Trayvon Martin

Mark was foolish enough to invite me to join the crew here some time back.  I admire him, and the rest, for their ability to turn out worthwhile thinking on so many fronts so regularly.  I haven’t the gene.  But I will try to weigh in occasionally where I do have something to add, which will be mostly in my own area of community and public safety.

Here’s one such.

There’s a conservative argument gaining ground around Trayvon Martin’s killing that American blacks shouldn’t be taking it so seriously because the real threat of violence against blacks is internal.  Here’s one such from Pat Buchanan, continuing an honorable tradition of explaining to the black community why it can’t understand its own interests:

From listening to cable channels and hearing Holder, Sharpton, Jealous and others, one would think the great threat to black children today emanates from white vigilantes and white cops.

Hence, every black father must have a “conversation” with his son, warning him not to resist or run if pulled over or hassled by a cop.

Make the wrong move, son, and you may be dead is the implication.

But is this the reality in Black America?

When Holder delivered his 2009 “nation-of-cowards” speech blaming racism for racial separation, Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald suggested that our attorney general study his crime statistics.

In New York from January to June 2008, 83 percent of all gun assailants were black, according to witnesses and victims, though blacks were only 24 percent of the population. Blacks and Hispanics together accounted for 98 percent of all gun assailants. Forty-nine of every 50 muggings and murders in the Big Apple were the work of black or Hispanic criminals.

A lot of Buchanan’s raw stats are correct (the statement in his piece about drug use  is not - survey work shows that white kids both use drugs and commit other crimes at somewhat higher rates than black kids).  Gun violence is heavily concentrated in poor black communities, and violent victimization is universally committed primarily against one’s own race and ethnic group, because it is primarily committed against people one has relationships with, and most people mostly have relationships within their own group.

But this line of argument misses one vital point. African Americans are the only US group which routinely finds its members killed by law enforcement and those aping law enforcement (Zimmerman) for no good reason, which killings are subjected to close judicial review, upon which they are told that those killings are OK.  And they are the only US group in which this killing, and the support of that killing by the state, is a continued playing out of a long and vile history of state-sanctioned violence and oppression.

They don’t like it.

The most profound truth I’ve found from working in and with black communities around these issues – violence, police abuse, mass incarceration, racial profiling – is that white folks look at incidents and ask, was this (stop, arrest, frisk, police shooting, instance of standing one’s ground) justified?  Black folks look at history, and ask, why do you keep doing this to us?  It is a very good question, and there is no good answer.

74 thoughts on “Trayvon Martin”

  1. Amazing as it is given the hours of commentary,there is one point that I have not heard discussed. Martin knew he was being followed by someone he found “creepy”. Martin had a cell phone. Why didn’t he call the police? Had his parents advised him to call or not? Did they all have that much suspicion of the police that they thought it would be useless? Did the teenage boy think that was wimpy?
    We cannot know what Trayvon thought, but we can learn what his parents had advised him to do and what other black parents advise their sons to do. Maybe we can even get statistics.

    1. It’s worth noting he was trotting home; he’d be safe in his living room (or not, as it turns out) before any cops could arrive.

      1. Still can’t accept that the prosecution lost that case, can you? He was trotting home until he doubled back and assaulted Zimmerman. Now, if he had continued trotting home, he’d likely be alive today.

        1. Oh, holy shiz! You saw that whole thing go down? You saw that boy haul up and bang George? Why didn’t YOU call the cops and get in there and TESTIFY! Brother George might never have had to run the gauntlet if only you had enough spine to stand yo ground and speak the TROOOOOOOOOOTH!

          1. You act as though there weren’t an actual trial, where all this stuff got argued out, in far greater detail than MSM accounts.

          2. I sometimes can’t help but feed the trolls.

            Brett, you fucking jackass! Zimmerman didn’t testify. There is no way his story could have been heard in front of the jury, because he was the only possible witness for the story. It was designed as prolefeed, for fools like you.

        2. Sure. Since O’Mara told us that a teenager can run a four minute mile (Next he will be Paul Ryan’s lawyer), Trayvon could have gotten home and led the possible pedophile to the 12 year old.

          1. Brett acts as though a jury had convicted Martin, beyond a reasonable doubt, of assault. It’s your tone of absolutely certainty that makes your post so ridiculous.

        3. Dispatcher: Are you following him?

          Zimmerman: Yeah.

          Dispatcher: OK, we don’t need you to do that.

          =====
          http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-03-24/news/os-trayvon-martin-neighborhood-watch-20120321_1_zimmerman-community-ties-neighborhood-watch
          Chris Tutko, director of Neighborhood Watch for the National Sheriffs’ Association, said Zimmerman broke some cardinal rules.

          First, he approached a stranger he suspected of wrongdoing.

          “If you see something suspicious, you report it, you step aside and you let law enforcement do their job,” Tutko said. “This guy went way beyond the call of duty. At the least, he’s overzealous.”

          Second, Zimmerman carried a handgun. Police departments and sheriff’s offices that train volunteers advise them never to carry weapons — though Zimmerman broke no laws by doing so because he has a concealed-weapons permit.

          “There’s no reason to carry a gun,” Tutko said.
          =====

  2. I think you’ve raised a very important point, David, and you’ve nailed it!

    I find it illustrative to apply Heather Mac Donald’s suggestion to terrorism. Study the murder stats, and you’ll see that the vast majority of homicides against U.S. citizens are perpetrated by other U.S. citizens, and only a slim minority are done by outsiders. And like the black community, as a nation we abhor murder no matter who does it, but we react differently when it comes from outside the group, however relatively rarely that occurs.

