Part 4 of my series on Race, Crime, and Policing
William K. Black
August 2, 2016 Bloomington, MN
Part 3 of this series began the explanation of the hypocrisy of the New York Times in its treatment of the sociologist Michael Eric Dyson’s blood libels against police and whites as a race. Part 3 focused on the terrible timing of Dyson’s op ed in the NYT. The ambush murders of Dallas law enforcement officers (LEOs) falsified Dyson’s blood libels while the ink was still figuratively wet on his op ed.
I first need to reprise for the reader the NYT’s hypocritical attack on former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani while ignoring Dyson’s blood libels.
The NYT’s Hypocritical Attacks on Giuliani While Featuring Dyson
On July 11, 2016, the editorial board of the New York Times denounced Giuliani for propagating “racial myths,” through a “garbled, fictional statistic,” “false equivalencies,” “defam[ation],” and “race-baiting.” Dyson committed each of these faults in his original and revised op ed in the NYT without any criticism from the editorial board.
The editorial board’s contempt for Giuliani goes way back, so they did not attempt to hide their bile.
For a nation heartsick over the killings of black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the ambush murders of officers by a gunman in Dallas, here comes Rudolph Giuliani, bringing his trademark brew of poisonous disinformation to the discussion.
I contrast the purported bases for the editorial board’s screed against Giuliani to what Dyson did in his NYT op ed.
“Racial Myths,” “Defamation,” “Poisonous Disinformation,” and “Race-Baiting”
Dyson’s original op ed claimed that the white race was using the police to wage a “war against blackness” and that neither whites nor LEOs put any value on black lives because LEOs typically adopt the white race’s dominant, and depraved, “culture.”
[T]he police are part of an undeclared war against blackness.
You can never admit that this is true. In fact, you deem the idea so preposterous and insulting that you call the black people who believe it racists themselves. In that case the best-armed man will always win.
You say that black folks kill each other every day without a mumbling word while we thunderously protest a few cops, usually but not always white, who shoot to death black people who you deem to be mostly “thugs.”
Dyson used the word “you” in that passage to refer to all white people. Notice that he is even more general in his use of the term “police.” Inserting words in several hundred million people’s mouths and speaking of “police” as if they were fungible is sure to produce more heat and error than light. “War” metaphors are the bane of criminology, so no one should be surprised that I push back against the term. I deny “that this is true” because it is objectively not true on multiple grounds as I explain below. The NYT editorial board, citing the Dallas ambush, was outraged that (unidentified) people have “defamed” the Black Lives Matter Movement as part of a “war on cops.” The editorial board, however, raised not a peep when Dyson claimed that the white race was using “cops” to wage a murderous “war against blackness.”
Dyson’s Revised Op Ed Made His Actions Even More Reprehensible
Worse, Dyson revised his original op ed after the ambush of the Dallas LEOs. As I explained in my immediately prior column in this series, Dallas falsified each of his blood libels against LEOs. But Dyson did not admit error. Instead, in an act of intellectual dishonesty, he deleted his most blatant “race-baiting” phraseology without any acknowledgment of what he had originally published, any admission of error, and any apology. Instead, he wrote, disingenuously (and the NYT shamed itself by allowing him to do so) that: “This essay has been updated to reflect news developments” (emphasis in the original). I will show that this statement is inaccurate. Dyson removed several of his most blatant expressions of his blood libels, without any suggestion that this had to do with “news developments.”
It would, of course, have been fine if Dyson had written something to the effect that the behavior of the Dallas LEOs before and during the ambush caused him to reconsider and remove his defamatory attacks on LEOs and whites because he realized that they were blood libels. Better yet, he could have apologized for his original attacks. But this is not what Dyson did. Dyson strategically deleted, without acknowledgment, what he knew were the quotations that would most clearly expose his racial myths and race-baiting.
In his revised op ed, Dyson also added two sentences, again not related to any “updating” based on “news developments,” to try to defend himself against those who pointed out that he was engaged in hateful “race baiting” of the kind that would naturally tend to incite hatred among blacks for whites and for LEOs.
Condemning a culture is not inciting hate. That is very important.
The context is that Dyson is referring to his condemnation of what he claims is the “culture” of the “white” race. Dyson’s op ed asserts that whites are “blind” and have no understanding of blacks. He also asserts that whites share a single, depraved “culture” that employs LEOs as our shock troops in our “war on blackness.” Dyson’s claim is that whites dominate police departments and cause LEOs, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, to embrace the white race’s murderous “culture,” particularly its “war on blackness.”
