By Leonard Jayawardena –
Death of George Floyd and its aftermath
All through the past many weeks we have witnessed through the media scenes of the Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations that erupted in the wake of the death of an African American named George Floyd in the U.S., starting from the city of Minessota, where the 46-year-old was killed by a policeman, and then spreading to more than 2,000 other U.S. cities and hundreds of cities around the world at a rate that even Covid-19 would envy. We have also seen disturbing scenes of the violence, destruction and looting that punctuated the protests at levels not seen in the U.S. for decades. To date more than more than 25 people have died during the protests, the majority due to gunshot wounds. Reportedly, the death toll includes police officers. Thousands have been injured, including hundreds of police officers, some of them seriously. The losses caused by vandalism and looting have not yet been estimated. Statues and other public monuments have been vandalised, some of them reportedly even belonging those who campaigned for the abolition of slavery! Our eyes also have been blessed to see the circus freak sideshow called “Chop” (acronym for “Capitol Hill Organized [or Occupied] Protest”) in Seattle, Washington, changed from the earlier name of “Chaz” (“Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone”).
The U.S. protestors believe that police brutality unequally targets African Americans, that the police present a danger to blacks and that there is systemic (or institutional) racism in the U.S. police in particular and more generally in all spheres of American society. They demand “justice” for certain blacks killed in encounters with the police, including Floyd, and their solution to police brutality is reflected in the slogan “Defund the Police” seen on protest placards.
BLM movement and its development
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) organisation was founded in the US in 2013 in response to a jury acquiting a police officer charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter of a 17-year-old black youth named Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012. Following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans, Michael Brown in the U.S. city of Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City, the organisation became nationally recognized for street demonstrations. Since then the participants in the movement have been involved in demonstrations against the deaths of numerous other blacks by police actions and/or in police custody.
The professed mission of the movement is “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes,” according to its official website. It believes that blacks are “systematically targeted for demise” and there is “systemic racism” against them. This organisation is now a part of a coalition of groups subscribing to the same views and having a broader objective of bringing about other policy changes (political, economic and social) that it considers necessary for “black liberation.” They advocate for, inter alia, “economic justice” (=”socialism”), black illegal migrants (whom they euphemistically term “undocumented folks”), fully state-funded education, lgbtq+ rights, an end to immigration detention, an end to “the war on drugs,” the release of virtually all prisoners from jails, an “end to all jails” (!) and more. All the groups that form part of this broader coalition, called “Movement for Black Lives” (M4BL), are anti-capitalist and leftist/Marxist in their ideology. They are now well organised and funded.
The mainstream media such as the CNN and the BBC with their patently biased coverage have been supportive of the BLM protests, having bought into the BLM narrative about systemic racism in the police and the U.S. in general. They have always been at pains to describe the protests as “peaceful” or, at least, “largely peaceful,” suppressing or glossing over the violence and destruction that accompanied them. It is sad to note that all the contributors to this journal who touched on the protests have written approvingly of them, with callous regard of the additional deaths, mayhem and destruction that resulted from them. Some even seemed to think it would be a good thing if similar protests were replicated in our country too. (Our own leftist outfit FSP did try to get a piece of the action, but were cut short but police intervention.)
Bu what is the truth? Do the relevant facts and statistics corroborate the grievances and claims of these groups?
Blacks more likely to be killed by cops because they commit crime at higher rates
According to a 2018 study published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.), based on data from 2013 to 2018, the risk of black men and boys being killed by the police over the life course is about 1 in 1000 while white men and boys face a lifetime risk of about 39 per 100,000. (The actual numbers of whites killed yearly are consistently higher than for other races/ethnic groups, because the whites constitute about 72% of the U.S. population.) Therefore blacks are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police over the life course than are white men. Black women are about 1.4 times more likely to be killed by the police than are white women.
