#Ferguson: Was it only about being black?

Published: December 19, 2014
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Hundreds of demonstrators march down the middle of U Street Northwest after a grand jury did not indict the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri November 24, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

Hundreds of demonstrators march down the middle of U Street Northwest after a grand jury did not indict the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri November 24, 2014. PHOTO: AFP A demonstrator displays a sign during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri. PHOTO: AFP Protestors demonstrate on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery November 25, 2014 in Washington, DC, one day after a grand jury decision not to prosecute a white police officer for the killing of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri. PHOTO: AFP

The world has rallied around Ferguson after a grand jury refused to indict an officer for killing Michael Brown. Add the deaths of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, revisit past cases of police brutality such as Abner Louima (1997) and Amadou Diallo (1999), and what’s the result?

Marches in New York City and Washington DC, and thousands of protestors demanding an end to racism and murderous cops.

The international press magnifies this narrative and creates morality plays out of American drama.

Shehzad Ghias wrote,

“Racism is still prevalent in the United States.”

Ahson Saeed Hasan stated,

“Cops essentially have a license to kill!”

These views are shared by many inside and outside the US. But are they flawed? Do they derive from bias?

Since the Civil Rights Act 50 years ago, racism and crime have diminished in the United States. There are more opportunities for blacks and minorities now. Harvard professor Steven Pinker outlines in ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined’ how crime and war have fallen both globally and in the US; we live in harmony like no time previously.

We would not know this by Ferguson. Yes, racism and police brutality still exist, and we have to make further progress, but successful blacks in positions of power are the norm. Not just Barack Obama, but Colin PowellDr Ben CarsonCongresswoman Mia Love, many educators, journalists, coaches, lawyers. Oprah is not the only black woman with a talk show, and blacks such as Sheriff David Clarke have become part of the system. Then why this outrage over a petty thief and bully who tried to disarm an officer?

The Washington Post stated,

“Seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account, but none have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety.”

To say Officer Wilson could have used more restraint is reasonable, but to say it’s murder egregiously disregards evidence. Blacks testified; three more sat on a grand jury that voted unanimously not to indict. Forensic evidence corroborated Officer Wilson’s story and proved Brown’s shoplifting accomplice Dorian Johnson’s story, that Brown was shot with hands raised, was bogus. Yet, we have people marching around chanting,

“Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

Worse still is that we have media indolence driving a false narrative, a narrative that arguably provided a catalyst for violence and looting.

As for Garner, evidence shows that Officer Pantaleo acted recklessly. He has been relieved of his job. But why did a grand jury, including nine blacks, refuse to indict?

As silly as the cigarette law was, Mr Garner was breaking it. He resisted, and pre-existing asthma and a heart condition played a role. The New York Police Department (NYPD) sergeant supervising Pantaleo at the scene was an African American female, making the racial element less relevant. Hopefully, a civil court will find the NYPD accountable, at the very least, but as with Brown, this story has been blown up to fit an incongruent ideal.

But even if we assume Brown and Garner were murdered, along with Rice (the latter the most egregious miscarriage of justice), then what? Are these cases indicative of a trend or are they exceptions? Demagogues like Al Sharpton would like us to think things are getting worse, and that police unfairly target blacks.

Is this true?

PolitiFact does some good research here and here, but let’s go deeper:

“The victimisation rate for blacks (27.8 per 100,000) was six times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100, 000). The offending rate for blacks (34.4 per 100,000) was almost eight times higher than the rate for whites (4.5 per 100,000).” – US Department of Justice, 2011.

Further data rounded off show blacks, 12% to 13% of the population, have committed over 45% of all murders, with 93% of the victims black. Whites, about 60% of the population, have committed about 50% of all murders, 86% of which are white victims. Police have killed twice as many whites as blacks, yet 42% of all cops killed were murdered by blacks.

The conclusion being that homicide stays within race and, proportionately, blacks are being killed by cops slightly less than whites, and police are at tangible risk. The only trend for police bias is against suspected criminals. A reasonable bias, indeed.

“The felony rates for poor whites are similar to those of poor blacks.” – Politifact

When we misread data as the proverbial glass empty, prejudice resulted. For example, in one year, 1.1% of blacks compared to 0.3% of whites committed felonies. Instead of considering blacks three times more likely to be felons, we could focus on how 98.9% of blacks and 99.7% of whites did not commit felonies.

All of a sudden there’s a lot less difference between races. For continued progress we need to look for commonality and stop the ping-pong games of race-baiting. Instead, look at culture, poverty, one parent families, education, and other social issues.

The message for our children remains the same – be responsible for your actions, respect authority, respect the police, and do not break the law. Measures that make the police accountable for their actions, along with cameras and independent prosecutors, should be examined. And of course, we should continue to discuss the legacy of racism. But biased analysis on Ferguson feeds the cliché of “racism of lower expectations,” perpetuating victimhood and a prejudicial view of police and minorities. Better, why not highlight the positive and encourage the next generation to work together to alleviate social ills?

Caleb Powell

Caleb Powell

The writer is a Polish/Persian American and worked overseas for eight years, in East Asia, the Middle East, and South America. He now lives in the Pacific Northwest with his family. He Tweets @sonofmizrahi (twitter.com/sonofmizrahi?lang=en)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.