    Black folks look at history, and ask, why do you keep doing this to us? I agree that there are no good answers. Historically, the (quite horrible) answer has been “because we can”. Those days are coming to an end. As a group, we white folks need to wise up and smell the reality of our inevitable future status as a minority, before it’s too late to lose the weight we used to need to throw around.

    1. There’s another parallel. American citizens know how to navigate the dangers of their own communities; terrorism is unpredictable and unmanageable, and therefore terrifying. Black folks know how to navigate the dangers of their own communities but cannot escape the police or predict and manage something like a George Zimmerman. By Buchanan’s logic, white folks should not worry about spree shootings. Try telling them they don’t understand their own situations.

      1. Of course white folks should not be worried about spree shootings, no one should be. No one should go around fearing terrorism either. After the Boston Bombings a major newspaper proclaimed that a national sense of security had been shattered. I always knew people had trouble managing base rates, but geez, a national sense of security shattered? Really?

        Mr. Kennedy claims that the police are routinely killing black men for no reason and getting away with it. I don’t believe this for a second. There are certainly bad cops out there, but how many do you really think are out risking their jobs, money, and freedom to kill black men for no reason? It makes absolutely no sense. The better explanation for LEO’s killing large numbers of African American men is that African American men are much more violent and dangerous than the average American, which is a statistically demonstrable reality. If African Americans are living by the gun more commonly, the truly concerning thing would be if the police were NOT killing them more than they were killing other people (which would be concrete evidence of pro-black racism).

        Regarding the instant case, you don’t really know whether or not Mr. Martin was killed for a good reason, the only person who knows that is Mr. Zimmerman. We can know that Mr. Zimmerman at best behaved in a childish, reckless and stupid manner, but if all he did was get out of his car and walk up the sidewalk behind Mr. Martin and then get jumped or ambushed then oh well. Sometimes when you are applying potentially lethal force to someones head, you get shot. If Mr. Martin, or Mr. Zimmerman, or even Dakota Fanning were causing that kind of damage to my head, I would take their life without a second thought. Sometimes when you are gangbanging and evading and pulling guns on people the police end up shooting you. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone. If anyone should be outraged about anything in the Zimmerman case, it should be the national policy of ensuring that every moron who wants a gun can get one. No one should be enraged that a man who may or may not have been guilty was acquitted.

        1. “If anyone should be outraged about anything in the Zimmerman case, it should be the national policy of ensuring that every moron who wants a gun can get one.”

          You know, so that the next time someone is applying potentially lethal force to somebody’s head for no good reason, the right guy ends up dead…

          I can see opposing gun ownership, as misguided as it might be. Opposing it on the basis of justified self defense? That’s equivalent to saying you wanted Martin to succeed in beating Zimmerman to death.

          1. This sounds to me like you believe that Martin killing Zimmerman would be a worse crime than Zimmerman killing Martin. Are you suggesting that Martin was the “right” guy and that if Zimmerman had not been armed then the “wrong” guy would have been killed.

            This ignores the right point that if Zimmerman had not been armed he would most definitely have not confronted Martin and the incident would have never played out.

          2. Zimmerman killing Martin was no crime at all, which is why he was acquitted. Zimmerman killing Martin was self defense, which is both legal and moral. And yes, I do precisely believe that, if somebody is going to die during an assault, it is better that it be the attacker than their chosen victim.

            Would have been nice if nobody died that night, but, yeah, if somebody had to, the right one did.

          3. Almost Brett, but no. I do not believe Mr. Zimmerman would have gotten out of the car and followed Mr. Martin on foot if he was not armed at the time. He was suffering from a disease which afflicts all men to some extent, and to which the morally cretinous and intellectually limited are especially prone: Metal dick syndrome. Concerning your certainty that Mr. Zimmerman was innocent, I have no idea where you could be getting that from. Were you there? It is quite possible that Mr. Zimmerman gave Mr. Martin cause to fear for his life before the physical confrontation, which would make Mr. Zimmerman a murderer. The forensic evidence only demonstrates that Mr. Zimmerman’s life was in danger, it does NOT demonstrate that the danger was undeserved. Zimmerman had to walk because he was not clearly guilty, not because he was clearly innocent.

          4. Brett, answer the fricking question: if Martin, who was stalked in the dark of night by a man larger than him and carrying a deadly weapon, had killed that man, with his own deadly weapon or by any other means, would you consider that to be self-defense?

            And, no, despite your best efforts to lie to everyone and presumably to yourself, we do not know what happened that night. We know that six jurors (one of them a publicly confessed idiot) agreed there was evidence consistent with Martin assaulting his armed stalker, and that this consistent evidence supplied reasonable doubt, enough to say that maybe the actions of Martin’s killer met the legal definition of self defense. That hardly proves the story to be true – it only means it cannot be proven untrue. One reason it cannot be proven untrue is that the only other possible witness was shot to death.

            And: imagine that rather than carrying his 9mm instant-ubermensch-kit Zimmerman had been carrying an air horn, or pepper spray. No-one would be dead, and the person you clearly see as the baddie here would be in prison.

            PS Brett, given the tone of your comments here: please tell us you haven’t taken to patrolling your neighborhood at night, firearm clutched in your sweaty hands, seeking obvious wrongdoers who need to be taught a lesson.

