This ejo was going to be a discussion about our responsibilities as white people to help combat systemic racism (and I’ll be publishing that next month, right after this quick detour). One of the things I was going to mention was that we should all keep talking about the problem, even when the conversation becomes difficult. My former colleague, Doug, commented on my last ejo and I decided to publish my response in an open letter.
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Dear Doug, I miss you since you’ve retired. I miss our silly jokes in the tower, I miss your generosity and how you always made me a pot of coffee on the morning shifts. I even miss our lively political discussions on those quiet, weekend afternoons (despite them occasionally becoming quite heated). While we might have fundamentally similar principles, we mostly tend to arrive at those from different directions, and even though that means you sometimes infuriate me (as I’m sure, I do you) I actually think it’s healthy to have an opposing point of view in the room. And so I would like to thank you for your comments on my last ejo.
I must admit that when I first read them I was a little annoyed. Mostly because your comments didn’t actually relate to the contents of my ejo, in which I talked about the US civil rights movement, as well as the history of racism in America, and how it became institutionalised. Instead, your comments seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction to the subject of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was tempted to just ignore what you’d written (as I’d heard it from you all before anyway), and move on. But because those comments came from you, and because I know that you are a good person with a big heart and good intentions, I decided to delve deeper and address all of your points, some of which I agree with and others with which I don’t. Let us begin.
I have not spoken to one person or seen a single news outlet that has not condemned what happened to George Floyd. It was hard to watch the video and what that single one cop did was wrong and was murder. This is something everyone agrees on. And hopefully there will be some police training that things like this don’t happen again. But 99% of cops are good (we do not taint all Muslims bad because of the deed of one suicide bomber. The same goes for cops).
It is true that one cop murdered George Floyd, but three others watched him do it, and did absolutely nothing to intervene or to prevent it. We may all agree it was murder, but it remains to be seen whether justice will be served, or not. I’m wondering where you get your statistic that 99% of all cops are good? When Daniel Pantaleo murdered Eric Garner he was not convicted. When George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin he was not convicted. When Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown he was not convicted. When 12 year old Tamir Rice was murdered by Timothy Loehmann, the cop was not convicted. When Dominique Heaggan-Brown murdered Sylville K. Smith he was not convicted. When Betty Jo Shelby murdered Terence Crutcher she was not convicted. When Ray Tensing murdered Samuel DuBose he was not convicted. When Howie Lake II and Blane Salamoni murdered Alton Sterling, they were not convicted. When Caesar Goodson Jr., Garrett Miller, Edward Nero, William Porter, Brian Rice and Alicia White murdered Freddie Gray none of them were convicted. When Jeronimo Yanez brutally murdered Philando Castile on camera, he was not convicted. When Terrence Mercadal and Jared Robinet murdered Stephon Clark, they were not convicted. When Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove murdered Breonna Taylor as she slept in her bed, they weren’t even charged with anything.
I could go on. Not all cops are bad?? According to this independent study conducted by a Philadelphia lawyer, 20% of current police officers and 40% of retired police officers made public posts or comments on social media that reinforce negative police bias towards Black* people. These are comments that cops made publicly, unafraid of consequences. Knowing that the system would allow it, and protect them. “This blows up the myth of bad apples, by the sheer number of images and numbers of individuals who are implicated,” said Nikki Jones, an associate professor of African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.
You say it’s just one bad cop, I say the system is bad. Do you remember when that police officer in Buffalo, New York shoved an elderly man to the ground causing him to crack his head? That police officer was labelled a bad apple. But what about the other 20 cops who simply walked around the injured man as he lay bleeding from his ears? What about the 57 cops who quit in protest when the offending officer was suspended? You know what they say about bad apples, Doug. One can spoil the whole bunch, and when it comes to police, the whole barrel is rotten. One cop’s insider account of how bad the system actually is explains why police “training” doesn’t work. And Alex S. Vitale, professor of sociology (and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project) at Brooklyn College punctuates that point in his book “The End Of Policing”. He says, “The problem is not police training, police diversity, or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion and intensity of policing in the last 40 years, a fundamental shift in the role of police in society. The problem is policing itself.”
We can discuss why blacks commit more crime percentage wise than white Americans. That is a fact. That will help discover what the solution to this is. But inner cities where most black on black crime happens, is run by Democrats who will not address the problem. They won’t fix what they don’t acknowledge. Crap education and no school choice. Resulting in no jobs or poor paying jobs. Gang and crime proliferates.
