Review: ‘Hate Inc.’ by Matt Taibbi
One of the things that has struck me most clearly since I came to live in the United States four years ago is how terrible the news media here generally…
The idea that the police are wantonly killing Black men is a creation of a politicized press and an elite establishment dedicated to the idea that racism is America’s defining trait.
On May 25, four Minneapolis police officers arrested a man for passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
One of the officers kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes while Mr. Floyd was handcuffed on the ground and pleading that he couldn’t breathe. Mr. Floyd died of a heart attack during the arrest. The next day, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced that whatever the investigation into Mr. Floyd’s death revealed, “being Black in America should not be a death sentence.” Mayor Frey’s interpretation that Mr. Floyd’s horrifying end was a function of his race instantly became universal. That idea was coupled with the claim that Mr. Floyd’s death was representative of an epidemic of racially biased police killings of Black men.
Together, these two claims triggered an explosion of violence in Minneapolis and across the country, destroying thousands of livelihoods, turning city streets into war zones, and ripping apart the very foundation of law and order. Police officers were shot at, slashed and assaulted with bricks and bottles. Their precinct houses and cruisers were firebombed. Courthouses were vandalized. Firefighters let public and private property burn to the ground rather than risk being attacked by the rioters. Professional thieves used stolen cars as missiles to hurtle into stores, which they then cleaned out through the shattered glass. The flames of that terrible week have burned out, but the attack on civil order continues. Monuments to the nation’s founders have been torn down and defaced; anarchists colonized portions of Seattle and New York with impunity. Violence has become the reflexive choice to any criminal justice decision the activists do not like.
In mid-July, vandals tried to torch the Georgia Department of Public Safety as part of ongoing protests against the police in Atlanta. In Salt Lake City, after the district attorney declined to prosecute an officer-involved shooting, vandals broke the windows of his office and pepper-sprayed police officers. Courthouses and police precincts remain favorite physical targets. In Portland, for weeks on end, Antifa thugs have hurled bombs at the Federal Courthouse. They have tried to blind federal agents with lasers. And across the country, police officers are routinely attacked as they try to make a lawful arrest. The unchecked anarchy of those riots and their long aftermath has sent a clear message to criminals. No one is controlling the streets. Gang shootings and homicides have spiked nationwide as a demoralized police force pulls back from discretionary stops and arrests. In the weeks following the Floyd riots, homicides were up by 100 percent in Minneapolis, 200 percent in Seattle, 40 percent in St. Louis, 240 percent in Atlanta, and 182 percent in Chicago. In New York City, shootings have more than doubled so far in 2020, compared with last year.
In June, 97 percent of New York shooting victims were people of color. Since George Floyd’s death, at least 35 children under the age of 18 have been fatally shot, nearly all Black. We’ve been here before. In 2015 and 2016, homicides in the U.S. saw their largest increase in almost 50 years following the police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. Brown’s death fueled the first iteration of the Black Lives Matter movement. Cops backed off from proactive policing, having been relentlessly told that they were racist when, for example, they questioned someone hanging out on a known drug corner at 1:00 a.m. who hitched up his waistband as if he had a gun.
As a result of this decline in discretionary enforcement, another 2,000 Blacks lost their lives in 2015 and 2016, compared to 2014 numbers. The rapid rise of crime over the last two months makes that first version of what I’ve called the Ferguson Effect look like child’s play. Today’s Ferguson Effect 2.0—or better, the Minneapolis Effect—promises far worse, especially since the Black Lives Matter narrative that policing in the U.S. is lethally racist has been amplified by every mainstream institution in the country. A lot is riding, therefore, on whether that narrative about the police is correct—not just thousands of lives, but the very possibility of a civilized society. Essential criminal justice practices are being rapidly dismantled in the name of fighting alleged law enforcement bias. Is it true—as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced after Mr. Floyd’s death that every time a Black person leaves his house, his family members need to fear for his safety from the police? It is not.
