By Tony Morrison
Our U.S. Correspondent
August 15th 2019
August 9th was the five year anniversary of an event in this country that caused some serious racial tensions in this country. This was the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. Despite the tensions, or a cynic would say because of the tensions, the anniversary was recognized by many of a leftist persuasion. Chief among them have been the Democratic candidates for President, who called the shooting racist, and two of whom (Harris and Warren) called the death “murder.” The indefatigable Elizabeth Warren tweeted:
“5 years ago Michael Brown was murdered by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Michael was unarmed yet he was shot 6 times … We must confront systemic racism and police violence head on.”
The incident became national news immediately the day it happened and the angle for news folks at the time was very much as Warren has delineated in her tweet. Witnesses said Brown was confronted in the street by Officer Wilson, had put his hands up crying “don’t shoot,” and had then been shot in the back. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, founded just a year before, took off like a rocket with this news and pushed their agenda of suggesting US police forces were systemically racist and violent.
The Ferguson incident, however, was nothing at all as initially depicted. A St. Louis Grand Jury hearing and a DOJ investigation carried out by the FBI both showed that Michael Brown was an intimidating thug who, annoyed at being told not to walk in the street, had attacked Officer Wilson, tried to take his gun and had then been shot by the officer in self-defence. Credible witnesses established he did not raise his hands to surrender but to attack the officer, and the autopsy showed he was shot in the front, not back. Otherwise, it was just as Warren stated five years later.
By a strange coincidence, Gaffe-meister Joe Biden unwittingly explained what the Dems are doing in this Presidential campaign with one of his delightful Bidenisms at an Iowa Fair campaign event this week.
We choose “truth over facts” he said. In stupido veritas. Yes, it was a gaffe, but it revealed quite nicely the urge for politicians to construct their own truth whatever the facts might say.
The Ferguson shooting bought to a head simmering race relations issues surrounding policing. There is a long-standing resentment between African-Americans and the police in black urban communities over both the attitude of the police to the community and resentment of newer police tactics aimed at not just responding to calls, but to aggressively police high crime areas, such as “Stop-and-frisk” (search of suspects in high crime areas). Since Ferguson, every questionable use of police force against any minority has been guaranteed front page coverage.
In a country of 350 million, there have been quite a few. Eric Garner in New York, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Philandro Castile in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Jocques Clennons in Nashville among many others. Some like Clemmons was due to a suspect resisting arrest with a gun. But others like Castile, were highly problematic as Castile was shot by a panicked officer after Castile had told him (as you are obliged to do) he had a gun in his car for which he had a permit. And the officer involved got off scot-free for the killing. The NFL season after the Castile shooting in 2016 bought forth Colin Kaepernick, a second-string quarterback fresh from fighting the tyranny of his $126 Million seven-year contract, joined in with the “down with the pigs, man” vibe with his pig athletic socks and his anthem kneeling.
But the picture is far more complicated than single incidents. There is also the fact many folks in urban communities are desperate for more policing not less (many proponents of Stop-and-frisk in New York were African-American inhabitants of their communities). And the fact, seemingly unknown to BLM, Kaepernick and their supporters, that many communities, not just urban ones, now have both diverse police forces and African-American or Hispanic leadership. Not surprisingly in a country where 30% of the population falls into these two categories.
As the police shooting stories unfolded and BLM continued their campaign against police racism, many studies of police shootings looked at the overall context and painted a different picture, reflecting a more nuanced view.
In July 2016, for example, a Harvard professor, Ronald Fryer, published a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research of 1,000 police shootings from 10 large police departments in California, Texas and Florida. In Fryer’s words, from the abstract of the paper:
“On the most extreme use of force — officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.” Professor Fryer, an African-American, further told the New York Times that the finding of no racial discrimination in police shootings was “the most surprising result of my career.”
In the same month, July 2016, a study for the BMJ journal Injury Prevention came to similar conclusions. The lead author of the research, Ted Miller, a research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, summed up:
“I was expecting to see that the likelihood of being killed was higher if you’re a minority. It turns out that once the police have stopped you, there is not a racial difference in the likelihood of your being seriously hurt.”