          5. I don’t accept the premise, that he was being stalked, which is a word that means far more than being followed. So I’m not going to answer a question incorporating counter-factual premises in it’s phrasing.

            Yeah, I know you want to paint this picture of Martin being chased through the dark streets by an armed maniac, and finally concluding his only chance of survival was to take him down before he was shot. Utter BS. Not going to humor your fantasy.

          6. What gets me is that racist white America thinks that Zimmerman was going to die from losing a fistfight. Martin didn’t know Zimmerman– he had no motive to murder him, just to defeat him. And a spontaneous fistfight is not all that big a deal to most 17 year olds. They certainly don’t think of it as potentially fatal.
            But blacks are scary, so Zimmerman was defending his life.

          7. Brett, in a dark, rainy night the young Mr. Martin was being shadowed by a SUV – hard to miss a light truck moving with you at walking pace. Then the driver, a big guy, got out of the car and came after him on foot, holding something – something Martin may have correctly feared was a deadly weapon. But it’s your contention that for Martin to add all that up and fear for his life is an absurd hypothetical, to characterize it as “stalking” is “counter-factual”. I promise you, if someone does the same to your kid when they’re 16, you will be less complacent.

            Meanwhile, inferring the obvious fears from the above recitation of uncontested facts is to you “counter-factual”, it’s a “fantasy” you won’t humor – but you’re awfully certain that you know exactly what happened in the confrontation between Martin and his killer. You’re certain that Martin attacked unprovoked and with no reasonable fear for his life (no other possibility is to be “humored”), and you see no guilt, let alone culpability, in Martin’s killer’s decision to shadow him in his car and then seek to confront him armed and on foot.

            Tell the truth: you’re glad Martin is dead. You fantasize about doing the same, someday. Maybe someday soon.

          8. Toasters, fistfights are absolutely potentially lethal, especially when beating of the head is involved. I am familiar with your comments and so I know that you are an intelligent person, and so I would simply encourage you to reflect on what you must already know about head trauma. Could be nothing, could be a sawed open skull, shunts, death, you just don’t know until 3 days later. If you were on top of me, had broken my nose and had forced the back of my head open against concrete, I would use the absolutely maximum force I had available to me at that time. For some bizarre reason I absolutely cannot fathom, people in your generation insist on believing that a little “skin on skin” isn’t going to kill anybody. IT ABSOLUTELY COULD. Its like my dean told us in middle school (although I was the only one that listened) “its not ok for you kids to fight anymore. You are getting big and someone could actually get permanently hurt. Your bodies aren’t like they were before.” And no, having some understanding of the unpredictability of head trauma does not make me a racist. Sorry.

          9. Brett, how was Trayvon Martin supposed to be able to tell the difference between someone following him and someone stalking him? Really, we know two things and two things only: George Zimmerman was following Trayvon Martin and believed he was suspicious and that the two of them ended up in a fight. Your take, that Trayvon initiated that fight, is based upon nothing more than supposition. In fact, the only things that we know cut against your argument, though not to the extent that your position is disproven.

            I’m really trying to think of something that would lead you in the direction you have gone other than the fact that Martin was black. It certainly can’t be because Martin was, as you have said, “wayward,” given Zimmerman’s history of being involved in actually violent incidents. That you give no weight to Zimmerman’s previous run-ins with the law in trying to figure out who was responsible for the confrontation is rather telling.

          10. J.Michael Neal,
            As I was trying to say to Warren but clicked on the wrong reply area, I think at this point Mr. Bellmore might be having a little fun with us.

          11. Hey, Student, I know a fair amount about head trauma. One thing I know is that significant brain damage is vanishingly unlikely without loss of consciousness. I’ve seen brain-injured patients, and none of them remember the actual blow, because of the amnesia associated with loss of consciousness. Do you think Martin would have kept beating Zimmerman after he was unconscious? Me neither. And to kill someone by hitting them in the head you have to at least damage the brain massively (putting aside snapping the neck, driving the nose into the brain, and other designed-to-kill moves).
            Now, Zimmerman may have thought he was going to die, but it’s not exactly reasonable on his part. Firstly, look at the actual wounds: a couple of cuts of 1 inch or less. Second, I doubt Zimmerman thought punching could lead to death. He had (I believe) taken martial arts classes. He must have known that being punched in the face won’t kill you. He probably shot because he was in pain and overly scared.

          12. If we accept that it is vanishingly unlikely without losing consciousness, we are still left with the problem of how Zimmerman knew he wouldn’t lose consciousness. He was being punched in the head by an athletic young man… that situation commonly ends in a loss of consciousness. Mr. Zimmerman is not obligated to take a serious beating to the head in order to prevent harm from coming to his attacker, unless he did something that gave his attacker the right to attack him. We will never know who crossed the line and committed the first crime of the evening, only Mr. Zimmerman will ever know.

          13. Also, Mr. Zimmerman was carrying a gun. Sure, that isn’t Mr. Martin’s fault, but having a gun on you ups that stakes on everything… which is why I don’t think people should be able to own guns. Getting the shit kicked out of you while you have a gun on you is sooooooo much worse than getting the shit kicked out of you when you don’t have a gun on you. That situation was clearly and obviously very dangerous to Mr. Zimmerman.

          14. Well, I certainly agree with you that the gun was the major problem. Hell, without it Zimmerman would never have gotten out of the car.

