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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BLACK LIVES MATTER: CONTEXT AND CREDIBILITY

It is difficult for white Americans or perhaps even many black Americans in upper socio-economic classes to fully evaluate the claims of “systemic racism” in the U.S. or more specifically, racist motivations on the part of the nation’s police forces.  Within the context of the thousands of police officers in the country there are undoubtedly individuals with racial prejudice.  The case that this is wide spread enough to be described as “systemic racism” still has to be proven beyond the anecdotal evidence on which the Black Lives Matter movement relies. Also the nature of the Black Lives Matter movement itself raises some doubts in this regard.

 Black Lives Matter is indeed a movement, not an organization.  It is made up of disconnected sub-groups without any central leadership.  It is essentially an internet/social media based movement which allows a variety of self-appointed “leaders” to organize protests on the local level.  The common thread that connects the localized groups is the claim that blacks are the victims of race based police brutality often leading to deadly confrontations  in which the offending officers face no accountability. 

However, in spite of Hillary Clinton’s pandering use of the term in heavily black South Carolina, the lack of attention to context on a national scale weakens the argument that the incidents most often cited are evidence of a “systemic” and racist lack of justice for blacks.

The Black Lives Matter movement was started in 2013 by Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, all of Los Angeles, CA,  who cited the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, as the source of their personal outrage.  This incident was followed in 2014 by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City.  Both died at the hands of police officers who were attempting to make arrests.  Individuals in the movement then began monitoring police interactions with blacks across the nation and making assumptions about these incidents that supported their narrative that is based on the belief that police departments everywhere are inherently racist and motivated to kill blacks. 

Through 2016 the list most often cited is up to twelve and  these few individual cases offer the only specifics relevant to the broader claims. Some context relating to the national situation is informative.
In 2013, the FBI reported that there were approximately 764,000 commissioned full time and part time law enforcement officers serving in 11,951 agencies in the nation. A Justice Department survey based on 2013 data showed that 12.2 %  of these officers were black, close to the total percentage of blacks in the U.S. population (13.2%). The percentage of all racial minorities in the national police survey was 27.3 %.   In 2014 the FBI reported that these officers made 10,291,896 arrests.   Of the 8,730,665 non-drug arrests, 69.4% of the arrestees were white and 27.8% were black.  109,891 arrests were made for on illegal weapons charges.  Of these 57.3% were white suspects and 40.7% were black.  Arrests for murder and non-negligent manslaughter comprised 46.3 % white suspects and 51.3% black. 

With respect to the individual cases cited by Cullors and subsequently by Black Lives Matter proponents, Trayvon Martin was not killed by a police officer.  He was shot while sitting on the chest of an armed civilian, George Zimmerman and pounding Zimmerman’s head into the pavement.  Zimmerman was indicted and tried for second degree murder by a state’s attorney. 

Noted liberal and former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said that the charges should never have been brought, that the trial was a political exercise and the state’s attorney should be fired for bringing them. Under Florida law, Zimmerman was legally armed and justified in using deadly force in self- defense and he was acquitted of all charges.  Thus the foundational case for the Black Lives Matter movement did not involve a police department, did not involve a white vs. black scenario since Zimmerman is of mixed ethnicity, and was fully, if inappropriately, according to Dershoweitz, adjudicated.

The case of Michael Brown is well documented and the circumstances do not fit the “murder by police” narrative.  Brown was contacted by a police officer shortly after shop lifting at a convenience store and roughing up the clerk.  The six foot-four and  @240 lb. Brown assaulted the police officer in his patrol car and attempted to steal the officer’s weapon.  After walking away and being followed by the officer he turned and approached the officer in a threatening manner and was shot.  Witnesses verified the officers description of the facts and after an extensive investigation, a grand jury declined to indict the officer.  

The Obama Administration’s Justice Department led by black Attorney General Eric Holder, conducted an extensive civil rights violation investigation and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to bring federal charges against the officer.  Brown’s race had nothing to do with his being stopped regarding the shop lifting event and nothing to do with the officer’s need to defend himself. 
The case of Eric Garner in New York City was a case of tragic circumstances involving Garner’s decision to resist arrest and his serious health problems.  He was not shot, nor intentionally killed. He had been arrested without incident for the same minor offense several times before. 

In this case he did resist arrest and because of his large size, 350 lbs., was subjected to a “choke hold”, which was identified as against police department policy.  The coroner’s report cited complicating health issues related to  “acute and chronic bronchial asthma, obesity, and heart disease” which contributed to his death. No evidence was presented that indicated that Garner’s race in any way caused the confrontation or the deadly result.  One of two department supervisors who was present at the scene, Sergeant Kizzy Adonis, is a black woman.  A federal civil rights investigation has stalled for the last two years as some officials in the Justice Department feel that there is insufficient evidence to gain an indictment of the primary officer involved.

