“If that is the result of George Floyd’s killing, he will have not only died in vain but, more, died as a critical girder supporting the enemy’s battlements.”
he first thing you absolutely have to understand about the #BlackLivesMatter protests-turned-riots going on all across America is that pretty much everything you are hearing from most news sources right now cannot be taken at face value. A draconian speech code, enforced as ruthlessly—jobs lost, reputations tarnished, lives ruined—as anything you might find in an actual totalitarian regime, is preventing them from telling you the truth. And this is true even if they wanted to tell you, which most do not, in large part because they have been entangled in a web built up of years of their own mounting lies and distortions. Their minds have been coopted, and they can no longer see with clear eyes and report in an unbiased, clear-minded fashion on what it is they are seeing.
If you spend your time watching most closed-minded evening newscasts or reading the likes of The New York Times, The Atlantic, or other publications representing the peer-approval-driven, herd-minded, white-shoe contingent that sometimes go by the misnomer of the “intelligentsia,” one of the big lies you are currently being fed again and again and again is about some important distinction to be made between the peaceful protests in the service of a just cause and the violence, looting, and rioting that may—it is heedlessly suggested without much in the way of evidence—even be incited by shadowy white supremacists hiding in the protesters’ midst. Do not believe that, not for a second. Use your common sense: Even if there were a few actual white supremacists who had snuck into the party, a truly peaceful protester cannot be “incited” to loot and riot. But if you have seen the “peaceful” protestors up close, as I have as I walk around New York City, you have seen their hatred, their rage, their hooting, howling, cursing and screaming, their divisive rhetoric directed against police, law, order, and against America itself, their bullying and intimidation, their intolerance for others who have a different view. An “ACAB” (“All Cops Are Bastards”) slogan or a shout of “F— the Police” does not a peaceful protest make. That kind of dark, hateful, violent energy naturally spills over into dark, hateful, violent actions. If you believe, as many do, that it is fair to blame the sometimes incendiary rhetoric of a politician like President Donald Trump for the sometimes incendiary actions of his supporters, even when the actual connection is tenuous at best, then you should also believe, consistently, that it is fair to blame the violent rhetoric of #BlackLivesMatter for the violent actions of some within these protesters’ ranks and especially those who are clearly part of the movement. This is why #BlackLivesMatter has left a trail of looting and rioting on so many of the occasions when the movement has reared its ugly head.
Many of the protesters are, themselves, nominally peaceful, at least as far as their actions are concerned, and, more than that, have even tried to restrain their more violent comrades. But many others are not. The bullies, looters, and rioters are not, as the media would have you believe, some other element, coming from outside, whether outside the movement, outside the state, Russia, or wherever. Most of the violent cohort is coming from within the movement, a subset, to be sure, but a subset of the same movement. This is why many stores and even iconic monuments are getting graffitied with the very same oft-profane and hateful #BLM slogans or anti-police rhetoric in one form or another. In New York City—and again, you can see this in the few videos that do not try to whitewash the truth or, as I have, see this in person—the violence and looting are emerging and spinning off organically from within the protests and coming largely though not exclusively from young black men, the very same young black men who have been incited to violence by a decade of irresponsible and incendiary lies leading them to believe, absurdly, that we are living in some sort of white supremacist police state in which a war is being waged on the “black body.” That lie is based on the core lie at the root of #BlackLivesMatter: the belief that cops are disproportionately killing black men.
So let me say this as clearly as I can: the evidence has repeatedly shown us that cops do not disproportionately kill black men. To believe otherwise, you have to ignore, as the race-baiting media routinely does, the most obvious confounding factor: the crime rate. Cops are not equally likely to find themselves in adversarial interactions with individuals of every race—and, indeed, of every gender and age, which is why nearly all the victims of police killings are young and male. Cops are likely to find themselves in such interactions when they are pursing suspected criminals, especially violent criminals. And violent criminals in America, alas, are, as measured against population proportions by race, six times as likely to be black as to be white. In big cities like New York, “Blacks are 23 percent of [the] population, but they commit 75 percent of all shootings, 70 percent of all robberies, and 66 percent of all violent crime, according to the victims of, and witnesses to, those crimes.” Whites, meanwhile, “are 33 percent of the city’s population, but they commit less than 2 percent of all shootings, 4 percent of all robberies, and 5 percent of all violent crime.”
