War on Cops and Mass Incarceration: Do we have a problem?

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We live in interesting times. Even though we currently live in the safest period in history, you would never suspect it. A recent wave of scholarship—including Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Mehrsa Baradaran’s The Color of Money, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations” – has converged on the interpretation that the present disparities we see in society continue as a form of blatant racism. Furthermore, liberal media outlets drum the narrative of an epidemic of mass incarcerations and rampant police shootings of black criminals. This has given rise to the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement and has permeated into the political sphere with rhetoric that casts blacks as the victims of white privilege and structural racism. These narratives have coalesced into the belief that racism is behind the disparities we see in society. But is this narrative true? In this essay, I wish only to address and challenge the narrative which says that America’s epidemic of mass incarceration and rampant police shootings of black people is evidence of structural racism. My claim is that behavioral and cultural factors, as oppressed to structural “racist” agendas, are in fact what explains high incarceration rates. Furthermore, I will use data to so show that there is no clear evidence that blacks are specifically targeted and killed by racist officers.

The 2014 Ferguson shooting of a black man, Michael Brown, sparked a movement of remarkable proportion in America. This event birthed a narrative that claimed rampant and unjustified force by cops, particularly white cops, around the country. BLM took to the streets all across the country claiming that the shootings proved that racism is more prevalent than ever. The ACLU came out in full force, helping to spread the message that black men are at risk at the hands of white cops. In 2018, NYU hosted a panel discussion called, The Epidemic of Police Brutality, which, like the media, casts the problem as something both excessive and flagrant. Perhaps you’ve noticed that if a black assailant is shot by a white cop, the message and coverage on CNN is one strictly centered on an insidious racist culture. So, is this message from the Left true? Is structural racism so pervasive that our most trusted institutions are intentionally targeting black people?

Well, statistics shed light onto the myth of structural racism. In 2018, 998 people were shot and killed by police. Of those 998, 210 where black and 405 were white.[1] If white victims of shootings almost double that of blacks, how is that racism against blacks?[2] This stat should cause the Left to pause and think more about their arguments – but it hasn’t. Here are some more facts. Black and Hispanic police officers are more likely to fire a gun at blacks than white officers. This is according to a Department of Justice report in 2015 about the Philadelphia Police Department, and is further confirmed that by a study conducted University of Pennsylvania criminologist Greg Ridgeway in 2015 that determined black cops were 3.3 times more likely to fire a gun than other cops at a crime scene. Moreover, blacks are more likely to kill cops than be killed by cops. This is according to FBI data, which also found that 40 percent of cop killers are black. According to Heather Mac Donald, the police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black than a cop killing an unarmed black person.[3]

The slightest hint of disproportionate action on law enforcement is blamed on structural racism. Black intellectual, Larry Elder, highlights the sheer lunacy of such reactionary exclamations at the 2015 BLM protests in Baltimore over the shooting of Freddie Gray. While his fellow blacks insisted upon structural racism thriving in Baltimore, Elder insightfully points out that the Freddie Gray shooting happened with a black police chief at the helm, with a majority of black officers protecting the city, and a city council possessing a majority of black democrats, with a black Attorney General in office, and a black President of the United States running the country. How is this structural racism?

The Wrong Benchmark

The prevailing argument on the Left is use population as the benchmark. In other words, they focus on disparate disproportionality with regards to population. Thus, if blacks make up only 13% of the population, the 210 deaths of black victims are now disproportionally magnified. The rhetoric of mass incarceration follows the same argument: if blacks are a higher percentage than other races in the prison system, then it means that they are targeted unfairly. Nevermind how particular cultures lack certain values and virtues that breed a strong work ethic, or grit, or appreciation for education. The Left shifts the blame to external factors – an insidious use of power and oppression brought on by white people. Thus, if there is a disparity within the overall population, it must be due to racism.

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Is population-ratio the best benchmark when police are addressing specifically crime? First, consider this. Because there is such a concentration of criminal violence in minority communities, this means that officers will be disproportionately confronting armed and often resisting suspects in those communities, raising officers’ own risk of using lethal force. The Wall Street Journal notes that 2009 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveal that blacks were charged with 62 percent of robberies, 57 percent of murders and 45 percent of assaults in the 75 biggest counties in the country, despite only comprising roughly 15 percent of the population in these counties. Such a concentration illustrates how unlikely officers will confront someone other than black in those urban areas.

