It is sad that the issue of police and the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) movement has gone the way of guns in that those on the political right have abandoned any pretense of thought or rationality. Instead, opponents to the Black Lives Matter movement cling to the same handful of silly arguments that get repeated ad nauseum in the media and on social media. Perhaps more aggravating than the stupidity of these arguments is the countenance of those who speak them. When these baseless assertions are repeated, one can hear the pompous and grandiose manner in which they are delivered as if this mindless drivel is impervious to attack. That is far from the case. In fact, if you hear any of the anti-BLM arguments discussed in this piece, you know you are dealing with a person of questionable intellect or a person who has somehow suspended their brain’s ability to engage in critical thinking.
Below is my attempt to identify the most common attacks against the BLM movement, and provide a cogent and thoughtful response to each.
- Black Lives Matters is hypocritical. Why don’t they speak out about the number of blacks killed by other blacks?
This is perhaps the most widespread and insidious argument against the Black Live Matter movement. It is a completely baseless argument for the following reasons.
First, black-on-black crime has actually gotten much better. Over the past 25 years, the murder of rate of blacks against other blacks has been cut in half. This is part of the larger trend of significantly decreased violence we have seen nationwide since the start of Bill Clinton’s administration. So let’s not pretend that nothing is being done about black-on-black crime.
Second, blacks do care about the issue of black-on-black crime and they do speak out about it. In a Slate article from a year ago, author Jamelle Bouie said the following on the topic:
“[I]t’s easy to find examples of marches and demonstrations against crime. In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there’s a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. Black Americans—like everyone else—are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant.” (Emphasis added).
Third, the BLM movement is one that is focused on the treatment of blacks at the hands of police. The fact that the movement does not address every ill in the black community does not in any way undermine its message. Similarly, I give most of my charity dollars to organizations that support abused children, and I give no money to The Humane Society. This does not mean I condone animal abuse or that I am a hypocrite. It simply means I recognize that I have limited resources, and that my charitable donations are best utilized by focusing my efforts.
Fourth, and most important, the fact that criminals exist in the black community has nothing to do with the question of how police treat blacks. Citizens do not waive their right to be treated fairly by police because they live in a neighborhood or community with higher rates of crime. Even if one believed the BLM movement to be hypocritical or inconsistent, so what? Do hypocrites and fools not have the right to be treated fairly and equitably by police regardless of the color of their skin?
- Police kill more whites than blacks. Why don’t Black Lives Matter ever mention that?
This is true, but for any person who has even the most rudimentary understanding of math and U.S. demographics, it should be very obvious why this fact, while true, is completely meaningless.
In the past 18 months, police have shot and killed 1,502 people—732 of the victims were white and 381 were black (and 382 were of another race or the race of the decedent was not recorded). But as most of you probably know, that is only half of the equation. The other half is population. In the United States, there are about 196.8 million white people (or 64% of the population); and there are about 37.7 million black people (or about 12% of the population). Therefore, when population is accounted for, it demonstrates that black people are 2.5 more likely to be shot by police than white people.
That number goes even higher when you examine the number of people shot and killed by the police when they were unarmed. Police shot the same number—50 unarmed blacks and 50 unarmed whites. When you account for population, you see that unarmed blacks are more than 5 times more likely to be killed by police than whites.
- Minority cops are more violent than white cops.
I have heard this argument before, but I can find no evidence to support it. Even if true, however, the fact would have no relevance to the discussion of the BLM movement. The movement is geared towards equal treatment under the law, and putting systems into place that train police officers to de-escalate situations rather than escalate them. Whether a police officer is white, black, brown, purple, or green has no bearing on this discussion. A person who raises such a point either has a very poor understanding of the purpose of the BLM movement, or he is just a racist asshole looking to poke his fat white finger in the collective eye of the African-American community. I tend to think it’s both.
- 37% of all violent crimes are committed by blacks. Pesky facts.
The 37% number is problematic for a great many reasons, such as: (1) different organizations come up with widely different numbers of what percentage of violent crimes are committed by blacks; (2) many police agencies do not track the race of violent offenders; (3) the 37% number is arrived at by counting arrests, not convictions; (4) higher arrest rates of blacks could be accounted for by the very problem the BLM movement is seeking to address—racism; and (5) black neighborhoods are patrolled at a greater rate than white neighborhoods. I do not want to split hairs though. We know that while blacks make up 12% of the United States, they are responsible for more than 12% of violent crime.
The larger point though is this: So what? I encourage you to follow this argument to its obvious and unstated conclusion, which is: “Because black people are more likely to be violent, police get to treat all black people differently.” Putting aside the merit of such a law enforcement strategy, this is the very definition of racial profiling, which is unconstitutional as it is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
Putting the constitutionality of racial profiling aside, let’s look at a few facts:
- Even among blacks, the instances of murders and assaults are rare (less than 1 per 1,000 people);
- When black people do commit violent acts, they are rarely committed against white people or police officers. Rather, the violent acts are usually committed against other blacks. In the case of homicides, 90% of all black homicides were committed by other blacks (and 82% of all white homicides were committed by other whites).
- Very few police officers are killed in the line-of-duty. There are currently more than 900,000 police officers in the United States. In 2015, 42 officers were murdered (39 by shooting; 3 by assault). While each of these 42 deaths was an unquestionable tragedy for the families of these officers and their communities, 42 deaths out of more than 900,000 officers indicates police officers face a very low chance of being murdered while on the job. In fact, the murder rate of taxi cab drivers is more than double that of police officers, and as I have discussed before, one’s chances of dying while logging is 10 times greater than dying while policing.
What these facts show is that even if we ignored the constitutionality of racial profiling, it is nearly impossible for police to justify killing black people at a higher rate because the police fear for their lives. These numbers demonstrate that more than 99% of blacks do not commit violent crimes; those blacks who do commit violent crimes are much more likely to hurt other black people than police; and the number of police officers murdered in the line of duty each year is just slightly higher than the number of Americans crushed each year by their own furniture (about 30 people per year).
- The most violent cities are run by Democrats.
Conservatives oftentimes cannot help themselves. If an opportunity arises to attack Democrats, it will not be missed. Here, we see an attack on Democrats that is wholly unrelated to the issue of police brutality or the Black Lives Matters movement. The BLM movement is not affiliated with a political party.
As an aside, it is true that America’s most violent cities are usually governed at the local level by Democrats, and a combination of Democrats and Republicans at the state and federal levels. What exactly are we supposed to extrapolate from this fact? That Democrats cause people to be violent? The fact is, the most violent cities are also the poorest cities. That is no coincidence. Poverty breeds many of the social ills that plague us. Poor minorities tend to vote Democratic because they see Democrats trying to do something about poverty (even if often ineffectual) while Republicans do not even attempt to pay lip service to helping the poor.
If I wanted to match this argument with one of equal logic, I would state that the highest rates of pornography use are in the most Republican states in the country (1. Utah 2. Alaska 3. Mississippi). Therefore, Republicans are responsible for widespread use of pornography.
The Black Lives Matter movement is about the simple goal of raising awareness that too many police officers and police forces treat black people differently than white people. This is a complex discussion, and one where reasonable minds can disagree about the scope of the problem and the best solutions. Unfortunately, productive conversations on the topic have largely become impossible due to the right’s oft-repeated practice of latching on to brainless rhetorical devices that allows them to continue putting their collective heads in the sand; avoid listening to anyone who disagrees with them; and not devise any solutions to the problem before us. I suspect the primary purpose of these right-wing “arguments” is to distract people from the issue long enough that we lose interest, and go back to the way things have always been. If you are white, that is fine. If you are black, that is a tragedy.