For that reason, as I’ve previously explained in some detail, when the crime rate is factored in, cops do not disproportionately kill black men.
Let me repeat that: as Heather Mac Donald, Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The War on Cops, has documented with hard data rather than empty rhetoric, when the crime rate is factored in, cops do not disproportionately kill black men.
Let me say that one more time: as the work of the MacArthur “Genius” Award Winner, the African-American Harvard economist and researcher on the police’s use of force Roland Fryer has shown, when the crime rate is factored in, cops do not disproportionately kill black men.
Okay, one last time (try saying it with me this time, so that it starts rolling off the tongue): as joint work from five scholars from Michigan State University and the University of Maryland shows, when the crime rate is factored in, cops do not disproportionately kill black men.
Instead, the rate at which cops kill anyone tracks the crime rate county by county. To quote Michigan State professor Joseph Cesario, summarizing the joint work of these researchers, “If you live in a county that has a lot of white people committing crimes, white people are more likely to be shot. If you live in a county that has a lot of black people committing crimes, black people are more likely to be shot. It is the best predictor we have of fatal police shootings.” Furthermore, as the same study shows, white cops are no more likely to kill black men than are black or other minority cops. The vast majority of those who are shot by cops, moreover, are, in the words of Heather Mac Donald, “armed or violently resisting arrest.”
But, in addition, there is a certain social benefit that accrues to you when you engage in virtue-signaling, i.e., broadcasting your progressive bona fides to the world. Your friends and followers all think of you as an upstanding, progressive citizen, eager to tackle social injustice.
Are you surprised? If you are, it is probably a good idea to reflect on why you are surprised. Is it because you have repeatedly heard about our society’s and our law enforcement’s war on blacks and, particularly, black men? Well, maybe you’ve also heard the quote often attributed to Nazi propaganda master Joseph Goebbels: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” All the organs of the mainstream media, bolstered by the easily duped celebrity class, prominent athletes, Twitterers, Instagrammers and so on, have been uncritically using their prominent platforms to repeat the lie at the core of #BlackLivesMatter to you again and again. Why have they been doing it? Mostly because they do not know any better. They have heard it said repeatedly too, just like you have. But, in addition, there is a certain social benefit that accrues to you when you engage in virtue-signaling, i.e., broadcasting your progressive bona fides to the world. Your friends and followers all think of you as an upstanding, progressive citizen, eager to tackle social injustice. That’s all well and good…but, if the waves of progressive rhetoric echoing out from every corner of the media universe keep on demonizing white people and white America and feeding black rage, they eventually build up into a tidal wave that, in due course, spills over into violence and crashes down on cities all across America.
George Floyd was unjustly killed by a senseless, brutal act of police violence. No one, outside of a few fringe white supremacists, disagrees with that. Liberals and conservatives agree on that. President Trump and former Vice President Biden agree on that. Everyone agrees on that. It was, for that reason, a good opportunity to mobilize into action. What action? Better training of police officers, raising their awareness and, also, training the rest of us to do a better job interacting with cops. In addition, while this in no way justifies George Floyd’s killing, he and many of those high-profile black people killed by police (or dying in police custody)—Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland and others—were struggling and/or resisting arrest. Cops should be trained to deal with such situations. It is their job. Ordinary citizens may lose their cool, but cops should not. And, yet, they are also human beings doing a very stressful job, often working in crime-ridden communities and routinely engaging in interactions with potentially dangerous criminals. When fear hits, when the blood begins to boil, when the heart starts speeding away, when the blood pressure builds, when the sweat glands go into overdrive, human beings find it hard to think clearly. Acting out of fear or anger, they say or do things they later regret. We all know this. We have all experienced it ourselves. For that reason, when a cop pulls you over for a routine traffic stop or otherwise detains you as a suspected miscreant, the very worst thing you can do is mouth off, escalate the situation and, if it comes to that, resist arrest. If your cause is just, there will be plenty of time for you to mount your barrier-breaking civil rights case later, when tempers have cooled and attorneys have gotten involved. While the cops still have you in their sights, however, calm and cooperative is obviously the way to go. If every single one of those accosted by police just stuck to that simple rule, nearly every one of those deaths at the hands of police could have been averted. With that in mind, a reform we desperately need in the wake of the George Floyd tragedy is a very easy one: Every kid, as part of the routine curriculum in their high school health class, should get a primer on how to interact with police, the same way they get taught about safe sex, drugs, alcohol, and the rest of life’s more common dangers. That one-day lesson would save many lives.
