24 March 2015

Cops are the New Blacks

Go back about 90 years.  And about 350 miles South (from where I am, in N. California).
Slavery has been abolished long enough ago that there has been almost (but not quite) a total generational turn-over; most people alive don't actually remember it, though it was recent enough that everyone is very aware.
Since reparations never actually happened obviously there remains a dramatic disparity along race lines.
Combine poverty, a lack of education in the parent's generation, and unequal public school services for the current generation, and you have not just a wealth gap, but sharp class distinctions.

Whenever there is a sharp disparity of wealth and class, combined with cultural isolation, increased crime is the result.  This isn't a "racial" phenomenon, per say - the same pattern happens within a "race" when the same conditions apply: the "untouchables" (Dalit) of caste system India, the Irish immigrants in mid 1800s America, gypsies of medieval Europe, or the Burakumin of Japan today; people indistinguishable from the main population by appearance, but separate culturally, and substantially poorer.
Predictably crime is higher - driven not only by poverty and desperation, but also by a mutual feeling of "otherness" relative to the main society which makes it easy to rationalize the harm done to the victims - to start with if the victim comes from the "oppressor" class, but resolving the cognitive dissonance of unethical acts against one group opens the door for setting aside morality altogether.

But here's the thing: In all of these examples, while the average crime rate may be higher among the sub-group than it is in the general population, it is never remotely as high as approaching 50%.  Even at it's very worse, rates stay down in the single digits per 100 population - for example, as excessively high as the Black incarceration rate in the US may be, it is only 1.2% of the Black population.

In other words, the vast majority of the marginalized population are ordinary ethical law-abiding citizens, even despite the prejudice they face.

Certainly, 1.2% is significantly higher than the 0.7% incarceration rate for the general population - 70% higher.  If we could assume that rates of conviction were similar (although of course we know they aren't), that would imply that, at most, Blacks in America as a population group commit up to 70% more crime than the general population.  When you phrase it that way, it sounds like a lot!  But that's 70% more than 0.7%.
Another, equally valid (but less misleading way) to say it is 0.5% more of the population commits crimes. The total rate per capita is still only 1.2%.  Which leaves 98.8% not incarcerated for committing crimes.

The numbers will be different depending on the time and place you look, but the pattern will be similar - a culturally isolated sub-group with a significant disparity in wealth will have a relatively higher crime rate than the general population, but it will still be very low in objective terms.

And yet, in all of the examples listed above, (and of course many, many more), the stereotype among the privileged majority is that the sub-group in question is characterised by criminality.
It was the view toward the Irish in 19th century America, toward the gypsies of medieval Europe, of the Burakumin of Japan, the Dalit of India, Chinese immigrants in American 1800s, Italian in the 1900s, Mexican in the 1980s and 90s...

To some degree average ordinary people are no doubt picking up on the actual higher crime rate that really does exist in the sub-group.
As I've pointed out a number of times in the past year or two, it is impossible to have a meaningful discussion about these sort of issues if we are refuse to open our eyes to the real world differences that actually exist - modern Black Americans, and every other subgroup listed here, really does (or did) commit more crime than the general population they live(d) among; that has to be taken into account when looking at other statistics (arrest rate, for example) before making claims of racism.

But when the rate per 100 people is single digit (1.2%, for example), it makes no sense to make the giant leap to "most of those people are criminals"

That jump, no doubt, is the privileged classes version of resolving cognitive dissonance.
Just as maintaining the idea that the privileged class is "other" helps impoverished outsiders justify to themselves unethical acts like robbery and murder, thinking of the impoverished outsiders as "criminals" helps the privileged class justify to themselves further oppression.

I imagine I don't need to go into too much detail or too many examples to explain how this has worked among the political "right-wing" in the United States ever since the Civil Rights Movement and to some extent until today.

All of this so far has been a very long introduction to my actual point.
The analogy hasn't even begun yet.

The point is that the majority group WANTS to believe that the underclass are criminals.  They WANT to believe that they are bad people, because it helps them feel better about their own relative privilege.
And because they want that self-soothing justification, they tend to make a point to LOOK for any possible example to "prove" that the trend is really there.  They watch, always on alert for any indiscretions that any individual of the underclass might make, like a dog napping on the front porch but half-awake and ready to bark at any one who might dare walk by on the sidewalk.

And as soon as they find one, they pounce!  They make sure that EVERYBODY knows about it.  They put it in the headlines of the newspapers, they talk about it to all their friends, the rile themselves up along with anyone else who will listen.  SEE?  This Mexican guy raped and murdered a teenager.  I TOLD you they were ALL criminals!  The news media will leave out that last line - but it gets implied inherently by the fact that it gets coverage on page one, and the reporter makes a (deliberate) point to mention the race of the suspect, while similar crimes done by the majority group get mentioned on page 2 or 3 (or 10), and you only find out the suspect's race if there happens to be a picture.

