Last month, Sacramento County Supervisors passed a resolution declaring racism to be a “public health crisis.” Only one supervisor, Sue Frost, voted against it. Reaction was swift.
Columnist Marcos Breton writing for the Sacramento Bee, was outraged, describing Frost’s attempts to explain her reasoning as “reading from a script,” despite the “impassioned” comments from community members supporting the resolution. Breton went on to accuse Frost of being “insincere” and “playing wedge politics.” It’s worthwhile to read Breton’s column in its entirety, because it is representative of the cut-and-paste rhetoric that defines liberal outrage whenever anyone questions the conventional narrative on issues of race and “equity,” or the conventional solutions.
It’s also important to make something very clear before even starting to counter Breton’s arguments, however, which is the plain, ugly fact that Breton’s hit piece on Supervisor Frost required no creativity, much less courage. He regurgitated some facts, devoid of context, designed merely to provide a veneer of authority to his arguments, then he engaged in character assassination. And the sad reality is when writers do this, they’re just following the crowd. If Breton were to actually care to examine all the facts, and strive for a fair minded and constructive analysis of whether designating “racism as a health crisis” does any good, he’d have to work a lot harder. And he’d risk angering the mob. He might even lose his job.
That said, how can someone question any of these supposed truisms, such as the assertion that America remains mired in “systemic racism” that must be rooted out by any means necessary? Can anyone question this without being attacked as racist? Is it possible to make reasoned arguments that convey not only a sincere attempt to understand the issues in their totality, but also a sincere intention to achieve the same goal: better outcomes, better justice, better opportunities for everyone? It’s worth a try.
To begin, white people have a right to opine on issues of race that affect people of color. We have the right to voice our opinions and hope that people of color will consider them for the simple reason that people of color tend to cast votes overwhelmingly in favor of liberal politicians and liberal policies, and their votes, almost invariably, are the decisive factor in securing victory for liberal politicians and liberal policies. That all by itself belies the notion of disenfranchisement. People of color, because they vote as a bloc, are determining the future of America. Everyone’s future.
Maybe that’s the reason well funded mobs shout down conservative voices that don’t merely defy the liberal narrative on race, but offer constructive alternatives. Imagine a nation where a supermajority of people of color cast their votes for conservative politicians and conservative policies. Don’t laugh. It could happen any day.
Breton pumps out an assortment of facts in his column attacking Sue Frost, and while they reflect genuine challenges, he uses them to justify conclusions that don’t hold up to fair scrutiny. Breton describes how the construction of I-5 decimated Black neighborhoods in Oak Park. But freeway construction decimated neighborhoods all over the nation. When Robert Moses blasted expressways through the boroughs of New York City in the 1930s, or as the interstate system was built in the 1960s across America, these projects dislocated thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people. Some of them were black. Most probably were not.
This example, however, goes to the heart of Breton’s argument, and by extension to the heart of the current liberal narrative on race: disproportionate impacts and disproportionate outcomes. How many blacks have been displaced by freeway projects? How many whites? What percent of the black population was disrupted? What percent of the white population was disrupted? Is the black percentage larger than the white percentage? Voila. Racism.
Breton performs this magic with high school suspensions, COVID-19 cases, police stops, arrests, incarceration, jaywalking tickets, police shooting, school dropouts, and poverty rates. The conclusion we’re expected to reach is that the reason for disproportionate negative outcomes among blacks compared to whites is because of racism. Better declare a public health crisis.
There are plenty of facts to contradict this theory, however, and it’s time for more journalists and activists of conscience, regardless of their political ideology or their ethnicity, to start talking about them. These facts fall into at least two categories. First, much of the disproportionate outcomes cited are caused by other factors.
Police misconduct and alleged systemic racism is perhaps the most emotional example of this, evidenced by the sustained and violent nationwide reaction to the tragic death of George Floyd last April. Across America, the rhetoric was extreme. Defund the police. Stop the “slaughter” of black men by police. Stop the “genocide.” But it is possible to acknowledge this tragedy and strive to improve without condemning the entire system. Basic quantitative realities must inform discussion and decisions regarding allegations of racism. For example:
There are more than 800,000 sworn police officers in America, authorized to make arrests and use deadly force. Over 50 million Americans have at least one encounter with a police officer per year, usually involving something minor such as a traffic stop. Police make over 10 million arrests each year. In confrontations with unarmed people over the past decade, only between 50 and 100 have been shot per year by police, about the same number as police who are killed in hostile encounters per year.
