Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
In over 37 years of writing and commenting on current events, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with whether or not to write on any particular topic as much as I have this one. The problem isn’t that it’s difficult to condemn murderers. On the contrary, what happened to Mr. George Floyd is unimaginable, and yet we saw it happen right in front of us. I can’t fathom what this gentleman went through, begging for mercy, crying while trying to simply breathe before ultimately losing consciousness and dying. A nation watched as that gentleman was killed, begging for his very life under the suffocating weight of a cop who was as passively disinterested in his victim as a predator in the wild waiting for the death of its prey. Likewise, hunting down and killing a black man out on a jog, as that stupid little posse of murderers did to Ahmad Aubrey, is equally infuriating and incomprehensibly vile. It’s inhuman. It’s depraved. And it is inexcusable. Period. Full stop.
Under those circumstances, uniting the country really wasn’t difficult at all. From the White House to practically every house, every church, every business and social gathering in the country, all were horrified, angered, and continue to demand justice for George Floyd, Ahmad Aubrey, as well as their families and friends. That nationwide anguish and anger undoubtedly helped bring about the firing of all the officers involved, murder charges against the officer with his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, the likelihood of charges against the other officers, and brought murder charges against those who savagely killed Ahmad Aubrey.
However, those actions have been deemed insufficient by the mob, which expects us to sit passively by and watch cities burn, see lives and livelihoods destroyed, and genuflect deeply to miscreants who take yet more lives and beat up innocent people. You see, I had meant to write a more conciliatory piece, but after multiple nights of mindless destruction, I don’t much feel like appeasing anarchists anymore. I’m told we must confront some uncomfortable realities. Fair enough:
I mean to address two groups of people, and to the first group I simply say the following: If, after the horrific murders of Ahmad Aubrey and George Floyd, you look around and see that 95 percent of the American people are in agreement with you and yet you still insist on making this a question of “us versus them,” and you actually excuse the destruction of lives and livelihoods as neighborhoods and businesses burn to the ground, you are a huge part of the problem and you forfeit the right to be taken seriously.
To the second group, who have the capacity to reason as well as emotionalize, many of whom I count has friends and loved ones, I’d like to share some uncomfortable realities: Here in Memphis, over a dozen people were shot during the weekend leading up to Mr. Floyd’s death. Five people died in those shootings. There were no protests or observances to state that their lives mattered. “I think it’s about the time we live in, and it’s only going to get worse as we go on in time,” said one man who was at a local park where a woman was shot and a man was killed. Another gentleman said his truck had been hit by bullets at that park. Meanwhile, another local man was charged with murder after he set fire to a house over that same weekend, burning to death a man in that house. Also, a local woman was stabbed that weekend, while in a parking lot close to a local Kroger.
On the day that Mr. Floyd died, a Memphis police officer was the victim of a hit and run by someone on a motorcycle who ran into the police car and then fled the scene. Also on the day that Mr. Floyd died, another man was shot near Elvis Presley Blvd. That same day, yet another woman was stabbed here in Memphis. The day after Mr. Floyd died in Minneapolis, a man was shot while driving in a part of Memphis known as Frayser. He crashed into a telephone pole. Come to think of it, that was also the day that a driver honked her horn at someone who nearly careened into her with their car, after which the driver of the car who had nearly caused a wreck, followed the lady who honked her horn to a convenience store, got out of his car and fired shots at her while she was in the store, all caught on video camera.
On Wednesday, two days after Mr. Floyd was killed, a local 13-year-old girl was shot during an altercation between two adults who can neither aim nor think. The next day, a man and child were injured when someone fired multiple shots into their vehicle on a local highway. That same night, a local ambulance found itself in the crossfire in what would become the 23d roadway shooting in Memphis thus far in 2020. For those keeping count, that’s 22 victims in the span of six days in Memphis, none of whose lives got so much as an honorable mention in any protest. Tell me again whose lives matter, because I’m not seeing any indication that any lives are worth a fig in Memphis.