Such reforms would have been welcomed by nearly all. They would have generated a quick consensus and generated further momentum to put an end to police brutality, a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But the point is this: this was not and is not a racial issue. As I explained above, contrary to popular belief, black lives already matter here—except, sadly, to too many other black people. The numbers are stark: while only some 4% of black homicide victims are killed by police, 93% of black homicide victims are killed by other blacks. As the African American Manhattan Institute fellow Coleman Hughes has argued recently in discussing the death of Ahmaud Arbery, “In 2019, nine unarmed black people, along with 19 unarmed white people, were shot dead by the police in the United States. That puts the typical person’s odds of getting killed by the cops while unarmed on par with his chances of being struck by lightning or killed by a jihadi.”
It turned a straightforward matter of right and wrong into something far more divisive and polarizing, something that will inevitably make everyone more rather than less conscious of race, both that of others and their own.
Turning the death of George Floyd into a racial issue, therefore, sheds no light but merely turned up the heat. It turned a straightforward matter of right and wrong into something far more divisive and polarizing, something that will inevitably make everyone more rather than less conscious of race, both that of others and their own. It will further the growing gulf between blue-state and red-state America and drive further aftershocks of violence, both on the part of #BLM and Antifa protesters and on the part of white supremacists on the other side of the same equation. Consider this: If media sources are trying to convince you that white supremacists are inciting the riots, there is an unspoken premise underlying that suggestion, and it is that white supremacists understand—just as the media advancing the suggestion must—that these violent protests are actually good for the white supremacist cause. The more that ordinary law-abiding citizens are shaken by the sight of young black men rioting and looting their stores and burning their cities with impunity, the more converts to the white supremacist cause there will be. As the saying goes, “If the liberals can’t fix it, the fascists will.” If that is the result of George Floyd’s killing, he will have not only died in vain but, more, died as a critical girder supporting the enemy’s battlements.
I turn back to the protests, those angry protests-turned-riots built on an absolute lie. There was a way to protest, a way to build further momentum for much-needed reforms. Peaceful protests do exist. Those—very different from these—are protests in which race plays no role, in which the words “black” and “white” are never so much as uttered. They are protests that carry a true message of peace and love. They are protests in which black people, white people, cops, civilians, liberals, and conservatives take to our streets, marching together arm in arm and spread a message that is about empathy, about treating each other better, more humanely, more lovingly, about the possibility of change, and hope for a world in which police brutality and needless killings no longer take place. They are protests that would never turn into looting and rioting because their rhetoric would never inspire anger and violence. Those are protests that could yield positive change. These, on the other hand, will keep spinning off more waves of violence until, finally, the anger of the rest of America at the spineless political leaders and complicit thought leaders who condone the protests and refuse to keep us safe from such violence reaches a tipping point and inspires a true crackdown. Then—as curfews, restrictions and police actions in black neighborhoods become a regular feature of our lives, even as the jailing of those doing the looting and rioting results in precisely the kind of “mass incarceration” of black males that we have long been hearing about—we may actually find ourselves living in some version of the white supremacist police state that the #BlackLivesMatter movement and its inveterate white allies and supporters now merely imagine to exist.
Alexander Zubatov is a lawyer in New York, as well as an essayist and poet.