In the National Review/Oberlin thread, RonF wrote:1
The anti-racist-policing movement hasn’t had much to say in Freddie Gray’s case given that of the 6 cops going on trial, 3 are black – including the only one who was charged with murder. Maybe this will get people to see that the primary issue here isn’t necessarily racism.
Brian Anderson of Downtrend writes:
Not only are half of the officers involved in this black, the black officers are the ones facing the most serious charges. Does the race of the officers matter? It shouldn’t, but rioters, pundits, and activists have turned Gray’s death into an extreme case of racism, so their race matters now.
The story that Freddie Gray was killed by racist police officers just because he’s black has completely fallen apart.[…] Never before have a group of people worked so hard to make something innocuous into a racial crisis.2
Similar arguments have been made by Right Wing News (“This kinda erases the whole “it’s all about racism” talking point”), Bizpac Review, Ben Shapiro, and many other conservatives.
Conservatives often wave around black and hispanic cops, who are part of a racist system, acting in racist ways, as proof that there isn’t racism.
And, to be fair, there are too many examples of anti-police racism activists putting too much emphasis on the race of individual abusive cops, when that’s not really the issue.
White supremacy is a matter of systematic power and bias, not just individual racists. Police racism can still be an important factor even if a particular police officer isn’t white, because officers typically act, not in isolation, but as part of a larger culture, and police abuse and raicsm is a pattern, not just a bunch of unconnected incidents.
The culture of policing evolved in a context of racial discrimination and racial control, where departments were charged with containing blacks, not protecting them. The demographics of policing have changed since the middle of the 20th century, but the culture has moved more slowly. And while we have minority officers, they—like their white counterparts—operate in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust between communities and law enforcement.
“Regardless of who is carrying out the police function,” writes [academic researcher] Brad Smith, explaining his results, “police will always be seen as representatives of the larger establishment. As such, tensions between police and citizens may be a function of the police role.”
In a follow up interview on CNN, Blow argued that the race of the officer was not as important as the fact that police culture encourages officers to profile black men. Academic studies support Blow’s argument. […]
Conservatives seem incapable of comprehending the complex dynamics of modern American racism. In their simplistic understanding, all that is required to remove race from the equation is a minority police officer. If a black person is victimized by a black cop, conservatives reason that race must not have been a factor. To suggest racial assumptions could still be relevant is to “play the race card”. Yet, this shallow point of view fundamentally misinterprets how racism in police policy works. Police culture reflects some of the underlying biases held by the larger society. Racial profiling and police brutality are not typically the individual excesses of openly racist officers, hell bent on ethnic cleansing. Rather they are symptomatic of a covertly racist society that has yet to acknowledge the persistence of its own latent, but enduring prejudices.
In the case of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, for example, three of the six police officers charged for Gray’s death are black. This has led to some questions about whether racial bias is really at play — can a black cop be racist against his own racial group?
Related Understanding the racial bias you didn’t know you had Why do police so often see unarmed black men as threats?
But social psychologists and criminal justice experts say this question fundamentally misunderstands how institutional racism affects everyone, regardless of race. Racial bias isn’t necessarily about how a person views himself in terms of race, but how he views others in terms of race, particularly in different roles throughout his everyday life. And systemic racism, which has been part of the US since its founding, can corrupt anyone’s view of minorities in America.
In the case of police, all cops are dealing with enormous cultural and systemic forces that build racial bias against minority groups. Even if a black cop doesn’t view himself as racist, the way policing is done in the US is racially skewed — by, for example, targeting high-crime neighborhoods that are predominantly black. And these policing tactics can actually create and accentuate personal, subconscious bias by increasing the likelihood that officers will relate blackness with criminality or danger — leading to what psychologists call “implicit bias” against black Americans. Combined, this means the system as a whole as well as individual officers, even black ones, by and large act in ways that are deeply racially skewed.
ETA: See also Jarvis DeBerry’s article.
Police racism is not a matter of “a few bad apple white cops are trigger-happy.” That is not the issue. The issue is a larger culture of white supremacy, and how that creates a pattern of bias and unfair treatment.
