After a week of looting, vandalism, and arson across America in the wake of the heinous killing of George Floyd, many Americans are asking deep questions about police brutality and racism. Many can’t help but think that the story of Floyd’s death is so horrible and the anger over it has boiled into so much destruction, the central argument of Black Lives Matter must be true.
It isn’t that simple, however.
In this article, I will go through the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor to figure out if they are examples of police racial brutality. Then I will examine the broader question of whether or not there is an “epidemic” of police violence against unarmed black people. Finally, I will discuss the true reasons behind the riots and give you, dear reader, something concrete to do about all of this.
Three horrific deaths
While George Floyd’s death appears to have more directly inspired the riots, two other black Americans who died tragically at the hands of police (or retired police officers) became national scandals in May.
On February 23, Travis McMichael and his father Gregory, a retired police officer, shot 25-year-old unarmed black man Ahmaud Arbery in Satilla Shores, Ga. They claimed Arbery looked like the suspect in a string of local burglaries. Local police did not arrest the McMichaels until 74 days after the heinous shooting, after a video of the shooting was posted on a local radio station’s website on May 5. Gov. Brian Kemp (R-Ga.) brought in the state branch of the FBI to investigate and the would-be vigilantes were finally arrested on May 7 and charged with felony murder.
On March 13, police in Louisville, Ky., shot 26-year-old black woman Breonna Taylor in her sleep. Officers entered her apartment in plainclothes while serving a “no-knock warrant.” Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, responded to what he suspected was a criminal home invasion with shooting and the resultant shootout killed Taylor. No drugs were found in the apartment. The police investigation centered on two people suspected of selling controlled substances at a drug house more than 10 miles away. One of the suspects, Jamarcus Glover, had a previous relationship with Taylor.
According to a wrongful death lawsuit filed against police by the Taylor family’s attorney, the officers opened fire “with a total disregard for the value of human life.”
The case of 46-year-old black man George Floyd also bears repeating. Minnesota police arrested Floyd for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli (he had lost his job due to the coronavirus lockdown). The cops handcuffed Floyd and led him to the police cruiser, but Floyd “did not voluntarily get in the car and struggled with the officers, intentionally falling down.” One of the officers, Derek Chauvin, thrust his knee into Floyd’s neck, choking him for nearly nine minutes.
“Please,” George Floyd protested. “I can’t breathe. Don’t kill me.”
As Chauvin dug his knee into George Floyd’s neck, three other officers stood by and two of them held George Floyd down while it happened. All four have been arrested, and Chauvin now faces second-degree murder charges.
Examples of racism?
It seems very easy to attribute these heinous deaths to the horror of racism. Black Lives Matter has insisted that these events fit its existing narrative of white police officers regarding black lives as being of little value. Yet each case is more complicated than that.
It seems the McMichaels really did target Arbery due to his race — and that is heinous racism. Yet perhaps the larger outrage in the Ahmaud Arbery case was the fact that police did not immediately arrest and charge the McMichaels for killing Arbery. Instead, it appears Travis and Gregory McMichael were considered part of an “old boys club” and given favorable treatment after they committed what appears to be little less than murder.
The case of Breonna Taylor is similar. Why were police allowed to enter her apartment in plainclothes and without announcing themselves? Of course, her boyfriend thought it was a home invasion — I would have thought the same! Perhaps these white cops thought they could get away with carrying this out against a black person, but it seems the real problem is the very idea of the “no-knock warrant” and the fact that the police somehow decided to use maximum force to enter a house only tangentially connected to a real investigation — while the true suspects were already in custody! This was an assault on Breonna Taylor’s rights, no matter her race or the race of the cops.
The motivation behind Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd remains unclear. Chauvin and Floyd worked security at the same club on the same night of the week, Tuesdays. It is quite likely they knew one another. Two of the three officers who assisted Chauvin in the horrific incident appear to be racial minorities: Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng. As Chauvin crushed Floyd’s trachea, Kueng allegedly held George Floyd’s back while the fourth officer involved, Thomas Lane, held his legs.
