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When viral videos of conflicts between blacks and law enforcement officers, blacks being harassed by white women comedically known as “Karens,” or blacks being criminally profiled by overzealous white males are released, I make it a point to say as little as possible – especially on social media.
Generally, it’s very difficult to know what ensued and render judgment on what happened – and what should happen to achieve “justice” with minimal information provided in a 15-, 20-, or 25-second video clip. The Rodney King debacle should’ve taught us as much (but didn’t). Additional evidence is needed to help contextualize the incident for a better understanding of what exactly occurred and then, what should or shouldn’t happen to the relevant actors going forward. Ideally, prudence would dictate patience until supplementary evidence is made available before people dispense their verdicts and punishments.
That brings me to the recent case of Ahmaud Arbery.
For a number of reasons, the reactions to this case have been noticeably different than previous cases of what’s too easily pigeonholed as racially abusive interactions between blacks and whites. Predictably, the episode has divided conservatives and progressives. But this case has also divided black conservatives and white conservative; white conservatives and white conservatives (seen on social media), and black conservatives from other black conservatives. The same can’t be said about internal divisions between progressives because they uniformly believe that systemic racism is the omnipotent, omnipresent force that thwarts, hunts, and kills American blacks out of obligation to maintain white supremacy.
What’s behind this diversification of internal reactions among conservatives won’t be investigated here. Instead, I want to address David French’s recent opinion about what he claims is responsible for the killing of black men.
In Time magazine, French argues that “unreasonable fear” is why black men are being killed in America. Unlike an earlier piece in The Dispatch where French detailed a very well-reasoned case against Travis and Gregory McMichaels and their justification for following, confronting, and killing Arbery, here he claims that racially unjustified shootings of black men, mostly by cops, reflects America’s guilt for reinforcing the association of fear with black men.
After a brief list of examples of police-involved shootings – including the Trayvon Martin case (in which George Zimmerman was not a cop but an overzealous leader of his neighborhood watch program), French claims a sizable portion of the country – like the cops in the examples he cites, shares the view that black men unjustifiably represent “outsize perceptions of threat and danger.”
Is this really the case? Does there exist an unreasonable fear of black men that prompts itchy trigger fingers among (white) Americans?
David French thinks so. He says,
[T]here are Americans who would never pick up a weapon and try to track down a black man running on the street–or follow a young black man on a rainy night–but they understand and sympathize with those who do.
I realized that all too many of these cases carried with them a dreadful double injustice. There was the awful death itself. Then there was the public declaration that there was something right about the alarm and even terror that triggered deadly violence.
It’s that second injustice that helps perpetuate the cycle of violence. It teaches a new American generation that when black men do even small things, then there is a reason to grab a gun–and even to fire that gun. The battle for hearts and minds must continue. It must be relentless and urgent–until at long last there is no real market for rationalization. After all, there is no reason a walk through a neighborhood at night [that]… should create in any American that terrible and fatal sense of unreasonable fear.
Is this true?
Granted, there are some who are guilty of this accusation. Some in this contingent are also legitimately racist. But is this group large enough to slander with broad strokes enough Americans for this accusation to be true by default?
Ultimately, I think the answer is found with French’s strategic but disingenuous use of the word “unreasonable.”
At this point in his journalistic career, David French has reached the point where he may have a say in the titles of his columns that are published in traditional news and commentary outlets.
In regard to this article, for argument’s sake, let’s say he did. If so, the title and a significant portion of his thesis is deliberately misleading.
French only cites obvious cases in which law enforcement officers acted too impulsively (Philando Castile) or in the case of Walter Scott, immorally. But he deliberately ignores a number of other cases that grabbed national attention in which the black men who were shot posed risks to the officers involved including:
- Michael Brown, who robbed a convenience store and tried to grab the gun of an officer that confronted him and a companion. The officer involved (Darren Wilson) shot Brown in self-defense – actions that were later legitimized by a DOJ investigation; and
- Stephon Clark, who matched the description of a man vandalizing cars in his neighborhood when officers were called. After a search and pursuit (which included a police helicopter), Clark tried to evade arrest. When confronted by officers, Clark ignored orders to submit, turned toward cops with what looked a gun (a cell phone), and was shot dead.
Additionally, the Trayvon Martin case isn’t so easily dismissed as another instance of an unreasonable threat. Let’s not forget why George Zimmerman followed Martin to begin with, and why a neighborhood watch was even necessary in the community where the deadly altercation took place.
A fact that wasn’t shared too widely was that the gated community where Zimmerman lived had been robbed – at least eight times in the 14 months before the altercation. Several of the victims and witnesses described the thieves as being young black men, and unfortunately, Martin fit that description. I’m not defending Zimmerman’s actions on that fateful evening. However, one should be able to understand the frustration, insecurity, and desire of community residents to stop thieves from taking that which is not theirs.
