01 May 2015

No One Ever Claimed Black Lives Don't Matter

That is what is called in logic and rhetoric a "straw man argument".

First you build a straw man (an argument that nobody was making in the first place), and then you knock it over (by making a reasonable and logical argument against it).

It is very easy to knock over a straw man - because he is made of straw, there is no resistance.

But then the logical fallacy comes in: you then jump from that made-up argument to your actual belief, one which is on the same subject, but which is not directly relevant to the argument you just made.  You state your conclusion as though what you just said proves your conclusion, and imply that unless someone can prop up the straw man, they have to accept your conclusion as well.

They can be very effective - especially when the topic is a highly emotionally changed one - which is demonstrated by these real life examples:

"In a 1977 appeal of a U.S. bank robbery conviction, a prosecuting attorney said in his closing argument[11]I submit to you that if you can't take this evidence and find these defendants guilty on this evidence then we might as well open all the banks and say, "Come on and get the money, boys", because we'll never be able to convict them.
This was a straw man designed to alarm the appeal judges; the idea that the precedent set by one case would literally make it impossible to convict any bank robbers is remote.
An example often given of a straw man is US President Richard Nixon's 1952 "Checkers speech".[12][13] When campaigning for vice president in 1952, Nixon was accused of having illegally appropriated $18,000 in campaign funds for his personal use. In a televised response, instead of addressing the funds, he spoke about another gift, a dog he had been given by a supporter:[12][13]It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, six years old, named it Checkers. And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that, regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.This was a straw man response; his critics had never criticized the dog as a gift or suggested he return it. This argument was successful at distracting people from the funds, and portraying his critics as nitpicking and heartless. Nixon received an outpouring of public support, remained on the ticket, and was elected by a landslide."

I've been trying to let this go - its not like ranting really changes anything - but it keeps showing up everywhere.  I can ignore most media, but its on my local online groups, in the windows of cars and houses, it even comes up in conversations in real life.

This entire movement bugs the hell out of me.

Black men are murdered by civilians 50 times as much as killed by police officers.
Of those murders, other Black people are the perpetrator in 90%.
None of the activists had anything to say about that.

Blacks have a significantly higher death rate due to heart disease and diabetes. Ads and stores target Black communities with cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food.
No protests. No outrage.

So it isn't really about Black lives mattering. When a Black person gets shot and killed by a gang member or drug dealer - even when its an innocent person caught in the cross fire, nobody cares. Including all the people rallying and chanting over the supposed police violence.

As a law abiding Black man, I have a several hundred times greater change of being injured or killed by another young Black man than I am by a cop.

Black men are murdered by civilians (over 6000 in 2013) 50 times as much as killed by police officers (approximately 120 per year).
The first statistic counts only those murdered, and excludes accidents and self defense, while the second includes the 75% of those shot by cops who were armed.
Even technically "unarmed" people can present a legitimate threat - 30% of all murders in the US each year are done without guns - but even if we decide to count it as unjustified each time a suspect is shot by cops who isn't armed, that still leaves only 30 unjustified killings of Black people each year.  Which may sound like a lot out of context, but its compared to 5560 unjustified murders of Blacks by Black civilians each year.

What did Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown all have in common? They all instigated physical violence. Walter Scott fought the police to try to escape being arrested. None of these men were "just walking along, minding their own business" when they got shot.
The fact that activists are pretending that these people somehow represent ALL black people is incredibly racist. No, actually, we aren't all violent criminals. Which means we aren't all at risk of police violence.

Dozens of unarmed white people have been shot by cops over the past several years (a woman in SF just a few weeks ago).
No headlines.
No editorials.
These incidents show up on page 2 of the local paper for a day, and are instantly forgotten. If the victim/suspect happens to be Black, though, you better believe every news outlet in the country is going to milk it for all the ratings it can generate, because outrage sells, and boy do we love to be outraged!