- In comments, Ron objected that I was responding to an argument he hadn’t actually made, hence the cross-out. [↩]
- Anderson also claims that “there is very little evidence to support that the officers, of any race, caused Gray’s death,” but that part of his argument is beyond the scope of this post. [↩]
Well, your premise is debatable, but that would take far more time than I have right now. But since you have tied my statement directly to that premise, what I will point out is that I certainly did NOT say that there’s “proof there isn’t racism.” What I said was what you quoted – that the anti-racist-policing movement hasn’t had much to say in the Baltimore case, and that the primary factor here isn’t necessarily racism. In the first instance, we haven’t seen nearly the reaction on the part of people such as Rev. Sharpton, etc. that we did in cases where the cop was white and the person that died was black. The narrative was framed as a question of “police brutality” – which certainly seems a fair question to pose pending the outcome of the trials – but not one of “police racism”, which it seems to me was much more of a factor in earlier incidents where the cops were white.
In the second instance, I think that the primary issue here is how much money the person interacting with the cop appears to have access to and how therefore likely they are to have connections or to be able to hire a decent lawyer and hose up the cop’s life. I’ve certainly lived long enough around Chicago especially to know that racism is definitely a factor as well. A black man can be well-dressed and drive an expensive car and still get beaten. But overall, money counts. And an opinon of “not primary” != an opinion of “proof there isn’t racism”. I never said such, and I didn’t imply it.
Getting more minorities into police forces may be a necessary precondition for reducing racism in law enforcement, but it isn’t sufficient in and of itself.
Even to use the word “disproof” is sort of a red herring, since I have yet to see any serious # of anti-racist folks who think it’s possible to disprove an accusation of racism AT ALL, so long as someone experiences a subjective belief in racist conduct. What would “disproof” even mean to you? How would you know?
But your point is certainly value. It’s simplistic to conclude that just because
50% of the police or so are POC;
50% of the offending police are black;
the police chief is black;
the mayor is black;
the prosecutor is black;
the black president of the U.S. is discussing with the black U.S. Attorney General (who recently replaced the prior black Attorney General) about the degree to which the federal government should get involved;
that there “isn’t racism involved.” Sure there is: Baltimore is not the USA, or the world.
But do the facts I listed above make you think that racism was less likely? If they were reversed (if everyone involved was white) would you conclude that racism was more likely?
Because those two questions explain why this simplistic analysis is a tempting response. Racism is often a moving target, in which factors are claimed to be important when they support claims of racism… but the same factors are claimed to be relatively unimportant when they don’t.
That isn’t how things work. If the race of the cops matters when they’re white, to suggest that whites act differently so that racism is more likely the cause of the problem… then it matters just as much when they’re black, to suggest that racism is less likely to be the cause of the problem.
It it conclusive? No, of course not. Absence of evidence /= evidence of absence (at least not logically… though practically those are often linked.)
I generally agree with the OP. I’ve taken a similar position in the past. Didn’t convince any family members, but, I tried. Their response was that if even black cops have unwarranted fear of black teens, then maybe it’s warranted fear. So I probably made things worse! Go me.
But come on. I know that there’s like a contractual obligation incurred when you start talking about your own views using words like social justice that obliges you to be as subtly and deniably obnoxious as possible. But white supremacist culture? The unwarranted fear with which our society views young black men would continue to exist if every white person on earth suddenly died. I don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that black cops can’t harbor prejudice against young black men. I don’t think it’s reasonable to ignore systemic bias like black cops with mean streaks feeling more free to bully black people since society at large will be more likely to ignore their victims complaints. But I absolutely DO think it’s unreasonable to characterize a Latino cop with an unwarranted fear of young black men as being in the thrall a of a white supremacist culture. “Culture” is not some magical buzzword that makes that sensible.
Well, no one could accuse you of being subtly obnoxious here, I’ll give you that.
This is a speculative fiction version of “white supremacy didn’t end when Jim Crow laws ended” or “white supremacy didn’t end when the civil rights act was passed,” etc. No, it doesn’t end instantly, because the patterns set in motion by white supremacy don’t end instantly, any more than the ripples set in motion by a stone cease to exist once the stone hits the bottom and stops moving.
The Latino cop in your example grew up in a a white supremacist society, and was trained by a white supremacist judicial system. Many foundational aspects of the justice system they are part of – such as the enormous emphasis on fighting drugs – are themselves inseparably tangled with systematic racism. ( 1 2 3 4 ) It’s therefore reasonable to say that some of his actions are influenced by a white supremacist society.
If you like, replace “white supremacist” with “systematic racism” (altering when necessary for grammar), and I think my argument would not be significantly changed.