          15. The implicit assumption in Brett’s post is simply racist. There is no other way to put it.

            He assumes that Zimmerman was the victim, Martin the criminal assailant attacking Zimmerman. It could as easily have been the other way around. But since Martin was black…all of Brett’s other assumptions flow from that. No matter that Zimmerman stalked and confronted an unarmed Martin. The black man, in the view of Brett and millions of other Americans, will ALWAYS automatically be the assailant.

            This way of thinking is a disease. It rationalizes crazy, quasi-racist gun laws and their radically uneven application.

          16. Matt, I’ve been quite upfront about my assumption, over and over: When you’ve got one guy who has a broken nose, two black eyes, and numerous contusions, and another guy who has scuffed up knuckles and a fatal gunshot wound, you pretty much have to conclude that the shot took place after the beating, not before, which makes the dead guy the aggressor. Particularly when the live guy had called the police just before the altercation, and was expecting them to show up at any moment.

            You can imagine offbeat scenarios where this isn’t the case, (Some people even spin this insane tale where Zimmerman starts a fistfight expecting the police to end it for him!) but going with the odds here, it is overwhelmingly likely that Martin attacked Zimmerman, not the other way around. And that conclusion has nothing at ALL to do with their respective races, and everything to do with the objective evidence.

          17. = = = Brett Bellmore says:
            July 19, 2013 at 6:51 pm

            I don’t accept the premise, that he was being stalked, which is a word that means far more than being followed. So I’m not going to answer a question incorporating counter-factual premises in it’s phrasing.= = =

            Over the last three years two reasonably-sized, healthy, athletic boys of 16-17 were kidnapped in Missouri and held in sex slavery for a period covering 18 months by a man essentially the size of Zimmerman. Due to an incredibly fortunate circumstance both were recovered alive, but it is reasonable to assume they would have been killed when their usefulness to the kidnapper was at an end.

            Cranky

      2. Another valuable insight, David, that gets to the underlying reasons why we treat the two situations differently. It’s completely normal to fear most that which we feel we have the least control over, even when the statistics clearly show that we have more to fear from circumstances we’re more familiar with.

    2. Warren, you are feeding. Don’t let yourself get worked up. Anyone who says that they know what happened that night is either in possession of revealed knowledge, fucking with you, or an idiot. In any of those three cases, the best course of action is to stop letting yourself get angry.

  3. “There are certainly bad cops out there, but how many do you really think are out risking their jobs, money, and freedom to kill black men for no reason? It makes absolutely no sense. The better explanation for LEO’s killing large numbers of African American men is that African American men are much more violent and dangerous than the average American, which is a statistically demonstrable reality. ”

    A couple of things. The second part first. To be clear, African American men aren’t any more dangerous than average American men. The crime rates of course are different, which doesn’t reflect on any individual. What is also different though, is what David was talking about, which is the disparity in treatment of average African Americans, especially young men, by law enforcement (saying nothing of white citizens). The point I believe David was trying to make is that disparate rates do not excuse disparate treatment, especially of innocents like Martin was – at the very least until Zimmerman’s version of events has him retaliating.

    The first part: being a bad cop, whether from bias, etc. certainly doesn’t make sense. But that’s the definition of bias: it is by definition irrational. Regardless, whether or not there is incentive is irrelevant to the the demonstrated evidence of this kind of injustice occurring too often.

    1. Here I have a problem. I live in Toronto and visited one of the local police stations during an open house a few years ago. In the squad room there was a sheet pinned up over a bulletin board. When I asked about it I was informed that it contained pictures of the local bad guys to help the officers recognize faces. peaking behind the sheet I saw about 50 pictures the vast majority of which were of black guys. This in a city with a small black population.

      My first reaction was to wonder how a cop doesn’t become, in some way, racist given that one racial group is very much over represented. Humans are, after all, pattern recognizers. It is genetic.

      A statement like ” To be clear, African American men aren’t any more dangerous than average American men.” is the core of the discussion on this thread. Some of you just assume that statement to be self-evidently true while others state that it is false. On this basis the discussion goes nowhere.

      Crime statistics and the covered wall of pictures would suggest that the statement is false. Baldly declaring it to be true and then arguing from that premise really goes nowhere.

    2. Eli, you are simply incorrect. These numbers aren’t going to be exact but they are close, African Americans represent approximately 15% of the population and are responsible for approximately 55% of the murders in the U.S. population. There is abundant statistical and logical reason to believe that this pattern holds for other extreme violent crimes (although as noted, not for drug consumption and I believe some other crimes, I am not an expert). Should that be used to infer that an individual African American is dangerous? Of course not. Should it be considered in a hiring or relationship context? Of course not. I have seen guess who is coming to dinner. But the numbers are the numbers, whether you like them or not. African Americans are much more likely to engage in extreme violent crime than any other ethnic group in this country, by a good long ways. Period.

      A wise man once told me that the single MOST EFFICIENT use of our incarceration resources would be to immediately give life without parole to every young black man between certain ages upon his first felony arrest. He went on to say that it was of course unconstitutional and for good reason, it would make society infinitely worse than whatever problem it was meant to solve.

      1. Your “wise man” was wrong. The rate of violent crime drops off rapidly after anyone’s 20s. Keeping a bunch of 35-75 year-old black men in prison is about as inefficient as you can get.

        1. No, he was not wrong. The decline in violent crime due to age was factored in, he spent a good deal of time talking to us about that. If you look at my comment you will see that I said certain ages but did not specify them… those ages, while I do not remember them exactly, were very low (in order to capture the peak offense years between 17-30ish).