"...adjusted to take into account the racial breakdown in violent crime, the data actually show that police are less likely to kill black suspects than white ones.
“If one adjusts for the racial disparity in the homicide rate or the rate at which police are feloniously killed, whites are actually more likely to be killed by police than blacks,” said Mr. Moskos, a former Baltimore cop and author of the book “Cop in the Hood.”
“Adjusted for the homicide rate, whites are 1.7 times more likely than blacks die at the hands of police,” he said. “Adjusted for the racial disparity at which police are feloniously killed, whites are 1.3 times more likely than blacks to die at the hands of police.”
Mr. Moskos listed two possible reasons for the racial disparity. The first is that police assigned to largely black neighborhoods face “more political fallout when they shoot, and thus receive better training and are less inclined to shoot.”
The second is that police assigned to black communities with high crime rates are more accustomed to dangerous situations and thus are more likely to be able to resolve them without resort to lethal force."

Meanwhile, there is one thing which legitimately does continue to hold Black people back compared to Whites in this country, and that's the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow which is perpetuated across generations by our rules of inheritance and gifts to family.

Statistics show that after you control for wealth, all racial disparities disappear.
"Only two measurable socioeconomic aspects of the parents really matter in predicting who succeeds: the parents’ education, which is the most important, and the family’s wealth, which is the second most important. By “wealth” I don’t mean how much the parents make a year. I mean net worth, including savings, property, and other financial resources... [based on] the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.
...in the 1990s the survey started asking not just about income and employment but also about wealth and savings. So I looked at kids who had been living with their parents in 1984 and then followed them as they grew up and formed their own households, tracking their educational and economic outcomes. What I found is that the parents’ incomes and what jobs they had didn’t matter. Even race didn’t matter. There were racial differences, but only because there also were differences in wealth and education between races."
Wealth stays in families - not just among billionaires, but in the middle class, when a parent buys their (recently adult) child a car, pays for their education, or co-signs their first mortgage. That puts them into a position to take advantage of the capitalist system, and save and grow wealth when a Black family at the exact same income level would be in debt, because they have no family property.

How many white people who proclaim publicly that "Black Lives Matter" refuse their parents help for college, and donate that money to a college fund for poor Blacks instead? How many sell the family home and donate all the proceeds to poverty programs?

Congress just relaxed the inheritance tax EVEN MORE.


Not a single peep from the activists about it.

Why don't we try an experiment, where we take all cops out of poor, largely Black neighborhoods, and see whether the number of Blacks murdered goes up or down. And then we can see if maybe we wouldn't rather have them around.

As a Black man who lived most of his life in Richmond and East Oakland, I sure as hell know which I'd prefer.
The trick is - don't commit crimes. If you are going to do drugs, do them indoors, in private.

As someone who has actually lived in poor neighborhoods for many years, there is a pattern I have noticed very very consistently: when a white person sells drugs, they travel to their customers house, walk up to the door, go inside, and make the transaction indoors. When black people sell drugs, they stand on a corner, or in a doorway, and the customer comes to them, and they make the transaction on the street.
I have personally seen, in Richmond, in West Oakland, in East Oakland, even out in East Contra Costa, the street dealers are blatantly obvious, and all of them are Black.
In my experience (which matches my sources claim) different races do drugs just about as often - but white users tend to do them in their homes, (or maybe at a party or concert). Black people regularly drink alcohol, smoke pot, and even smoke crack, literally in the middle of public sidewalks. In East Oakland, regularly. I passed by groups of people with pot in cigars, hanging out, weekly. The local crack heads spent their days on porches and corners, daily. The neighborhood was very mixed and diverse, but the people using drugs in public were not.
If one set of people have public drug use as a part of their culture, and another does just as many drugs, but is consciously discrete about it, who would we expect the cops to more often notice?
When you do get caught, stop, be polite, cooperate, sign your ticket and move on. It's really not that hard.

