Black Lives Matter; Thinking Does Too

The Guardian did something that embarrassed the FBI in 2015. It kept track of how many people were killed by police.

The FBI director, James Comey, said in October it was “embarrassing and ridiculous” that the government did not hold comprehensive statistics, and that it was “unacceptable” the Guardian and the Washington Post, which began publishing a database of fatal police shootings on 1 July, held better records.

While true, there is a fairly obvious reason why the government hadn’t bothered to keep track of such things. It fulfilled no internal need. Who was killed and why was a matter of concern for those looking in, not those whose job it was to explain to Congress why its budget was inadequate to win the War on Crime.  No good could come of it for the FBI, in particular, or law enforcement in general.  After all, it would provide fodder for those who don’t appreciate how hard, how dangerous, how critical, their job is.  Why give ammunition to your enemy?

But with the Guardian keeping count, and videos to provide substantiation to the claims of misconduct, brutality and murder that had been successfully denied in simpler times, there were facts that could no longer remain hidden.

  1. By the close of 2015, police had killed a total of 1,134 people
  2. Black people were killed at more than twice the rate of white people
  3. One in five fired shots at officers before being killed
  4. One in five were unarmed when they were killed

The statistics tell only a small piece of the story, but they confirm with objective data that a substantial risk of death exists for black men between the ages of 15 and 34.

Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015, according to the findings of a Guardian study that recorded a final tally of 1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers this year.

Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.

It’s not that police don’t kill white men, or women, or bystanders, or each other. They do, and every “wrongful” killing, a controversial characterization under the best of circumstances, matters. To each human being, each family, death matters. But there is, objectively, a pervasive systemic issue for young black men, who are killed at a frequency that distinguishes them.

So we’re ready to deal with this? Not exactly.

There remains a substantial contingent of Americans who are untouched by this problem. While they may not favor the needless killing, they also find it easily dismissed as the cost of doing business in America. Sad and unfortunate, sure, but it can’t be avoided. After all, we don’t want police officers to be killed, so they must be allowed to pre-emptively kill at the first whiff of threat.


The paranoia of policing is understandable to such people; the cops are the good guys and the dead black men (as well as the whites) are throwaways. As for the occasional wholly unjustifiable murderer, they’re dismissed under the “one bad apple” rule. In the relative scheme of low expectations, stercus accidit.

The problem, to those who don’t dismiss it entirely, can be chalked up to blame-shifting, where if there is any facet of a killing that shifts any portion of blame away from police, that becomes “the” problem.  We’re a simple people, Americans, easily persuaded by faux shows of reform, facile phrases like the “war on cops” or the “Ferguson Effect.”

We grip tightly to any excuse that confirms our bias, eases our refusal to acknowledge that there is a problem that can’t really be ignored. And so we can ignore it. Or trust that someone is doing something to fix it. Or that it’s not a problem we need to lose sleep over, because it doesn’t touch our lives. The problems are pervasive, systemic and intractable. They will not be easily fixed, which means they require substantial thought. People hate to think. People refuse to think when they don’t believe the problem will affect them. People can avoid thinking when they’re told that trusted stakeholders are fixing the problem for them. Whew. Headache avoided.

But as much as the government’s effort is directed toward smoothing over the problem, those whose lives are being touched aren’t helping matters much. The Black Lives Matter movement is no better at thinking than the apologists for cop killings.  Rather than engage strategically, which means not acting impetuously under the shallow and counterproductive mantra that because the problem is real, anything done in the name of the movement is justified, and anyone who doesn’t blindly support actions taken is antagonistic toward the cause, they lash out blindly in all directions, from the most serious to the absurdly trivial.  They feed the prejudice of their detractors and undermine their credibility and cause.

While there are smart people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, they are still relatively naïve despite their good intentions. But even if their solutions are inadequate, or fail to take into account the depth and breadth of a problem they’ve only first started thinking about, they lack the organization and control over those who do harm to their cause. And like all putatively good causes, it will be characterized by the worst choice made in its name.

We have a problem in America with police. They are quick to harm, quick to kill, and too many of us remain unconvinced that curing this disease is worth the potential risk to our safety.  The old police union threat, that if you don’t like the way cops behave, the next time you need one, call a criminal, is good enough for the intellectual grasp of most Americans.

There may be videos, protests, and dead bodies in the middle of the road, but we’re still far away from recognizing the problem and fixing it.  The stumbling block is that this requires serious thought on all sides of the issue, and we, Americans, just don’t like to think.  This may be one of the only areas where blacks and whites agree: thinking is too hard and gives everybody a headache, so let’s not do it and instead embrace whatever empty rhetoric confirms our bias.

18 comments on “Black Lives Matter; Thinking Does Too

  1. Jim Cline

    Hey, at least we’re safe from terrorists. Depending on your definition of terrorist. I’m starting to think a black man may have a little different definition.

  2. CLS

    “The stumbling block is that this requires serious thought on all sides of the issue, and we, Americans, just don’t like to think. This may be one of the only areas where blacks and whites agree: thinking is too hard and gives everybody a headache, so let’s not do it and instead embrace whatever empty rhetoric confirms our bias.”

