“We can no longer ignore the fact that America is not the… land of the free and the home of the brave.” – Fannie Lou Hamer
Black Lives Matter
George Floyd was arrested, handcuffed, put facedown to the ground, and then chocked to death because he was accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.
Thanks to the omnipresence of cellphone cameras, it was videotaped – all eight minutes of it – for the world to see.
It wasn’t the first time we’d seen videotape of an unarmed black man being shot and killed by the police. But there was something about the insouciant way in which he was killed – the officer, hands in his pockets, kneeling, with the full weight of his body, on Floyd’s neck, while onlookers screamed, while Floyd gasped for air and pleaded for his life – that made this killing almost unbearable to watch and set the country afire.
There is so much to say about this. I’m going to try to limit myself today to just a few points.
Black lives matter.
What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter. It means that we cannot have a legal system, a justice system, and a police system that treats the killing of blacks as less serious than the killing of other races.
That is indisputable. The argument is about whether and if so how often they do. And that is where the argument belongs.
Police brutality is a real thing.
It is not nearly as common as many think, but it’s real and it’s scary.
The cop that killed George Floyd had multiple complaints against him over the years. Not just one or two but more than a dozen. And some of them were for harassment and brutality. He should have been dismissed from the force. The fact that he wasn’t points to a problem with the system of managing police misconduct. This can be fairly called a systemic problem.
I don’t believe that most cops are brutal. But I believe that those that are brutal are protected by the passive compliance of many of their fellow policeman, just as we saw in this case: three cops keeping the frantic onlookers at bay while their colleague was slowly committing murder.
I believe that the popular idea of white privilege is pure bullshit. But I also believe that when it comes to interacting with the police, being a well-dressed white person is an advantage. Call it a privilege.
I can’t give you facts to support this. That would be impossible because you can’t tabulate what happens in a split second in a person’s mind. But I can tell you three quick stories.
Dr. Marshal and I were driving along the highway in his black SUV. The windows were tinted. It was evening. We were in rural Maine. As the cop walked to the car, I noticed that I was afraid. Why was that? It was because John was black. And not just black, but ex division-one football-sized black. And then I had a calming thought: “The policeman is going to look at John and he will be alarmed. Then he will look at me and see a well-dressed white man sitting beside him. And he will relax.” That’s exactly what happened. I could see it in his eyes.
I was sitting in a police station in Washington, DC, handcuffed to a chair. I had been arrested because I had interfered with what I thought was a rape. The woman in the car was screaming “Rape!” It turned out the man she was accusing was a cop. So I got arrested for interfering with his arrest.
As I was sitting there across from the booking desk, an officer walked in with a middle-aged black man in handcuffs. He was well dressed. I don’t remember what he was charged with. I do remember that the booking officer started insulting him, calling him “four eyes” because he was wearing glasses. The black man calmly told the cop he should not speak to him that way, that he was a citizen and a lawyer. The desk sergeant tried to parry with him verbally, but he was unable to match the arrested man’s wit. Then he walked around the table, took the man by his handcuffs, and dragged him down a corridor to the holding cells.
Maybe the cop thought no one could see down the corridor. But I could see from where I was seated. He beat the shit out of the guy and then walked back to his desk, grinning and dust-clapping his hands as if to say, “Well, I guess I showed him.”
His eyes fell on me. And I said – because I couldn’t stop myself from saying it – “You must be proud. You’re a real tough guy.”
He glared at me and I imagined the headline: Journalist Hangs Himself in Jail Cell. Then he lowered his eyes a bit… and walked past me.
Six months later, I’m awakened by a woman screaming in the alley next to our townhouse. I jump out of bed, head down the three flights of stairs in my underwear, grab two steak knives from the kitchen, and run into the alley. Sure enough, the woman had been fending off an attacker.
I was fast but my neighbor, a doctor (and black, as was the woman), was already attending to her.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
He looked at me, alarmed.
“Mark,” he said, “I don’t think you want to be here when the police arrive. I just called them. Told them what happened. She was attacked by a man with a knife.”
I realized what he meant. I turned and started walking back up the alley towards my home, but it was too late. The police car was there, headlights pointed directly at me, in my underwear, a steak knife in either hand. I stood there, imagining the headline: Businessman Killed by Police After Being Mistaken for a Rapist. But they didn’t shoot. They didn’t even draw their weapons. They walked toward the scene of the crime.
“Good evening, officers,” I said as they passed me.
“Good evening,” they replied.
So those are three of my stories. I have more than that. But I think these three fairly illustrate my opinion that if I were black and not white I might not be here now to tell them.
