous and it will always appear that you serve an ungrateful community. If you are worthy of the title police officer, you must strengthen your resolve to make a positive difference in providing safety, security and service to the community. Suck it up and get to work!
It’s good advice regardless whether you think the grievances of Black Lives Matters are real. Suck it up and get to work.