Part 6 of my series on Race, Crime, and Policing
William K. Black
August 7, 2016 Bloomington, MN
Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani made a series of comments on race, crime, and policing on when he was interviewed recently on “Face the Nation.” I am a strong critic of Giuliani’s approach to the intersection of race, crime, and policing. Giuliani said several objectionable things in his interview that he could not defend. The mystery is why his critics keep ignoring those comments and attacking other comments me made in that interview that are essentially correct. In the course of their efforts to bash Giuliani his critics are repeatedly misstating what he said in the passages they seek to ridicule and demonstrating such fundamental analytical errors that they must be allowing their eagerness to hurt Giuliani shut down their critical faculties.
My fourth column in this series explained the hypocrisy and logical and factual errors that the NYT’s editorial board displayed in their effort to ridicule Giuliani. This column shows that other critics, often in the midst of otherwise strong columns, suddenly go off the rails when they try to pile on Giuliani’s statements about policing. The mystery is why they fail to attack Giuliani’s indefensible statements and instead embarrass themselves trying to attack his most defensible points.
I’ll start with the two strongest columns, an article from the Washington Post and an op ed in the New York Times. I recommend both of the columns to my readers. In the midst of these sensible and important columns, both writers suddenly lose the plot when they try to bash Giuliani. The WaPo article discusses the subject of why law enforcement officers (LEOs) shoot blacks at a higher per capita rate than whites. I will write future columns in this series analyzing this issue.
The article attacked Giuliani for a point he was making that the author knew to be true.
“[Y]ou’ve got to teach your children that the real danger to them is not the police; the real danger to them, 99 out of 100 times, 9,900 out of 10,000 times, are other black kids who are going to kill them. That’s the way they’re gonna die.”
As the New York Daily News noted: Giuliani is wrong about the so-called “black-on-black” crime rate. According to FBI numbers from 2014, about 90 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other black people. The “white-on-white” murder rate that same year — homicides in which a white person was killed by another white person — was 82 percent of all murders of white people.
But it is true that a disproportionate amount of murders and other violent crimes are committed by black Americans.
Because detailed FBI data on crime can lag by several years, the most-cited statistics on this point refer to 2009 data. According to that data, out of all violent crimes in which someone was charged, black Americans were charged with 62 percent of robberies, 57 percent of murders and 45 percent of assaults in the country’s 75 biggest counties — despite the fact that black Americans made up just 15 percent of the population in those places.
In my articles that analyze these statistics I will show why criminologists have ruled out explaining disparities of this magnitude in these three categories of violent crimes as the product of discriminatory actions by the police and prosecutors. The racial disparities in these violent crime categories are immense, and because America is still highly segregated in housing the victims of these serious violent crimes are overwhelmingly blacks. These disparities rank among the most important and difficult truths that we must address with candor and effective reform policies.
The allied facts that are critical to the discussion include the fact that these data as of 2009 represent enormous reductions in the frequency of each of these three extremely serious violent crimes. As I have explained, the end of the era of “malign neglect” policing has produced partnerships among community organizers, LEOs, local government, and academics that have dramatically reduced these crimes. Blacks, and young black males in particular, are the greatest beneficiaries of these policing reforms that occurred precisely because black lives (finally!) came to matter to LEOs, local governments, and academics over the last roughly 30 years. (Black lives had always mattered to black communities.) LEOs, firefighters, and EMTs, even those biased against blacks, routinely risk their lives to protect and serve the entire community regardless of race. These hard truths are central to the point that Giuliani was making. Some people consider these facts inconvenient, which is sad and a great barrier to further progress.
But there are also facts that some of the strongest defenders of LEOs ignore because they find them inconvenient. These include the history of structural racism, policing approaches that are sure to alienate large parts of the black community, and police shootings of blacks. I have introduced each of these facts and will expand on them in future columns. In fairness to Giuliani, he made at his own initiative, the last two of these points in his interview comments.
The point that Giuliani was making was that the overwhelming homicide threat to black kids comes from civilians – not LEOs. Yes, he made up the “99 out of 100 times” “statistic.” But he did so in the midst of an interview where he had no ability to look up the exact statistic. Yes, he should have said something to the effect: “I don’t recall the exact numbers, but I can tell you that everyone that studies policing agrees that the chance of a young black man being killed by civilians is vastly greater than the chance that he will be killed by a LEO.”
