The PJ Tatler

Legitimate Racial Issues Drowned Out by Ferguson Violence

My circle of libertarian friends seems split regarding the goings on in Ferguson, Missouri. For some, the focus belongs on racial disparities in law enforcement activity, the militarization of police departments, and a futile rights-violating drug war. For others, the focus belongs on individual actions which clearly violate rights, like looting, rioting, and destroying property.

I tend to fall in the latter camp, not because the former concerns prove illegitimate, but because active violence presents a clearer threat to rights than a comparatively academic notion of systematic injustice. It may be right to question the rate at which blacks are arrested for similar crimes. But it’s definitely wrong to burn down your neighbor’s store in “protest.”

Writing last month for Rare, an online libertarian publication, editor Jack Hunter urged white Americans to “listen to the protestors in Missouri.” He wrote:

Black Americans have complained for some time about racial disparities in police shootings, abuse at the hands of law enforcement, and in how the law is applied. Last week, a study of the use of deadly force used by police published by the Pulitzer Prize winning independent news site ProPublica revealed…, “Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.”

A common response by many whites to this kind of information is that the crime rate is higher in black communities and therefore the incidents of police shooting blacks will inevitably be higher.

But even if this is your position, to leave it there would only be looking at one side.

Might it also be true that the high frequency of police shooting young black men could potentially create an environment where police sometimes shoot African Americans even when it is not justified? Might this happen with a relative frequency in which the offending officers do not suffer any repercussions?

If reasonable people can concede that this might be happeninghow often does it happen? And is this not a valid and important concern of black communities?

Is it not something worth marching in the streets over?

Marching? Maybe. But the response to the shooting of Michael Brown, both when it happened and now that a grand jury has opted not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, has been a bit more conspicuous than marching. Perhaps the question ought to be: are these concerns worth burning a city down over?

If we can’t all agree that the answer to that question is a resounding “no,” then we’re in a lot more trouble than if even the worst charges of systematic racial injustice prove true. If we can’t all agree that looting, arson, and similar acts of violence are unacceptable responses to grievance, then on what moral basis does any grievance rest?

(Today’s Fightin Words podcast is on this topic available here.)