We agree on this. Black Americans are disproportionately more likely to commit crime. You blame local Democrat governments, and by saying that you actually demonstrate an understanding of what institutionalised racism is. It’s a system that unfairly disadvantages people of colour. A system that forces them into “rough” neighbourhoods, where crime skyrockets as a direct result of that deep disadvantage. A system that has been in place since before the USA was founded. It continues today, and we need to fix it. Black Americans might have a crack at the equality promised to them in the 14th Amendment if we fixed the education system, if we improved the job situation, if we repaired healthcare, if we reformed policing and if the justice system was cleaned up. Until that happens, collectively, they don’t stand a chance. By design, Black people do not stand a chance. I’m more than willing to concede that a Democrat administration contributed hugely to this problem when Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. From my perspective both parties are accountable. This issue is not a partisan one and pointing fingers at the Democrats or the Republicans actually achieves nothing.
You bring up “black on black” crime which, whilst being statistically accurate, feels to me like a deflective argument. Police brutality against Black people is real, and it’s something that I am seriously interested in effecting change in, which is why I’m writing these ejos and why I’ve set up a regular donation to the BLM org. It’s why I’m striving to educate myself and to listen to Black voices. Urban crime in Black neighbourhoods is also very real, and if you are equally interested in the problem of “black on black” crime, please tell me what you are doing about it? Are you actually concerned about crime within Black communities, or is it just your go-to, straw-man rebuttal in discussions about police brutality against Black people?
Let’s go even deeper, Doug. A paper published by the US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and the Harvard Kennedy School titled “The Police And Public Discourse on “Black-on-Black” Violence” discusses why there are issues with using the term “black on black”. The paper states that the term is simplistic and emotionally fraught, allowing for media distortions which perpetrate unsubstantiated stereotypes of Black people as being inherently more violent. Black people are not more “prone to criminality” as Harry Houck, a former New York Police Department detective, once claimed on a CNN panel on the topic. They are systematically forced into socio-economic circumstances that lead to increased incidents of crime (the kind of crime you refer to as “black on black”). But the fact remains that people who live in poverty are statistically more likely to commit, and be victims of, crime – regardless of their skin colour. And sadly, Black people are more likely to live in poverty. Poverty and crime go hand in hand, colour and crime do not.
A huge majority of homicides are intra-racial, with 93% of Black victims killed by Black people and 84% of white victims killed by white people. It’s a problem across the skin colour spectrum. But you do not hear the terms “white on white crime” or “white on white violence”? Why do you think that is?
According to the Harvard paper, another problem with the phrase “black on black” crime is that it’s been shown to encourage cops to “pursue harsher and less thoughtful approaches, concentrating intensive enforcement efforts or zero-tolerance policies on Black people”. This results in the police using excessive levels of force against Black citizens in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It also discourages people living in those neighbourhoods from calling the police, perpetuating the cycle.
But BLM do not care what happens in inner cities where they have been absolutely silent on black on black crime in cities such as Chicago and Baltimore with over 4000 shootings last year and nearly 800 dead. And in one single day this year 18 dead in Chicago. All black on black. Not a word from them.
Black Lives Matter is a non-partisan movement formed in 2014 (during the Obama administration) in the wake of Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s murders by white police officers. The Black Lives Matter movement and organisation were not created to deal with the kind of urban crime that you are referring to (which is a symptom of institutional racism). That is the responsibility of local government and police. BLM was formed in response to disproportionate police brutality against Black people. It was formed to battle the racial disparity that is woven into the very fibre of American society (i.e. the root cause of the problem, not the symptom). As Glenn Loury, a Brown University scholar said in a discussion on the matter, “It’s unfair to ask a movement demanding justice from the police to be responsible for patterns of behavior that are deeply embedded in a system over which Black people don’t exercise any control.”
You point the finger at Democrat city governments in Chicago and Baltimore, which have huge crime problems, and you cite the issue with education as one of the causes. And you are absolutely right, but that problem appears uniformly across the United States, and not just in blue cities. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not a partisan issue, Doug. Across the country, Black kids are statistically learning less than white kids. A study done at American University and Johns Hopkins University showed that white teachers have significantly lower educational expectations of their Black students. Another study found that all teachers tend to evaluate the behaviour of Black students differently, resulting in increased suspensions, expulsion etc. Black students across the board are offered fewer opportunities to take part in advanced learning classes, or to even finish high school at all.
And it’s a fact that all of these early disadvantages are likely to have far reaching implications. We do agree on that. In fact you hit the nail on the head. Poor education leads to lower paying jobs or unemployment, which leads to crime, which leads to gang involvement, which leads to prison exposure, which ultimately leads to increased homicide and a never-ending cycle of incarceration. Black Lives Matter is tackling each of these issues at an institutional level. Their efforts will eventually (hopefully) lead to less crime of the type that you describe as “black-on-black”. BLM take on the massive inequality within the criminal justice system in the hopes of loosening the figurative (and literal) chokehold on Black people. Their aim is to provide, not an advantage, but simply an equal footing for Black people in the eyes of law enforcement and law making.
