Police Killings and Race: Afterthoughts

The verdict on former officer Chauvin seems extreme to me. I think manslaughter would have been enough. Of course, it’s possible that I don’t understand the legal subtleties. Also, I did not receive all the information the jurors had access to. Also, I didn’t have to make up my mind under the pressure of fearing to trigger a riot in my own city.

As usual, I react to what did not happen. In the sad Floyd case, a bell weather for a new anti-racist movement in the US, the prosecution did not allege anything of a racial nature. Let me say this again: for some reason, the prosecutor did not claim that the victim’s race played a part in his death. Strange abstention because such a claim would have almost automatically brought to bear the enormous weight and power of the Federal Government. (The Feds are explicitly in charge of dealing with suspected violations of civil rights.)

Personally, I think we have a general problem of police brutality in this country. I mean that American cops are entirely too prompt to shoot. I also believe this is largely a result of permissive training on the matter. American police doctrine gives cops too much leeway about when to shoot a suspect. It does not do enough to support alternatives, including less than lethal means of incapacitation. Here is a small piece of supporting evidence: An American is about ten times more likely to be killed by the police than a French person. One can try to claim that French criminals and French suspects are ten times less dangerous than their American counterparts. Read this aloud and think it through. (Of course, there is always the possibility that your average French suspect, with his funny beret and a baguette tucked under his arm, is in a bad position to shoot at police at all.)

As for the widespread claim that American police killings of civilians are racially motivated, a proof of racism- systemic or otherwise – this case has simply not been made. Here are a handful of relevant numbers: In the USA, a black person interacting with the police has no greater chance of being killed than a white person. A black person interacting with a black police officer has the same chance of being killed as one interacting with a white officer. It’s true that a black person, on the average is more likely to be interacting with police than a white person. If racism plays a role in the killing of black people by police, that is where it is lodged. Police, white and black, are more likely to stop blacks than whites. Can you guess any reason why? Can the reason be other than racism? Below is a link to a wider essay on the topic:

Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take

The Great American Racial Awakening: A Conservative Approach (Part One)

When the so-called progressive forces opened America wide to everything black after the police murder of George Floyd, I feared the worst. I thought I would be daily embarrassed by an endless parade of black affirmative action wonders. I was thinking of mediocre or frankly bad African American actors, would-be pundits, pseudo-intellectuals, and demagogues promoted solely because of their race in an act of mendacious collective contrition. (And it’s true that the Democratic Party, the current home of “progressives,” has a lot to be contrite about, going back to its foundation.) I had learned that fear from thirty years in academia, of course, as well as from the continuing demonstration of lack of acumen of the media in staging again and again Al (“Honest”) Sharpton and the seemingly immortal Reverend Jackson.

Here, a detour is in order. What I saw in academia was not the admission, or hiring or promotion of wholly incompetent individuals because of their race (except one time). What I witnessed instead was the fact that people who were qualified overall, were given a solid bump up because of their race. In the last academic hiring in which I was involved, for example, the favored job candidate was more than qualified, rather overqualified for my department, in fact. At 28, she was hired at the same salary I had achieved after twenty years. She was black, of course. Not good for race relations! End of detour.

To my great and pleasant surprise, this obvious orgy of promotion of the embarrassingly incompetent but racially endowed is not most of what happened in the past year. Instead, I began seeing more black faces and hearing more black voices in the English language media I normally follow. This happened without any loss of average quality. In the inside “culture and lifestyle” pages of my daily Wall Street Journal, for example, plays and movies by black authors and directors were reviewed instead of the usual whites’. I found nothing shameful there; in fact, it was a little bit refreshing. Whether this speaks to the quality of black culture producers or to the ordinary mediocrity of the WSJ inside pages, I am not sure. My point is that the descent into the intolerable I had feared and expected did not happen.

On the other hand, and as might be expected, National Public Radio crawled forward and backward to be ahead of the game and to do more for black authors, and black everything, and black everywhere, than anyone else. But in doing so, NPR fulfills all my usual expectation rather than my specific post-Floyd killing expectations. NPR is often unbearable because of its piousness, both sincere and contrived. And, I am well informed about this because I listen to NPR every weekend, have for years. First, it’s good for my moral character, like a cold shower upon getting up in the morning. Second, I want to be well informed about my enemies’ thinking and NPR gives me this in the most concentrated, efficient form possible. In addition, I frankly like a few of its weekly narrative offerings, such as “How I Built It” and the “Moth Radio Hour.”

To my mind, the Great American Racial Awakening is all pretty superficial. I think (I intuit) that few deep transformations will afflict it. My mind says, “Don’t panic!”

My optimism is rooted in the belief that the more grotesques forms of the new consciousness are going to be sloughed off naturally. For example, I am betting what within a short time, a combination of state actions, school board reactions, and quiet teachers’ rejections is going to push into oblivion the delirious statement that mathematics is “racist.” “Critical Race Theory,” that the schools are supposedly forced to teach, does not worry me much because no one knows what it is, not even those who are cramming it down our throats. (Perhaps two dozens academics really know what it is. They don’t matter.) I think it’s only a fancy word standing for a certain brand of historical revisionism. It seems to me it’s an attempt to make Americans re-focus and look at their history from a different angle. I will address this re-focusing in my next installment. I will do it explicitly as a conservative.

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