The idea that the police are wantonly killing Black men is a creation of a politicized press and an elite establishment dedicated to the idea that racism is America’s defining trait. The raw numbers are these: Every year, the police fatally shoot about a thousand people, the vast majority of whom were threatening the officer or bystanders with deadly force. About 50 percent of those police fatalities are white, and about 25 percent are Black. The Black Lives Matter folks look at that 25 percent number and proclaim police bias since Blacks are about 13 percent of the population. That is the wrong benchmark, however. If there is one thing you should take away from this discussion, it is that police activity must be measured against crime, not population ratios.
Every article you read, every news story you watch in the mainstream media will compare police activity to a population benchmark because that is the only way that the Black Lives Matter narrative can be sustained. Such an analysis ignores the fact that policing today is data driven. Officers are deployed to where people are most being victimized, and that is in minority neighborhoods. And it is in minority neighborhoods where officers are most likely to interact with armed, violent and resisting suspects. Here are the victimization data: Nationwide, Blacks between the ages of 10 and 43 die of homicide at 13 times the rate of whites, according to the CDC.
In Minnesota, Blacks of all ages die of homicide at 12 times the rate of whites. You might think that the Black Lives Matter activists would care about such loss of Black life, but you would be wrong. They ignore those Black deaths because the victims are killed overwhelmingly not by the police, not by whites, but by other Blacks. Here are the criminal offending data: In the 75 largest U.S. counties, which is where most of the population resides, Blacks constitute around 60 percent of all murder and robbery defendants, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, though they are only 15 percent of the population in those counties.
Nationwide, Blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. In Chicago, Blacks commit about 80 percent of all shootings and homicides, though they’re less than a third of the population. Whites commit about two percent of all shootings and homicides in Chicago, though they too are less than a third of the population. In a typical year, Blacks in St. Louis commit all or nearly all homicides, though they’re less than half of the population. In New York City, Blacks commit a little less than 75 percent of all shootings on average, though they are 23 percent of the city’s population. Whites commit less than three percent of all shootings in New York City, though they’re less than 34 percent of the city’s population. These crime disparities have enormous consequences for police use of force. The biggest determinant of officer behavior is civilian behavior. The greater the chance that officers confront armed and resisting suspects, the more likely they are to escalate their own use of force. And that chance is far higher in Black communities.
Blacks are actually shot less by the police than their crime rates would predict, and whites are shot more. The percentage of white and Hispanic homicide victims who were killed by a cop is three times higher than the percentage of Black homicide victims who were killed by a cop. That 25 percent or so share of fatal police shootings each year comprised of Black victims when measured against the crime benchmark does not support the Black Lives Matter narrative. What about the individual case? Mr. Floyd’s death was immediately portrayed as what is known in literary theory as the synecdoche—a part that stands in for a whole. In this case, the whole is anti-Black police violence. But if we conclude from that one case, however shocking, that the police are biased against Black men, we could just as easily conclude from other individual cases that the police are biased against white men.
In 2016 Tony Timpa, a 32-year-old schizophrenic, called 911 in Dallas to report that he was off his medication, frightened, and needed help. Three Dallas police officers responded and kept him face down on the ground for 13 minutes, with a knee to his back, all the while joking about Timpa’s mental illness. Timpa was handcuffed and had not resisted or threatened the officers. He pleaded for help more than 30 times, exclaiming that the cops were killing him. Eventually, Timpa stopped moving or making any sound as the officers continued their wisecracks. After Timpa was loaded into an ambulance, an officer said, “I hope I didn’t kill him.” Timpa was already dead from homicide caused by physical restraint and cocaine. Very few Americans outside of Timpa’s family know his name. His death did not make international news or spur widespread riots because Timpa was white. His death did not fit the Black Lives Matter narrative, and thus was of no interest to the media.