Crime should be the benchmark, because this is what officers respond to. But this hasn’t stopped the Left form using population-ratio to assert racism with regards to arrests, racial profiling, and stop-and frisk laws. This, however, is precisely the core flaw of left-wing anti-cop rhetoric: the failure to define the proper benchmark for evaluating police behavior. Inevitably policing is compared to population ratios, for example, in NYC about 50% of all pedestrians stopped are black, yet blacks are only about 23% of the population. According to the Left and especially BLM, this shows that police are racist. Again, this is the wrong benchmark. Blacks in NYC commit 71% of all shootings, if you add Hispanic shootings, both account for 98% of all shootings in NY. Whites are 34% of the population and account for 2% of shootings. Again, the benchmark should be crime since that is what police address.

Black-on-Black Homicides

The BLM movement is waging a war with perceptions and illusions. The real fight, however, is backed by solid data. Blacks die of homicide at 6x’s the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. This is a massively alarming statistic that should unite all races in finding a solution. And the solution ought not be anti-cop rhetoric. Predominantly black inner cities need cops the most.

The BLM movement is a farce, end-stop. I agree that black lives absolutely matter. This is not up for debate. The anti-cop BLM message, however, has wasted so much time on an illusion of structural racism rather than the black-on-black crime and homicide.

In 2016 there were 4300 people shot in Chicago – that’s 1 person every 2 hours – they were all black. Can you imagine if 4300 white people were shot? The media doesn’t care about black bodies, unless their shot by a white cop. They do care about white bodies, and we see this if there’s a school shooting and white kids are taken out – it’s the end of the world. In magnitude of deaths, there’s a school-type shooting every couple of months in black communities and nobody gives a damn – except the police and families in those communities. If BLM wants to make a difference, they would shift their message to address the death rate of black-on-black crime in inner cities.

Mass Incarceration

Let’s start with the obvious: many of our inner cities foster a culture that normalizes violence and criminality rather than nurturing, for instance, strong family values. After all, impoverished neighborhoods from L.A. to New York are not leading the nation in high school graduation, 2-parent households, or credit scores higher than 700. Moreover, the murder rate in the U.S. inner cities, comprising of all races and background, is around 22x’s higher than Germany.[4] However, nested in concentrated poor urban communities in America, is a culture that sees violence and criminality as the norm.

In her book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” Michelle Alexander argues that the American criminal justice system itself is an instrument of racial oppression. “Mass incarceration operates as a tightly networked system of laws, policies, customs and institutions that operate collectively to ensure the subordinate status of a group defined largely by race,” she says. What gives Alexander’s message force is a subtle trick that involves disproportionality and overrepresentation are cast. The sweeping popularity of Alexander’s ideology needs to be addressed, as she has emerged as a major voice within the BLM movement.

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What ‘s the trick that Alexander and Left uses? It goes like this: any disparities between races, with population rations as the benchmark, prove that racism and oppression at work. This strategy is the similar to the one mentioned above regarding crime. Again, population is the benchmark, albeit, the wrong benchmark. With incarceration, Michelle Alexander and other Leftists frame the argument in terms of overrepresentation. Thus, if blacks make up only 13% of the population and 33% of all prisoners[5], while whites are 64% of the population and make up 30% of prisoners, well then, blacks are overrepresented. Now we have the ideologically charged narrative: if blacks are overrepresented over and above whites in prison, then it must be because of racism. Now, the NAACP can cry foul and alarm the masses with rhetoric that says, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.”[6] Oh, then it must be racism.

But wait. Could the problem be that blacks are actually committing crime more than other groups? In 2013, the FBI has black criminals carrying out 38% of murders, compared to 31.1% for whites. The offender’s race was “unknown” in 29.1 per cent of cases. What about violent crime more generally? FBI arrest rates are one way into this. Over the last three years of data – 2011 to 2013 – 38.5% of people arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault were black. Naysayers will hint that the problem is that a high arrest rate for blacks is evidence of racism, but academics have noted that the proportion of black suspects arrested by the police tends to match closely the proportion of offenders identified as black by victims in the National Crime Victimization Survey.

What about the narrative that blacks are convicted disproportionally to whites? Our judicial system actually under-prosecutes murder in minority communities because minority communities are under-policed. When the police do come into contact with the black community, police are less likely to kill black people, according to Peter Moscos at CUNY.[7] In 1997, criminologists Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen reviewed the massive literature on charging and sentencing. They concluded that “large racial differences in criminal offending,” not racism, explained why more blacks were in prison proportionately than whites and for longer terms.

