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Threatening People Doesn’t Win Them Over

It’s ridiculous that we should even have to say it, but in the aftermath of the George Floyd incident, a whole lot of people are pursuing a curious path to justice. They’re rioting, burning stores, and — most worryingly — threatening people who don’t look like them. I’m old enough to remember when we used to call behavior like that racism.

My memory is also not so fleeting that I don’t remember the Dallas police officers who were shot by a Black Lives Matter “protester,” a man motivated by the hatred heaped on law enforcement over incidents like George Floyd’s death. And I know that, no matter what course we take in finding redress for the wrong done to George Floyd… threatening people who share the offending officer’s skin color is not the way to do it.

Rapper Ice Cub called for violence against police. There is no other way to interpret his statements. Summit News reports that at least one Minneapolis protester demanded that white people be murdered. Singer Cardi B said that “people are left with no choice” but to riot and commit violence. Even the mayor of Minneapolis has stated that the people are right to be angry. Unbelievably, he has fanned the very real flames that are consuming his city, devastating so much of it that the destruction is visible in satellite photos.

It is impossible not to be moved by the video of George Floyd’s death. To see a man begging for his life, while an indifferent cop kneels on his neck, is chilling. The officers seem to taunt him, telling him to “get up and get in the car.” How a man with a knee in his neck is supposed to do that is not clear. This is bad. It looks bad.

I wrote yesterday that we should not attribute to racism or malice that which can be attributed to stupidity, and I meant it. The officers who killed George Floyd, either directly or through inaction, did not seem to hate him. They simply did not care, and were either poorly trained or lazy in their approach. The result is the worst sort of death — a passionless death of indifference, of apathy. People are right to be angry about it, yes. I’m angry too.

But it is still not evidence of “systemic racism.” It is not evidence that police target black citizens or treat them with disproportionate force. Every study conducted to date tells us the opposite: Police do not use disproportionate force against persons of color when compared to other arrests. I continue to believe that police are motivated, not by race, but by a desire to get the guy who did a crime. Projecting any other motive on the officers, even when they are stupid or apathetic, is an exercise in psychic powers that is doomed to fail. We cannot know what they were thinking.

That has not stopped countless people from condemning the United States as a hideously evil, racist nation. It isn’t. We’re told that police murders of black citizens, and black men especially, are common in the United  States. They aren’t. We know they aren’t, because every single time an incident occurs that can be cast in this light, it is national news and prompts national outrage. Stated another way, if unwarranted police killings of black citizens were common in the United States, they would not be news. They would, instead, be so much business as usual — statistics that do not rise to the level of national scrutiny.

Take, for example, the countless murders of black citizens by other black citizens in war zones like Chicago and Detroit. We are aware that these killings occur. We do not discuss them except in passing, in the precise manner I am doing now. There are so many of them that they have become background noise where our news media are concerned. They are no less horrible, but they are far more common. Yet we focus our outrage on specific instances of police abuse, then use these incidents — without statistical or practical evidence — to condemn America and Americans as a whole.

Proclaiming all white people “racist” is a broad brush that brings with it brutal consequences. Declaring all police officers “murderers” will produce similar outcomes. Outraged citizens, who have been told, falsely, that they live in a lawless and unjust society built on “systems” of racism, will truly believe — as Cardi B said — that they have “no choice” but to resort to violence.

Then, as Ice Cube urged them to do, they will “fight back,” claiming as their victims innocent people who happen across their paths. I am reminded of Reginald Denny, the white truck driver beaten almost to death during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. There are many more like him, and will be many more like him, if we continue vilifying people over their skin color.

The people who proclaim that unjust “systems” are in place to keep them down can never define what these “systems” are. They can never adequately define what laws apply to them that do not apply to others. They can never substantiate their claims that they live at the mercy of white supremacists whose only goal in life is to mistreat them. And while they stammer and sputter and point their fingers, desperate to blame entire groups of people for the actions of individuals, more violence will result.

We must not tolerate abuse of power by those we entrust with authority… but we are losing sight of that issue amidst the rising flames and broken glass of riots, looting, and unprovoked assaults. You do not win adherents to your cause by burning retail stores. You do not legitimize your grievances by stealing televisions and beating strangers. You do not gain sympathy for your plight by demanding the murder of an entire group of people based on their skin color.

All you do, in behaving this way, is shift attention to your own misdeeds… and away from a problem that desperately requires scrutiny.

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