The study also presents risk figures for other U.S. minorities, according to which American Indian men and women are also more likely to be killed by the police than white men and women and Latino men are more likely to be killed than white men but Latino women are less likely to be killed than white women. Interestingly, the study states, “Both Asian/Pacific Islander men and women are more than 50% less likely to be killed by police than are white men and women, respectively.” (Yes, you saw it right: We brownies from Sri Lanka, India, etc. are less likely to be killed by the U.S. police than the white folk!) According to the findings of the study, the highest levels of inequality in mortality risk are experienced by black men with the risk peaking between the ages 25 and 29.
The above figures correlate well with the crime rates of the various racial/ethnic groups in the U.S. According to the crime statistics for 2017 released by the U.S. Department of Justice, the whites, who form 72.4% of the population (as per 2010 estimate), accounted for 68.9% of those arrested for crimes. Blacks/African Americans, who form 12.6% of the population, accounted for 27.2% of the arrests. Blacks were the subject of arrest in 53.1% of the murders/nonnegligent manslaughters while whites represented 44.2% of the arrests for those same crimes in 2017. These figures indicate that blacks have rates of arrest disproportionate with their numbers in the population and hence correspondingly disproportionately high levels of encounters with the police, which explains the disproportionately high levels in the mortality risk of blacks.
It may be objected that the high arrest rates of blacks could be interpreted as the police being racist. However, descriptions of offenders by victims of crime generally corroborate crime statistics by race/ethnicity, which rules out police bias.
The high crime rates of blacks and certain other racial/ethnic minorities in the U.S. have also been the rationale for the (controversial) practice of “racial profiling” by the police, which is “the act of suspecting or targeting a person on the basis of assumed characteristics or behavior of a racial or ethnic group, rather than on individual suspicion.” Hispanic an Latino Americans, too, are subjects of racial profiling in the investigation of illegal immigration. Since 9/11 U.S. muslims, too, have reportedly been subjected to racial profiling. (Once upon a time, Sri Lanka, too, had its own racial profiling when Tamils in the south were stopped, searched and “harassed” in the streets during the time of the war with the LTTE. That was because at that time, while not all Tamils were terrorists, all terrorists were Tamils!)
Blacks not more likely to be killed by white cops
Another study titled “Officer characteristics and racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings” (2019) published in PNAS says, “There is widespread concern about racial disparities in fatal officer-involved shootings and that these disparities reflect discrimination by White officers. … We find no evidence of anti-Black or anti-Hispanic disparities across shootings, and White officers are not more likely to shoot minority civilians than non-White officers.”
The foregoing facts and stats give the lie to the Black Lives Matter movement’s accusations of systemic racism againt the U.S. police. Black cops also kill blacks in police actions–some say that blacks are more likely to killed by black policemen than by white ones–but it is only when a white cop kills a black suspect that it becomes a racism issue. In view of these facts, the current BLM slogan with a parenthetical addition would produce a more accurate slogan: “Black Lives Matter (only when a black is killed by a white policeman).”
Statistically, a white person has a higher probability of being killed in the U.S. by a non-white than than a black has of being killed by a non-black. Whites would not attribute this to any racist attitudes towards them by non-white minorities, but to the higher crime rates of minorities generally. Similarly, blacks with their highest crime rates have the highest fatal encounters with the police.
Some instructive videos
There is an interesting video captioned “THIS is What Happens When Protestors are Confronted with Data and Facts” on the YouTube channel “The Daily Wire,” in which a group of BLM marchers respond with incredulity, denial and unprintable language when informed, inter alia, that more whites are killed by the police every year than blacks and that white police officers are not more likely to kill blacks than their non-white colleagues. These empty-headed, emotion-driven protesters clearly have no knowledge of the pertinent facts and stats, and are the brainwashed products of a leftist academia, entertainment industry and media, which promote a false narrative of systemic racism against blacks in the U.S., a culture of victimhood and “white priviledge.”
It is interesting that the “peaceful” BLM protestors (“peaceful” if you disregard the immense inconvenience other users of the roads and public places have been subjected to and the losses to businesses by the protesters’ presence) were mostly young white men and women, which no doubt at least partly is a reflection of their demographic, while most looters appeared to be black! The Corona pandemic also seems to have done its part in being an accessory to swelling the numbers of protestors everywhere through mass unemployment resulting from the lockdowns (Idle hands are the devil’s workshop?). Social distancing rules relating to the ongoing Corona pandemic were flouted as thousands turned out for these demonstrations.
