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The Wrong Question

By David Haldane

June 11, 2020

 

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The video is hard to watch.

In it, you see a handcuffed black man lying prone on the pavement under the bended knee of a smirking white policeman with his hands in his pockets. Several times the black man calls out for help, invokes the name of his mama and, finally, desperately, says that he can’t breathe. Then he lies still.

The black man, of course, is George Floyd, whose agonizing death at the hands of a white cop in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month quickly went viral. And now America is smoldering and the future of policing in several large cities hangs ominously in the balance.

I haven’t heard anyone who saw that video defend the officer in question. And, indeed, he and three cohorts have now been arrested and charged with crimes ranging from second-degree murder to aiding and abetting the same. Which is exactly as it should be; from where I sit, they appear to be guilty.

But the incident has also revived, with vengeance, a longstanding narrative that is both utterly dangerous and patently false; that American police officers – driven by hatred – routinely engage in racially motivated police brutality. While no one can honestly claim that that never happens, anyone who believes it’s routine, in my view, simply isn’t paying attention.

On the surface, of course, it’s easy to make the argument. Black people, after all, comprise only 13% of the population yet account for as much as 27% of those killed by cops. Simple math, right; the black population is overrepresented among those unlucky enough to find themselves in the crosshairs of a police officer’s firearm.

But let’s take a closer look. Who is most likely to encounter police; the general populace or violent criminals? And how many of those violent criminals are black? According to FBI statistics, about 58% of the violent crimes in a typical recent year were committed by white people, which is about what you’d expect from 61% of the general population. Blacks, on the other hand, accounted for roughly 37% of the violent crimes, despite comprising only 13% of the population.

So viewing the stats on police killings – 49% white victims, 27% black – against the backdrop of the higher black crime rates leads to an inescapable conclusion; that white and black violent criminals have roughly the same chance of being killed by the cops. Other studies, in fact, have even suggested that white officers are less likely to pull the trigger on black suspects, probably due to the dire consequences they know will ensue.

So why does the general public perceive American law enforcement as racist?

The primary reason, I believe, is the mainstream media’s penchant for religiously reporting police killings involving black victims while routinely ignoring those involving whites. Mix in the political incentive – especially in an election year – of liberal politicians hyping the myth of racist policing to woo black voters. Bring in Black Lives Matter, a movement specifically organized to agitate around this issue – and, voila!, you have an incendiary situation.

Then along comes Antifa, America’s own anarchist movement – and perhaps even a smattering of rightwing fringe groups – to toss in the final match and the result is far from surprising; a weeks-long conflagration of protests and riots that claimed at least 20 lives nationwide, resulted in more than 11,000 arrests, and caused untold millions in losses to businesses either looted or burned. And in an irony bordering on the absurd, several major cities are now promising to “defund” their police departments as Minneapolis leaders pledge to completely disband theirs.

I should probably say here that I do not oppose peaceful protests and, in fact, have participated in more than a few. But what bothers me about all this is that it poses the wrong question. Instead of wondering why police kill blacks in higher proportions, we should be asking – as uncomfortable as it may make us feel — why blacks commit more crimes.

Sociologists and scholars have, in the past, answered that question in a variety of ways. Some say that the high rate of poverty among America’s black citizens leaves them with a dearth of other options and, anyway, they’re more likely to get arrested. Others point to the astounding fact that 77% of African Americans are born to unwed mothers, an unfortunate reality resulting in entire generations being raised without fathers. And many believe that at the root of all these problems lies – you guessed it – racism.

I can’t say with certainty that that’s not true.

What I can say, though, is that embracing victimhood as one’s core identity has never helped anyone. And promoting that idea – as many activists and politicians do these days – does a disservice to the black community.

Here’s the bottom line; racial discrimination is illegal in the United States and, when proven, can have serious consequences. And bad cops should immediately be disciplined and/or removed.

All of us know, or can name, wildly successful black Americans; one of them is the country’s former president. Instead of encouraging youngsters to protest and riot over perceived, but statistically unsubstantiated, racial discrimination we should be encouraging them to stay in school.

As for the breast beating and hand ringing currently fashionable among virtue-signaling whites who insist that all of us are to blame, I say hogwash. I had nothing to do with that killing in Minneapolis and pretending that I did won’t help a soul. Those who actually are responsible, I trust, will soon discover – if they haven’t already – that the unnecessary killing of anyone is never a good idea.

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David Haldane is the author of an award-winning memoir called “Nazis & Nudists.” A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an American journalist, essayist, and broadcaster whose radio work was awarded a 2018 Golden Mike by the Radio & Television News Association of Southern California. He currently lives in Mindanao with his Filipino wife and their two children. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure. http:///www.davidshaldane.com

 

 

Originally published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily

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