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Ever since the Black Lives Matter movement began, I have chosen to be a distant observer rather than a participant on either side of the issue. As I learn about the complex dynamics involved in police activity, crime statistics, and our general societal history, I become more confident in remaining where I am. I think both sides of this controversy are wrong about the root of the entire controversy. They both have their observations that are hard to dispute, but both are biased toward a faulty conclusion and stop short of exploring why two sides of the story can both be right. They can't be, but they can both be wrong.
Black Lives Matter promotes two primary issues. First, there is a disproportionately high degree of police violence and/or conviction on African Americans than white people. Second, there is an unacceptable dearth of police accountability when police break the law. On the latter issue, I agree 1,000% and police departments need to stop pretending it is not a problem or the result of a few bad apples. As John Oliver astutely put it, "The rest of that quote is, 'A few bad apples spoil the barrel.'" While I hold that the former issue also appears true, few members of BLM (or their critics) prefer to push a racism narrative. BLM thinks police are simply racists who prioritize going after black people. Critics of BLM point out that crime against blacks by other blacks are disproportionately high and simply blame African Americans for the problems they clearly cause. I find this to be a weak argument. If BLM promotes accountability for violent crime, then it is ultimately the police's responsibility to hold everyone accountable for their crimes. No matter how you slice that argument, the cops are the deficient party. Still, that doesn't answer why we have this problem in the first place.
The attribution of violence to blacks (or any race) is a correlation -- not a causation. That means something is causing this correlation and does so in such a way that it appears race is a primary factor. Overlooking this detail is an offense of which both parties in this controversy are guilty. The evidence shows violence is a major problem in impoverished, slum neighborhoods. We have known this for years. When people live in poverty, their adherence to the law becomes increasingly negotiable. They become willing to do increasingly desperate things while trying to minimize the likelihood of getting caught. Police patrol these locations much more often, leading to far more police encounters. Residents can't afford adequate legal counsel. Education is often deficient in these neighborhoods, so citizens may be less informed on their rights during police encounters. They will say things that self-incriminate without ever knowing it. Police know this and, perhaps even unconsciously, become more willing to jettison their training and negotiate their adherence to procedure as well in order to catch the bad guy. It is a snowball effect that spirals from there. But then why does this disproportionately affect African Americans? It is because African Americans are disproportionately more impoverished than white people.
According to the Census Bureau (2015), the poverty rate for whites is 12.7%, by far the lowest of any ethnicity. For blacks it is a staggering 26.2%! The only people in America more poor than the blacks are the Native Americans at 28.3%. Guess what other racial demographic lives in semi-isolated pockets of society and has been grappling with chronic crime rates for years. So then why are Native Americans not having the same problems with cops as black people? Native Americans have far less interaction with civilian law enforcement because reservations are their own law enforcement jurisdictions and have their own tribal police departments. If you're wondering what causes this imbalance between African Americans and white people, the answer is that it has always been that way since before the Equal Rights Movement. While the Equal Rights Act was suppose to be an end to institutional racism, African Americans are still feeling the socio-economic echo of the disparity that existed before it. The Washington Post (2013) examined the unemployment rate for blacks since the Equal Rights Movement in the 1960s and found it hasn't budged. In spite of that, Pew Research shows the poverty rate for blacks back in 1966 (during Dr. King's era) was 41.8% -- a substantial improvement. Every stat I could find on "violent black crime" rates since the 1960s shows a strong down trend, so black on black crime is showing progress as well. Things are getting better, but the wound hasn't healed yet.
It takes generations for families to build a socio-economic foundation onto which their children will build further still. In the meantime, we will have slum neighborhoods where crime is high and the people there (whatever race they are) will endure frequent police encounters and trigger-happy police.
This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.comments powered by Disqus