    Spot on. But this is the age where Facebook and Twitter serve as our respective town criers, where the twenty-four hour news cycle tells us what side of the issue is the most important, and where a Netflix “documentary” on the stuff we in-the-trenches types have been speaking on for ages garners more public outrage at the police problem and the cracks in the legal system than real, cohesive thought.

    If you can’t sum your point into a funny or interesting picture with words attached, people don’t want to hear it, think about it, or read it.

    It’s amazing how that which was created to “connect” us and make us more informed is simply turning us into mindless buffoons.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Well, Len Kachinsky is an officer of the court AND that is an “interesting picture”.

        P.S. Stop whining CLS and who says you aren’t “funny”? Just relax sooner or later this law and order deal is gonna be taken seriously and all the people who were talking about the serious stuff before the “serious” people started talking about the serious stuff will be long forgotten and we can move on to more enlightening material like why the heck the people who were talking about the serious stuff before the “serious” people started talking about the serious stuff don’t start a really dry comedy traveling minstrel show, now that the serious people are talking about the serious stuff, that promotes a soft landing and encourages people to run for elected office under the fuck the fucking fuckers before we are all fucked party banner.

        In the meantime all the serious people who talk about serious stuff before “serious” people do should really just get over it and start wearing more radical t-shirts under their work clothes and if that doesn’t balance ‘um out and prevent them from going insane they could also start carting goldfish bowls full of barnacle encrusted rocks around town, on thousand dollar custom built aluminum dolly carts sporting copper and stainless steel service animal plaques.

        P.S.S. You don’t often post political cartoons esteemed one. You should post more. All this reading makes my brain hurt more pictures of the picture book fantasy world please.

      2. CLS

        Heh. I got lucky and managed to get in with the Jedi Council before Order 66 was initiated.

        But on rumination and a few cups of coffee later, I come back to thinking about this.

        How many of the people who depend on Facebook and Twitter for their “news” realize they’re creating personal echo chambers for their own beliefs?

        The algorithm on which Facebook shows you what you see is based on your likes, shares, and views of posts. Twitter’s a little better, but even still they’ve begun initiating a feature where you see more of what you liked to see while you were away. And the block lists on Twitter…the bots…

        Those who want to argue on social media over stuff will use the “echo chamber” argument without realizing they’re creating their own.

        1. John Barleycorn

          Speaking of echo chambers…

          Did you know that both Oprah and Colbert said my flash mob idea that had thousands of “kids” showing up to motion hearings in star chamber courtrooms across the country wearing Len Kachinsky masks was a bad idea because they thought nobody would “get it” and cut and pasting the court dockets to group texts would take too much effort? They also said something about how CDL’s never polled well in focus group studies as superheroes but I think my porn makeup people and my action figure expoxy wardrobe folks convincingly changed their mind on this point but anyway….

          Do you reckon the guy who created the shopping mall, and also got the judge to give him an extra day to game the system, A. Alfred Taubman who died last year got together with Leonard Nimoy, Jim Molyneaux, Rev. Willie Barrow, and Terry Pratchett at the year end party to freebase coke with my personal hero Gary Ross Dahl (creator of the pet rock for those in the SJ audience who aren’t serious enough to know his name) while Robert Benmosche told jokes about how God spoke to him durring the bail out?

          I don’t know but I do know that some things never change…like kids gathering at the mall because Colbart and Oprah said guy fawkes masks at the mall they might consider but Len Kachinsky masks at star chambers across the nation were DOA.

          Whats up with that? Everybody knows that not even Facebook is gonna change the world unless white kids from the suburbs start pissing on black robes and giving bailiffs some cool tazer stories to share at the cop bars after hours and no way they are gonna become regulars with the gang at the cop dinner until they can one up a few stories at the cop bar.

          And everybody knows union busisness is done at the dinner.

          So there you have it..Unless that Zukerburg kid is in on the conspiracy but even if he is one of these days the serious people, who don’t really know what a algorithm can do, who talk about serious stuff before the “serious” people do will figure it out and that should be fun and allow the serious people who talk about the serious stuff before the “serious” people a means to bypass the “serious” middle man who is taking all the credit and mucking while mucking up the message.

          Just saying….


  3. JLS

    “We have a problem in America with police. They are quick to harm, quick to kill, and too many of us remain unconvinced that curing this disease is worth the potential risk to our safety. The old police union threat, that if you don’t like the way cops behave, the next time you need one, call a criminal, is good enough for the intellectual grasp of most Americans.”

    The only way any real reform is possible is when the people in Baptist churches who have “Police officer and Fireman appreciation day” see the need for reform.

    Unless the media start publicizing it when white people are abused by the police, especially when it’s someone in their income bracket, then nothing will ever change. While black people are disproportionally the victims of police atrocities it happens to white people all the time too. Too often the press doesn’t like to cover it if it doesn’t have an easy racial angle so the public has been left with the impression that this only happens to black people. Sadly if it only happens to black people most Americans don’t seem to be too motiviated to end it.