The author of the WaPo article incorrectly claims that the New York Daily News proved that Giuliani’s point was false. The NY Daily News crafted a strawman argument that is falsely attributed to Giuliani. The paper then refuted its own strawman creation by attacking Giuliani for “incorrectly claiming that black children have ‘a 99% chance’ of killing each other.” Giuliani said no such thing and no one with the slightest respect for the truth would have invented that strawman argument.
The NY Daily News and the WaPo article ended up showing that while Giuliani’s “statistic” was imprecise, the point he was making was correct. Bizarrely, they acted as if they had refuted his point. Both writers relied on this statistic.
The closest estimate to Giuliani’s fictional numbers is the FBI’s 2014 homicide data, which said black victims are killed by other black people 90% of the time.
Ah, it wasn’t “99%” it was merely “90%” – what a smack down of Giuliani! In context, Giuliani’s real point was that the homicide risk of a civilian killing a young black male is vastly greater than the risk that the black would be killed by a LEO. That is not simply true, everyone who knows anything about policing knows it is irrefutably true. The 90% statistic is not actually responsive to Giuliani’s point. To compute the more precise comparison, you need to begin with the number of blacks killed by LEOs. As I will explain in a future column focused on this issue, the more precise point that Giuliani was making was that the chance that a law-abiding black will be killed by a civilian is off-the-charts greater than the chance that he will be killed by a LEO. That more precise statistic is likely very close to the percentage that Giuliani guesstimated in response to the interviewer’s questions.
Norah O’Donnell, co-host of CBS “This Morning,” made the same blundering effort to refute Giuliani by citing the 90% statistic. She plainly thought she had blown his argument away. Sigh.
Giuliani sought to make two policy points about policing in this passage. He stressed that black lives do matter and that the overwhelming source of homicides against blacks comes from civilians. Giuliani made the logical point that because black lives matter we need to deal with this paramount cause of black homicides. No one who knows anything about policing disagrees with his point. The second point that Giuliani was making was that LEOs, working in partnership with the black community, are essential to reduce this paramount cause of black homicides. The LEOs are a huge part of the solution, not the central problem, when it comes to implementing reforms to save black lives. That too is a logical point that everyone involved in policing reform endorses. In another interview Giuliani made this point explicitly.
Giuliani argued that he worked diligently as mayor of New York City to lower the number of African-Americans who were the victims of violent crime.
He pointed out that the year before he took office, there were 1,921 African-Americans murdered in the city, and he brought it down to 500.
“I calculate that I saved about 7,000 or 8,000 black lives. Bloomberg and I together, maybe 12,000,” Giuliani said. “There are no two mayors that ever saved more black lives in any city, any place in the country.
“Black Lives Matter hasn’t saved anywhere near as many black lives – if they’ve saved any at all – [as] I have.”
The end of “malign neglect” marked the start of the era when LEOs showed through their actions that black lives mattered. LEOs, successfully, risked their lives to save black lives – producing a dramatic reduction in homicides and other violent crimes where the victims were disproportionately black. Considering solely homicides, over 10,000 black lives were saved in a single huge city. Tens of thousands of black lives were saved across our Nation when malign neglect ended. The author of the NYT op ed I discuss below is correct – this was not a success simply of the LEOs. It was a success of a partnership of LEOs with “countless grass-roots organizations — many of which were founded by bereaved black women — [that] are doing remarkable work to prevent and reduce crime.”
The WaPo and NY Daily News joined the hypocritical NY Times editorial board in bashing Giuliani in the policy fields where they should have been strongly supporting him.
The NYT op ed made a different criticism of Giuliani, but it too criticized him for saying something that is true and extremely important.
It has become a standard conservative talking point: Black activists focus on police brutality but ignore violent crime in black neighborhoods. Last month Rudy Giuliani said on Fox News: “If they meant ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they would be doing something about the way in which the vast majority of blacks are killed in America, which is by other blacks.”
Claims like Mr. Giuliani’s aren’t just offensive or misplaced — they’re demonstrably wrong. While Black Lives Matter receives deserved attention, countless grass-roots organizations — many of which were founded by bereaved black women — are doing remarkable work to prevent and reduce crime. They protest violence, testify at city council hearings, press for gun-control reform and collaborate with politicians, faith-based organizations and, yes, even the police.
