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OPINION | BRADLEY GITZ: The missing racism

by Bradley Gitz | May 3, 2021 at 2:00 a.m.

Most people who watched the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd were appalled and undoubtedly felt that criminal charges were justified.

The problem has always come when we extrapolate from the guilt of a specific police officer in Minnesota to indict police across the nation as a whole.

Although President Biden claimed that Floyd's death "ripped the blinders off for the whole world to see the systemic racism," the actual trial failed to turn up any evidence that Chauvin's treatment of Floyd had anything to do with race.

As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy notes, "Not a shred of evidence was introduced at the trial that Derek Chauvin is a racist. None. There was nothing in the weeks of testimony that even hinted at such a thing. The prosecutors who aggressively urged the jury to convict Chauvin of murder never intimated that racism played any role in the crimes. They convincingly argued that he was a bad cop, not a racist cop."

In other words, the murder of George Floyd and the Chauvin trial were plugged into a racist policing narrative that acquired momentum with the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., back in 2014 and has been nourished since then by any case in which someone who happened to be Black was shot by a police officer who happened to be white, regardless of whether those shootings were justified or racism played any part in them.

The color of those doing the shooting and those being shot was apparently all the proof of racism needed.

Contrary to popular media-driven perceptions, the data compiled since 2015 by The Washington Post fails to show significant change in the number of police shootings of Blacks over time ("rate of shootings remains steady"). The database shows that, overall, 2,886 whites have been killed by police, compared to 1,507 Blacks.

If those who were Black were killed because of their skin color, the deaths of those who were white are left conspicuously unexplained.

We frequently hear that Blacks are more than twice as likely to be killed by police than whites, but not how FBI statistics show that they are also six times more likely to commit homicide and eight times more likely to commit robbery; that a racial group that comprises just 12 percent of the U.S. population was responsible for well over half (55.9 percent) of the nation's murders last year.

To discuss interaction between the police and Blacks without taking such facts into consideration is blatantly dishonest.

Within this context, a study conducted by John Lott for the Crime Prevention Research Center actually found that, when other variables are accounted for and held constant, Black police officers were just as likely as white officers to kill Black suspects and actually more likely to kill unarmed Blacks than their white counterparts.

Columbia University's John McWhorter recently posed an intriguing question that could be useful for assessing the level of racism in deadly encounters between white police and Black suspects: Is there reason to believe that the white cop would have acted differently in those circumstances if the suspect had been white?

Put another way, in contemplating any of the high-profile police shootings of Blacks in recent years, would a different result have likely occurred if the suspect had been a different color?

One would, along these lines, like to think that those flinging accusations of police racism could explain precisely how the scenarios in which white police use deadly force against Blacks differ in nature from the more frequent scenarios in which they use such force against others.

To take this in a related direction, what if the police officer who mistook a gun for a Taser in Brooklyn Center, Minn., had been Black and the person she mistakenly shot had been white?

Or if the 16-year-old girl wielding the knife had been white and both the girl she had been attempting to stab in Columbus, Ohio, and the police officer who shot her to prevent that stabbing had been Black?

Would there have been much media attention in such circumstances, followed by nationwide protests and riots? And would demagogic politicians have weighed in to scream racism before the facts were even known, as so disgracefully happened in the Ma'Khia Bryant and Daunte Wright cases?

Our politics increasingly consists of fabricated narratives which produce an insatiable search for events that can be somehow shoehorned into them. It's the narrative and the political interests it serves that matter, not whether the claims are true or events actually reflect what is claimed.

And facts and data that don't fit the narrative, that might even refute it, are left out.

So what if our fundamental narrative is wrong in all this, and Floyd, Bryant, and Wright didn't really die because of the color of their skin or that of those who killed them?

What if Floyd was just killed by a bad cop, Wright by an incompetent cop, and Bryant by a cop doing his job by preventing her from stabbing someone (who happened to also be Black)?

The thought arises: Given the way we have framed the problem, what can police do to prove they're not racist? Shoot only white people? Or just more of them?

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.


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