      2. DGM (and Student), I agree that this an important distinction in this discussion. I tried to be more clear. There are two ways of interpreting the phrase, let’s say, “Blacks are more dangerous than Whites”, and both mean very different things, right? One is on the individual level, and one is as a group. The crime rates we are talking about, and all can agree are higher among blacks, are based on environmental factors, and the presence of those factors in the life of a citizen are going to determine his criminal behavior. Whether someone is black or white on its own tells you very little about a person, as they could have grown up in any number of circumstances.

        Whether we, as a society, want to go down the road of using simple skin color as a proxy for a vastly more complex array of social predictors is another question. I think it is wrongheaded and frightening, but I agree we should be clear about the facts.

        1. Alright then, I thought it was clear that I was talking about describing statistics at the population level and not making immediate judgements about an individual. When Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Toasters accuse the police of killing African Americans for no reason, we are of course dealing with the population wide stats level and not the individual level. Unfortunately, there is some reason to believe that even controlling for education level of parents, personal education level, SES in general, etc. does not completely erase the difference between African Americans and the average American in crime stats. It is difficult to deal with this problem, but there is a fascinating possible solution: Killing blacks is much safer than killing non-blacks (as in you are less likely to be arrested and successfully prosecuted). If you combine the idea (and it is possible to support this idea statistically) that it is safer to kill blacks than it is to kill non-blacks with the fact that the vast majority of crime is intra-ethnic and bam, you have a recipe for a very high crime rate amongst African Americans. You would solve this problem by finding more of the people who murder blacks and prosecuting them until eventually the idea that murder is actually pretty risk sunk in to the neighborhood and hopefully that would solve your problem.

    3. Also Eli, I am not denying that racial profiling is common, in fact I know from experience that it is EXTREMELY common. Cops do it because it works. Whether or not they are shooting themselves in the foot in the long run by creating a hostile community is an interesting question and I am not really sure what the answer is. I am not saying cops are totally fair to African Americans. I AM saying that Mr. Kennedy’s statement that cops are out there KILLING black men for no good reason frequently strikes me as being highly improbable, bordering on absurd.

        1. I think you are missing my point. I am saying we should expect about 55% of the names on that list to belong to African Americans because intuitively it doesn’t seem that horrible to connect homicide propensity to the level of danger you present to a cop. On average.

  4. Conservative white men like to “mansplain” women’s issues to women–the implication being that women are inferior and can’t understand superior male logic.

    Conservative white men also, it seems, like to “whitesplain” things to black Americans and other minorities. To wit: “we need to explain to black people why they’re reverse-racists for having the gall to question the system of white male patriarchy in the United States.”

    The entire Trayvon Martin case is an extreme version of “whitesplaining.”

  5. All of the argument based on the racial/ethnic identity of violent criminals is ultimately crap, because it falls afoul of Bayes’ Rule. Violent criminals (as officially reported) form a small enough portion of the population — both in general and of any major subgroup — that knowing someone’s race is simply not going to furnish you with a significant amount of extra information about their criminal propensities. And wasting resources on race-based profiling is likely to mean that more sensitive indicators are ignored.

    1. Absolutely. It’s absolutely irrational to conclude that any random black you encounter is a criminal simply on the basis that a much larger, (But still small!) percentage of blacks are criminals, than whites.

      OTOH, it is perfectly rational to expect that, if a larger percentage of blacks are criminals, that blacks are, even in a complete absence of police racism, going to be shot more often than whites by cops. This has nothing to do with Mr. Random Black, and everything to do with the demographics of criminals. Blacks are a much larger percentage of the criminal population than they are of the general population, and, ideally, shouldn’t everyone cops shoot be members of the criminal population?

      You want to impute racism on the basis of statistics, you have to use the relevant statistical universe.

      1. He was talking about profiling Brett, not accusing cops of murdering blacks disproportionately… look to Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Toasters, although I already said basically what you are saying here to them above.

  6. Paul,

    If the number of detection attempts is much larger than the total population within the examined length of time, differences between groups will still be meaningful. You would be right if cops only faced the choice to racially profile or not to racially profile once every few years, but actually they make the decision a hundred times or so every shift. Over time, there absolutely will be a difference in felony arrest numbers based on a racial targeting strategy if there is a significant difference in the propensity to engage in the behavior you want to detect. Also, I am pretty sure cops are still able to use other indicators while racially profiling… racially profiling is not the most cognitively demanding thought pattern out there.

    1. There’s also a rather large difference between black and white crime rates according to victimization surveys. You can’t argue that the higher felony rate of blacks is an artifact of greater police attention to blacks, unless you’re also willing to argue blacks themselves are systematically misidentifying people who assault them as black.

  7. Student: These numbers aren’t going to be exact but they are close, African Americans represent approximately 15% of the population and are responsible for approximately 55% of the murders in the U.S. population.

    Student: Also Eli, I am not denying that racial profiling is common, in fact I know from experience that it is EXTREMELY common. Cops do it because it works.

    Student: A wise man once told me that the single MOST EFFICIENT use of our incarceration resources would be to immediately give life without parole to every young black man between certain ages upon his first felony arrest. He went on to say that it was of course unconstitutional and for good reason, it would make society infinitely worse than whatever problem it was meant to solve.

    I would disagree with all of these statements. Not because I don’t believe that black men in America are (currently) committing a disproportionate number of violent crimes, but because you’re not properly looking at causes and consequences here.