Of course this strengthens any pre-existing prejudice any individual hearing the "news" may have, and collectively it causes the sub-group to be even more marginalized.  Which, among other things, tends to have the effect of increasing both factors that facilitate crime - significant wealth disparity, and cultural isolation.  It becomes self-perpetuating.

Obviously with cops VS civilians, the power dynamic is not at all the same as with an underclass VS the rest of society.  And - despite the occasional corruption scandal - the crime rate among police officers is significantly lower than the overall average population.  Those aspects are not part of this analogy.

What is the same is the general population's overwhelming desire to see this particular sub-group of society as distinctly "other", and specifically as "bad people".

There are roughly 3/4 to 1 million police officers in the United States.
Each of them will have somewhere roughly on the order of 10-30 citizen contacts each day, including arrests, citations, detentions, traffic stops, citizen initiated interactions, and casual conversations.
That works out to about 340 million police/citizen interactions every month.

Out of that 340 million, on average in recent years, 33 result in the use of deadly force.
33, out of 340 million.
Thats much less than the proverbial "1 in a million".  Its a bit less than 1 in ten million.

Assuming police shot people entirely at random, you would still have a 15 times higher chance of being struck by lightening than of being shot by a cop.

Even just looking at people arrested for suspicion of committing a crime; of those 340 million police / citizen contacts, there are 1 million arrests each month.
Out of 1 million arrests, again, only 33 escalate to deadly force.  Even if cops shot randomly at the people they end up arresting, suspects still would have only a 1 in 30,000 chance of being shot at.

Although of course they aren't at all random: at least 75% of police shooting "victims" were in actuality armed (more if you count cars or other non-traditional "weapons"), and 12% of victims (including many of those "unarmed") continued to attack after non-lethal options (taser, pepper spray, etc) were deployed. None of them "put their hands up".

What these numbers tell us is that the "epidemic of police violence" that we have been hearing about almost non-stop for the past several years is simply non-existent.

It only seems as though it exists when people give highly compartmentalized statistics while (often deliberately) leaving out the context.

The street people in Berkeley keep a running tally of how many people were killed by cops so far this year.

What doesn't appear is how many of them were themselves attempting to kill or injure either police or other victims (the vast majority).

What doesn't appear is how many police were killed or wounded during the same time frame (30 killed - plus 4 dogs - roughly 5000 injuries sustained in almost 20 thousand assaults)

What doesn't appear is how many people were killed by private citizens in the same time frame (about 4000) or how many assaults bad enough to send the victim to the emergency room (525,000)

There have been 4000 murders by private citizens, and yet we are expected to be shocked that police killed 261 - many of whom were the people who had just committed some of those 4000 murders.

When we want to demonize one particular group, we keep a sharp eye out for anything that could be interpreted as a misstep, and then seize upon those opportunities as "proof" of our pre-determined conclusion.

90 years ago Southern Whites were desperate to see Black people as lazy criminals, and so if any one Black person committed a crime, they made sure it was big news, everyone knew about it, and there would be a dramatic reaction.

Right now a whole lot of people are determined to believe that cops are out of control - racist, trigger happy, under-trained, over-aggressive.  It doesn't matter if the statistics very clearly show that this is false - if we can find one or two anecdotes, its time to take to the streets!

How very convenient a way to avoid addressing the real root of the continued disparity by race in this country...
Because, of course, for middle-class white America to actually address inherited economic disparity, they'd have to give up a lot of what they like to pretend isn't part of privilege: parental funded college degrees, parental co-signed mortgages, large parental gifts like cars and computers, and of course, eventually, inheritance.
As long as those things are coming from parents (and not even "rich" parents, but ordinary middle class ones), then its easy to maintain the illusion that these things weren't relevant, that one "earned everything they have", after all; "its only natural to want to take care of your kids".

Acknowledging these things as the real root of the race gap would mean having to not buy your kids a college degree, refusing to co-sign on their mortgage, (or, from the other side, declining your parents offer to buy you a car or pay for college).  That, or admitting to being a hypocrite.

How much easier it is to feel strong feelings of outrage, sign petitions, maybe even go out and protest, and blame cops, politicians, racists employers, bad schools... anyone but one's self.

Every population, and every generation, has to have a bad guy.
Someone they can point to and say - they are the reason for all our problems.

Immigrants are a popular one.
Minority ethnic or religious groups, of course.
The Government.

These days, among a certain population of American's, it is police officers.

Personally, I'd like to see them get their wish - remove all cops from any city with street protests.
Let the people work out all the problems that cops deal with on their own.
Maybe just for a few months.
And then we can look at the results and see if cops are really the main driving force behind violence against Black people.

Now that you are (hopefully) thinking about this issue in a new way, here's a couple articles by a fact checking website of relevance to the topic:




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