The death of George Floyd and the reaction that followed have seen an explosion of hysterical accusations, breast-beating, and lying that is extreme even by the standards of the last half-century. It is no exaggeration to say that reason and common sense have largely fled the scene, and there has been an incredibly weak reaction to mass violence by most of our political leaders, including by President Donald Trump.
The reporting, or lack of it, by the mainstream media on the mass violence has been a spectacle of incompetence and dishonesty. It took three days for the TV networks to admit that riots, not just peaceful demonstrations, were taking place. Even after their first admission of that fact, they have continued to blur the difference between the two. The talking heads have refrained from criticizing the demonstrators even for violating anti-COVID precautions, which is something even New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did, albeit weakly.
Every other consideration has been sacrificed to the racism obsession, and to further developing the so-called dialogue (in reality, a monologue) about racial matters and their supposedly critical factor in policing and social problems.
Not even those holding out against the hysteria have had the nerve to point out that many people have been neatly mimicking the mentality of old-fashioned Southern lynch mobs.
It is characteristic of our time that it has been automatically assumed that Floyd’s alleged murder must have been motivated by racial hatred, and that this somehow typified police conduct toward blacks. In actuality, his death triggered such a strong reaction precisely because the events that precipitated it were so exceptionally brutal and stupid.
At the time of writing, no evidence has appeared that the police officer was motivated by racial bigotry. He may well have been, but we don’t know yet. Chauvin, to use an old expression, may be a “bug.” But he may not be the sort of bug everyone seems to assume. He might be a violent bigot, but perhaps he is just a garden variety, unprejudiced sadist or psycho. Or it may be that this case will look different when the background and medical evidence are better understood. We just don’t know—but many people like to imagine that they know.
The Floyd case is perhaps just a minor example of what amounts to a witch-hunting attitude toward racism. Of course, racial prejudice, unlike the Satanic witch conspiracy, is a real thing, but the pattern of thinking is dismally similar. The classic witch-hunt mentality projects an obsession with a particular evil, real or supposed, upon the whole world, then proceeds to the idea that a particular charge can be made, and people attacked, with little or no supporting evidence. Outright frauds are accepted uncritically. When a particular case fails, the witch-hunters are unapologetic and do not modify their ideas—they just move on to the next case.
For our contemporary witch-hunters, the ultimate evil is racism, or “systemic racism,” which usually amounts to ranting about 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination, while encompassing and squeezing out the entire history of the United States, North and South, into an undifferentiated mess. Actual history is often lost among things that might be racist, or are made to look racist, and in which the difference between past and present becomes hazy. Problems that may have been remotely caused by slavery or past discrimination are not distinguished from things that may, but usually aren’t, caused by present-day discrimination.
Matters are further confused by the pretense that problems involved in relations between whites and blacks involve larger issues, by invoking the category “peoples of color,” which usually seems to enclose Hispanics and Asians—although the latter sometimes abruptly drop out of the picture, when their presence becomes ideologically inconvenient.
The witch-hunting mentality also readily expands into obsessions with symbols and symbolic acts. For example, tearing down the statues of Confederate generals, which of course metastasizes into vandalizing statues of Columbus, the Founding Fathers, and, of all people, Ulysses Grant—not to mention eliminating that sinister product, “Uncle Ben’s Rice.”
In relation to the justice system and police in particular, a popular assertion on the left is that the whole framework of law and justice has always been racist, and even that it was created for the express purpose of oppressing blacks. Sometimes this argument even traces modern policing to the slave patrols of the Old South. In fact, modern police forces in America were modeled on those in England, which were themselves created as a classic liberal reform measure of the 1830s, occurring in the same period, by the way, during which slavery was abolished in the British empire. The basic structure of America’s legal and policing system, brought earlier from the old country, derived from English common law, which, as it happens, originated in the early Middle Ages in a European society that held slaves—albeit only white ones.
Most of the rancor expended on the justice system has fallen not on lawyers and judges, who are unprofitable and socially armored targets, but upon the police. This rancor has been so harsh, and directed with such ideological rigidity, that it has been undeterred by the fact that the Minneapolis Police Department, and several others involved in the riots, have been run by black police chiefs.
