Black Men and Cops: Why Race Matters...

Last week a Grand Jury in Cleveland declined to indict two white police officers in the killing of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old black boy who was shot while holding very real looking toy gun. This of course comes on the heels of a number of instances over the last few years of black men being killed by white cops.

I was listening to the radio with the host discussing the grand jury’s decision and talking about various elements of the relationship between blacks and whites and police. Many of the black callers felt they were treated in ways that whites weren’t. The host, who seemed to play devil’s advocate depending on the perspective of the caller, agreed that race certainly did impact interactions. Frankly, how could it not?

The reality is, race plays a big role in life. It is not a determinant of success or failure, but it plays a role, including interactions with police. This conversation made me think of a number of things I’d read recently. The Washington Post ran a piece that looked at the differences in gun deaths in the US based on race. Eighty percent of white gun deaths are due to suicide. Eighty percent of black gun deaths are due to homicide.

There were also a number of pieces about malls and theaters being shut down due to violence or mayhem caused by large groups of black teens. This on the heels of the “Knockout Game” we read much about and saw videos about in 2014 as well as the rioting in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. (In most, but not all, the perpetrators were black.)

There should be little question as to why cops, whether they are black or white, are more highly concerned when interacting with black men. The reality is, black men are staggeringly disproportionately represented among violent criminals in the US, according to the FBI, committing approximately 32% of all violent crime yet representing only about 6% of the population.  Compare that to non-Hispanic white males, who make up approximately 25% of the population and are responsible for approximately 45% of the crime.  White men commit violent crime at a rate of 1.8 times their size while black men do so 6.4 times… more than three times the rate.

The question should instead be, why is it that so many young black people across the country seem to engage in activity that is anti-social at best and brutally violent at worst? And this is not a white black issue. There are plenty of violent scumbags who are white, and it does happen that you sometimes see videos of groups of white “teens” behaving badly. The difference is however one of degree and the disparity of gun deaths is indicative of that problem. While white violence and anti-social behavior exists, it’s not overwhelming… In the black community it’s catastrophic. Murder is the number one cause of death for black men between the ages of 15-34. Indeed 44.7% of all deaths of black men 15-34 are murders. Compare that to white males of the same age cohort. Murder comes in at 4th place, accounting for 8% of all deaths. Even 8% is too high, but it’s tiny compared to 44%.

All of which brings us back to race and the feeling that many blacks have that they are looked at and sometimes treated differently than whites. That may indeed be true, but focusing on such an alleged disparity is focusing on the symptom rather than the disease. It is most certainly the case that most black Americans are law abiding citizens who are as troubled by black crime as whites. Indeed, given that the victims of black crime are overwhelmingly black, they are probably certainly more troubled.

Because police spend a disproportionate amount of their time interacting with black criminals and dealing with groups of black “teens”, it’s not surprising that officers are on higher alert when dealing with black citizens. That may not be fair, but it’s life in the real world with real people. If the goal is to have colorblind police officers who have no emotions, no experiences to draw on and no potential for discriminatory behavior, then we need Robocops rather than real police. There are bad police out there, and there is a need for training in some cases – as in the case Tamir Rice – but those are exceptions rather than the rule.

The solution to the problems between black Americans and the police is not turning the police into emotionless robots or meter maids, but rather creating an environment where police aren’t forced to exist on a heightened level of anxiety. If the black on black violence were to decline, if the major problems in black communities were truancy and vandalism rather than murder and assault, one would expect a less adversarial relationship to develop. The problem with trying to fix the relationship by heeling the police is that the real problems for black communities only get worse. Baltimore provides a perfect example of what happens when police are intimidated from doing their jobs… In 2014 there were 211 murders in Baltimore. In 2015 there were 344, an increase of 133, or 62%. That means that over the course of the year over 100 more black Baltimoreans were murdered than might have been had police not been intimidated into fearing to do their jobs. And that Ferguson effect is being felt around the country, with similarly tragic results for black communities. Unfortunately for the black men and women living in those communities, who are “championed” by movements like BLM and activists turned politicians like Barack Obama, actually solving community ills is much more difficult than protesting and race pandering…