The George Floyd-inspired protests – many of which devolved into riots, vandalism, and other violence – are waning, but drag on here and there, inciting among the complicit (or intimidated?) masses widespread but amorphous calls for change. The question lingers, amid the burnt-out police cars, smashed windows, and defaced monuments, of exactly what “change” is being agitated for?
The ostensible catalyst for the protests, the unjustifiable death of suspected counterfeiter George Floyd while being restrained by police, seems to offer an unsatisfactory explanation for the ensuing mayhem. The four officers involved in his death were fired almost immediately (presumably without the hearings one assumes the union contract mandates), and the principal character was investigated, arrested, and charged (reasonably) with third-degree murder and manslaughter, later elevated (unrealistically) to second-degree murder – suggesting quite conspicuously that the justice system in this instance is working as it ought. What is it precisely that the demonstrators wish be done differently? That the officers in question had been electrocuted on the spot?
One suspects that at this point much of the common fodder for the protests is harvested from slews of bored young people, many making more on unemployment than they did from the entry-level jobs they held before the COVID-19 shutdowns, and finding themselves denied the nightclubs, concerts and other distractions they would normally avail themselves. The only game in town is to copy vacuous slogans on chunks of cardboard and join their friends downtown for a night of rage, which is not to say that more serious elements are not involved.
The organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement, their allies and predecessors, exist for this moment. They wait, with a mix of opportunism and nostalgia for the disruptions of the 1960s, for the errant spark to ignite the outrage they cultivate among their followers, twisting legitimate difficulties with racial dynamics in this nation’s history into hatred and animosity towards the tenets of western civilization – civil society, property rights, rule of law – as represented, of course, by the police.
The late Kenneth Minogue instructs us that an ideology requires the identification of an oppressor against whom to lock in constant battle. He writes, “It is of the essence of the ideological critic that he discovers oppression where the generality of mankind finds only an accepted condition of things.” The current turmoil is indeed ideological, in the worst, truest sense of the word. But to the extent that race is, in fact, a significant part of the equation, it is useful to examine what the real difficulties and questions surrounding race are.
Any serious discussion of the topic ought to begin with dispelling the carefully cultivated myth of “systemic racism,” particularly as applied to policing. The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, who is probably the brightest and most illuminating scholar on the topic, provides the relevant numbers in a recent op-ed: of the 1,004 people shot by police in 2019, 235, or roughly a quarter, were black; a ratio, she writes, that has held since at least 2015.
But the most salient figure is not the number of blacks killed by police, but the relation of that figure to the occurrence of crime committed. As Mac Donald points out, the incidence of police killings is directly correlated to the number of police interactions with suspects, with is itself a function of the incidence of crime. And the numbers indisputably show that a disproportionate amount of crime is committed by young black males. She goes on to write: “In 2018… African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.”
(It is interesting to note, by the way, that although the vast majority of those killed by police are male, there is no widespread assertion of systemic feminism plaguing society).
The real, non-ideological, question pertaining to race, then, would seem to be that of why crime is so prevalent among blacks. To the extent that such inquiry is permitted, theories abound. But the most piercing datum remains the rate of illegitimacy. In 1965, the percentage of births to unwed mothers among blacks was 24 percent, and among whites 3 percent; in 1990 the figures were 64 percent and 18 percent respectively. By 2015, 77 percent of black children – more than three-quarters – and 30 percent of whites were born into households without a father present.
A preponderance of evidence accumulated over the last half-century demonstrates the correlation between illegitimacy (or whatever the correct term is these days) and a panoply of social ills – poverty, drop-out rates, drug use, crime. Solutions are frustratingly elusive; lamentably, they will remain so as long as the question is not explored.
In the meantime, diverting attention to illusory enemies like the police, with attendant calls for defunding law enforcement, abolishing prisons, and expelling school resource officers, may serve the ideological interests of a revolutionary faction. But it comes at great expense to civil society – including black lives, which are at overwhelmingly greater risk of being ended by crime than by the police who employ force on their behalf.