    1. SHG Post author

      Video has had a significant impact on whites when it comes to the killing of blacks. It’s far harder to turn away from the image. If whites wait until it’s their race, their socio-economic kind, it (1) won’t happen, and (2) will be too late for too many human beings. It doesn’t happen to white people “all the time too,” but sometimes. Not enough to have the same impact in the same way. But for video, whites could avoid the unpleasantness and distance themselves from the pain. With video, only a truly twisted scumbag can completely ignore it.

  4. EH

    In order for this to get sufficient traction, folks will have to believe that getting killed by cops is a much worse way to die than anything else.

    I say that cynically, because in a country of 318 million people, one out of every 280,423 people has been killed by a cop. If you’re black, one out of every 140,250 people has been killed by a cop. 1134 people is a shitload of people to wrongfully die… but less than a tenth of the murders. It’s probably less folks than die of malnutrition. And so on.

    I don’t like the way the cops act. I fight against it. But from a statistical sense, asking the government to attend to THIS as a priority, requires me to temporarily treat the lives of young black men as more valuable than many other lives. And to treat these particular bad acts by the government as categorically, horrifically, worse than other things. And I’m not surprised that many other folks refuse to make that jump.

    If you had the task to reform a government program with the goal of “saving lives,” or even “saving black lives” in particular, you’d probably focus on something else.

    1. SHG Post author

      The difference is that this is death at the hands of the government. While it is true that the number of cop killings is small in comparison to many other ways people die, no other cause of death is quite so needless and so directly attributable to the existence of a group of people whose positions exist for the purpose of protecting lives.

      1. EH

        Sure. Just like, say, “false convictions” are an unusually large harm, “unjust killings by cops” are an unusually large harm. (And like you, I see them as a larger indicator of governmental oppression, which is also a big issue.) Both are expected to some degree–it would be as hard to prevent all killings by people with guns, just as it would be hard ti prevent every inaccurate conviction–but we could certainly get them lower.

        But that analysis above still applies. It comes down to the question “is ____ an effective place to focus efforts on governmental change?” And the more that I engage with the issue, the less that I think that it is.

        After all, we’re not even talking about 1134 wrongful deaths, right? That is the number killed, but folks only want to change number wrongfully killed. As a somewhat BLM-biased guess, let’s say that 750 were wrongful, which is ~2/3 of the total.

        Then imagine that you could successfully halve the # of wrongful deaths. That would save 375 lives/year. That would be a big change by any metric… yet it’s still 375 people. Which is a lot, and also not a lot. To put it in perspective, that is about a tenth of the # of people who die in US jails each year.

        In 2008, 960 inmates died in federal jails (a mortality rate of 123 deaths per 100,000 jail inmates.) State prison facilities reported 3,452 inmate deaths in 2008 (a rate of 260 deaths per 100,000 prison inmates.) Do you think more than 375 of those were wrongful?

        Moreover, there are a lot more cops than there are prosecutors and judges, and the system interacted with tens if not hundreds of thousands of them. You can pressure on the police, to save 375 lives, or you can pressure the court establishment to treat minorities and the poor more fairly. For a given level of effort, which do you think will produce better social results? I don’t think it’s the cops.

        1. SHG Post author

          First, you really have to stop your compulsive need to run on ad nauseam. You made your point, at length, in your first comment. It wasn’t a hard concept to grasp. Repeating it, ad nauseam, is a waste of my time and bandwidth, and doesn’t make your point any more persuasive.

          Second, you’ve made a personal value judgment, that you don’t think needless killings by cops happen in sufficiently large numbers to be worth the time, effort and resources put into preventing them. You see one concern as being mutually exclusive of others, apparently based upon an allocation of scarce resources. Got it. I don’t agree.

          If you want to pursue your position that needless cops killings just aren’t worth the concern, start your own blog and change the world. But stop wasting my time with your constant verbose comments, because I truly don’t give a shit that your value judgment is that needless cop killings don’t involve enough lives to matter. And if you are incapable of brevity, your comments will be trashed from now on. I refuse to waste more of my time reading your absurdly verbose comments.

        2. Jack

          You are missing out of your calculus the effect that unjustified police killings have on the community at large. Trust and cooperation between the community and police are inextricably linked to crime.

          Simple math is simple, but this issue is not.

    2. John S.

      Your math is absurdly wrong. The 2015 population was approximately 320m, and if 2% are black, that is 6.4m. The Guardian lists that 15% of the 1134 killings were of blacks, which is 170. 6.4m/170 is in the ballpark of 1 in 38,000. But thanks for not letting facts or numbers get in the way of your opinions, it really lets the rest of us see your angle clearly.

  5. John

    You identify the problem, and I hate to put it on you, but how would you begin to address/create a solution?

    1. SHG Post author

      There are about 7500 posts here, many of which discuss solutions. Read all you want.

      But beware. Solutions to complex systemic problems aren’t quick and easy.

  6. Pingback: Is “Necessity” The Answer To Stop Police Murder? | Simple Justice

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