This is a tale of two “underground” discussion groups. I’ll call them “underground” because they don’t conduct their business out in public via Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or whatever. Perhaps you’ve noticed lately how many people have simply stopped speaking their minds in public about anything. That’s because
a) they have jobs;
b) they want to keep them.
The window for permissible public discourse is shrinking at an astonishing rate; we are in the middle of a massive purity spiral in which yesterday’s attempt to be “woke” or to be to an “ally” will get you “dragged” today by the same people who just finished applauding you. Here’s an example: Last week, a pretty large coalition of online sex workers decided that they would give free subscriptions to their “OnlyFans” websites to anyone who made a contribution to Black Lives Matter or one of the various celebrity bail funds. (“OnlyFans”, for those of you who are not Extremely Online is a monthly subscription service to erotic photos and/or videos of individual sex workers.)
Now here’s where it becomes “problematic”. Most of the women involved were white and perceived to be “privileged”. So a backlash quickly developed among SWoC (Sex Workers of Color) who accused the white women of
a) using the #BLM cause to build awareness of their own brand;
b) “undercutting” SWoC who actually needed the subscription fees to exist.
People started making lists of “real allies” and “fake allies” and “colonizers” and whatnot. Many of the original “allies” made groveling apologies which were promptly not accepted! Others made open appeals to the community along the lines of… Should I not give the money to #BLM? Should I give other money to #BLM? Should I just quit the business out of shame? As of now, there’s no consensus on the matter. Only one thing is certain: today’s “right answer” probably won’t cut the mustard tomorrow.
Back to my two discussion groups. They couldn’t be much more different in attitude. One of them is young men making good money in various trades from finance to manufacturing, with a light-blue-collar tint. The other is mostly fiftyish-and-older fellows with serious backgrounds in academia, law, and a few one-percent-of-one-percent occupations. Yet they’ve both fractured in precisely the same way with regards to recent events, splitting into groups which assert either that:
a) the recent social unrest is manufactured by a corrupt media which is promoting a poisonous agenda to people who have trusted them to verify the facts behind the assertions used to stir the unrest;
b) all cops are, in fact, bastards. Therefore, the current goals of the Uniparty movement to #DefundThePolice and whatnot are completely justified.
You wouldn’t be able to guess the stances of the individuals based on their biographies. There’s a fellow who has spent much of his life partying in highly illegal fashion on boats and who is a strong supporter of the police, while a celebrated attorney with ties to famous-in-movies-and-television cases is firmly on the other side of the issue. Since everyone involved has something close to a classical education, there have been quite a few facts, figures, and sources cited in furtherance of various argument, but there have also been plenty of personal and second anecdotes involved.
This week there’s been some discussion of Heather MacDonald’s WSJ article, The Myth Of Systematic Police Racism. It’s not exactly a dispassionate examination, taking shots at both Joe Biden and Chicago’s murder rate, but that’s frosting surrounding a fairly unequivocal cake of statistics:
In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops last year (235), a ratio that has remained stable since 2015. That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects. In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.
The police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites in 2019, according to a Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015. The Post defines “unarmed” broadly to include such cases as a suspect in Newark, N.J., who had a loaded handgun in his car during a police chase. In 2018 there were 7,407 black homicide victims. Assuming a comparable number of victims last year, those nine unarmed black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African-Americans killed in 2019. By contrast, a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.
I bolded her last statement because I think there’s some bad math involved, or at very least some questionable assumptions. I’m pretty sure that you could use the same math to say something like, “A Wendy’s cashier is 18.5 times more likely to be yelled at in a dispute regarding the Frosty machine being down than a random person off the street is to yell at a Wendy’s cashier.” You get the idea. Police are in the habit of dealing with dangerous people. It’s their job. But there’s a flip side to that, and it’s time: for many people, the most dangerous person with whom they will ever interact is… a police officer.
The rest of MacDonald’s assertions appear to stand up, both mathematically and anecdotally. For every George Floyd, there is at least one Tony Timpa. The last time the federal government decided to burn children alive — twenty-five of them, thanks to an actual tank — all the kids were white. The black community has Eric Garner, who died because police egregiously over-reacted to his demeanor during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes; whites have Vicki Weaver, who was deliberately shot in the head by federal agent Lon Horiuchi while she cradled her infant. (Weaver’s crime? Her husband sawed a shotgun barrel one-quarter-inch shorter than the legal limit, on a line drawn by a federal informant.)
MacDonald and the Uniparty do agree on something: police in the United States do kill a lot of people compared to police elsewhere in the world. Logically speaking, this can only be because
a) American police are more violent by nature and training;
b) American citizens are more violent by nature and training;
c) both of the above.
The answer is clearly c), but why? Left-wing sources would tell you that it’s the “American gun culture”, while right-wing sources might cite the violence-glorifying cultures of various ethnic/social minority groups within the country, from the Crips to the bootleggers. I have a theory, and it is this: Frontiers have typically been places of violence. Border towns have also typically been places of violence. This was a frontier country well into the early Twentieth Century, but it’s also always been the world’s largest border town, whether you’re talking about the Five Points of New York’s Civil War era or modern-day Minneapolis. We have always placed diverse groups in direct contact, whether through accident or deliberate plan, then acted surprised when there was conflict as a result.
History shows us that most frontiers, and most border towns, have been lawless by default, and that any attempts at policing said areas have long been both capricious and violent. And so it is with America. Is there another way? The city of Minneapolis has announced that they are going to replace their police force with an as-yet-to-be-defined “community-based” alternative. This announcement was met with considerable approval from the media — and a sharp uptick in real-estate listings within the affected area. A group of people in Seattle have set up an “Autonomous Zone” around a burned-out precinct building in which the police are not welcome, run in loose fashion by a locally famous rapper; they almost immediately ran out of food, there have been numerous assaults in the zone, and apparently one of the organizers has confessed to being a rapist.
Clearly we are a long way from finding a true alternative to American policing, and any process by which that alternative is found will have some horrifying consequences along the way. It’s also clear that this will never be a discussion about raw facts or statistics. Your chance of being killed by a police officer in this country on any given year, as an African-American or any other kind of person, is one in 500,000 or thereabouts; your chance of being struck by lightning is 700,000. This is an emotional discussion, not a statistical one. And if the assertion being made by every media source, every corporation, every social-media account in America, the one about how police are downright eager to kill people of color — if that is a lie? As Slim Charles tells Avon Barksdale in the video clip above, it doesn’t matter. If it’s a lie, then we are all going to fight on that lie. For a long time to come.