Dyson’s assertion that “condemning a culture is not inciting hate” is indeed a “very important” assertion. His assertion requires the strongest supporting logic and experience. Dyson provides no support. Dyson’s claim is particularly bizarre for a sociologist, for one of the most common means of “inciting hate” is to attack a group’s culture as depraved. Those “inciting hate” against gays love to attack the supposed gay “lifestyle.” Again, the implicit assertion is that a group shares a single, depraved, culture. Those “inciting hate” of blacks have repeatedly used this tactic, though the “sophisticated” version is to attack a black “subculture” (“thugs”) that supposedly shares a depraved set of cultural values. (The same tactic is used routinely in “inciting hate” against Jews and Muslims.) The natural consequence of Dyson’s claim that the white race is using police to wage a “war against blackness” was “inciting hate” against whites and LEOs.
Dyson knows this to be true. Indeed, his own op ed makes the claim – in two places – that the way “whites” are “inciting hate” against blacks and Muslims is by condemning their supposedly depraved “cultures.”
At birth, [whites] are given a pair of binoculars that see black life from a distance, never with the texture of intimacy. Those binoculars are privilege; they are status, regardless of your class.
Those binoculars are also stories, bad stories, biased stories, harmful stories, about how black people are lazy, or dumb, or slick, or immoral, people who can’t be helped by the best schools or even God himself. These beliefs don’t make it into contemporary books, or into most classrooms. But they are passed down, informally, from one white mind to the next.
Dyson is describing what he alleges are white racists’ tactics for “inciting hate” against blacks. He claims that whites are inculcated beginning “at birth” into a depraved culture. Further, Dyson claims that whites’ hatred and prejudice against blacks is so embedded in white culture that “at birth” every white person believes that blacks share a degenerate culture (“lazy, or dumb, or slick, or immoral”) that leads whites to define blacks as the depraved “others” to whom whites owe no social, moral, or ties or obligations. Dyson claims this “white” contempt and hate for blacks is transmitted “informally” through every generation through this depraved white culture.
Dyson’s op ed later described how “whites” purportedly invented a fictional, depraved Muslim culture as a means of “inciting hate” against Muslims. He then doubled down on the critical role of “culture” by ascribing “white” bigotry against Muslims as the product of the depraved nature of “white” “culture.”
[Whites] hold an entire population of Muslims accountable for the evil acts of a few. Yet you rarely muster the courage to put down your binoculars, and with them, your corrosive self-pity, and see what we see. You say religions and cultures breed violence stoked by the complicity of silence because peoples will not denounce the villains who act in their names.
Yet you do the same. You do not condemn these cops; to do so, you would have to condemn the culture that produced them — the same culture that produced you. Black people will continue to die at the hands of cops as long as we deny that whiteness can be more important in explaining those cops’ behavior than the dangerous circumstances they face.
You cannot know how we secretly curse the cowardice of whites who know what I write is true, but dare not say it. Neither will your smug insistence that you are different — not like that ocean of unenlightened whites — satisfy us any longer. It makes the killings worse to know that your disapproval of them has spared your reputations and not our lives.
Dyson pictures culture as something that defines an entire race’s (whites’) behavior and an entire race’s (blacks’) perspective. Dyson even condemned whites who “disapprov[ed]” of the bigotry of “that ocean of unenlightened whites.” Dyson said that “we” (blacks) “secretly curse” such whites. If you are white, Dyson decrees that you are damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
It is telling that Dyson removed these key passages quoted from his original op ed.
[T]he police are part of an undeclared war against blackness.
You can never admit that this is true. In fact, you deem the idea so preposterous and insulting that you call the black people who believe it racists themselves. In that case the best-armed man will always win.
These changes were obviously not the result of the op ed being “updated to reflect news developments” as Dyson claimed. Dyson realized after the Dallas ambush that he had written reprehensible things that could harm his reputation.
Both versions of Dyson’s op ed claim that whites, as a race, “hate” blacks and that Donald Trump is the authentic spokesman of the white race’s true racial hate.
You think we have been handed everything because we have fought your selfish insistence that the world, all of it — all its resources, all its riches, all its bounty, all its grace — should be yours first, and foremost, and if there’s anything left, why then we can have some, but only if we ask politely and behave gratefully.
