Sophistry Is Bad, But Lying Doesn’t Make It Real

The reaction to the killing of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant brought out a lot of hardcore sophistry, desperately seeking to shift the focus away from the fact that she was about to plunge a knife into another human being to another black person killed by the cops. It’s true, she was. It’s also true that there was a reason for it. It’s further true that the people arguing the cause studiously ignore the reason and only focus on the outcome.

It’s a dishonest argument, but the days when people were ashamed of being disingenuous are in the rearview mirror. Arguments that get people to the “correct” outcome matter, no matter what fallacious reasoning is required. The ends justify the means when the end is social justice.

Ohio prawf Sean Hill, whose “teaching and research lie at the intersection of critical race theory and criminal justice policy,” made his pitch in the Columbus Dispatch.

In 2018 alone, 55% of incidents involving use of force by Columbus police targeted Black people, despite Black Columbus residents making up less than 29% of the population.

The number of police killings in the United States far exceed those of other wealthy democracies. Likewise, in the short time between the start of the Chauvin trial and the verdicts being announced, at least 64 people were killed by police.

These are damning statistics, and compel us to ask why this is happening. That so many people were killed is terrible. That so many were black is terrible. Why? It’s a question asked by people who want to fix problems, It’s the critical question to make the stats worthwhile. This was Hill’s answer to the “why” question.

The reality is that Black-on-Black crime is a myth, and that Black and white people routinely commit crimes at similar rates, but Black people are overwhelmingly targeted for arrest.

This is a critical assertion, for if black-on-black crime is a myth, then what else could explain these killings other than race? But the assertion conflates two important things. It begins with the contention that black-on-black crime is a myth, and backs it up by claiming black and white people “routinely commit crimes at similar rates.” While the latter may be accurate as to drug sale and use, it is not true about violent crime, which is what black-on-black crime is about. Or more to the point, violent crime is the sort of crime that begets police use of force and killing.

At Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene runs the numbers.

Blacks, which here means non-Hispanic blacks, were 12.5% of the U.S. population, and non-Hispanic whites were 60.4%. It thus appears from this data that the black per capita violent crime rate is roughly 2.3 to 2.8 times the rate for the country as a whole, while the white per capita violent crime rate is roughly 0.7 to 0.9 times the rate for the country as a whole.

This leads Eugene to three conclusions.

  • blacks appear to commit violent crimes at a substantially higher rate per capita than do whites;
  • there seems to be little aggregate disparity between the rate at which blacks commit violent crimes (especially when one focuses on crimes where the victims say they reported the crimes to the police) and the rate at which blacks are arrested for crimes; and
  • the black-on-black crime rate is especially high.

Why black people commit violent crime at a substantially higher rate is another critical question, but the fact that they do makes Hill’s assertion that “black-on-black crime is a myth” deeply disturbing. He’s a law professor. This is his specific area of scholarship. Is it possible he just didn’t know any better? It seems highly unlikely, which means that he knew that the assertion he made in a newspaper of general circulation was false. He lied.

Hill enjoyed the cred of being a law prof so that the readers of a newspaper of general circulation would believe that he must know what he’s talking about, and wouldn’t be so  unscholarly and shameless as to assert a fact that was a blatant lie, the readers were likely to accept his assertion that “black-on-black” crime is a myth.

This gives rise to two problems, both of which have disastrous consequences for society. The first is that by claiming something very real doesn’t exist, it eliminates any need to figure out why black people commit violent crimes at a substantially higher rate than white people. And by eliminating the need to figure out why, we eliminate the ability to find viable solutions to end it. This is not an invitation for what you would do to fix it, but rather the point that there is nothing to fix if it doesn’t exist.

The second problem is that it shifts the focus away from the fact that black-on-black crime very much exists and wreaks havoc with the black community who suffers from this violence and exaggerates the claim that there is an epidemic of racist police murders of black people. There is a problem with racist police culture. There is a problem with the harsher handling of black people than white people. And there is a problem with black people being needlessly and wrongfully killed by police. But not every killing is a bad one, a racist one, and some, like Ma’Khia Bryant, were entirely proper. In contrast, the killing of Adam Toledo may be more controversial. And then there were killings like Walter Scott or Philando Castile, for which there is no justification.

But what it is not is an “epidemic” of police slaughtering black people in the streets for no reason, the sort of grossly hyperbolic rhetoric that gives rise to the belief that cops are murdering thousands of black people every year. We have a problem with racism in policing, and it needs to be fixed. Lying about the problem won’t fix it, and creating public hysteria based on a lie is not the way a serious person tries to find solutions. Yet, there’s an awful lot of it going around, and there aren’t many people bold enough to call bullshit and risk the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

28 thoughts on “Sophistry Is Bad, But Lying Doesn’t Make It Real

  1. Ray

    Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics…

    Someone said that once. The problem is where did Professor Hill and Eugene get their respective statistics, how were they collected, by whom were they collected, over what time period, in what communities, what do they mean in context, etc…?