    First of all, it is important to note that “black” in the context of criminal activity is largely a proxy for “poor” and “unemployed”. Crime rate is a consequence of an underclass that our society has created [1]. This is most visible when one considers that 85% of white homicide victims were killed by white perpetrators; the increased murder rate is largely contained within the aforementioned underclass. Aside from the fact that a great many homicides are committed by a person that the victim knows personally, that is what happens when you segregate an underclass in ghettos. You’ll find that in the predominantly white slums crime rates aren’t much different.

    We may have abolished legal segregation in theory half a century ago, but in practice — due to the very limited social mobility in modern America — we have replaced it with economic segregation, which seems to hold its victims just as fast. African Americans were poor half a century ago, and because they (like other poor people) have little opportunity to break out of the bottom income brackets, they remain poor, with all the attendant problems that creates.

    Let’s turn to racial profiling. No, it doesn’t work. It’s the base rate fallacy writ large. The vast majority of people “profiled” are innocent citizens, regardless of ethnicity. There are about 39 million African Americans in the United States. Most of them are just as law-abiding as you and I, yet may have to fear getting arrested for changing the locks on the home they just bought or for cashing a check that a bank teller thinks is more than a black man should rightfully have.

    Racial profiling only “works” if false positives are essentially cost-free, because of the high rate of false positives. But in practice, the opposite is true.

    The high rate of false positives that racial profiling has leads to a number of pernicious effects. Most importantly, it creates what is effectively a police state for the minority that is being profiled. Within this police state, there is a de facto presumption of guilt, not innocence (no matter what the letter of the law says). You will be judged by how you look, not by what you have done, and there is no escaping from that. You will receive harsher prison sentences and a jury of your “peers” will be more likely to convict you (video via Patrick Nielsen Hayden). What exactly do you think a young black man will learn from getting stopped and frisked regularly for no other reason than him being black [2]?

    In the long run, what racial profiling does is not help minimize crimes, but to perpetuate (and even amplify) the status of African Americans as an underclass.

    Or, alternatively: Ghettoization appears to be a major cause of crime, so … let’s ghettoize black people more?

    Something else to consider: There are about ten times as many men who commit violent crimes as there are women. This holds (give or take a bit) across most developed countries, regardless of ethnicity. By the logic of racial profiling, gender profiling should make just as much sense.

    As for your “wise man”, I don’t even know where to start. The idea is just screwed up in too many ways to count. The absolutely last thing that we need is more incarceration or harsher laws. We’d get tons and tons of cases of jury nullification (as in England in the 19th century) when punishment is totally out of proportion with the crime. We’d totally remove any disincentives for actual criminals not to escalate their crimes, so there would — for example — be little reason for criminals not to just kill all witnesses [3]. Plus, of course, it would tell all African Americans that they are considered subhumans by the rest of society.

    I don’t really get why so many people seem to have an unwarranted love affair with harsh special deterrence laws. It’s a naive, but ultimately ineffective way of dealing with crime. Practically all countries with low crime rates and low violent crime rates also use imprisonment as special deterrence only selectively, as one tool for controlling crime amongst many, rather than indiscriminately bringing the hammer down.

    [1] To be clear, this is not limited to the United States. Other countries with white majorities and non-white minorities have similar problems, though generally not quite as extreme.
    [2] Yes, there will generally be a “reason” for the police officer to stop him, but let’s be honest: more often than not that’s going to be little more than a pretense or the officer’s imagination in overdrive.
    [3] Except insofar as the death penalty is actually a greater deterrent than LWOP, which is very doubtful.

    1. Katja,

      I don’t believe that anything that you wrote contradicted anything that I wrote. The police engage in gender profiling to a much greater extent than they do racial profiling, as well they should. I was not proposing that racial profiling is a good idea, a morally acceptable idea, or anything of the sort. I am saying that if your goal is to make a felony arrest, you are best served spending your time pulling over cars containing black men between the ages of 16 and 30. This is true regardless of how repulsive it sounds. In fact, I specifically wrote above “Whether or not they are shooting themselves in the foot in the long run by creating a hostile community is an interesting question and I am not really sure what the answer is.” I am quite willing to believe that racial profiling has an over all negative effect over time. When a cop takes a car out, is he or she thinking about the state of race relations 15 years from now or about making a felony arrest often enough that the computer doesn’t flag them as being less active than their fellow officers? That is why cops racially profile.

      I don’t believe I have failed at looking at cause and consequence here. The only explanation I posited for the extremely high black violent crime rate was “Killing blacks is much safer than killing non-blacks (as in you are less likely to be arrested and successfully prosecuted). If you combine the idea (and it is possible to support this idea statistically) that it is safer to kill blacks than it is to kill non-blacks with the fact that the vast majority of crime is intra-ethnic and bam, you have a recipe for a very high crime rate amongst African Americans.” This explanation is not genetic, racist and does not go to culture. Instead it goes to exactly what you say I should be thinking about, ghettoization. The crime begetting crime dynamic can work just as well in any bad neighborhood, whatever the ethnicity, but in America today the worst ghettos are black.