People aren't stopped and searched for "the color of their skin". They may be stopped more often because they choose to adopt a style that reflects a culture that glorifies crime. It isn't Black men in business suits, or Black doctors or teachers that get stopped. If a person sags their pants, has a gold grill, all the other parts of being "ratchet", that isn't interchangeable with "being Black". Try living in East Oakland for a few years, and tell me that people who choose a particular culture don't actually commit more crime than average.
Cops who know their beat well get to learn which people are causing most of the problems.  Sometimes everyone in the neighborhood knows that a particular person is the one breaking into cars, or instigating fights, or whatever else, but the cops never catch them in the act.  Sometimes when they don't have proof of one crime, they use a lesser thing that they have evidence for instead.  If the conviction of a violent criminal was for drug possession because that's all the state could get to stick, that doesn't make the convict a victim of the drug war.  Remember that Al Capone, who committed 3 dozen murders and ran one of the largest and most violent organized crime rings in American history, went to federal prison for tax evasion.

Myself, my family, my friends, many many other Black people who don't choose to identify with "gangsta" culture don't ever get stopped - unless we are actually speeding or doing something else wrong.

Nobody has been shot "for simply being suspected of something". People get shot when they try to fight the cops. When middle class white people get pulled over for traffic stops, they don't wrestle with the cops. The message needs to be tweaked for the people who really need to hear it: "if you put your hands up, you won't get shot".

No one was shot for "a broken tale light, (possibly) shoplifting a box of Swisher Sweets or selling black market cigarettes". Those were the reasons for the initial stop. Those would have resulted in a ticket, or at most an arrest, HAD THE SUSPECT NOT TRIED TO PHYSICALLY FIGHT THE COP!
That is what escalated the situation, and that is basically asking to get shot.

Yes, white people absolutely DO get shot by cops for minor things.
Here is a sample of 11 from just a 7 month span in 2013:
Jason Kemp, Jordon Hatcher, David Silva, John Torretti, Daniel Sanez, Roy Jacobs Jr., Thomas Schroeder, Jacob Grassley, Zachary Premo, John Schaefer, and Jerry Waller.
Do you remember the very large, loud, and extended public outcry over the deaths of these men?
Of course not - because none of them was Black, and so those incidents don't fit the narrative that American liberals desperately want to believe about cops targeting Black people.

Hatcher was unarmed, but apparently resisted arrest.
Grassley's cellphone was assumed to be a gun, and he was shot while fleeing police.
Sanez was in handcuffs at the time he was shot.
Torretti was hit repeatedly with a baton by officers while pinned to the ground by other officers, unable to move.
Silva was so intoxicated he could barely stand up. Between 3 and 7 deputies beat him with batons until he dies. Officers then attempt to collect cellphones from witnesses that may have video on them.
Kemp was unarmed, and not fighting, when he was shot at point-blank range in his home, when he refused to let the police in without a warrant.
Jacobs had called the cops himself, to turn himself in when he found out he had a minor warrant, and the cops shot him in front of his family the moment they walked through the door.

" "It makes good headlines to say this is occurring, but I don’t think you can validate it until you look into the circumstances they were stopped in," said Bernard Parks, the former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who is African American. "Now if you want to get into the essence of why certain groups are stopped more than others, then you only need to go to the crime reports and see which ethnic groups are listed more as suspects. That’s the crime data the officers are living with."

Blacks made up 73 percent of the shooting perpetrators in New York in 2011 and were 23 percent of the population."

That right there is the SOURCE of the unconscious bias that makes people think an unknown Black person is more likely to be dangerous than an unknown White person. Because statistically it is true!

Lets change up the scenario a little bit:

Take any random woman, and put her on a dark street alone, around either a group of 3 men or a group of 3 women. Almost all women will consistently report feeling more apprehensive around the men - because all women have a subconscious and unfair sexist bias that assumes all men are criminals. 
And this unconscious sexism is institutionalized, as proved by that fact that:
93% of all non-traffic police stops are of males.
93% of all prison inmates are male.
This can only be explained by cops, prosecutors, judges, and the entire justice system having an overwhelmingly enormous bias against males! 