These studies did not have a comprehensive nationwide view, however, as a database of all police shootings of civilians and relevant information about each shooting was not available. By coincidence, the same week Harris and Warren were peddling their lies on Ferguson, a study based on comprehensive data for the first time became available, and was published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences)
The study – Officer Characteristics and Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-involved Shootings – used as a foundation a database of every single police shooting in a selected year ( 2015), created from communications with all police departments that had had a fatal shooting.
The report has three main findings, all in line with earlier less comprehensive studies:
- As the proportion of Black or Hispanic officers in a database of officer shootings increases, a person shot is more likely to be Black or Hispanic, but this is explained by the demographics of the particular area being policed.
- The rate of crime by a racial group predicts the likelihood of citizens from that racial group being shot.
- There is no overall evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities in fatal shootings.
One of the article’s authors, Joseph Cesario, was quoted as saying
“The vast majority – between 90% and 95% – of the civilians shot by officers were actively attacking police or other citizens when they were shot. 90% also were armed with a weapon when they were shot. The horrific cases of accidental shootings, like mistaking a cell phone for a gun, are rare.”
This data seems to match up with the public view, formed from a media focus on police shootings over the last few years. BLM these days (or BLM Global Network as it now is) is still around but has largely disappeared from the progressive radar. Or to be more accurate it has been morphed into the more generalized set of intersectional grievances that seem to characterize protest groups like Antifa, By Any Means Necessary and the Democrat Party these days. The morphing began with the Women’s March after Trump was elected in 2016, and continues to this day. And other focused struggles such as against the Jews with BDS, or against white supremacy in general, have become more in vogue. BLM activists like Marissa Johnson and DeRay McKesson have completely fallen from view, while Colin Kaepernick has been reduced to taking a desk job with The Man, otherwise known as Nike.
The US has had a few appalling cases of police shootings that should never have happened, and they will continue to be examined by internal reviews or grand juries. In addition, there are some urban areas such as Chicago, Baltimore and Detroit that have unacceptably high rates of crime, particularly murder. But the overall context for all this is a country in which all crime rates have gone down quite astonishingly.
In the last twenty or so years, the crime rate of 5.2% in 1995 shrunk to 2.7%. Murders have dropped even more precipitously. In 2017, with a population of 325 million, there were half a million less actual number of murders in the US than 1995 when the population was 263 million.
Now along with all other successes of the US, this seems largely unknown. In fact Uruguay, in a country-wide display of impertinent virtue signalling, just issued a travel advisory for Uruguayans visiting the entire US. It was supposedly based on the El Paso and Dayton shootings. We have a few cities that boast “hold my beer,” when talking murder rates (looking at you, Baltimore, with a murder rate of 56 per 100,000), but the US overall rate is 5.3 (3.6 from gun violence) per 100,000. An unkind observer would point to the fact Uruguay’s posturing may have more to do with trying to take attention away from its spiralling out-of-control murder rate of 14.6. The reasons for this remarkable outbreak of non-violence in the US are many, but among them is the overall improvement of policing techniques and capability nationwide.
However, the dichotomy between the truth and the facts, appearance and reality, continues unabated in the area of policing and race. Just a few days before Warren’s disgraceful tweet a photo appeared of an African-American being lead by a rope behind two mounted police officers in Galveston, TX.
The outrage was immediate and burned up social media for a couple of days. It reminded many SJWs of slave-owning times when apparently captured slaves were lead around on horseback after a few days on the lam. America as racists, with Trump heading up the forces of white supremacy (uh-oh, now mounted!), featured large in all commentary, as well as in some media reporting.
The facts were a little more prosaic. Transport to take the criminal trespass suspect to be charged was not available and the police, using a tactic for which they had been trained, used a rope tied to the suspect’s handcuffs instead. Despite the expense of mounted police, Galveston was using them as part of their community policing initiative, i.e., to get cops out in the public and visible to foster community relations. This is an initiative pushed and supported by the Chief Of Police, Vernon Hale.
Galveston has had an integrated police department since 1867, and Hale himself is African-American. Hale immediately stopped any use of the tactic and life went back to normal.
The question I have is this.
Five years down the road, will a Warren wannabe running for President on intersectional grievances bring up “5 years ago racist police lead black people down the street on horseback?” Today many of our Presidential candidates feel free to push this narrative and not the facts, which are the achievements of American policing in the last 20 years that have massively pushed down crime rates.
A measure of our progress as a country that actually solves its problems will be if this does not happen.