The tip of the iceberg?
Activists claim that deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of white cops are an endemic problem. As NBA basketball star LeBron James tweeted, “We’re literally hunted EVERYDAY/EVERYTIME we step foot outside the comfort of our homes! Can’t even go for a damn jog man!”
Yet statistics do not bear that out, as Larry Elder recently noted:
In 2018, according to the FBI’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were about 600,000 nonhomicide violent black-white crimes each year, with 90% involving a black perpetrator and a white victim. According to economist John Lott, writing in 2014: “Based on the most recent available FBI crime numbers, black male teenagers were nine times more likely to commit murder than were their white counterparts. That’s right, nine times, and the gap in these urban areas is undoubtedly even larger.”
Blacks kill twice as many whites (500 in 2015) as whites kill blacks (229 in 2015). Blacks, at 13% of the population, commit 50% of murders, and 90% of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. The Wall Street Journal‘s Jason Riley wrote in 2014: “Blacks commit violent crimes at 7 to 10 times the rate that whites do. The fact that their victims tend to be of the same race suggests that young black men in the ghetto live in danger of being shot by each other, not cops.” The No. 1 cause of preventable deaths for young white men is accidents, like car accidents. The No. 1 cause of deaths, preventable or otherwise, for young black men is homicide. In absolute numbers, Chicago often has more murders than any other city in America. The population of Chicago is approximately one-third black, one-third white, and one-third Hispanic. Yet, blacks account for over 80% of the city’s homicide victims.
In fact, several studies have found no racial bias in police use of extreme force, as even The New York Times reported.
According to the Washington Post‘s tracker of police-involved shootings, police have killed fewer than ten unarmed black people for the last two years. In 2018 and 2019, the number of police officers killed by black assailants was actually higher.
According to the database, there are about roughly 1,000 police shootings a year. If you subtract the 41 unarmed individuals, that leaves roughly 960 armed individuals who were shot by police.
When activists chant, “Black Lives Matter,” why do they restrict their outrage to the black lives taken by white police officers? What about the black men and women murdered by other black men and women? Their stories don’t get told on national television, but their lives matter, too.
Is there no racism?
Of course, the lack of support for Black Lives Matter’s basic claim — that police single out unarmed black men for death — is no proof that racism does not exist. Indeed, the data on racism may surprise you: In his book Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reported his findings on Google searches for the N-word, and jokes about black people using the N-word. “Contrary to the popular perception that overt racism is limited to the South, the numbers showed comparatively high interest in the term across the Midwest and the rustbelt relative to the rest of the country,” The Economist reported.
Racism exists, and American society is right to fight it, but America is arguably fighting racism the wrong way.
As PJ Media’s Bryan Preston pointed out, Amy Cooper, who notoriously called the police on a black man in Central Park, “assumes — just assumes — the police will respond faster to a white woman claiming a black man is menacing her.”
“Why does she assume this? Because that’s what most liberals think of the police. They think police forces, and law enforcement agencies overall, are full of racists just waiting to come down on brown and black people. You see this in how they discuss the Border Patrol too. They also generally assume our military is full of ne’er do wells who couldn’t get jobs any other way. But they say ‘Thank you for your service’ when they absolutely have to. They also think America’s founding was fundamentally racist, thanks in no small part to New York’s main newspaper. All of this is deeply unlikeable. ”
The New York Times, ostensibly in an effort to fight racism, created a whole project — The 1619 Project — to push the idea that the true founding of America came when the first slaves arrived from Africa, not when the Founders signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. They contend that the racism Americans inherited from slavery is more fundamental to American society than the ideals of liberty inherited from England and enshrined in the United States’ seminal documents: the Declaration and the Constitution.
Yet this narrative is a recipe for disaster. The 1619 Project only divides Americans and enflames racial tensions, undermining the true promise of the Declaration and the Constitution — a rule of law that enables all Americans, regardless of color, creed, sex, or national origin to live in freedom and achieve prosperity. Sadly, the division of the 1619 Project helps explain the horrific riots perpetrated in the name of seeking justice for George Floyd.