For a case similar to George Floyd’s but not involving a black man, see this video. No outcries of racism by BLM groups then.
In this video a 75-year- old white man is pushed and knocked down in the street as he blocks the path of policemen during Floyd protests. No prices for guessing what the BLM’s reaction would have been had it been a black old man (or a black of any age for that matter).
In this video retired Sheriff David Clarke, a vociferous black critic of the BLM movement, expresses his views.
Is defunding the police the answer?
The Floyd incident has given rise to calls for “defunding” the police, which goes beyond just reforming the U.S. police. In its least radical form defunding means reallocating some of the funds from police departements to social programs (poverty alleviation, violence-prevention programs, etc.) and other agencies to reduce their contact with the public to reduce the likelihood of police violence. As an example for the latter, it is argued that mental health calls by the public should be responded to by trained mental-health and medical professionals, not armed police, as is done now. But the public make such calls in the first place because the mental patient is experiencing behavioural-health issues with the potential for violence, which a doctor or a nurse is unable to handle. The concept of defunding the police exists on a spectrum and in its most radical form it means disbanding the police, with defunding an initial step towards creating an entirely different model of community-led public safety. But proponents of this idea are lacking in specifics as to what alternative model would replace the police as presently constituted. The reality is that whatever replaces the present police, if it is to be effective, would still have to be a police “by any other name.”
The “defundists” of various hues are motivated by, at best, a naive utopian idealism and, at worst, by a tolerance of criminality. The utopians are naively ignorant of the fact that human nature is intrinsically evil and that, while a few would do what is right because it is what is right, there are many who need coercion. Can you imagine, for example, what would happen if there were only traffic rules but no traffic cops to monitor and enforce them? There are those who would try to reduce police contact with the police (and thereby reduce the potential for a violent outcome) by decriminalising some of what are presently criminal offences but do not involve violence. Floyd’s case, where he was trying to pass a fake 20 dollar bill, is held out as an example. As mentioned above, BLM movement, among other things, demand an “end to the war on drugs.”
Fears of unrest fueled by the Corona pandemic saw Americans buying guns and ammunition at record rates this year. Fears of personal safety caused by the protests that, at times, descended into riots, arson and looting in cities across the United States, coupled with the rise of the movement to defund the police, have resulted in a further spike in gun and ammunition sales, with first-time buyers accounting for about 40% of the sales according to a survey conducted in May (source: CNN). When the citizens of a country feel that the state cannot protect them, they take steps to defend themselves. More and more Americans now are realizing the value and importance of the second amendment to the U.S. constitution, which guarantees the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms.
President Donald Trump has signed an executive order outlining several police reforms (e.g., investing more in training, creating a database to trace abuses by police officers) while rejecting calls to defund or dismantle the police. While there may be a place for police reforms, considering that virtually all police shootings are the result of criminal suspects’ resisting arrest, it is they who are in need of reform. When citizens are brought up in a culture of disrespect against the police and law enforcement, fatal shootings by police officers, even of unarmed suspects, is one consequence. The Floyd incident was a clear-cut case of police brutality and no defence can be offered for that. All four officers involved have since been fired and criminally charged. But other high-profile deaths of blacks in police encounters which sparked off earlier rounds of BLM protests were different and involved the suspects turning violent. For example, the death of Rayshard Brooks on 12 June, which led to another spate of BLM protests, was entirely due to the suspect violently resisting arrest and subsequently grabbing an officer’s taser and firing at him. (Videos of the incident are available on the internet and the readers can judge for themselves.) A not insignificant number of policmen, too, die every year in encounters with criminals.
It behooves the Black Lives Matter folk to look inwards and find solutions within their own community, such as teaching their children to be cooperative and respectful with the police, not resist arrest, take responsibility for their own lives and actions avoiding bad life choices, and addressing the culture of violence prevalent in their community, rather than attempting to reform the rest of society.
