George Floyd’s death moved police brutality and mass incarceration beyond liberal activists and made them issues for all Americans. The riots and violence that ensued also highlighted, albeit in a more muted fashion, the everyday violence faced by African-Americans. Here’s Andrew Sullivan noting the disparate outrage that police violence generates:
African-Americans are being gunned down in America vastly out of proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole. We’ve heard this truth before, of course, but usually when talking of police shootings…But the disproportion for African-Americans killed by civilian shootings is almost twice as skewed as that for those killed by cops. And the scale of it is on an entirely different level. If you believe that black lives matter, where is the outrage about that 7,484 [Black people killed by civilians]?
A murder is a murder. A grieving mother and family is a grieving mother and family, regardless of who the killer is. And when the likelihood of an African-American being killed by a civilian is almost thirty times the likelihood of being killed by a cop, it seems to me perverse that almost all the attention is on the police.
It is no accident that the killing of George Floyd prompted a massive outpouring of protest while no such national movement emerged in response to, say, the killing of a one-year-old child in Brooklyn. Black lives matter, it seems. But some black lives matter more than others — depending entirely on who took them.
Although other writers have echoed Sullivan’s complaint, I haven’t seen anyone try to explain why there’s so much outrage for one type of murder but not another. Why isn’t there some theory for the American indifference to blacks murdering other blacks in large numbers?
For police brutality and mass incarceration we can at least point to the legacy of slavery, white supremacy, institutional racism, etc. But the 7,000-plus “normal” murders of African-Americans don’t have this sort of analytical backing. They just happen without much notice.
Put another way: black Americans suffer from both over-policing and under-policing. The former occasionally leads to tragedies like George Floyd. The latter routinely leads to tragedies like Travis Nagdy. The former leads to nationwide protests and is backed by overarching theories of American society. The latter leads to very few, if any, protests and no grand theories. But again: why this discrepancy?
I think there are a couple things going on. The first relates to why some issues become national concerns. From perusing the research, I believe you need a combination of sustained interest group pressure over many years plus support from some subset of elites–the media, academics, cultural elites, etc.
For whatever reasons, liberals activists don’t get excited about ordinary crime, and so they don’t protest it. For probably similar reasons, mostly liberal academics don’t seem to study it much. And the mostly liberal cultural elite don’t experience much crime and thus don’t think about it.
Conservatives on the other hand, don’t get excited about bad things that happen to black people. So our activists definitely don’t agitate about it. The five conservative academics that exist just study tax policy, and there are no conservatives among the cultural elite. So there’s ultimately no mechanism for non-police inflicted violence to filter up to politicians and policy makers.
The second reason for the disparate outrage relates to…America’s legacy of slavery, white supremacy and racism! Yes, really. Historically, America has had no problem with black people experiencing violence, whether it was inflicted by the state or citizens.
We’ve since improved on that stance. Now we’re at the point where state violence is roundly condemned. But I’m not surprised the focus has been on the smaller problem, or that America still mostly ignores thousands of black people who get killed every year.
I offer this hypothesis as a conservative who finds the constant invocation of white supremacy and racism tiresome. Racism exists and we on the right should offer solutions to it. But the left is too quick to analyze every single issue through the race lens, often leading to self-parody. That said…if you’re looking to understand why no one seems to care when black people get shot, racism in some form is probably a part of the explanation.
The solution to liberal overuse of the race framework isn’t to ignore it or complain about it, but to use it better than they do. It’s racist to ignore the general black murder rate in favor of the much fewer killings by police, and we shouldn’t be afraid of saying so. Pro-cop can also be pro-black, and a historically law-and-order coalition should make that case.
Bloomberg reporter Donald Moore recently lamented: “A significant portion of the U.S. lives in legitimate fear of themselves or someone they know being murdered or maimed by gunfire, and it’s kind of just…tolerated? I don’t even know the right word in this instance.”
Well I have the right words. They’re white supremacy and racism. That’s why it’s tolerated.