  Regarding “white supremacy” it should be noted that the New York City’s NBC affiliate reported in 2010 that 52.5 percent of the New York City police department officers were racial minorities.
With regard to accountability, of the nine cases which are the underlying substance of the Black Lives Matter movement, an officer was indicted and tried for 2nd degree murder in the death of Jonathan Ferrell which occurred in North Carolina and which resulted in a hung jury.  In the case of Laquan McDonald who was shot in Chicago, an officer was indicted for 1st degree murder. In the Tulsa, OK case of Eric Harris, an officer was convicted of 2nd degree manslaughter.  In the death of Walter Scott in South Carolina, an officer was indicted for murder and a federal charge of civil right s violations.  Samuel Debose was killed in Cincinnati, Ohio.  An officer was indicted for murder and voluntary manslaughter.  The case of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA is currently the subject of a federal civil rights investigation.
 
In the widely reported case of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, MD, six officers were charged with various offenses, none of which involved the use of firearms.  Three of these officers were black including the one subject to the most serious charge.  The first three trials of the officers were “bench trials” i.e. no juries.  In each of the three, the judge who is  black, acquitted each officer. The prosecution subsequently dropped the charges against the remaining three.  Professor Dershowitz described the young black prosecutor’s criminal charges as “crowd control”, not justice.

Black Lives Matter relies on several dynamics.  One is the underlying anger of black citizens, mostly in lower socio-economic classes, with the police departments charged with enforcing the law in their communities.  These communities have disproportionately high rates of crime and the police departments dealing with them are disproportionately non-black.  Additionally, a broad based social movement which requires nothing more than a click of a mouse or tab on an I-phone and asserts the hot button topic of racial victimization, attracts support from well meaning, if ill informed individuals willing to accept the claims at face value. The ever racially sensitized and controversy seeking media, and of course the political class who see political advantage in joining a movement claiming social justice, are also active participants.

The protests themselves, like their counterparts on college campuses, offer an outlet for anger, and an opportunity to reject authority and gain a feeling of self-importance from the relative safety afforded by the anonymity of the mob.  While “freedom of assembly”, the right to “petition the government” and “freedom of speech” are constitutionally protected, protests by themselves offer little once they have achieved the basic goal of “raising awareness”. The media and politicians fearing charges of “racism” are reluctant to criticize these protests based on this common sense reality.
 
To his credit, President Obama wandered briefly from his view that racism in police departments is a “national issue” and made this case:
            “The goal of protest isn’t just to protest for the sake of protesting.  The goal of protest is to then get the attention of decision-makers and sit down and say, ‘Here’s what we would like to see,’ and have a negotiation, which over time can actually lead to improvements in the system.”

            But so far, the various ad hoc “leaders” of the protests seem to be more interested in the manifestation of anger, and the media status that goes with it.  Comments from media and public officials have been careful to describe these protests as “peaceful”.  But the events in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland have been serious exceptions.
 
Essentially, few large social protests are “peaceful”.  They are almost always confrontational with respect to the police presence deployed to keep order, frequently block the free movement of pedestrians and vehicular traffic, and present the danger of encouraging actual violence as was the case in Dallas, Texas.  The ubiquitous signs carried which threaten “No justice; no peace” offer a strong counter point to these descriptions by sympathetic observers.

Thus, overall, the Black Lives Movement, is based on a premise that lacks credibility.  Using 2013 FBI statistics  as a benchmark, 
@ 556,000 blacks are arrested each year.  The "twelve" cases occurred in  the 3.5 year period of 2013-2016.  Of these, four of the suspects were armed or thought to be armed (Tamir Rice was holding a fake look-a-like semi-automatic pistol).  Seven of the suspects were resisting arrest prior to being shot.  In five of the cases, police officers involved were charged with murder or manslaughter. Two others are still under investigation. Sandra Bland, who was arrested for assaulting a police officer after a traffic stop in Texas, committed suicide in her jail cell.

The research on fatal police shootings has significant reporting weaknesses.  However, most research agrees that many more white individuals than blacks are killed by police.  It is also agreed that a higher percentage of black men are killed than whites based on respective population percentages. This figure is related to the higher percentage of black men engaged in violent crimes as cited in the FBI statistics.   However, in spite of the notoriety generated by deadly outcomes of black men, the existing reporting also shows that the real numbers and the percentage of anyone, of any race, being killed by police is extremely small as can easily be seen by the arrest statistics cited above.

It’s time for Black Lives Matter to take President Obama’s advice and use better fact based analysis as a basis for political solutions to their grievances. It would also help if, as President Obama suggested, they   said “. . .this  is what we would like to see”, and gave up their list of  provocative “demands”.   Such solutions will require an improvement in overall race relations which continued protests and hostile (and racist)  hyperbole  such as “white superiority” and “genocide” diminish.  Patrisse Cullor’s threat to get what they want or "Until then we're gonna shut shit down". is an arrogant path to chaos.





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