I shudder in rage whenever I see one of those videos showing police brutality. We all do. When a black man gets killed in a confrontation with a police officer, the rage only increases. America has a long and painful history with slavery and racism that makes us extra sensitive to issues of racial discrimination.
Anything that smacks of racism makes us scream. When a grand jury in 2014 decided not to indict a white officer for the fatal shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Mo., we screamed. After several days of riots, the movement Black Lives Matter was born.
This is a movement of unbridled passion, anger and frustration directed primarily at law enforcement. I understand the intensity of the sentiment.
At the same time, I also understand that unbridled passion comes at a price. For one thing, it can blind us to facts that don’t support our preferred narrative.
For example, a new study published this week in The New York Times concluded that, while blacks are “more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed” by law officers, when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.
The author of the study, Harvard professor Roland G. Fryer Jr., called it “the most surprising result of my career,” since it contradicts the “mental image” of police shootings so many of us have in the wake of recent tragedies.
Even the killing that launched Black Lives Matter is up for debate. As Heather MacDonald reports in her book, “The War on Cops,” the testimony of a half-dozen black observers at the scene had “demolished the early incendiary reports that Wilson attacked Brown in cold blood and shot Brown in the back when his hands were up.”
Witnesses and physical evidence, MacDonald writes, “corroborated Wilson’s testimony that Brown had attacked him and had tried to grab his gun.”
This is not to downplay actual instances of police brutality and racial discrimination against blacks, which are real, horrible and unacceptable, whether fatal or otherwise. Rather, it’s to point out that we all pay a price when we don’t keep things in perspective.
Virulent anti-cop rhetoric doesn’t just hurt cops, it hurts everyone, especially blacks.
In the wake of the Ferguson protests, MacDonald writes, “Officers working in inner cities routinely found themselves surrounded by hostile, jeering crowds when they tried to make an arrest or conduct an investigation.”
Put on the defensive, “the police began to disengage from proactive policing…[and] criminal summons and misdemeanor arrests for public-order offenses plummeted.”
So, instead of a boon to black lives from the falloff in discretionary policing, “a bloodbath ensued, and its victims were virtually all black.” Evidently, when the police back off, blacks pay the greatest price.
If the goal is to reduce violence against blacks, protest movements like Black Lives Matter would be wise to go beyond the single-minded focus against renegade cops. By all means, let’s address the issue of racism in law enforcement, but let’s not ignore other serious issues—such as, for example, the vexing reality of black-on-black crime.
According to a report by the New Century Foundation, “Since at least 2002 and up to 2013 (the latest data available), murder was the leading cause of death for black men, ages 15 to 34. Their murderers are almost always other black men.”
The report cites statistics from the Department of Justice showing that, “from 1980 to 2008, 93 percent of black homicide victims were killed by blacks.”
The point is, if black lives matter, we ought to have hard conversations about all the factors behind those lost lives. Among the many factors is the issue of family life.
In Chicago, one of the worst cities for black-on-black shootings, MacDonald writes:
“About 80 percent of black children in Chicago are born to single mothers. They grow up in a world where marriage is virtually unheard of and where no one expects a man to stick around and help raise a child.”
Before President Obama leaves office, I hope he will go to his beloved Chicago and reiterate the tough love he shared in a 2008 speech to a black congregation:
“Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes,” he said. “They have abandoned their responsibilities…and the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”
We shouldn't oversimplify the problems affecting black youth, but we should also have the honesty — and courage — to put all the issues on the table.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at [email protected].