George Floyd is not an excuse for the riots
While Americans are rightly furious about the death of George Floyd, it seems justice will be done. President Donald Trump directed the FBI to investigate the case, and the four officers involved have been arrested — slower than they should have been, but they have been arrested nonetheless.
Yet the protests over George Floyd have devolved into looting, vandalism, and arson. In Sacramento alone, the riots have cost approximately $10 million in damage. Rioters damaged an estimated 50 businesses and properties were damaged in Pittsburgh, with similar numbers in Seattle (50 businesses), Chicago (45 properties), and Madison, Wisc. (75 businesses).
This damage carries a deeply personal toll as well as an economic one. A black business owner in Minneapolis, where George Floyd died and where the riots began, broke into tears explaining that the riots destroyed his life savings and his economic opportunity. A black woman in Philadelphia, Pa., urged police to stop the riots, saying, “We need some security on this land NOW! Not tomorrow, not later.”
In addition to all this damage, the rioters have killed at least two black police officers.
The lawlessness of the riots is not just tragic — it has a concrete effect on the neighborhoods rioters have destroyed. The riots have made it harder for many black business owners to make a living. Their destruction has wreaked havoc on the very community it was ostensibly intended to help.
For this reason, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price — a civil rights activist of Martin Luther King Jr.’s generation — condemned the protests that have wreaked havoc on Dallas. “I can’t sit idly by. This is not protest. Just don’t keep wrapping it as though its protest. It’s not protest. It’s anarchy,” he said. “And it’s not as if you’re talking to somebody who has never protested.”
Yet liberal activism like The 1619 Project has egged on such violence by perpetuating the notion that America’s founding was irredeemable and racist, so the U.S. needs structural reform to erase “institutional racism.”
Americans institutions have long fought racism head-on, however. As Larry Elder noted, the racial preferences in the Community Reinvestment Act, which created the subprime mortgage crisis behind the 2009 Wall Street crash, were a form of reparations gone wrong. Special interest groups exist to promote black Americans, and racial preferences exist on many levels of American education.
Tragically, the black community still lags behind other racial groups — although under President Donald Trump, black unemployment reached record lows before the coronavirus crisis. America’s rule of law and free market system help black Americans succeed, while the riots are destroying much of that progress for everyone, blacks included.
In fact, George Floyd was laid off during the coronavirus lockdown, but he was well-liked at the club where he worked. It is likely the club would have re-hired him in time — but the club itself burned down during the riots!
What should we do about George Floyd?
While police abuse is not necessarily a racial problem, it is nonetheless a big problem. Derek Chauvin, the man who killed George Floyd, had a long record of complaints. Gregory McMichael was not immediately arrested. The men who killed Breonna Taylor entered her house in plainclothes without announcing their presence. These facts should make Americans’ blood boil, and they should lead Americans to demand concrete action.
I don’t always agree with former President Barack Obama (okay, I almost never agree with that scandal-plagued president), but I agree with his basic advice on police reform. Obama encouraged activists to develop concrete demands and to focus on achieving change at the local level.
Police unions often protect bad cops who pose a danger to the community. In some cases, police have effective “get out of jail free” cards that they hand out to their family and friends. This institutionalizes an “old boys club” culture.
What law allows police officers to enter Americans’ houses without a warrant? The United States fought a revolution against Britain to secure a right against that kind of abuse of private property.
Americans should remember the names of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. These horrific deaths should inspire a wave of reform across America to hold police accountable.
The riots have illustrated why America needs police — to maintain law and order. These riots need to end, and Americans need to champion law and order and free markets — because that is the true way to defend freedom and opportunity for all people, black and white.
But this important issue should not distract us from the police brutality in these three cases. America needs police reform on a local level, and we can achieve that best by working within the rule of law and our elected representatives, not engaging in senseless rioting.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.