Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take (Part 4 of 9)

A Public Torture-Killing

What directly prompted this essay (actually, several years in gestation) is a barbarous act that took place on May 25th 2020 in Minneapolis, that was thoroughly filmed by bystanders, and that triggered several weeks of peaceful protest nation-wide, but also of arson, of looting, and of other acts of rioting. Here is a brief account of the event.

A white police officer, wantonly and unnecessarily smothers with his knee over eight minutes a black suspect who is already handcuffed. Three other officers – including two members of racial minorities – stand by or lend a hand. The victim is a man with one conviction elsewhere for a violent crime. He has illegal drugs in his system when he is stopped by the police. (The family-ordered autopsy did not negate this information.)

The officer has accumulated seventeen or eighteen misconduct investigations, one of which gave rise to a notice of suspension. (I don’t know whether he was actually suspended.) One non-police source well situated to know describes him as habitually using questionable force (choke-holds) He has been married to an Asian woman. (“George Floyd’s Life and His Killer’s” by Jennifer Levitz, Erin Allworth, and Tawnell d. Hobbs – WSJ 6/22/20.)

The murdering officer’s supervisor is the black chief of police of the city. The chief’s own supervisor is the mayor of the city, a white leftist Democrat. The state governor is a Democrat.

Although, the employer denies they did, it’s difficult to believe that the police officer and the victim did not know each other because they both worked security part-time for the same nightclub for several years. (What often takes place in and outside nightclubs unavoidably rises to my mind, of course.) I am asserting here that it’s not obvious to me that the crime is racially motivated, just because the perpetrator is white and the victim black. It may well be but the fact has to be established separately.

Within days, the officer who did the killing is arrested and charged with second degree murder. The other three officers are also arrested shortly and charged as something like being accessories to the alleged crime. The state prosecutor is a black deputy state attorney general. The federal Justice Department is conducting its own investigation that may result in separate charges and in separate convictions.

Federally mandated rules are such a that in both state juries and in an eventual federal jury, racial representation will reflect the relevant city’s racial composition. For my overseas readers who are addicted to 1960s American movies about racism in America, it means that there is zero chance that the officers will be tried by all-white juries, either state or federal, zero.

Two weeks later, a white Atlanta police officer shoots in the back a black suspect originally stopped for drunkenness who is both fleeing and pointing a weapon at him. This event adds fuel to the nation-wide fire of popular indignation, of course.

There were immediately protest demonstration against the first killing in Minneapolis that quickly spread to the whole country. A leading rallying cry in all was a demand for “justice.” This can be interpreted in different ways. Since the police officers involved were quickly charged and arrested, it must not be justice for George Floyd, the Minneapolis victim, specifically, that was demanded because everything our justice system allows was done promptly. What else can anyone want, Chinese Communist justice? (Charged in the morning, tried in the afternoon, executed the same evening.)

A partial but solid answer to the question, “justice for whom?” is that many claim that Mr Floyd’s death is a symbol, also a sample, of widespread societal violence against African Americans in general. The underlying implication is that in many cases – unlike in the killing of Mr Floyd – this violence is inflicted by parties unknown and probably unknowable (hence, the “systemic” qualifier) but specifically on the basis of race. This is like treating this horrible incident as the tip of an iceberg. Such treatment of course calls for an answer to the question: How big is the rest of the iceberg?

I need to detour here to remind the reader of what this essay is not about. It’s not about police brutality but about the possible victimization of African Americans by all, including the police. The USA has a serious problem of police brutality. I don’t mean the federal government, I mean states, counties and cities. So, in this country and proportionately, about ten times more people are killed by police every year than in France, for example. And, the French police is not especially pacific (as compared to the exemplary English police, for instance), and it frequently faces well armed gangsters, as well as terrorists. (An in-depth investigation of unpunished French police brutality aired by Envoyé Spécial on TV5 5/25/20 indicates that a parlous situation exists in France in that respect.)

Incidentally, most of the police practice reforms proposed by Pres. Trump in June 2020 make sense to me although I don’t understand how any of this is constitutionally any of the federal government’s business. I would wish in addition for an experimental temporary moratorium on the police use of choke-holds and a partial elimination of the qualified immunity police enjoy in most places in the US. In brief, I think that even when police brutality is self-evident -as I think is the case with the Floyd killing – a racial dimension must be demonstrated separately. I will show below with figures how necessary this injunction is.

[Editor’s note: you read Part 3 here, or the whole essay here.]

Liability Rules!

“The union representing Buffalo police officers told its rank and file
members Friday that the union would no longer pay for legal fees to
defend police officers related to the protests…”

From Buffalo News.

This could be excellent news (at least in Buffalo). The threat of lawsuits means police will either be on their best behavior or won’t show up to work.

Nightcap

  1. More on Alberto Alesina’s contributions to economics Alberto Bisen, ProMarket
  2. Khawaja on Cowen on nursing homes Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  3. How does Black Lives Matter translate? Olga Korelina, Meduza
  4. The politics of disorder Kieran Healy, Crooked Timber

Nightcap

  1. From Baghdad to Shanghai: rival Jewish dynasties Stefan Wagstyl, Financial Times
  2. Praise for Gary Becker’s work on the American family Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly
  3. Crisis in the liberal city Ross Douthat, New York Times
  4. On nuclear propelled spaceships and Freeman Dyson Jeremy Bernstein, Inference