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by Peter Moskos

December 2, 2014

Racial progress, nicer white people, and black-on-black crime (Or: Why don't white people care about justice?)

There is a great interview with Chris Rock in New York Magazine. What stuck with me was his insight that "black progress" is a misnomer. What America has seen over the years (in fits and starts) is "white progress":
So, to say Obama is [black] progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t.

The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
This got me thinking about the common refrain (at least among some people) that blacks don't care about black-on-black crime. Just because you (and some in the media) keep saying so doesn't make it true. In fact, the idea that black people don't care about crime (and its corollary that blacks only care injustice at the hands of police) is so demonstrably false it's almost absurd to even point out instances of blacks caring about black-on-black crime.

But I will.

As this link points out, "You may not have noticed black protests against crime, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened." And even better this and this, which shows specific incidents of protest in Chicago, Harlem, Newark, Saginaw, Gary, and Brooklyn. I'll also add Baltimore. Coates concludes:
There is a kind of sincere black person who really would like to see even more outrage about violence in black communities. I don't think outrage will do it at this point, but I respect the sincere feeling.

And then there are pundits who write more than they read, and talk more than they listen, and prefer an easy creationism to a Google search.
Now there is a caveat. People care less, as is reasonable, when one criminal kills another criminal than when an innocent person is killed. But there are plenty of killings to cover all the bases.

And this is worth watching, this, if you haven't already:

(And no, that woman does not have flowers growing out of her head. She's just standing in front of it.)

In dealing with black-on-black crime, society has a system to deal with criminals. You kill somebody and (at least in theory) you get found, arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed. That is our justice system at work. It may not be the system, but it's the system we have.

But things are different when killings are sanctioned by the state. That's why so many opponents of the death penalty focus on the fact that we sometimes execute innocent people. Do you think it's never happened... or does it just not bother you?

So people are upset about crime. But they're also upset about justice. The Rodney King riots didn't happen just because Rodney King got his ass beat. The riots started when the police officers got away with it (at least at first). The protests are about the whole damn system being rigged. Of course people were upset when Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin. But the real outrage was that Zimmerman got away with it. Justice shouldn't be something only Al Sharpton shouts about. It's a basic American value. Especially, I should add, to a group to which it has been historically denied. (And how did conservatives get away with co-opting "freedom" and liberals with co-opting "justice"? It makes no sense.)

When police officers get away with murder, it's not only about crime. It's about justice. Police officers are backed by the state. Police are the law. So yes, it is worse when a police officer kills an innocent person. (And notice I said "innocent" and not "unarmed.")

You could ask -- especially if you think black people don't care about crime -- why don't white people care about justice? Where was the uproar over the police-involved killing (and judicial exoneration) of the Reverend Jonathan Ayers? And there are countless other questionable police-involved shootings. And I don't mean "countless" figuratively as in "a lot". I mean "countless" literally as in we don't count them! What's up with that?!

All this said, I do think it's a shame that the whole Ferguson uproar seems to involve an incident in which a police officer probably acted correctly. Especially since there are any number of cases to pick from in which police have killed an innocent person. I also think people are misguided when they see bad police-involved shootings only in terms of race. I also know people are simply ignorant if they actually believe that police don't shoot unarmed white people (or give them tickets for seatbelt violations)!

But everybody is upset about crime. Why don't white people care about justice?


CollegeCop said...

I think your a bit off here. As you note on this very blog, black police officers are statistically more likely to shoot black suspects, but I can't remember the last time a black cop shooting someone caused a Ferguson-like uproar.

I'm an American of African descent myself and I've been a law enforcement officer for 18 years now (almost 16 as a campus police officer). Being in the south I've experienced some prejudice for being black, but (to my surprise) I've experienced the same thing being 'blue'. The current reaction is an example of prejudice, in this case mainly because the 'bad guy' (Wilson) is a 'double enemy' (White AND a LEO).

It's not just a black thing. Years ago there was an incident in which a drunk illegal immigrant killed a white female teenager in South Carolina (if i recall correctly). Many (mostly white) people were in an uproar over it because it was supposed to be an example of how dangerous illegals were. In an online discussion, I pointed out to others that if they were really concerned about drunks killing people, they'd be more ticked off at 'legal' white citizens because most people convicted of that crime are non-hispanic whites.

What they were experiencing was natural human tribalism, which says that ANYTHING done to a member of one's group by an outsider/enemy is worse than one of our 'own' doing the same thing. That's what is happening with Ferguson (at least for some black folks, can't speak for the ticked off white liberals also marching in the street lol).

That's why this event and an annual rate of 130-ish mostly justified killings of black people by mostly white police illicits a rage response that makes it to the white house while 5-6 THOUSAND wholly unjustified murders of our of people by our own people creates a few meetings by a few clergy guys and civil rights leaders every year. If Wilson were black this might have been local news, and nothing more.

I used to joke about stuff like that with my old Chief (who was white). After a few months on as a campus cop (at a community college in an urban area) watching what my white co-workers sometimes had to deal with (which I, as a 6 foot 2, 250 pound black man in a police uniform didn't have to put up with), I saw a lot. I told the Chief that if I woke up one day and had magically transformed into a white person, the FIRST thing I would do would be to call him and quit. I was only half-joking

Peter Moskos said...

Well said. (Though I consider being "a bit off" a compliment!)

I didn't mean to imply that there isn't a race issue here. Of course there is.

Had the officer been black or the person shot been white, indeed this would not have been national issue. In fact, even with a white officer and a black man, the odds are still against a police-involved shooting becoming national news.

Though I do think the race of the officer matters less and less these days. (Happens in NYPD shootings, since you really can't get a group of all white cops here in New York.)

And you make a very good point about white cops sometimes having to deal with much more crap than a black cop. You have no idea (or maybe you do) how often I hear this from white cops. And they're not wrong. But if they assert such a thing in public they get vilified for being racist; the greater liberal public simply will not tolerate a white person claiming victimhood based on race.

There's a big difference between white privilege or structural racism on a societal level and race interactions for the individual police officer. This leads to a bad situation where race matters but you can't talk about it honestly, even among those who should care.

Jay Livingston said...

The Wall Street Journal today (here) has a front-page article on killings by the police that go uncounted.

Peter Moskos said...

Can you send me the text? It's behind a paywall.

Anonymous said...

" I mean "countless" literally as in we don't count them!"

What about the Bureau of Justice Statistic's "Quarterly Summary Arrest-Related Deaths CJ-11" ?

Peter Moskos said...

I lot of jurisdictions simply don't report to the UCR. And missing data isn't consistent year to year.

Anonymous said...

Because there is no justice when the justice system is broken and give cops a free pass on murder. You know how Stalin said it didn't matter who voted; it mattered who counted the votes. It doesn't matter who comes before the grand jury; it matters who the prosecutor (and his political allies) actually want to indict. You are on the wrong side of justice and I will keep trolling here to remind you how hateful and hypocritical you are to write about justice and at the same time write the total BS you do about Brown, Garner, and Rice.

Peter Moskos said...

Our justice system is broken?! You don't say. Funny, because I wrote a book about that...