So you demand the Supreme Court give you back what was taken from you: more space in college classrooms that you dominate; better access to jobs in fire departments and police forces that you control. All the while your resentment builds, and your slow hate gathers steam. Your whiteness has become a burden too heavy for you to carry, so you outsource it to a vile political figure who amplifies your most detestable private thoughts.
Dyson claims that Trump makes public the depraved “private thoughts” of the white race – growing racial hate for blacks and the determination to claim the white’s race’s exclusive right to “all” of the “world’s” “bounty.”
Dyson claims that whites believe it is “acceptable” for the police to execute blacks without trial and “for no good reason” because whites believe that “most of us are guilty anyway.”
You have decided that … [i]f the cops must kill us for no good reason, then so be it because most of us are guilty anyway. If the black person that they kill turns out to be innocent, it is an acceptable death, a sacrificial one.
Dyson ends by claiming that whites use LEOs as an instrument of “terror” against even the most honest and peaceful blacks. His metaphor is that LEOs act like raptors with guns who “swoop down” to murder blacks for “no good reason.” Dyson says that LEOs are the reason blacks are “afraid to walk the streets” of our cities.
You cannot know what terror we live in. You make us afraid to walk the streets, for at any moment, a blue-clad officer with a gun could swoop down on us to snatch our lives from us….
Wow. I’ll expand on these points throughout this series of articles and provide the data, but it gives Dyson’s race-baiting too much credence to even treat his torrent of racial hate and defamation as worthy of refutation. I’ll make only a few points here. First, there is no war against blackness by white Americans or LEOs. If there were, blacks would be annihilated.
Second, modern LEOs not only are not the shock troops in such a fictional race war. Modern LEOs risk their lives every day to save black lives – and have saved tens of thousands of black lives.
Third, policing, for at least 25 years, has embraced the idea that black lives matter. The era of “malign neglect” in policing was based on black lives not mattering. LEOs strongly support the end of malign neglect.
Fourth, the key to policing and race in the U.S. is the intersection of three demographic traits, not simply race. Criminal killings of blacks by LEOs is exceptionally uncommon. Indeed, it is rare. Criminal killings of elderly or female blacks by LEOs are beyond rare. Violent crimes are committed overwhelmingly by young males. Several of the most serious violent crimes are committed in extremely disproportionate numbers by young black males. Today, indeed for roughly 25 years, the number of black lives saved because of the end of malign neglect and the enormous reduction in violent crimes against blacks vastly exceeds the number of black lives lost due to criminal shootings of blacks by LEOs. The demographic group that experienced the greatest (net) number of lives saved due to this change in policing is young black males.
Fifth, this does not mean that structural racism has ended – see my earlier column describing well over a century of structural racism in policing – and it does not mean that LEOs are all free of bias against blacks. Indeed, that is the point. Even while structural racism continues in a number of areas of policing and our criminal “justice” system and even while many LEOs doubtless are biased against blacks, those same LEOs risk their lives on a daily basis to protect black lives. LEOs, as with all humans, are complicated and imperfect – but their training and the reason they became LEOs commonly leads them to do the right thing. The same is true of racially biased white firefighters and EMTs.
Sixth, it is not good for a LEO’s careers (and the same is true for firefighters and EMTs) to fail to protect and serve a civilian because they are black. It is terrible for a LEO’s career and the LEO’s standing with his or her peers to unjustifiably shoot any civilian, and that includes young black males with violent criminal records.
Seventh, we can do considerably better. We can produce the win-win-win-win discussed in my earlier columns. We can improve on the reductions in violent crimes and reduce the shooting of blacks by LEOs and the alienation of stop and frisk and “broken windows” policing regimes. We know that is true because people reflecting the full diversity of America have been working together for decades to develop, implement, evaluate, and continuously improve reforms not only to policing, but also a broad range of policies involving economics, mental health, and marriage designed to make black lives better. LEOs are frequently strong proponents of these reforms as are black community members active in the process. Dyson, as a sociologist, knows this to be true. There are enormous numbers of people of good will from every part of our diverse citizenry.
Dyson’s updated version of his op ed correctly states that there are “difficult truths we must address if we are to make real racial progress,” but both versions of his op ed spread a vile brew of blood libels and avoid discussing the “difficult truths” of crime, race, and policing.
“Garbled, Fictional Statistic[s]”
Dyson cannot be accused of providing “fictional statistics” because he provided no statistics. When a scholar asserts in a NYT op ed that LEOs and an entire race are engaged in a “war against blackness” he has a heavy burden of proof and a clear need to provide supporting statistics. Dyson had ample opportunity to present supporting statistics and presented none because as a sociologist he knew that the statistics falsified his assertion.
