Is America a nation broken beyond repair?
I recently found myself pondering this question, and I’m sure many of you have, as well…
To great concern, protests and riots have broken out across the United States this week. Stores have been looted, buildings set ablaze, and innocents assaulted in the streets.
America, of course, has seen this kind of story play out before. Police brutality is nothing new, and when the focus is placed on race, resentment and anger over America’s embarrassing history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination tends to boil to the surface.
What we’ve witnessed over the last week, however, seems in many ways distinct from the localized outrage that we’ve experienced in similar scenarios. This time, something is different.
When Rodney King was violently beaten by LAPD police officers in 1991, it was only Los Angeles that fell into chaos. When Freddy Gray died in police custody in 2015, riots were isolated to Baltimore.
Yet today, we’re watching widespread outrage across the entire country, and you’d be pressed to name a single major U.S. city that’s been left unscathed.
In the past, protests around police brutality have also been triggered in the absence of perceived or expected justice. In the case of Rodney King, riots broke out when the involved officers were acquitted. And in the case of Freddy Gray, the officers involved had only been suspended with pay and it was initially unclear if they would face any repercussions.
Yet in the case of George Floyd, Derek Chauvin — the officer videotaped nonchalantly kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes — and the three other officers involved, were fired almost immediately. There was no question whether Chauvin and his fellow officers would be forsaken by the Minneapolis Police Department, and they were all eventually charged.
Yet despite the fact that, by all indications, justice was on a prevailing course, anger continued to grow over the last week, as did the size and scope of protests across the entire nation.
The narrative from the mainstream media, meanwhile, continued on autopilot: George Floyd was killed because the U.S. is a systemically racist country, where police officers disproportionately target black Americans.
The irony of this narrative, though, is that and there was an immediate bipartisan consensus across the country that this was an unjustified police killing. Even Rush Limbaugh, who once called Black Lives Matter a terrorist group, characterized the killing of George Floyd as “unjustified,” saying he was “sickened” by Chauvin’s “criminal brutality.”
This, of course, does not erase America’s long history of racial injustices, nor does it discount any legitimate instances of racism happening today, but it does prove that when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing, America will not hesitate to take the side of a black man over a white police officer. Not in 2020.
So why, then, when justice for George Floyd was seemingly on course and virtually every American was in agreement that this was an unjustified killing, did chaos still erupt across the entire country?
Well, the question doesn’t lend itself to an easy or straightforward answer, but let’s consider a few reasons:
First, the media has proven intent on perpetuating the narrative of “systemic police racism,” regardless of whether or not this is supported by facts and data.
As Heather MacDonald of the Wall Street Journal pointed out earlier this week:
In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops last year (235), a ratio that has remained stable since 2015. That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects. In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, 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…
…The latest in a series of studies undercutting the claim of systemic police bias was published in August 2019 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers found that the more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the greater the chance that a member of that group will be fatally shot by a police officer. There is ‘no significant evidence of antiblack disparity in the likelihood of being fatally shot by police,’ they concluded.
Unfortunately, this kind of in-depth data analysis holds little weight when going toe-to-toe with intense emotions like outrage and fear. Corporate media knows this, so they stir the pot to drum up controversy, garnering precious advertising revenue through views and clicks. At the end of the day, it’s all about the bottom line.
To be clear, this isn’t to disregard the fact that there is a very real and concerning disparity between black and white America and how commonly these groups are having violent altercations with the police. This disparity may not be because of “systemic police racism,” but it is certainly a byproduct America’s shameful history surrounding race.
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This speaks to a second contributing factor we need to consider for the intense protests we’ve witnessed over the last week, and that’s legitimate feelings of anger and powerlessness from many black Americans surrounding their current status in society.
These feelings are real, whether or not they are being misdirected by certain subgroups and individuals. You can’t simply explain them away with data; you need to find a solution for the conditions manifesting them.
Thirdly, the timing of these protests should not be taken out of context. We just spent the last several months under a near nationwide lockdown, spiraling headfirst into an economic depression. Black Americans in particular have reported being furloughed and laid off at higher rates, so the unrest we’re witnessing may be a metaphorical canary in the coal mine for the rest of America.
Of course, this could all blow over after everyone vents their frustrations and the news cycle moves onto the next battleground, but with the election approaching, there is considerable risk that tensions will only get worse from here.
One thing that we’ve seen over the last week is that the people showing up at these protests are not all there for a unified purpose. You have many peaceful protesters who have legitimate gripes with police brutality, but you also have opportunistic rioters and agitators with nefarious political motives.
This latter group has learned that they can wield the history of racism in America as both a shield and weapon. In a case of glaring hypocrisy, they’re attempting to co-opt BLM protests for their own selfish reasons.
For the provocateurs, it’s not about racial justice or truth; it’s about claiming power, and they mean to take it through physical violence and social manipulation.
The problem for them, of course, is that they’re armed with bricks and they’re up against a madman with the might of the most powerful military force in history at his disposal. The harder they push, the more justified he will feel in pushing back.
Then again, maybe that’s the whole point.
Until next time, Jason Stutman
Until next time,