Is there systemic racism in the U.S.?
Slavery was abolished in the U.S. in 1865 after a bloody civil war. In 1868, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution gave black people equal protection under the law. In 1870, the 15th amendment granted black Americans the right to vote. Major civil rights legislation in the 1960s removed remaining discriminatory laws in existence against black Africans at that time and ensured equality with whites. Since the 60s the black middle class has grown tremendously and presently middle-class to upper-class black households constitute about 55% of total black households (source: U.S. Census Bureau). Blacks are represented in all professions and in certain sports they dominate. There are affirmative action laws in place in favour of minorities in respect of education and employment. Blacks are well represented politically and, to cap it all, a black American, Barack Obama, became President of the United States in 2008 and was reelected four years later, though blacks form only about 13% of the total U.S. population. (No other majority-white country has ever elected a black man as president.)
Despite all this progress the black underclass continues to define black America in the view of much of the public in America and the world outside. Many assume blacks live in ghettos or “inner cities” in America, where there is “poverty” and rampant crime, but in fact most black do not. (The word ‘poverty’ put within inverted commas because it is “poverty” by American standards. U.S. welfare programs pay enough to ensure that no one has to go hungry and, in theory at least, to raise them above their “poverty” standard. The worst-looking ghettos of America are nothing like the slums of third world countries and look far more decent than the shabby flats you see in some places in Colombo.)
Black Africans who migrate to the U.S. do better in every way than the native black Africans. It is a fact that the number of black Africans who have voluntarily migrated to America far exceed the number of Africans who were brought in as slaves. In terms of education and per capita income, Asian Americans perform better than even white Americans. The crime rates of Asian Americans as a percentage of their population is far lower than for African Americans (crime statistics for 2017).
Notwithstanding, some hold that there is systemic racism which is oppressing and keeping black Africans down and the mainstream media perpetuate it. There are many black Americans, including those who have risen from “poverty” to wealth and social prominence, who reject this narrative while acknowledging that racism still does exist at the individual level. It exist among blacks, too, as many whites would witness!
Forgotten factor of class
A much overlooked factor in discussions of discrimination is class. Perspicacious Americans understand that class can be a more important factor in how you are treated by others, including the police. The law enforcement and the criminal justice system in the U.S., as everywhere else in the world, are partial to social status, wealth and political power. Jesse Smollet, a wealthy and famous black actor, who claimed that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in 2019, but was exposed later, is a case in point. Smollett was charged by a grand jury with a class 4 felony for filing a false police report. Subsequently, all charges filed against Smollett were dropped by Kim Foxx, the black female state attorney of the Cook County, Illinois–allegedly under the influence of calls from important politicians and celebrities–with Judge Steven Watkins, another black, ordering the public court file sealed. On the other hand, a black youth who enters a store outlandishly and disreputably dressed may be treated with suspician by the store’s staff but may incorrectly attribute this to “racism.”
Is George Floyd a hero and martyr?
Floyd has become an emblem for alleged systemic racism in the police and American society in general. Protesters worldwide have attached themselves to this symbol to draw attention to similar fake causes in their respective countries. Floyd was arrested for passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. He had a history of crime and several jail sentences under his belt at the time of his arrest. In 2007 he was charged with armed robbery in a home invasion, for which he served a five year jail sentence. His criminal record also included five convictions related to theft, possession and trade of cocaine. The autopsy conducted on Floyd revealed that at the time of his arrest he was intoxicated with several drugs, including Fentanyl. During his arrest offered some resistance but not of a violent sort according to the available evidence.
Floyd’s criminal past and the circumstances leading to his arrest in no way mitigate the brutality of the police action, but to elevate such a man to the level of a hero and martyr by such actions as proposing to name streets after him, as has happened in some places, is unwarranted. If you want a black martyr and hero, take a look at David Dorn, a seventy-seven-year old black retired police officer who was shot dead by the rioters in St. Louis on 2 June while he was trying to protect his friend’s pawn shop (owned by another black) from looters during Floyd protests.