      The idea behind the incarceration bit has absolutely nothing to do with deterrence, only incapacitation. The recidivism rate among first time African American felons in the high-crime ages is staggering, and much higher than any other ethnic group. I am totally fine with all of this being explained by a history of oppression and lack of social mobility. I wrote to Brett in another thread “your argument that African Americans essentially ARE the guns problem in this country would be much more compelling if you coupled it with the desire to improve the economic opportunities available to poor black men, rather than trying to destroy the safety net.” I am not as sure as you are that controlling for SES will completely eliminate these statistical effects, although I am sure it would take a major piece out of them. I really do believe that culture is a factor here, and that we would have a much less intense concentration of violent crime in African American communities if hip-hop/gangster culture did not place such esteem in violent criminals. This isn’t really the sort of thing that is easy to quantify, all I can say is that I went through LAUSD schools that had very aggressive bus programs. Maybe things would have looked as bad to me on a cultural level if I had gone to a school in Southie, I dunno. All I know is it probably isn’t good to listen to songs about people beating women, stealing cars and killing people throughout your entire adolescence. Notice, that argument isn’t all that different from saying that violent video games probably contribute to violence.

      1. The idea behind the incarceration bit has absolutely nothing to do with deterrence, only incapacitation.

        Incapacitation is commonly understood to be a special case of specific deterrence in the context of criminal punishment. That’s how I was using the term.

        I am quite aware that the recidivism rate is quite high. I also happen to think that indiscriminately handing out punishment based on ideas of specific deterrence and retribution alone, while popular, is an extremely naive approach that affects general deterrence negatively, completely eliminates marginal deterrence if the minimum sentence is LWOP, can cause further criminalization, may interfere with rehabilitation (including the rehabilitation of others in the case of LWOP) and creates perverse incentives (and, of course, carries a large social and economic cost). Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen a great many policy proposals quite as short-sighted.

        No, long-term or permanent incarceration is not a side-effect free way of getting rid of recidivism except in the fantasies of the law-and-order crowd.

        More importantly, have you considered how much of the recidivism rate is the result of the current system? Two major factors that affect recidivism are:

        (1) Did the perpetrator actually end up in prison or did you get a suspended sentence/a fine/pretrial diversion?
        (2) Did the perpetrator have/find employment?

        Here, the deck is especially stacked against young black men. The US criminal justice system is extremely keen on throwing even first-time offenders in prison (where they learn to be career criminals) and hands down prison sentences for extremely minor offenses (and has a scarily broad idea of what constitutes a felony). The system is biased against them (see especially, “Drugs, War on”) and their low SES tends to put them at a disadvantage, from being able to post bail to being able to mount an effective defense. And they’re also likely to be the ones who won’t have an education and/or a hard time finding a job once they get out of prison.

        Recidivism is a hard problem, but throwing people in prison indiscriminately is almost certainly not a solution, but only makes things worse.

        I am not as sure as you are that controlling for SES will completely eliminate these statistical effects, although I am sure it would take a major piece out of them.

        I have not said that controlling for SES will completely eliminate these statistical effects. I said, “largely”, not “exclusively”. There are other factors, though these factors are often difficult to disentangle from poverty. For example, one is being a first generation immigrant with all the cultural friction and lack of social networking that entails, another is the marital status of one’s parents. If you combine these and other social factors, most studies seem agree that they explain essentially all of the difference in the crime rate of the hispanic population and most, but not all, of the difference in the crime rate of the black population. On the other hand, if you’re black, you get to grow up in what is essentially a police state, with the stated expectation that you will likely become a criminal, and knowing — without being paranoid — that law enforcement IS out to get you. This is likely to have an effect, too (can you say, “self-fulfilling prophecy”?), though this effect is hard to quantify and control for. In any event, poverty (and its attendant problems) remains one of the major factors.

        I also note that the intentional homicide rate in white America (2.6 per 100,000 or so) is still considerably higher than in Western European countries (even if you include minorities in the European count). There are almost certainly many other factors contributing to the high violent crime rate in America.

  8. Katja, that video was really powerful. The reactions of the passersby to the black kid put me in mind of Matt’s comment on “whitesplaining” above.

    What’s interesting is the difference between the intellectual level on which profiling is argued, or where the actions of the people in the video might be defended, and the degree to which there is an unconscious bias operating behind the intellectual level. How many of those people – or any of us – would have been aware that they were walking around with such bias?

  9. “You can imagine offbeat scenarios where this isn’t the case, (Some people even spin this insane tale where Zimmerman starts a fistfight expecting the police to end it for him!) but going with the odds here, it is overwhelmingly likely that Martin attacked Zimmerman, not the other way around. And that conclusion has nothing at ALL to do with their respective races, and everything to do with the objective evidence.”

    I think it is equally likely that Zimmerman was trying to physically restrain Martin until the police arrived. If that was the case, then Martin had the right to respond with force to free himself, since Zimmerman had no right to hold him.

    1. Now, what actual evidence do you base this “equally likely” on, given the injuries of the two men? Was there any evidence AT ALL that Zimmerman attempted to physically restrain Martin? Even so much as touched him before having his nose broken?

      You’re just inventing a scenario to make Zimmerman the bad guy, but it doesn’t explain the pattern of injuries, while Martin assaulting Zimmerman unprovoked would.

      1. Brett, you’re still ignoring that one of these two had a record of violent incidents and it wasn’t the one you are defending.

      2. Zimmerman is a bad guy. He has a history of violence – attacking a police officer and domestic violence. You are taking his account of events at face value – why?

        On the 911 tapes, is sounded clear to me that Zimmerman was determined not to let this kid get away. His story about getting out of his car to check a street name in a small community where he’d lived for years sounds like complete and utter BS. You said that there the only scenerios in which Martin isn’t didn’t wrongly initiate violence are “offbeat” because Zimmerman was the only one who looked like he’d been beaten. But if Zimmerman tried to just physically restrain (as opposed to attacking) Martin until police arrived, that is a plausible reason why Martin could have legitimately initiated violence. It can not prove Zimmerman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt – but it would introduce reasonable doubt to any attempt to prove Martin guilty of anything.