So too has the fact that half the cops involved in the Floyd killing—Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng—were nonwhite, the former being Hmong, the latter a light-skinned black. For a considerable time, the news media tended to avoid showing Officer Thao, who seemed to be the individual most culpable in Floyd’s death, after Chauvin. This omission seems likely precisely because he is Asian and does not fit the obsession with making the crime one of white-versus-black.
In reality, there is no real crisis of police killing blacks, or of police killing anyone else. Most of the people killed by police are not black and the number of people killed by police every year in general has fallen. Meanwhile, the number of police killed in the line of duty every year has grown. Over the last several years, police have killed about 1,000 people a year. Of these, half are white and about a quarter are black, and are overwhelmingly people who were armed or violently resisting arrest.
The danger of a black person being killed by the police, justifiably or not, is only slightly higher than the chance of being killed by a meteorite. Blacks are in far more danger of dying from accidents, from several different illnesses, and of being murdered by criminals. In the last year, 7,400 blacks were murdered by criminals, and in 93 percent or more of those cases, by black criminals. Blacks are both the biggest victims of crime and the biggest perpetrators of it, a fact that cannot be reiterated too often.
Blacks are shot by police at a considerably higher rate than their proportion of the population would suggest, but not out of proportion to their participation in criminal behavior. Given the incredibly higher rate of violent crime among blacks, it is inevitable that there will be a disproportionate number of collisions between blacks and police.
In some of those collisions, of course, the police may act badly or make mistakes—accidents, blunders, or actual crimes may take place. Such things may be reduced by better personnel selection, improved techniques, and training. But, in a world of imperfect human beings, they are unlikely to be eliminated entirely. Relations between police and blacks are likely to remain problematic as long as blacks have significantly higher crime rates than others.
This reality is not just a result of racism in the past. Harping on the police is a classic piece of scapegoating, of avoiding dealing with the real problems of the black underclass, which include rotten education and broken families, among other factors.
While most crime is “intra-racial,” meaning it is committed against people of the same color, black criminals are considerably more likely to attack white victims than the other way around. It has been calculated that when criminals are of a different race from the victim, in 85 percent of cases the attackers are black, while just 14 percent are white. Curiously, this point is often ignored, while the issue of “hate crimes” in general attracts a disproportionate amount of attention.
According to the hate crime statistics in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report for 2018—the most recent available year—there were 7,120 individual cases of “hate crimes” in the U.S., with 8,819 victims. Just under 60 percent were attributed to racial or ethnic prejudices; 18.3 percent to religious ones, mostly targeted against Jews.
It is notable that most hate crimes are actually minor incidents: minor assaults, threats and intimidation, and vandalism. In all of America, only 24 murders and 22 rapes during the year were classified by the FBI as hate crimes. Even allowing for some mistaken classifications, or omission of cases where prejudices may have played a secondary role in a criminal’s selection of a target, that is not a very large number of major offenses in a country of 327 million people. Interestingly, of 6,266 hate crime offenders whose race or ethnicity could be determined, only 53.6 percent were white, well under the white proportion of the population, while 24 percent were black—well over the black proportion of the population.
Harping on race and racism may not only obscure the facts. Sometimes, it stands them on their heads.
We already noted the element of scapegoating, and the avoidance of some matters in recent discussion. Others are worth noting. One striking point is that it is hard to find out just how many people were killed in the rioting following the Floyd murder. At the time of writing it seems to be at least 24 people. The news media have exhibited a lack of interest in this, which is quite remarkable, considering how riots were covered in the past, and for that matter the usual press motto, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Another topic that has been studiously avoided by the media is the character of George Floyd himself, including his considerable criminal record. He seems to have tried going straight near the end, and certainly did not deserve what happened to him. But he does not quite deserve to be awarded sainthood, either.
Above all, and most important, has been the frenzied effort to avoid confronting the possibility that present-day “racial” problems may not be just the residues of an evil past, but are, at least partially, the result of more recent, well-intentioned policies put in place by the welfare state and the federal government. This is something liberals and progressives do not want to think about. Indeed, the idea terrifies them to the point that many seem to prefer, consciously or unconsciously, to leave the way open to a certain amount of suspicion that blacks are inferior, to rethinking the social justice policies they have favored, despite their poor results.
In any case, the recent favored obsession of the left—to devise policies that scapegoat, weaken, and even permanently cripple the police and law enforcement—are a lot more likely to increase crime rates, to harm blacks in particular, and to make race relations even worse, than they are to improve matters.