Opinion

How white people should think about Black Lives Matter after Dallas

Don't listen to the voices of hate

During a march protesting the death of Anton Sterling and Philando Castile at police hands, a sniper shot 12 police officers and two civilians, killing five officers, in Dallas on Thursday night. Before he was killed by a police bomb, the suspect, Micah Xavier Johnson, reportedly told police he was upset by police brutality and "wanted to kill white people, especially white officers." It was a horrifying scene, and ironically happened to a police department which has markedly improved its community reputation and crime policy over the last several years.

The media gutter wasted no time trying to foment race war. Before the perpetrator was known, The Drudge Report ran a headline saying "Black Lives Kill." Former Republican congressman and now radio host Joe Walsh tweeted: "Watch out Obama. Watch out Black Lives Matter punks. Real America is coming after you." The New York Post printed a cover blaring "CIVIL WAR."

All this folded directly into a longstanding debate between BLM and conservatives. Former New York Mayor Rudi Guiliani said if BLM really cared about black people, they'd worry about black-on-black crime. Over the weekend, many cities had large anti-police brutality marches, some of which resulted in clashes between protesters and the cops. Prominent BLM leader DeRay McKesson was arrested in Baton Rouge.

It is true that no demographic or profession has a monopoly on senseless murder. But the conservative argument is misdirection. Guiliani et al do not care about ensuring decent, just policing for all Americans, as an examination of police killing data will show. Black Americans are indeed by far the most victimized group of people. But white Americans suffer significant collateral damage. If white people cared to help their own communities, Black Lives Matter is obviously their ally of choice.

The Washington Post has been carefully collecting data on every fatal police shooting in the country. Though their methods are not rigorously scientific, they are as good as we have at the moment, and are surely at least in the right ballpark. So here is the rate of fatal police shootings last year per 100,000 Americans (demographic data from the Census), broken out by race:

And here is the same chart, but this time for unarmed victims (note the much smaller Y-axis):

In short, the basic premise of Black Lives Matter is correct. Black people are about two and half times more likely than whites to be killed by the cops, and unarmed blacks are about 5.5 times more likely to be killed. A more careful statistical analysis showed the latter disparity was smaller, at about 3.5 times more likely, but the basic story is the same. Black people are disproportionately the victims of police violence, period.

However, it's also worth looking at the raw numbers of people killed, broken out by race.

Just short of half of all people killed by police in 2015 are white. Given that white people still have a large demographic majority, it makes perfect sense, though it may come as a surprise given the overwhelming coverage given to black victims.

Again, this doesn't change the fact that black people have it worse. But in any other rich country, the number of white people alone killed by police would be a national emergency. In Germany, with about one-quarter the U.S. population, police killed a total of 15 people in all of 2010 and 2011. American cops killed 494 white people in 2015 alone.

Some white people react poorly to the Black Lives Matter movement because it seems on first glance to be concerned with black people only. But their actual policy agenda is largely a series of race-neutral reforms to reduce the incidence of police violence, and make it easier to seek justice when it does happen. Were this to be implemented nationally, it's conceivable that white people would be the largest absolute beneficiaries, in terms of the number of prevented deaths and injuries.

This is the reality one should keep in mind when reading the frenzied hate-mongering of Matt Drudge, Joe Walsh, and the editors of The New York Post. Events like the Dallas shooting, or the police killing of unarmed white people, are merely useful as a tactic to shut down black protesters. If Black Lives Matter didn't exist, they'd be perfectly content with a grotesque number of white Americans dying at police hands.

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