That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Of course more men are in prison, because men commit more violent crime. Of course a woman is more nervous around a bunch of male strangers than female strangers, because the risk is legitimately greater.  At the same time, no one thinks that saying admitting that automatically implies that all men are violent or likely to commit crime.  Its just a statistical fact, one that should be taken into account in some circumstances, but which can not be applied to any specific individual unless their individual behavior warrants it.

Why is it so hard to apply the same common sense when the issue is race?

For Blacks, I think its because it is easier to look to some outside force of oppression than take a serious look internally, which might mean callings out our own neighbors or relatives. For White people, its about not wanting to look racist, and alleviating "white guilt" (while of course not having to give up any actual privileges)

Now, here's the real reason this gets to me so much: all the protests and editorials and activists and outrage can only accomplish one thing: it can make the problem worse.

Cops are never going to go away. (Which is a good thing - look to any country where law and order breaks down completely after a political upheaval and consider if that's what we would prefer). Cops are never going to stop responding to violence with violence. Since there is no real evidence (anecdotes do not count as evidence) that police are unfairly targeting people based on race, there is no reason to think that any amount of awareness or reform or training is going to change anything. 

As long as the murder rate among Blacks is 7 times higher than among Whites (with even higher disparities for less severe crimes), Blacks will continue to get proportionately more negative police attention (just like men get more than women).

What the outrage does is drill it into the mind of every Black youth, over and over and over "cops are out to get you" "the system is against you". So they grow up feeling more justified in committing crimes, since they don't feel they are part of society. We are the ones teaching them that.
Or, where a white person gets stopped by the cops and is polite and accepts that they got caught, a Black youth who has had these messages drilled into them all their life is far more likely to be rebellious or belligerent - the exact things that get them shot.
Michael Brown was walking in the street. Not a big crime. A cop yells at him: "get on the sidewalk". That is a pretty reasonable request. He wasn't stopped, he wasn't facing arrest, or a ticket, or even detention. The cop just told him to walk on the sidewalk, instead of in the street.
Now imagine what a normal person would do in that situation: go walk over to the sidewalk, and continue on their way.

Or, hell - lets say that person is me, and they are on skates - I skated up to the cop, and I challenged him to find a law that says I can't skate on the streets. He looked it up, couldn't find one, and admitted defeat, told me to go ahead and skate on the streets, but to be safe. He also asked me in the future to go to the sidewalk first to have the discussion, not to argue with him in the street. OK, fair.

What did Brown do in an almost identical situation? He walked up to the cop car window (just like I did)... and reached in a punched the cop in the face. Repeatedly. The cop claims he tried to grab his gun, maybe that part happened maybe it didn't, but there was obviously a fight and the gun went off. Never mind what happened after that. How the hell did it ever get that far?
Think about the kind of emotional priming it took to get him to react that way in the first place. Would he have been so quick to jump from a minor police request to violence, if he hadn't grown up watching the Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin protests?
We are teaching Black kids to hate and fear cops. That is just going to make things like this happen more often.

If society became color blind tomorrow, Blacks would still be poorer, on average, than whites in this country. Consequently, they would still die at higher rates, and have more crime in their communities.

What would be overwhelmingly more effective than "protesting racism" - (really, what is that supposed to accomplish anyway? People will see protestors in the street, and suddenly their hearts will melt and they will realize we are all one??) - what would actually have some effect at fostering equality would be universal and mandatory preschool, free college for everyone who can't afford it, and steep (as in 90%+) taxes on all gifts and inheritance between family members (except for permanently disabled children) - not just for the wealthy, but for the middle class.

How many of you went to college, or bought your first house, with zero help from your parents?
THAT is white privilege. And until you are willing to give it up (and give it up for your children as well) then all protesting is is a way to feel self-righteous


  1. Thank you, Bakari for a great perspective. Chris Rock has a very funny sketch on how to avoid getting your ass kicked by the police (on youtube). Commandment number 1 is Obey the Law!

    1. funny... but also sad because its so true, and so very few people get it. It would make a good public service announcement in poor and high crime areas

    2. I've embedded it in two other past posts I've written on related topics

  2. I have a small factual correction for this old, old post (I found the blog while researching bicycles and decided to check out the rest.)