The graph below demonstrates how Black people are targeted by police officers. They are pulled over more often, are significantly found to be carrying less contraband, and yet are still arrested at twice the rate of white drivers in Ferguson, Missouri.
A Department of Justice investigation following the Ferguson riots sparked by Michael Brown’s murder found that “nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law enforcement system” disproportionately impacted the African American community. And, once more, that’s how systemic racism manifests – an underlying assumption of white innocence and Black guilt. A system in which a 12 year old kid with a toy gun is seen as a threat and killed, but militia wannabes armed to the teeth, storming government buildings in the name of “liberty” are seen as heroes executing their constitutional right. A system in which police violently assault NYC residents for breaching social distancing rules in Black neighbourhoods, while in the white neighbourhoods the cops hand out masks and smiles. A system in which white people are more offended by the looting of a Target store than the incident which sparked it – the cold-blooded killing of yet another Black man by yet another white police officer. A system in which property is deemed more valuable than life. Black life, anyway.
Do I think racism exists. Yes. White on black racism; black on white racism and so on. But almost all Americans are not racist. They voted in a black President twice. I think the last 20 videos I have watched has shown black on white assault and not the other way around. So both exist. Maybe more blacks racism against whites and not the other way around.
Sorry Doug, but this is where our opinions diverge. Let’s start off by talking about what racism is, and equally important, what it isn’t. When I say “racism” I’m not talking about the kind of one-on-one, racially inspired hatred and violence that you are talking about. I’m not talking about racial slurs. I’m not talking about “black on white” assault or even “white on black” assault. These are all symptoms of racism, and might better be labelled as racial prejudice. Of course white people can be the victims of racial hatred – and, as you pointed out, they often are. But that does not exist on a systemic, institutional, macro level. Historically, and presently, white people yield the power over Black people in America. The examples that you mention might hurt someone’s feelings, or might even hurt them physically – shit, it might even kill them. But racial prejudice doesn’t hurt an entire demographic. Systemic racism does. Systemic racism is not hatred. It is power. We must be careful to not conflate the two.
Do I think most Americans are racist? No. But after Barack Obama was elected to office, violence against Black people, both by police officers and white civilians, increased. And that is why BLM formed during a Black presidency. One Black man’s success is not proof that racism doesn’t exist.
Is there institutional racism in the police forces in different States. I don’t think so. Is there institutional corruption in Democrat run inner cities resulting in this carnage of poor and no school choice; and the lack of response to arson, looting and destruction of property and assaulting. Yes. George Floyd’s name has now been forgotten. He was road kill or collateral damage to a bigger issue that is still playing out with the destruction of statues etc.; that has everything to do with the failure of inner city governments to look after its people – and nothing to do with systemic racism. And the MSM has been silent on all of the real issues.
Doug, you and I have had the statue discussion privately, and I don’t really have the space to go into it here. Suffice to say that I think statues commemorating bad people should be taken down. They are not art, they are not history. They are a celebration. And it’s an affront, not just to African Americans, but to all Americans, to celebrate the slave owners of the past.
George Floyd’s name will never be forgotten. I think it’s disrespectful to say that he was roadkill, or collateral damage. His murder was a pivotal moment in history. And I think it’s appalling that you think the bigger issue is the destruction of statues. We don’t need a statue of George Floyd to remember his name (though I think it would be nice). We will never forget. He is a part of history now.
Doug, you lean towards a conservative political disposition, while I lean towards a liberal one. But while we fervently disagree on a number of political topics, I do believe that our core values are essentially the same. At the end of the day, I honestly think that if one of your friends told you they were experiencing racial discrimination and they needed your help to overcome it, you would do everything you could to help them. That is the reason that you and I are still friends, despite our differences. You are a good guy.
But I am seeing something that perhaps you are not. I see that the problem of racism is widespread and needs action on a mass scale in order to address it, and I want to do whatever I can to become part of that solution. I’m hoping that after reading this letter, you’ll want to join me.
The conundrum is that the people who think the police are generally “good” are exactly the people who don’t have to worry about the systemic issues that allow many of them to be bad. So, it’s hard to convince people to reconsider their priors. This is a noble effort to attempt to. It took me a long time to become aware of the issue, and lots of reading. I’m still learning. My stance is different than it was a year ago, which is different than it was 5 years ago. I hope Doug will invest some time into reading the research you mention, or even reach out to some people who’ve had a different experience with the police, and try to understand their situations.
P.S. – There’s video of one of the cops in Portland giving a Nazi hand signal a couple weeks ago.
That’s exactly my hope too. I’ve come to the realisation that there is no such thing as being “not racist”. You are either racist or actively anti-racist, there is no in-between. And that means looking at myself in the mirror and admitting that I’m doing some things wrong. Sadly not everyone is capable of doing that.
PS I love you. xxx