The statistic that the NYT editorial board tried to savage Giuliani’s for citing was an off-the-cuff remark in response to a live interview question.
“If I were a black father and I was concerned about the safety of my child, really concerned about it and not in a politically activist sense, I would say be very respectful to the police, most of them are good, some can be very bad and just be very careful,” he said. “I’d also say be very careful of those kids in the neighborhood, don’t get involved with them because son, there’s a 99 percent chance they’re going to kill you not the police.”
The editors hated both sentences of Giuliani’s response. They complained first of “Mr. Giuliani’s ludicrous suggestion that black people don’t know they need to be careful around cops.” Giuliani advice to parents is exactly the advice I gave our kids because I am a criminologist. LEOs want to be respected and some LEOs react very badly when they are disrespected. Giuliani, who knows LEOs, gave excellent advice by emphasizing that respect was the key.
The editorial board made two criticisms of Giuliani’s second sentence. First, they complained that he even dared to make the point that black kids are overwhelmingly killed by their neighbors, not LEOs.
How, we wonder, will the country ever get beyond its stunted discourse about racialized violence when people like Mr. Giuliani continue to try to change the subject?
Except that the statements that Giuliani made that they object to were responsive to the questions he was being asked and the subject he was invited to discuss in the passage they quote and attack. Far from being a diversion, the passage they attack was a directly responsive statement by Giuliani explaining a matter vital to understanding the intersection of crime, policing, and race.
Second, the editors complained that that he was making a “right wing talking point” focusing on the race of the perpetrators as a means of blaming blacks.
Mr. Giuliani’s garbled, fictional statistic echoes a common right-wing talking point about the prevalence of “black on black” violence in America. Homicide data do show that black victims are most often killed by black assailants.
The editorial board chose an odd portion of Giuliani’s remarks, some of which were worthy of criticism, to attack. Giuliani, did not use the term “black on black” violence in the passage attacked by the editorial board. What he said was very similar to Dyson’s phraseology in his op ed. “It is not best understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage.” Giuliani made the same point, the “carnage” in terms of deaths through violence of blacks is overwhelmingly inflicted by “neighbors.” More precisely, as Giuliani accurately explained, the carnage is inflicted by “kids in the neighborhood” – not LEOs. To be even more accurate, the overwhelmingly bulk of the violence against blacks is inflicted by their young, male neighbors.
The key point that Giuliani was making in this passage was not about the perpetrator’s race, but the victim’s race. Giuliani, in the passage attacked by the editorial board, was explaining to the interviewer why it was important to simultaneously adopt policing practices that would save black lives that would otherwise be lost to intentional murders by civilians (“neighbors”) and those lost due to police shootings. Giuliani was explaining that there was a win-win available when it came to policing practices.
It was the editorial board that “changed the subject” – not deliberately, but because it did not understand the issues. Giuliani, at least in this passage, did not “echo a common right-wing talking point.” Giuliani was making the point that if our goal is to save and enrich black lives by changing policing the overwhelming source of violence to black lives comes from deliberate, criminal assaults by civilians rather than LEOs. But he was also making the point that even if far fewer black lives were lost due to interactions with LEOs than with civilians, it was necessary for blacks and LEOs to work together to reduce those losses. He called, for example, for a policy of “zero tolerance” for abusive conduct by LEOs (and that included rudeness) towards civilians. (As with most criminologists, I am critical of “zero tolerance” policing, but the policy Giuliani was supporting was the opposite of “race-baiting.”)
The implication, which Giuliani made clear in other statements on the interview program was that building mutual cooperation among the black community and LEOs was essential. In other portions of the interview he acknowledged that improper police violence against blacks occurred and that it caused understandable alienation among the black community, making cooperation immensely difficult.
Giuliani’s “99 percent” “statistic” for homicides of blacks by civilians versus homicides of blacks by LEOs is inaccurate, but the “actual” statistics that I will discuss in detail in a later column conclusively demonstrates the validity of the substantive points that Giuliani was making – and everyone knows it, including the editorial board. In terms of statistical malpractice, he committed a trivial infraction common to everyone who tries to remember an obscure statistic in circumstances where we cannot look up the precise number.