But more to the point. French intentionally ignores what gives life to the regrettable stereotype with which he finds fault: the sad and frustrating fact that 2 to 3 percent of the black population commits a disparate percentage of violent crime.
I’m not defending the vigilantism of the McMichaels which led to the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and I’m certainly not saying that Arbery deserved to die.
I’m simply noting what is obvious to those who value intellectual honesty: that the criminal activity of a disproportionately small subset of black men negatively stigmatizes and stereotypes all black men – myself included – as dangers and public threats. To acknowledge that truism is heterodoxy in our current cultural climate where subjective feelings and white guilt are prioritized over data-driven facts. This criminal stereotype in many occasions (but not all), is a contributing factor in the deaths of black men as are the guns used by cops (or wannabe proxies) to shoot them.
That this small, racial demographic subgroup reinforces criminal stereotypes is an important aspect as to why people reach the conclusion that black men menace society. I have a personal file of more than 200 stories that show the breathtaking variety of black criminality and 99 percent has absolutely nothing to do with people holding an “unreasonable fear.” As a matter of fact, it’s precisely because of these stories, again, which stigmatizes all blacks, that mainstream America –– including other blacks –– possess the functional and in many cases, life-preserving generalization that black men are threats to public safety.
Sadly, FBI statistics reinforce this categorization. In 2018, blacks accounted for 37 percent of reported violent crimes, 54 percent of robberies, 53 percent of reported murders, and 89 percent of crimes committed against other blacks. Just this past weekend alone, 39 people were shot and ten others were killed in Chicago even though stay-at-home orders are still in place.
Additionally, when it comes to interracial crimes, blacks killed more whites (69 percent) than whites killed blacks (31 percent). One would never know this if one had to rely only on media reporting.
Jesse Jackson once lamented about walking and hearing footsteps behind him only to be relieved that they weren’t black. He said,
“There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery. Then look around and see someone white and feel relieved.”
He also expressed his observations about black criminality in ghetto areas saying,
“This killing is not based upon poverty; it is based upon greed and violence and guns.”
Considering that these examples, buttressed by painful statistics that unfairly and overwhelmingly tarnish black men, can we still call this feeling “unreasonable?”
French says that “hearts can change.” No question they can – and they have. Despite legislative victories resulting from the civil rights movement, it wasn’t until American hearts changed that our country was able to heal and move forward.
But I think French lays the contemporary burden of responsibility to change upon the shoulders of mainstream America. This means that white people bear the overwhelming obligation to fix this problem. There certainly are white people who lack moral self-awareness and are in definite need of a spiritual self-assessment to change what compromises principled thoughts and behaviors.
But excluding blacks from contributing to this moral renovation is paternalistic and reinforces notions of black helplessness and inability. French won’t say what I’m about to say for whatever reason(s) and many whites are afraid to say what I’ll say because of the swift “cancel culture” repercussions that accompany any recognition of black humanity (on equal terms with their counterparts), black obligation, and free will. So, I’ll say it. White people who agree with me but who nevertheless choose the pragmatic path to self-preservation can thank me later.
If hearts are going to change, we’re compelled to mention what blacks can and should do to diminish this “unreasonable fear”: immediately resume self-policing of the pernicious and counterproductive behavior in black communities. This includes vociferous and consistent condemnation of blacks who do their level best to keep negative stereotypes alive, full stop.
Jesse Jackson also said,
We’ve got the power right now to stop killing each other . . . There is a code of silence, based upon fear. Our silence is a sanctuary for killers and drug dealers. There must be a market revolt. The victim has to rise up.
Blacks do have the power but they refuse to use it.
Blacks in the post-civil rights era have stopped calling balls and strikes when it comes to self-destructive and self-debasing behavior, and it’s exactly why we have so much of it. It’s no secret that once you destigmatize bad behavior, bad conduct is normalized. This behavior then became associated with black culture, being “authentically” black, and so on. When blacks sit silently as the violent statistical minority abuse and destroy our reputations, then attempt to rationalize this humiliating behavior – it becomes legitimized, and blacks as a whole become associated with it.
So, if blacks continue to sit silently and withhold disapproval, then they can’t complain when mainstream America reacts accordingly.
It bears repeating – all of this in no way condones what the McMichaels did or that Arbery (and more recently, George Floyd) deserved to be killed. It’s the larger, deliberately misleading narrative that I’m concerned with.
Blacks could stop this almost overnight if they wanted to. But they don’t, because some religions still require human sacrifice and black identity politics is one such religion (cult, actually).
After what our black ancestors went through to gift us this freedom, it’s unquestionably unfortunate that we’ve allowed ourselves to shame our reputations and their sacrifices.
David French choosing the phrase “unreasonable fear” in proximity to black men isn’t correct. A more accurate term would be “unfortunate fear.”
Blacks holding themselves accountable demonstrates self-love and self-respect and ultimately shows people that they needn’t fear blacks.Published in