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.
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.