These are big denominators, yielding infinitesimally small fractions of tragedy. Over 50 million police encounters, less than 100 unarmed people killed. It is statistically impossible to root out every single incident of misconduct in a group that large. But even in these small numbers, are blacks disproportionately targeted? It is true that the number of blacks killed by police is consistently disproportionate to their share of the U.S. population. Over the three year period from 2017 through 2019, blacks represented 27 percent of all people shot to death by police, yet they comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population. On the surface, this looks bad. But there is a lot more to this story.
When considering any case of disproportion, you have to examine the relevant underlying facts. In an unvarnished analysis recently published in the Wall Street Journal, Manhattan Institute fellow and author Heather Mac Donald offers relevant facts: Blacks are indeed twice as likely to be fatally shot by police than whites, but, “in 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.”
These facts are well known, but they’re ignored. When crime rates are taken into account, it turns out that blacks are not disproportionately killed by police and, in fact, the opposite is true. In a recent study that even NPR reporters acknowledged was peer-reviewed and published by the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers concluded: “We find no evidence, at the national level, that officers show racial bias against Blacks in the decision to use deadly force,” and “we found no evidence that the race of a police officer related to the race of a citizen shot.”
These facts suggest that while tragic miscarriages of justice are inevitable in a population of 337 million Americans, police racism is not the primary cause of disproportionate harm befalling black Americans. That’s just one example, but it begs the more general question: What then would explain disproportionate outcomes across many key indicators of achievement in America? Here one finds another set of facts, hard facts, which may explain what drives black underachievement. If the conditions these facts describe don’t change, they may always drive black underachievement, even if racism is obliterated entirely from American society.
To give voice and meaning to these facts, consider these quotes from conservative black intellectuals:
In a conversation between radio host Larry Elder and Kweisi Mfume, then the president of the NAACP:
“As between the presence of white racism and the absence of black fathers,” I asked, “Which poses the bigger threat to the black community?” Without missing a beat, he said, “The absence of black fathers.”
From the recently departed Walter Williams:
“At the root of most of the problems black people face is the breakdown of the family structure. Slightly over 70% of black children are raised in female-headed households. According to statistics about fatherless homes, 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes; 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father figure; 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes; 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes; and 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions have no father.”
And perhaps the toughest love of all, from the incomparable Thomas Sowell, ”
“You cannot take any people, of any color, and exempt them from the requirements of civilization — including work, behavioral standards, personal responsibility and all the other basic things that the clever intelligentsia disdain – without ruinous consequences to them and to society at large. Non-judgmental subsidies of counterproductive lifestyles are treating people as if they were livestock, to be fed and tended by others in a welfare state – and yet expecting them to develop as human beings have developed when facing the challenges of life themselves. One key fact that keeps getting ignored is that the poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits every year since 1994. Behavior matters and facts matter, more than the prevailing social visions or political empires built on those visions.”
Walter Williams elaborated on that “social vision,” the one that informs columns like the one written by Marcos Breton, the one that is now the fundamental premise of the “political empire” that aptly describes the Democratic party in Sacramento, California, and America at large:
“Here are my questions to those who blame racial discrimination for the problems of black people: Is it necessary for us to await some kind of moral rejuvenation among white people before measures can be taken to end or at least reduce the kind of behavior that spells socioeconomic disaster in so many black communities? Is it a requirement that we await moral rejuvenation among white people before we stop permitting some black youngsters from making education impossible for other black youngsters? Blacks were not the only people discriminated against in America. While Jews and Asians were not enslaved, they encountered gross discrimination. Nonetheless, neither Jews nor Asians felt that they had to await the end of discrimination before they took measures to gain upward mobility.”
These conservative black intellectuals, along with a growing list of young conservative black influencers like Candace Owens and Star Parker, along with conservative black activists with street credibility like Malcolm Flex and Kash Lee Kelly, are the people like Marcos Breton ought to be turning to and talking about, if they truly care about elevating the achievements of blacks in America. These are the truly courageous voices in our time.
It is very easy to follow the mob. Rename another school. Proclaim a “health emergency.” Call Sue Frost a racist. None of this accomplishes anything. It does more harm than good.
This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.
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Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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