Ideological fanatics, and right-wingers in particular, often have some major problems with numbers. They either ignore them altogether, get them wrong, focus on the wrong numbers, or misconstrue their meaning or significance. We’ll cover all of that in more detail in a future article. But at the moment, let’s consider this one superb illustration of how such individuals tout numbers that don’t adequately tell the story.
This one comes to us courtesy of Larry Elder, one of a handful of prominent African-Americans who are hellbent on proving that you don’t have to be white to be a white supremacist. What he’s serving up here is a very, very common deflection. Any time there is some kind of social injustice that prompts outrage, you can expect people like this to chime in with “yeah, but whaddabout…”. Thus, in response to Black Lives Matter, we have Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and even, I kid you not, White Lives Matter.
All of which simply underscores the problem. Imagine holding a fundraiser for breast cancer and hearing people make comments like these: “Yeah, well what about lung cancer? Obviously you don’t care anything about that. Or prostate cancer? You clearly only care what happens to women. And what about diabetes? Guess you don’t care about all the other ways people die.” Just about anyone would find such utterances laughably absurd. And yet it’s quite similar to how people routinely respond, with a straight face, to incidents like the killing of George Floyd. Somehow they perceive that black lives are something apart from, or in competition with, blue lives, all lives and white lives. While denying that there’s any problem with racism.
One phrase that keeps popping up like a cork in a river is “black on black crime”. Why all the outrage, people ask, over black people being murdered by cops or white people when you have black people killing each other? Why don’t civil rights activists ever get on a soapbox about that?
First of all, the whole concept of “black on black crime” is largely a red herring. Most criminals, whatever their ethnicity, commit crimes against the people they are most in contact with. Second, it’s just not true that anti-racism activists are not concerned about “black on black crime”. Many of them have spoken out about it in no uncertain terms.
But let’s get back to the problem that Elder and many others have with ideological innumeracy. Even taking his figures at face value, it’s clear that he neglects (deliberately?) to take into account the crucial matter of proportionality. According to the 2010 census, there are just about 6 times as many Caucasian Americans as African-Americans (72.4 percent to 12.6 percent). So applying some very rudimentary algebra, we see that an unarmed black was nearly THREE TIMES as likely to be killed by police as an unarmed white in 2019. Elder doesn’t seem to realize that the numbers he offers are undermining his own twisted argument.
The other statistic (of sorts) that he throws out is that more cops are killed than unarmed blacks. True. And some of those cops, let’s point out again, are black. How does this change anything? Police are killed by bad guys. Does that justify them being bad guys themselves? Law enforcement is a dangerous profession, and there are going to be casualties. The people who kill cops are brought to justice if at all possible. Being a civilian is not a profession at all (which is why the concept of “blue lives” as opposed to “black lives” is nonsensical). And a civilian who interacts with police in a non-confrontational manner should never expect to lose his or her life in the process. And when one does, quite often those responsible are not brought to justice if it can be avoided — particularly if the victim is black.
Statistics are illuminating, and what happened last year is interesting. But George Floyd was killed this year, and he is not just a statistic. He was a human being who was treated as no one should ever be treated. And he was not unique in that regard. His death comes on the heels of several similar deaths — at the hands of police and at the hands of armed white vigilantes. Thus the protests. And thus the irony of trying desperately and irrelevantly to compare him to whatever people can come up with in an effort to establish that his senseless killing was no big deal.
(This piece was written as part of my series, Bad Meme Of The Week, which is an exclusive on my Patreon page. But because of its timeliness, I am sharing it here as well.)