I spent 20 years studying anti-crime politics — observing community meetings, interviewing lawmakers and activists and analyzing city council hearings about crime. I found groups organizing on everything from “barking dogs to shootouts,” as one legislative aide told me. Their activism was impossible to miss.
But this local organizing goes largely unnoticed by politicians, scholars and the news media, all of which focus instead on large national groups with big budgets and expensive lobbyists.
The author of the op ed is correct about almost everything she writes and the facts she explains accurately are vital to understanding the intersection of race, crime, and policing. She makes a point that I have repeatedly stressed in my series of articles on these topics – the black community has been a vital participant, often the principal driver, of policing reforms that have repeatedly demonstrated that we can achieve a win-win-win-win. We can save and enrich black lives by reducing their victimization by violent criminals. We can save black lives by reducing police shootings of blacks and reduce alienation of blacks arising from some police practices. We can reduce the costs of policing, both the budgetary costs and the loss of life and injury of LEOs. We can create wonderful collateral advantages that transcend crime and policing, e.g., through federal job guarantee programs, programs to deal with addiction, and mental health clinics, that reduce violent crime and police shootings that reduce violent crime but also have far broader advantages.
But the author of the op ed overstates one specific claim and is wrong about Giuliani. “Local organizing” does not go “unnoticed” by criminology scholars as a group. Criminology scholars have been emphasizing the essential role of community in policing for at least a quarter-century. It was one of the key lessons drummed repeatedly into us as doctoral students. Tens of thousands of LEOs work closely with “local organizing” members of the community because they know it is critical to succcess.
In his appearance on Fox cited in the NYT op ed, Giuliani was criticizing a specific group, the Black Lives Matter [BLM] movement. He did not criticize “local organizing” groups that have worked, sometimes for decades, in partnerships with LEOs to address all the threats to black lives posed by civilians and the police. This is Fox’s synopsis of Giuliani’s statements.
Giuliani explained that the [BLM] movement is only concerned with police officer-related shootings of African-Americans. He pointed out that they never protest the fact that 90 percent of black Americans who are murdered are the victims of black-on-black crime.
He said Black Lives Matter’s silence about the violence in Chicago in a particularly glaring example, as someone is killed every 14 hours in the city, most of whom are African-American.
“They don’t mean ‘Black Lives Matter,'” Giuliani said. “They mean, ‘Let’s Agitate Against the Police Matters.’ If they meant ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they would be doing something about the way in which the vast majority of blacks are killed in America, which is by other blacks.”
The author of the op ed is plainly outraged by Giuliani’s statements about the BLM movement.
Claims like Mr. Giuliani’s aren’t just offensive or misplaced — they’re demonstrably wrong.
The two-related problems with that sentence are that the author did not even attempt to “demonstra[te]” that Giuliani’s criticism of BLM was “wrong,” and that there is a reason that such a well-written piece as this NYT op ed did not even try to “demonstra[te]” that Giuliani’s “claims” about BLM were “wrong,” “offensive,” and “misplaced.” The author knew that Giuliani’s “claims” about BLM were right rather than “wrong.”
The author is an expert in the politics of community policing and knows that BLM is radically different from the “local organizing” groups that work tirelessly to protect black lives from civilian criminals and suicide. BLM does not do that. I’ll expand on that point in future columns, but the short answer is that my research confirms that Giuliani is correct that BLM routinely acts as if black lives lost to civilians do not matter to the BLM movement. There are two aspects of this that are critical. First, BLM web sites and protests, with rare exceptions, put zero focus on civilian homicides of blacks and black suicides.
Second, BLM’s paramount policing policy is to “defund the police” – to eliminate LEOs. As I have explained, and as Giuliani stressed, LEOs, often working in partnership with “local organizers,” have saved tens of thousands of black lives since the end of the policing era of “malign neglect.” This is happening because black lives do matter to LEOs. BLM’s paramount policing (elimination) policy would lead to tens of thousands of additional civilian murders and hundreds of thousands of additional civilian robberies and assaults of blacks.
Giuliani is a “target rich” environment for sound criticism. His critics should criticize things he really said that are indefensible. Instead, they are reinforcing his points and proving their ignorance and intellectual dishonesty. I’m getting very tired of having to defend someone I disagree with so intensely in so many areas.