    The argument will continue to spin round and round.

    1. SHG Post author

      There’s no problem if you click on the links, where you’ll find answers that will save you from comments like this.

      1. Ray

        No, the links don’t really help. The Justice Department statistics are only for the year 2018 and don’t deem to include all crime. I don’t think you can draw conclusions on just one year’s worth of data. As far as methodology in collecting the data, I thought the portion of the report was unclear. I still can’t tell who is reporting and collecting, and there was mention that not all events were reported in terms of race. So, while the Bureau of Statistics information may have use for something, I don’t know if it really answers Professor Hill’s assertions. I’m also unsure of the reliability of the data he relies upon.

        1. SHG Post author

          It’s the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which is the primary resource in this area and by far the most extensive and reliable data available. 2018 is the latest year of breakdown of offenders by race and ethnicity. Your unfamiliarity with it, and its methods, isn’t relevant to those of us who do this work.

  2. Hal

    “[T]he intersection of critical race theory and criminal justice policy” needs STOP signs,

    Perhaps we should start a GoFundMe effort…

  3. Dan

    I think it’s past time to take seriously the possibility that the true goals of the woke (specifically, of the “elite” woke–the academics, the politicians, etc, not necessarily the masses out in the streets), and their stated goals, are not the same. As you’ve repeatedly (and with increasing frequency) said, we aren’t going to solve problems by ignoring them, lying about them, or inventing (or grossly exaggerating) other problems. But most of these people (with AOC as a likely exception) are not stupid, so they must know that. Yet they continue to lie, as Hill does. Why? A logical conclusion would be that they aren’t actually interested in solving the problems they’re saying exist.

    A commenter the other day posited that this is simply a matter of the first rule of a bureaucracy–perpetuate the bureaucracy. And if the problem’s solved, there’s no reason to have the bureaucracy any more. But I don’t think that really accounts for what we’re seeing.

    Look around at what’s happening. We’re being told that our history is one atrocity after another. There was nothing good in the founding of this country, nothing good in anything significant it’s done ever since, and very little good in what it’s doing now. The majority of the country (white people, and especially white males) are being told that they’re irredeemably evil, there’s no forgiveness, there’s no atonement, at best they can be second-class-citizen “allies”–if they’re good enough. Meanwhile, People Of Certain Colors (curious how Asians are never included in “people of color”) are being told that they can embrace the most vile race-based hatred, and not only isn’t it wrong, it’s a positive moral good. This is not sustainable, and if it isn’t stopped, it will destroy our society.

    In the law, we presume that a person intends the foreseeable consequences of his actions. Should that presumption not apply here?

    1. SHG Post author

      I resist this argument because it’s so very cynical and I (as I’ve been maliciously smeared) am an idealist. But that doesn’t make your argument wrong.

      1. Grum

        Have to say that I’m kinda with Dan here.
        There are examples of other “elites” in history your side of the pond, solving problems they say exist (eg. the gods will be uncooperative if we don’t drench everything in blood) learning that lesson the hard way. Plenty of other examples elsewhere.
        Conflating self-interest with supporting an orthodoxy regardless of any actual merit seems an eternal human failing, alas. I’d hesitate to call being extremely wary of such things cynical. It happens all too often for comfort for this somewhat idealist.

    1. Grum

      Best Beatles pastiche ever, but I always wonder. Drums are loud as fuck, so you can’t mime playing them.
      Therefore the sound mix must be more lies, thus adding a layer of irony which, frankly, makes my head spin.

  4. Hunting Guy

    Jessie Jackson.

    “There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps… then turn around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”

  5. Elpey P.

    “by eliminating the need to figure out why, we eliminate the ability to find viable solutions to end it”

    The irony of CRT is that if it turned its lens on itself it would show how it functions as a form of systemic racism (i.e., “white supremacy”) that is evolving in response to a changing society.

  6. B. McLeod

    Lying about the facts actually undermines the arguments of the wokey passionate folks. It suggests they lack conviction in their views, to the extent they don’t have confidence they can advance their position with real facts, and “have to” lie for that reason.

    1. SHG Post author

      Only to the unwoke. The woke aren’t particularly put off by sophistry or lies, as long as they serve the correct ends.

    2. Dan

      But there is no such thing as objective truth, fact, or reason (other than the pervasive objective truth that everything is racist), and the demand for such is itself racist.