That same year, a cop in Mesa, Arizona unleashed a barrage of gunfire from his AR-15 rifle at a 26-year-old man in a motel who had been reported as having a gun. The victim was down on his hands and knees in the corridor, outside his motel room, trying to comply with the conflicting demands that the sergeant was screaming at him while begging, “Please don’t shoot me.” Like Timpa, the victim Daniel Shaver was white. In 2015, the year that the Black Lives Matter movement became a national phenomenon, a 50-year-old white man in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, involved in a domestic violence incident, ran at the officer with a spoon and was fatally shot. A white 25-year-old male in Des Moines led the police on a car chase then walked quickly toward the officer when he got out of the car and was fatally shot. A white 21-year-old male in Akron escaped from a grocery store robbery on a bike, didn’t take his hand out of his waistband
when commanded to do so, and was fatally shot.
None of these victims were armed. No one knows these men’s names either because they don’t help the narrative. Had any of these victims been Black, however, there was a good chance that they too would have become an international cause celebre. The widespread perception that questionable police shootings occur exclusively or almost exclusively against Black males is a function of selective coverage. Let’s look more closely at unarmed victims of fatal police shootings. According to The Washington Post database of fatal police shootings, there were nine unarmed Black victims of fatal police shootings in 2019, and 19 unarmed white victims of fatal police shootings. The Washington Post defines unarmed to generously include suspects who beat an officer with their own gun or flee a car stop with a loaded semiautomatic pistol in their car.
Those nine allegedly unarmed Black victims of fatal police shootings makeup 0.1 percent of all Black homicide victims, assuming that the 2019 Black homicide count resembles that of 2018 when 7,400 Blacks were killed—more than all white and Hispanic homicide victims combined. This 0.1 percent is not a large percentage, to say the least. After I publicized the 2019 tally of unarmed Black victims in early June, The Washington Post went back into its database to recategorize as unarmed as many armed Black victims of fatal police shootings as it possibly could. No new information spurred this reclassification; the database had been closed for six months. Despite its best efforts, the Post came up with only six more Black victims previously deemed armed, now miraculously disarmed, to bring the total of unarmed Black police victims in 2019 up to 15. That 15 represents 0.2 percent of all Black homicide victims, still a drop in the bucket.
So individual cases, including unarmed cases, do not support the Black Lives Matter narrative. The claim that the death of George Floyd was the result of racism rather than bad tactics and a generalized carelessness is pure supposition with no supporting evidence.
The narrative about police-civilian violence is also the reverse of the truth. Black males make up about 40 percent of all cop killers, though they are 6 percent of the population. Police officers are between 15 to 30 times more likely to be killed by a Black male than an unarmed Black male is to be killed by a police officer, depending on the year. Expect such attacks to rise, as the political establishment and the media continue to fuel anti-cop hatred. Meanwhile, there is hardly a single aspect of the criminal justice system that is not being undone to avoid disparate impact on Blacks. Felonies are being reclassified as misdemeanors to lessen the number of Blacks sent to prison. Prosecutors are declining to prosecute low-level offenses like public drinking, disorderly conduct, graffiti and turnstile jumping. Bail is being eliminated, gang databases are being purged, undercover police units that get illegal guns off the street are being disbanded. Valuable crime fighting tools like facial recognition technology and analytical crime software are being mothballed.
Overall, 2,243 people have been shot in Chicago as of July 25—one person
every two hours and 14 minutes—and 395 of those shooting victims died. The Chicago police had shot seven people, three fatally as of July 25, virtually all armed and dangerous. That police tally represents 0.3 percent of all Chicago shooting victims. Not one of the children who have been shot this year in Chicago or elsewhere have been shot by a cop. The only thing that will slow this false narrative about police racism is if white children start to be gunned down in drive-by shootings. The allegedly anti-racist press ignores young Black victims but goes into crisis mode if white children are shot in rare school shootings.
Cumulatively, there are several Newtown, Connecticut’s every year in the Black community. Only the police pay consistent attention. It is not just lives at stake; this attack on law enforcement undermines our justice system and fundamental rights. If it continues, we could descend into civil war. It is essential, therefore, to counter the lies about the police with the truth. And we must hope that reason still has a place in public discourse.