The Number You Will Never See
If you do an internet search for facts on homicides and race, you will find very little that is helpful. The first three pages will contain pieces that correctly cite data that shows that blacks are arrested, jailed, and killed by cops at 2.5 the rate of whites. These data are always explained in percentage-of-population terms. What they don’t give you is information about how many blacks and whites are jailed and killed by police compared to the number of blacks and whites resist arrest for the crimes they are charged with. If they did you would realize that there is no difference between the two. What that means is that it is very dangerous to resist arrests, regardless of your color. (This does not mean that being white isn’t an advantage when being stopped, interrogated, or arrested. I hope my stories clarify my view on that. This is a warning that any parent that, like me, has had run ins with the police, makes to his teenage children.)
Nor do they parse the numbers by age and sex. If they did, you would be able to discern that more than 80% of the violent crimes committed by blacks are committed by young men between the ages of 16 and 28. That should not surprise you, because the percentage of violent crimes committed by whites between the ages of 16 and 28 is also about 80%. Likewise with Latinos. Likewise with Asians.
Another set of data that you never hear about has to do with the economics of murder. Again, about 80% of the murders in the US are committed by men from working-class or welfare families. And that statistic, too, is the same, regardless of race.
So what does all this add up to? What can we do to put an end to this tragic killing?
If you have an opinion already, this probably won’t change your mind, but my view is that you have to treat each of the symptoms differently.
The use of “unnecessary force” by police can only be changed by managing the way police are hired and trained.
In terms of hiring, I would be interested to find out what the effect would be of requiring that policemen have, at least, two years of college.
In terms of training, policemen should be given better, more realistic instruction as to how to go about their jobs without jeopardizing their own lives and the lives of the people they stop and arrest. Some jurisdictions have prohibitions against high-speed chases for non-violent offenses, for example. That makes sense to me.
As to the question of homicides generally and black homicides in particular, one major step forward would be for the media to start paying more attention to the non-police homicides. In 2019 more than seven thousand African Americans were murdered. Over ninety percent of them were killed by their fellow African Americans. More than 80% of the killers and those murdered were between 16 and 38. And nearly 100% of the killers were men.
Why isn’t the media reporting on this? If they actually cared believed that black lives matter you would think they’d be not just reporting these terrible tragedies, but editorializing about them too. They would be telling us, all of us, the facts we need to know: that homicide in America — black or white — is an epidemic that has been raging in America for decades. That more than half of it is drug related. And that it is committed by a tiny fraction — less than one tenth of one percent of the population — and almost all of them, black and white, young men (in their twenties and thirties) with prior arrests. Why aren’t we hearing about this? Why have we heard little to nothing about the black men and women that have been shot and killed last week in the rioting? Why is it that the media seems so alarmed by police shootings of black men when the fact is that they are 782% more likely to be killed by civilians than cops? Could it be that reporting on those other 7,000+ deaths won’t sell more advertising? Could it be that, from the media’s point of view, all those deaths don’t matter?
And as to the economic question, that will only be corrected when we have fewer young men living on minimum wages and the welfare system. But that’s not going to happen any time soon, if it ever happens. The American economy is in deep debt. We are the most indebted country in not just the world but in the history of the world. The Covid Crash merely exposed it. On an inflation-adjusted basis, wages for most working Americans have been frozen for more than twenty years, while prices have been edging up.
The outlook workers that don’t have advanced degrees is beyond dismal. Between the advance of robotics and AI, our economy is quickly shifting away from one that relies on human labor. I discuss this issue in Chapter One of Principles of Wealth Building (not yet published). The sort version is this: It’s delusional to think that economic prospects for young men without college degrees will be improved by any more government programs or handouts. The trillions we’ve spent on the War on Poverty have resulted in the decimation of the communities that are dependent on welfare. It’s even crazier to think that the promises that liberal and leftist politicians are making will solve the problem.
If a young black man asked for my advice on what to do about this I’d say what I told myself when I was young and poor and my prospects were miserable: Forget about other people helping you. The best talkers are the most full of shit. You are not responsible for your situation, but you have to take responsibility for your economic future because, believe me, nobody else — no matter what kind of bullshit they may sling at you — will.
I believe we will see improvement in the first category. I don’t believe we will see any improvement in the second and third categories. And to explain that I would reference Malcolm X, who believed that depending on white people to solve black problems is a dangerous delusion.
If you judge by actions and not by words, it’s hard to deny the allegation that the white-dominated press and most of the white-dominated political class care about black lives only when it helps them sell newspapers and win elections.
This is how it has always been. And this is how it will continue to be until black Americans seize the power they have as a population 42 million to solve the problems that white people talk about only if and when it matters to them.
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