    Trayvon Martin wasn't shot by a cop. He was shot by a civilian who had tried to become a police officer several times and been turned away because the police department thought he was too unstable.

    1. I know. I didn't mean to imply he was shot by a cop. I put him in the same general category because the media and activists do, and because, like the majority of other victims we hear about, he was the one to instigate violence.

  3. Hi Bakari, Very interesting ideas here. I am interested in understanding better what you are saying about wealth=white privilege. You say that when you control for wealth, racial differences disappear. What do you think leads to the differences in wealth? You yourself have a high savings rate (from what I gather from your posts on MMM) and you are black, therefore you are likely to have wealth to pass on to your offspring. What if rather than trying to outlaw people from passing on their wealth we try to figure out how to encourage others to do the same? I am for more, not less, freedom. Heavily taxing inheritance interferes with freedom. Third question - you see cultural identification correlated with police targeting. Could not culture be part of why one group is able to save and another is not? Or why one group seeks more education and another does not? Or how some low income groups band together and form savings clubs to help each other start businesses and buy homes, and others do not organize this way. I went to school with middle class white and black people (latinos and asians too) and both groups are doing very well today, so it clearly goes beyond skin color. I look forward to your thoughts. PS don't fight for mandatory preschool. Many children are better off spending time with their families rather than in a large group setting. Again, more freedom, not less.

    1. Hi "unknown", thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

      - A lot of things lead to differences in wealth, but the research suggests that the two biggest factors are one's parents level of wealth, and education. Certainly, there are obviously many examples of exceptions, but statistically these are the strongest, most consistent correlations.
      This explains why race appears to be such a strong factor: one's parents are almost always the same race as themselves. Both wealth itself (or lack there of) and culture are both inherited. So, if one group starts out uniformly oppressed (say, by nearly 100% of members of one race being held as property, or 90% genocide of the inhabitants of an entire continent), differences in wealth are likely to persist even after any significant oppression has ended in the present, many 100s of years later.

      I do have a fairly high savings rate (although a very low overall income - I just live on even less), but only 1/2 black (like our former president). Of course, the white side was poor too, but I'm not the first generation in my family to move into middle class. Anyway, I hope to have the integrity not to pass any wealth to my (soon to be!) child(ren?).

      It would not be possible for every poor person to become middle class so long as the top 1%, 0.1% and especially 0.01% continue to have as much wealth as they do. There is not, and never can be, an infinite amount of wealth in the world. In order to lift up all the lower classes of the world, that has to all come from somewhere.
      Preventing nepotism of material possessions frees up wealth from people who don't even need it making it available to everyone else. Only when there is anything available for them would there be any real point in encouraging them to save.

      Freedom is a big deal in America. I question whether it has any inherent value though. Certainly there are specific instances where more freedom is warranted - particularly where a choice doesn't affect anyone but the chooser. I would like to see marriage made purely a commitment between individuals, in which government plays absolutely no role. I'd like to see a lot of zoning restrictions, habitability standards, and local codes removed. However, I think the ultimate goal always has to be improving life and increasing happiness, and never simply freedom for its own sake.
      I wrote more about that a few years ago:
      And here's another perspective from someone who isn't me (but maybe explains my thoughts even better than me):

      Very relevant to this concept, is the findings in psychology the explicitly suggest in many instances having more choices directly decreases happiness:

      I am absolutely sure that culture is a huge part of preventing saving and valuing education. I don't know how best to address that. I think the first step may be removing the 'victim' and 'separate from society' mindsets that are so common among all poor American's, and especially Black ones. Hence my focus there in a lot of my posts.

      Again, it is research into the variables that lead to better life outcomes that lead me to support preschool, not just a guess or opinion on my part. You could make the same argument for school in general, at all ages, and you would be right that some children would be better off that way. For those individuals, a parent is always able to opt for home schooling. But the fact that that option requires positive pro-action from the parent insures that it really is only those who are better off at home that end up skipping preschool.


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