So why do I bring up the daily slaughter of human beings in Memphis in a conversation about racism and inequality in police enforcement? Because facts also matter and we need to confront the disparity between slogans and real lives. In 2018, for example, there were 17 unarmed African Americans nationwide who were killed by police. For the purposes of this discussion, we will assume that all 17 were unjustified in the same way as George Floyd. Those 17 deaths make up exactly .23 percent of the 7,407 black homicide victims in that same year. Meanwhile, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows that 88.9 percent of those people (6,658) were killed by black criminals. The devastating reality is that the last face nearly 90 percent of black murder victims see is the black face of their killer. Are they less dead? Do their children, their parents, their loved ones grieve less?
By the way, in that same year (2018), there were 23 unarmed white Americans who were killed by police. “Ah,” you say, “that proves the disparity because blacks make up a smaller percentage of the population and yet their unarmed deaths at the hands of police are nearly as high as whites.” Which is where things get uncomfortable because despite making up only 12 percent of the population in 2018, blacks composed 55 percent of homicide offenders. Narrowing down things still more, black males made up 7 percent of the population and yet accounted for 45 percent of homicides. Despite making up only 12 percent of the population in 2018, African Americans accounted for 54 percent of robbery arrests, 34 percent of aggravated assault, 43 percent of weapons violations, and a total of 37.4 percent of all violent crime arrests.
In 2015, in the aftermath of police assassinations and anti-police rhetoric, cops in minority neighborhoods backed off from proactive policing, notes the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald. And the result?
The FBI’s final tally for reported homicides nationally in 2015 showed close to a 12 percent increase, the largest one-year homicide spike in almost half a century. Homicides rose by double digits across all size categories of cities, except for those under ten thousand in population, where homicides rose 7 percent. Cities with large black populations had the greatest homicide increases: 54 percent in Washington, D.C., 72 percent in Milwaukee, and 90 percent in Cleveland. An additional nine hundred black males were murdered in 2015 compared with 2014, bringing the black homicide toll in 2015 to over seven thousand—which is two thousand more than the number of white and Hispanic homicide victims combined.
And yet according to the Pew Research Center, only 33 percent of the federal and state prison inmates were black, as of 2017. And according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the black imprisonment rate has decreased by 28 percent from 2008-2018. White imprisonment rate has dropped by only 13 percent. When you consider the disproportionate representation in violent crime offenses, the comparatively small — and decreasing — black imprisonment rate undercuts the prevailing theme of “disproportionate imprisonment.”
The awful reality is that disproportionate criminal interactions with the African-American community are the result of disproportionate crime rates. African Americans are killed at eight times the rate of whites. The homicide rate for African American males between 15 and 24 years old is 16 times that of white males of the same age. The tragic truth is that, on a national scale, blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of both whites and Hispanics combined. And that isn’t the fault of the police. You want a civil rights cause to rally around? There it is. And setting things on fire or beating up random people isn’t going to fix it.
For those inclined to step away from their memes for a few minutes, this research article on Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings (FOIS) from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may provide some clues, including this finding:
One of our clearest results is that violent crime rates strongly predict the race of a person fatally shot. At a high level, reducing race-specific violent crime should be an effective way to reduce fatal shootings of Black and Hispanic adults. Of course, this is no simple task—crime rates are the result of a large and dynamic set of forces. However, the magnitude of these disparities speaks to the importance of this idea. In counties where minorities committed higher rates of violent crime, a person fatally shot was 3.3 times more likely to be Hispanic than White and 3.7 times more likely to be Black than White. This suggests that reducing disparities in FOIS will require identifying and changing the socio-historical factors that lead civilians to commit violent crime.
I’m under no illusion that the above will make a substantive difference. Too many are so wedded to a prevailing narrative into which individual instances are woven into a sweeping indictment of a nation. But even as the burning of cities is encouraged by idiotic memes and bumper-sticker slogans, the facts remain, and the body count rises. Does that matter too?
** This post has been edited to correct a math error.Published in