This is a totally fair complaint. I have edited the original post. Thanks for pointing this out, and sorry for my mess-up.
I absolutely agree that your argument remains unchanged when you sub in systemic racism. Which is why I interpret the insistence on using “white supremacist culture” to describe a set of societal attitudes about black people that exist in interactions that require no participation from, reference to, belief in the superiority of, or even influence from, white people to be needlessly antagonistic- a choice to define and describe things in a way that says a lot more about you than about the topic itself. If your idea of “white supremacist culture” requires no actual white supremacy, you’re doing it wrong.
You’re the one who is trying to turn this into a personal attack (e.g., “says a lot more about you”). If you want to have a less antagonistic discussion, try not being so antagonistic, for a start.
More importantly, the claim that “white supremacist culture” is being used “to describe a set of societal attitudes about black people that exist in interactions that require no participation from, reference to, belief in the superiority of, or even influence from, white people” isn’t true. The large-scale systematic racism in my culture – what I sometimes call white supremacy – works to benefit white people as a whole (although not always every individual white person), and would not have been created in this form if white people had never existed. To try and discuss large-scale systematic racism in the US without any reference to how it benefits whites would be refusing to discuss – and even worse, trying to cover up – that truth.
Thinking about it further, “white power structure” might be a more precise term to use than “white supremacist culture.”
I just moved a bunch of off-topic comments to the open thread.
Then allow me to introduce you to Lawrence Bobo:
He and scholars like him do precisely what you have yet to see: they devise falsifiable hypotheses and put them thru a rigorous methodology.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are massive amounts of data to work from here. I’ll try to drop some into the convo.
It seems to me that for the vast majority of individual instances of racism, it’s pretty much impossible to prove or disprove racism (or sexism, etc.) with any certainty. If you have access to the right kind of data, you can sometimes prove/disprove it in aggregate–IIRC in the case of WalMart discriminating against women for supervisor positions, they did it using statistics looking at the number of women applying and number of women promoted–but it still doesn’t prove that in a given particular instance of a woman not getting a promotion, that instance was due to sexism.
Thank-you for that video Manju.
I’d like to add that I don’t think most people are claiming overt, personalized racism in the case of Baltimore. The issue is structural, systemic racism.
The very existence of poor, urban communities like the one in Baltimore is the result of the racist housing policies of the mid-twentieth century. Everything that happens in that context is tinged with racism to some degree.
The lifting of overtly racist public housing policy coincided with deindustrialization and rising house prices, meaning that the jobs and reasonably priced houses which allowed white families to start creating wealth to pass on to the next generation in the mid 20th century were not there for black families in the late 20th-early 21st century.
closetpuritan…so that suggests amp’s focus on systemic racism makes more sense. It at least has the virtue of falsifiability, which amp’s critics want.
So for example, Bobo (guy in video) cites sociological research indicating that Whites and Blacks consume drugs at similar rates (he looks at emergency room visits, for example). But Blacks are far more likely to be incarcerated for such crimes. This needs to be squared.
Now Bobo could try to explain it by measuring the racism of individual cops who make such arrests. And these scholars do have tools to do just that: they measure explicit racism in individuals, subtle racism, and even reverse-racism (they are not ideologues who dismiss the later). But it is entirely possible, indeed likely, that the answer does not lie there.
Its more likely to lie in the governmental policies that guide these individual officers. A cop may be black, she may have no racial bias, he may even have a pro-black bias…but if 90% of the home drug raids his superiors order him to do are in black neighborhoods, there’s going to be a disparate impact nonetheless.
Manju: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. (I haven’t watched the video yet, though; I may try and see if he’s got any similar work available in text form.)
(last one is probably the most relevant)
Thanks for that link, Manju.
Appreciate that, Amp. Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, I was away for the weekend at a Troop rock climbing outing at Devil’s Lake State Park in Wisconsin at the top of the CCC Trail and when I got back I pretty much collapsed and didn’t check back here.
They call that a running trail. Ha. Try it and it’ll be an even bet between your heart bursting or getting a broken leg before you are at the top.
Certainly in Chicago there’s no doubt that racism in public housing had a deleterious effect on the black population. There were other harmful policies as well. In reading the history of “the projects” you find that court decisions that took the control away from local resident councils and forced them to accept felons as residents also contributed.