        1. Because. The. Physical. Evidence. Supports. It.

          And no matter how much you want Zimmerman to be a mad dog killer, that will continue to be the case.

          1. And. Zimmerman. Had. No. Right. To. Be. Chasing. And. Accosting. Martin.

            No matter how much you want to believe otherwise, that continues to be the case.

            Cranky

            Funny how the right to defend oneself doesn’t seem to apply to the black teenager.

          2. Actually, yes, he did. You have a perfect legal right to follow people, walk up to them, and initiate conversations with them.

          3. One does not have the right to block public sidewalks or to commit assault, no. Multi-mile stalking as carried out by Zimmerman also violates other statutes.

            However in Florida at least, Trevor Martin had a perfect right to stand his ground against an assailant. Particularly one such as Zimmerman who was armed and therefore presumed to be acting with deadly intent.

            Cranky

          4. Because. The. Physical. Evidence. Supports. It.

            No. It. Does. Not. The physical evidence supports the idea that there was a fight and that Zimmerman was losing it. It says absolutely nothing about who started the fight. Nothing. There are many times in history that someone has started a fight and proceeded to lose it badly. You are trying to make the evidence support your preconceived notions.

  10. Hm, interesting: “Blacks benefit from Florida ‘Stand Your Ground’ law at disproportionate rate”

    African Americans benefit from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state’s population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing “Stand Your Ground” would help African Americans.

    Black Floridians have made about a third of the state’s total “Stand Your Ground” claims in homicide cases, a rate nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that for Florida whites.

    I’ve been repeatedly assured this can’t be possible, that were Martin and Zimmerman’s positions reversed, a conviction would have been all but automatic. I wonder what that confidence was based on? Obviously it wasn’t an acquaintance with the facts.

    Nice thing we have to use the same facts here, I’m assured I’ll stop hearing this claim.

    1. If, as conservatives so love to point out, most of the victims of those incidents were blacks, then it isn’t exactly clear that Black Floridians are benefiting, what with all the homicides.

  11. This thread has nicely demonstrated my original point.

    When an unarmed black man is killed, white folks will dissect that singe incident in minute detail Many will find it justified, often in ways that seem to take delight in the killing. Legal verdicts will support it, and will be taken as statements about what is true rather than as what they are, statements about what can be admitted into evidence and the legal meaning of that evidence (just as, it should be noted, white folks took O. J. Simpson’s acquittal as evidence of his actual innocence). Facts about the bad behavior of other blacks will be mobilized as if they have some bearing on this killing, the received message being “you’re all bad, so we can kill you when we feel like it.” All matters of uncertainty or in dispute will be decided in favor of the killer(s). Actions that are deeply offensive – let’s lock up every young black man who commits a crime for the rest of their lives – are spoken plainly and discussed dispassionately. Beliefs that are deeply offensive and malign an entire people – blacks are more dangerous than whites – are spoken plainly and discussed dispassionately.

    No mention or recognition will be made that these killings happen over and over again, with this pattern playing out over and over again. No mention will be made of Timothy Thomas, Oscar Grant, Remarley Graham, Justin Sipp, Bo Morrison, Rekia Boyd, Kendrec McDade, Timothy Russell, Ervin Jefferson, Chavis Carter, Mario Romero, Sean Bell, Danroy Henry, Amadou Diallo, Orlando Barlow, Darius Simmons, Rev. Accelyne Williams, Derrick Jones. No mention will be made that this – outsiders using state-sanctioned violence against black men in a context of race-based justification =is entirely in keeping with the historical experience of blacks in the United States: transportation, slavery, reconstruction, the black codes, Jim Crow, police participation in lynchings, Cointelpro, violence directed at peaceful civil rights activists, and racial profiling and mass incarceration. Little or no attention will be given to the already fearful attitude many blacks have toward the police and the way in which it cuts them off from support when they need it the most (such as when an armed adult is following a young man down a dark street for no good reason). Little or no attention will be given to the experience of essentially all blacks that they regularly experience racism in their everyday lives, and that is is a realistic fear that that racism can end fatally for themselves and their loved ones. No recognition will be made of what I said in the original post: white folks look at incidents, black folks look at history.

    (High levels of violent crime in some black communities are often used as justification for the law enforcement attention that leads to these killings; as a reason that blacks should not be so concerned about these killings; and as evidence that there is some sort of genetic or cultural issue with blacks and black communities. It is in fact the case that the lack of legitimacy police and the law have in the eyes of many blacks and black communities drives those high crime rates. There is clear and growing evidence that where legitimacy is lacking, voluntary compliance with the law goes down, individual and collective actions to prevent crime go down, and the likelihood of turning to private violence rather than the law to redress grievances goes up. To some considerable extent, the crime Buchanan says should be more of a concern to blacks than the killing of their own by outsiders is a result of those, and other, insults to the community.)

    1. I wonder how long it will take before the points you’ve made can be discussed without devolving into an arm-chair re-trial.

  12. Yeah, these things happen over and over. Muggings happen over and over, drive by shootings happen over and over, thugs beating people up and getting shot in self defense happens over and over, practically everything happens over and over. It’s a sign, I think, that the world hasn’t ended yet.

Comments are closed.