A 1987 analysis of Georgia felony convictions, for example, found that blacks frequently received disproportionately lenient punishment. A 1990 study of 11,000 California cases found that slight racial disparities in sentence length resulted from blacks’ prior records and other legally relevant variables. A 1994 Justice Department survey of felony cases from the country’s 75 largest urban areas discovered that blacks actually had a lower chance of prosecution following a felony than whites did and that they were less likely to be found guilty at trial. Following conviction, blacks were more likely to receive prison sentences, however—an outcome that reflected the gravity of their offenses as well as their criminal records. The media’s favorite criminologist, Alfred Blumstein, found in 1993 that blacks were significantly underrepresented in prison for homicide compared with their presence in the arrest data.[8] This hardly sounds like systemic racism.

Internal Culture vs External Power

If there was one knock-down argument that shows the myth of systemic racism, it would be the comparison of American born blacks with black immigrant West Indians (Afro-Carribean). With this comparison you have two groups of blacks, who for all purposes, look indistinguishable. In other words, they are subjected whatever level of systemic racism exists. Whatever “system” is holding one group back would logically hold the other back as well given the, so-called, systemic racism pervading American life. So here is the million-dollar question: do West Indian blacks experience the same structural racism that American born blacks face?

According to much research, and noted by Thomas Sowell, West Indians have a much different experience than American born blacks. Sowell, who is black, notes that second-generation West Indians living in the same cities as black Americans were earning 58% more. Moreover, West Indians have higher rates of high school education, college enrollment, and professional occupations than their American black counterparts. Also, the West Indians crime rate is much lower in comparison. If we look at the facts and data, it demonstrates that the “racist system” is virtually non-existent for West Indian blacks.[9] If structural racism were true, then West Indians would have similar crime rates, incarceration rates and single-parent households. Again, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a West Indian and your typical black person on the street. If structural racism exists, why is it that West Indian blacks have more wealth and career mobility than American born blacks? Perhaps, the answer for the disparities is not found in racism, but behavioral factors in groups.

The core difference between a liberal and a conservative outlook in the world is that liberals will only accept structural explanations for socio-economic disparities, and they will not ever accept a behavioral explanation. For example, when you look at poverty, the biggest driver in American poverty is having children out of wedlock. If you are a single mother, the chances are really high that you’re going to be poor and your child is 5x’s more likely to be poor if he were a child of married parents. The Left leaning Brookings Institute noted three things to become middle class: graduate high school, wait until your married to have a child, and work full-time. 73% of people who did this are not poor. We can always blame external boogey-men for making life unfair, but at some point, we have to consider the behavioral values and virtues which are nourished within groups.

Ask yourself this: what would black culture look like if they acted like Asians for 10 years, in all things? What if blacks lived with the same negligible rate of child rearing, the same fanatical involvement in school, and the same parental involvement and drive. If they adopted strict Asian values, do think they would maintain their high crime rate? Do you think their poverty rate would improve? Only a fool would assert that nothing would change for the life of a black person.

However, if that though experiment would happen, and we still saw socioeconomic disparities – then and only then would I entertain institutional and structural racism as a problem. As long as the behaviors are so vastly different – in California right now, the truancy rate is 5x’s higher for blacks than any other ethnic group – as long as those behaviors are different, I think it’s premature to say that the only possible explanation is structural racism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Washington Post database for police shootings.

[2] Even back in 2015, the stats show similar findings. 995 people were shot dead by police officers, 497 were white and 259 were black.

[3] War on Cops, 37.

[4] Furthermore, Another difference between the US and other relatively safe developed nations is that the US has a much higher homicide rate than similarly “safe” countries. 14,827 people were murdered in the US last year. This is way down from the 24,526 US murders in 1993, yet still leaves the US at 4.8 murders per 100,000 citizens. In comparison, Japan has .4 murders per 100,000 residents. Germany has .8, Australia 1, France 1.1, and Britain–who has recently garnered media attention for being the most dangerous wealthy European nation– has 1.2. https://www.criminaljusticedegreehub.com/violent-crime-us-abroad/.

[5] Pew Research Center, 2018.

[6] https://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet/

[7] http://www.copinthehood.com/2015/04/killed-by-police-2-of-3-race.html

[8] Heather McDonald, War on Cops, 153.

[9] Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks, White Liberals.