A conversation with myself about police racism, June 2020

There are many foolish things I sometimes feel the urge to do. After serious thought, I have concluded that, at this moment in U.S. history, clearly the pinnacle of folly would be for me to try to explain my feelings and thoughts about the current outpouring of righteous anger against systematic police racism, as exemplified by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis a week ago. So I thought - what the hell! - I'll do it.

First, the action that provoked the reaction. A black man, George Floyd, died while being restrained by police officers. He was being arrested in connection with the passing of a counterfeit bill at a nearby store. The arrest started peacefully enough, with Mr. Floyd allowing himself to be handcuffed, but things went wrong when he refused to get into the squad car. The police tried to stuff him into the car but he would not get in. The police then dragged him onto the ground where one of them restrained him by pressing his knee on the back of Mr. Floyd's neck. Eight minutes later, still under restraint, Mr. Floyd stopped moving and no pulse could be detected. An ambulance was called to take him to the County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead an hour later.

Of great significance was the fact that someone was taking a video of the encounter, on which Mr. Floyd could be heard complaining that he could not breathe. Bystanders were also heard telling the police to ease up on the restraint, but the restraint continued unabated until Mr. Floyd stopped moving. After a few days, the police department fired the four officers involved and officer Chauvin, the one whose knee was used in the restraint was charged with murder and manslaughter.

The public response has been a nation-wide outpouring of righteous anger. The focus of the anger has been the death of Mr. Floyd during what started out as a fairly routine arrest. Pundits have said that method of restraint, the knee on the neck, is inherently dangerous. And then the matter of race was brought into the mix - Mr. Floyd's treatment by the police was supposed to be evidence of racial bigotry. And then included is the matter of systematic bigotry on the part of the police, not only in Minneapolis but elsewhere in the U.S. To use the words of one of the commentators, Mr. Floyd was killed, not by the coronavirus pandemic, but by the pandemic of racism and discrimination.

So, you ask me, do you feel the anger, Peter? Are you willing to march, to wave placards, to yell, to obstruct traffic, maybe even to destroy a little property? I am told that watching the video is guaranteed to first drive you to to tears and then to man the barricades, so I have deliberately refrained from watching it in order to keep a clear head. My first reaction is to recite the facts - the failed attempt to force Mr. Floyd into the squad car, the use of a dangerous method of restraint by officer Chauvin, the failure of the police to monitor the state of his health and finally the death of Mr. Floyd. If I thought that Mr. Floyd's death was a tragic accident, I would feel sorrow, not anger. But I do believe that his death was the result of unnecessarily harsh and thoughtless treatment by the police, so I do feel anger, just as I would be angry if a drunk motorist had crashed into another car and killed the people inside. It therefore seems reasonable to me that these facts warrant dismissal of the policemen involved and that serious charges be filed against officer Chauvin.

So where are your placards, Peter? Here's where things get tricky. I have no idea whether racial bigotry played any role in the death of Mr. Floyd. Maybe it did, but the facts I have don't demonstrate this. The police were trying to do what they are paid to do - arrest a suspected criminal, even if they tragically botched it. Had the suspect been white and had similarly resisted getting into the squad car, do we know how it would have played out? I certainly don't know - there are plenty of cases where excessive force has been applied to white suspects.

And even if these particular policemen acted out of racial bias, how do we conclude that the problem is systematic racial bias on the part of the Minneapolis police department? (A department, incidentally, run by a black chief.) Or all police departments? Nation-wide, over half of deaths in police custody involve white men. On a population percentage basis, there are more deaths of black men, but the death rates of whites and blacks in custody are very similar as a percentage of arrests.

So why has this incident proven such a catalyst for protest? Why do people not feel that the steps already taken are appropriate and let justice take its course? I don't believe that the protesters have special information that would cause me readily to join them if only I had it. Instead, I believe sincerely that the protests are inappropriate, disproportional and undemocratic. I'm not against freedom of association, but I believe that the massive protests of the last couple of weeks would be appropriate only in the case of massive injustice. The case of George Floyd is not such a case.

Peter, you are mistaken, you say; the point of the protests is not just the case of George Floyd. This one case was the straw that broke the camel's back. What about all the other cases of police racism in the past and all over the country? How about Rodney King? Michael Brown? Eric Garner? There is massive injustice and that is what the protests are focusing on, not just a single instance.

But I counter. Yes, there is racial animus in the world - black on white as well as white on black. Furthermore, I think that a certain amount of it will always be with us, no matter how much we protest. There are plenty of other undesirable traits, too - being too quick to anger, a willingness to steal from others, a lack of care for one's children - and I don't expect them to be extinguished any time soon either. So if the black population is to protest something, let it be the cause of greatest harm to them.

Here are some statistics that I have shamelessly stolen from an excellent article by Walter Williams. According to Statista, so far this year, 172 whites and 88 blacks have died nationwide at the hands of police. To put police shootings in a bit of perspective, in Chicago alone in 2020 there have been 1,260 shootings and 256 homicides with blacks being the primary victims. That comes to one shooting every three hours and one homicide victim every 15 hours. Three people in Chicago have been killed by police. Should we focus our rage on the three people killed by police? Or the 256 blacks killed by homicide? What sense does it make to crank up the protest machinery in order to try to cure the lesser wrong?

Having asked that crucial question, let me now propose my answer. It makes sense because of the lunacy of white people. If you are a black protest organizer, you know that white people - not just the leftie fringe, but the vast majority of centrist whites - will support any cause that alleges that white racism has harmed black people. Most white people today would not think to question a diagnosis of racism. We've all been taught that we are carriers of white privilege - denying that Mr. Floyd's death was due to racism would be just a reaffirmation of our privilege. So we pay no attention to the facts of the matter, jump on board the protest bandwagon, affirm our support for Black Lives Matter and go out into the streets. Our virtue is signaled and our privilege is resisted. Hooray for us!

One more point. Whites are also totally taken in by the "peaceful protest" myth. When I say myth, I do not claim that all protests must necessarily lead to violence - for example, the various Women's Marches or the 2009 Tea Party protests were free from violence. But think back on other high-profile racial protests and it is clear that every one has ended in violence and looting, up to and including the protests over George Floyd. Now, unless you are from the leftie fringe, you probably deplore violence and looting, but you do not see how your support of the protest movement helped cause it. The trouble is that white guilt ends up writing a blank check that excuses any kind of bad behavior that occurs in connection with the protest.

I have been collecting some choice statements from my local (very white, very concerned) listserv on the current protests. Here are a few:

That last one is likely to be tested, thanks to the rush to "defund" police departments. Like many municipalities, Austin has decided to reduce the police budget and reallocate those funds to social services. I guess we'll see what happens. For a glimpse of the view from the blue side, read: America, we are leaving. My prediction is that it will get increasingly difficult to hire decent, thoughtful policemen when they are to be paid less and when they are publicly reviled as racist scum. So we will end up with the very kind of force that the protesters imagine we have now.

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