For present purposes it is sufficient to know that civilian killings of blacks vastly outnumber the killing of blacks by LEOs. This is even more true if we add in suicides. Moreover, civilians overwhelmingly kill blacks intentionally with a criminal purpose. The ratio of cases in which civilians kill blacks deliberately for a criminal purpose (plus suicides) to cases in which LEOs deliberately kill blacks for a criminal purpose is contestable due the difficulty of convicting LEOs of such crimes and poor historical data on shootings of blacks by LEOs, but the ratio is enormous.
The accurate analytical point that Giuliani was making when he sought to recall the supporting statistic is one of a number of points that falsifies Dyson’s blood libel that the white race is using LEOs to wage a “war on blackness.” LEOs are overwhelmingly engaged in the defense of lives – they protect and serve regardless of race or any other characteristic. Over the last 25 years, LEOs (net) have saved tens of thousands of black lives and prevented hundreds of thousands of other violent assaults on blacks by ending the policing era of malign neglect.
The NYT editorial board ignored logic, reality, and data in publishing Dyson’s op ed and in its hypocritical refusal to criticize Dyson’s blood libels while seeking to savage Giuliani’s “garbled, fictional statistic” that turns out to be making an accurate and important point.
I quoted Dyson’s epic false equivalency above to explain the hypocrisy of his assertion that attacking a race’s purported depraved “culture” is not the same as “inciting hate.” Dyson’s false equivalency is that whites act “the same” as Muslims who refuse to condemn ISIS when it trumpets its pride in its latest, deliberate terrorist atrocities. Dyson says that the equivalency occurs whenever whites refuse to “condemn” LEOs upon learning that they have shot young black males. In context, his claim is that whites who refuse to “condemn” LEOs until a jury determines that the LEOs actions were unlawful or even improper are “the same” as Muslims who refuse to condemn ISIS for cheering the news that it has murdered, sometimes through torture, hundreds of men, women, and children because of their religion.
No, when ISIS publicly takes credit for, and trumpets its videos of its intentional individual or mass murders of the almost innumerable groups of people it hates, everyone has all the evidence necessary to know that the only possible reaction of any reasonable person is to condemn ISIS and its members and supporters as depraved. When a LEO shoots a black person in the course of his or her normal duties, there is rarely any sound basis for anyone – white or black – to know whether the shooting was justified without a proper investigation.
People who “condemn” the officer without the facts are not morally superior. It is remarkable that tens of millions of people think that because they watched a video recording of the aftermath of a shooting, which contains exculpatory rather than incriminating statements by the officer, they know he is guilty of murder. If you were the officer, or the officer’s colleagues, friends, and loved ones you would be appalled by that rush to “condemn” without knowing the facts logically required to condemn the LEO. Donald Trump routinely condemns people he dislikes without getting the facts. Trump’s condemnations routinely prove false and outrageous. The same people that, properly, condemn Trump for his condemnations are often doing the same thing when condemning, without the necessary facts, LEOs involved in shootings of blacks.
Dyson’s effort to demonize people who refuse to take Trump as their model for when it is appropriate to “condemn” someone as a criminal is reprehensible. Dyson’s claim that “white” people who refuse to condemn LEOs (and other subjects of investigations) as criminals before they get the facts necessary to know whether such condemnation is warranted act “the same” as people who refuse to condemn ISIS’s atrocities, which it boasts about and publicizes, is a clumsy false equivalency. The NYT editorial board scathingly condemned Giuliani for a statement he made that was not a false equivalency and gave Dyson a pass on a blatant false equivalency so odious that it constitutes a blood libel against an entire race.
Dyson’s false equivalency is more odious than constituting a blood libel. Dyson is demanding that all Americans “condemn” LEOs as criminals without the necessary facts, without listening to the LEO’s defense, and without any trial. Dyson demands this condemnation without the facts or any due process if the LEO shoots a black person. Dyson demands that we violate the spirit of our Constitution, particularly the amendments most essential to protecting the rights of black suspects in criminal cases. Indeed, he claims that any white person who opposes his demands that we end the rule of law for LEOs proves through his devotion to due process and equal protection of the law that he is a murderous racist.
The NYT editorial board condemned none of Dyson’s blood libels, false equivalencies, or failure to provide statistics to support his race-baiting. Instead, the editorial board issued a hypocritical condemnation of Giuliani. The editorial board botched even its attack on Giuliani by repeatedly misstating what he actually said and explained in the portions of the interview the editorial board quoted cited as purportedly being a “race-baiting” torrent of “defamation” against blacks relying on “false equivalencies.”