  7. Rengit

    The lying gives rise to a third problem: it leads plenty of people to a deep-seated distrust and suspicion of people who are supposed to be experts. Which is not necessarily the wrong conclusion to make if you observe that this is the type of person our credentialing institutions are certifying as experts. What’s more, it may cause plenty of those same people to buy into other lies. If this guy gets to be a law professor making six figures at a publicly funded university so he can conspiracy theorize that “black-on-black crime is a myth spread by racists”, then why not indulge your own theories disconnected from reality?

    1. SHG Post author

      One would hope the legal academy frowned on the use of such rhetorical devices to debase it cred, and Eugene did so. Then again, the legal academy has its issues with Eugene’s lack of wokeness.

  8. Dan J

    I was banned from r/law for making this same claim, with the FBI data as a source. People don’t want facts.

  9. John Barleycorn

    All this pointing out the “obvious” is getting repetitive…

    Surely you must have some productive and insightful ideas gleaned from all those years in the well, not to mention staring at the paneled walls at SJ Headquarters.

    Come on esteemed one, “white papers” matter!

    1. SHG Post author

      Every once in a while, you actually make a valuable point. It is getting repetitive. Just as it was getting repetitive years ago when cops were caught on vid engaging in vicious racially-motivated attacks on black guys. Back then, most people still sided with the cops and didn’t believe it could be true. They were wrong, and needed a bit of repetition to break through their biases. Now that the pendulum has swung far to the other side, and everything cops do is vicious and racist even when it’s not, I find myself doing the opposite.

      But yes, it’s repetitive. But this is the world today, and so I suffer it for you (inter alia).

      1. John Barleycorn

        True, true, true, true, and true.

        P.S. let me know when you want to give birth to a white paper. I will send seeds amongst other things..

  10. Mark Brooks

    Dear Mr. Greenfield,

    Prof Hill is a proponent of Critical Race Theory (CRT), so it is not surprising that he states “Black on Black crime is a myth”. For CRT to be “correct”, such as thing as “Black on Black” crime cannot exist. Is Hill making this statement knowing it to be false so as to promote CRT or is he so “brainwashed” that he actually believes it to be true ? That is the question.

    I believe you once linked to a twitter thread from Leonydus Johnson that showed a list of Black and Brown children who were killed in 2020 on account of gang violence and such related killings. He has started a list for 2021 and (so far) it shows 20 such children. I know you might delete the link, but here it is anyways.

    The BLM webpage for Ma’Khia Bryant, which is dated 23/Apr/2021, states that “Together, we’re going to uplift, center, and honor this Black child for what she loved”. Yet, this website makes no mention of any of the 20 children shown in Leonydus Johnson’s thread . Do their lives not matter to BLM ? Or is it an “Inconvenient Truth” that such deaths happen because of “Black on Black” crime ?

    This should be the time for the President of the USA to speak up and talk to the “Inconvenient Truth”. After all, didn’t he say that he was a leader and a “unifier” ?

    He recently made comments about how Black and Brown persons have to “worry about whether their sons or daughters will come home after a grocery store run or just walking down the street or driving their car or playing in the park or just sleeping at home” in reference to police killings. YET more Black and Brown children are killed from gang violence and other such killings that have NOTHING to do with the police. Do their lives not matter to him ?

    President Biden needs to “grow a spine” and follow the lead of Democrat Congresswoman Val Denning
    who stated that the officer “responded as he was trained to do with the main thought of preventing a tragedy and a loss of life of the person who was about to be assaulted.”

    Kind Regards
    Mark Brooks
    St. Elizabeth

    1. SHG Post author

      While it’s understandable why comparing people killed by cops to people killed by criminals is not an apt comparison, the denial of the horrible reality that people are being killed by the latter to bolster the evils of the former makes no sense to me. If the question is about black lives, then black lives matter, all of them.

      1. B. McLeod

        Obviously the BLM premise is misstated. The key factor in every case is not who is dying, but who is doing the killing. It’s objectionable when police do the killing. This is similar to having magic words that are only objectionable “slurs” if white people say them.

  11. John Holden

    There was a post in which you boldly declared that only 27 black people were killed by police in 2019 when that statistic actually referred to unarmed black people. I remember the post (now it seems corrected) because, ironically, you keep linking it as an example of people exaggerating statistics. I’d say its an odd thing to reference when criticizing someone for statistical inaccuracy, but you were also claiming that the racial wealth gap and inequality weren’t increasing, dispite all evidence to the contrary, so perhaps alternative facts are more the rule than exception around here.

    1. SHG Post author

      And here you are, able to challenge what you believe I wrote rather than what I wrote, or what you believe I meant rather than what I meant. Is this a great blawg or what?

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