#Ferguson: Was it only about being black?

Published: December 19, 2014

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.

  • Golnath Agarwal

    For some reason you omitted the current and past lawsuits against
    NYPD, concerning Officer Pantaleo. All addressing his rogue, aggressive
    behavior. The lawsuits were filed BEFORE the current ongoing saga of
    Officer Pantaleo. For some reason you omitted the fact that Officer Pantaleo
    used an illegal, banned, choke hold on Eric Garner. The video, the world has
    seen, clearly shows what transpired. To get killed for a minor infraction of the
    law? Loose your life for selling a cigarette? The rough actions of the NYPD
    officers aggravated Eric Garner’s medical issues. Resulting in his death. He
    repeatedly said “I Can’t Breath.” Yet the officers maintained their grips and
    holds on him. None of the officers present there, heeded his pleadings or
    gave a doozy. And how does it make a difference that the supervising officer
    was a female African American? She did not stop the ongoing altercation.
    She did nothing. Or if she did,….the officers disregarded her.Recommend

  • nomi

    Mr. Powell,

    a great analysis. The black community has sadly taken unfair advantage of the baggage of history and everything is seen with the prism of racism by that community.

    Talking of Black crime has become a taboo which it should not. It should be openly discussed.Recommend

  • Critical

    A refreshing change after that other blog written by a Pakistani American which potrayed as if every white officer was a KKK agent and there is an open season for blacks…

    I’ve worked in 7 different cities in the past 5 years in USA,granted I’ve worked in places like Utah,Tenesse,Alabama…I didnt feel any direct discrimination over race…

    As long as I known the rules and abided them,I never faced any issue so far…

    The Michael Brown case was so biased against the officer..He stole cigars from a convenience shop..manhandled the clerk,tried to pull the gun from the officer and forensic reports suggests that he didnt raise his hands at all..

    The protestors all have vested interests like Al Sharpton who want to victimize the white population or the thugs who use the protests as a covert to loot public property…

    Maybe due to poverty,the percentage of blacks who commit crimes is way higher than other ethnic groups and in fact if you take the racially motivated crimes,80% of them are done by blacks over other races..They have the highest school dropout rates,lowest eduction degrees,more in social welfare…

    The chinese who entered USA a little after blacks were mostly railroad workers but they have improved their lives due to education..SO blacks should stop using the past oppression and start working…

    I dont have racial prejudice over blacks because I’m not white either but the current generation are trying to take advantage of the “white guilt”Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I commented on another blog which mentioned this incident. My comment was that the USA trains policemen to uphold high levels of moral and ethical integrity. Also that they usually weed out the bad seeds themselves and should, therefore, be never compared with the corrupt Pakistani police. I caught flak for writing that and some irate readers even messaged me on Facebook claiming that I was insincere and humanity was dying but I was ignoring it. Therefore I gives me great pleasure and relief that this blog has been written. I would like to personally thank the author. thank you very much sir!Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta

    Have you heard about the caste system in Hindustan?
    Funny a hindu waxing poetic about race and discrimination.
    Spare us the US history lesson. Nor do we need a US race
    relation lecture. Hindustanis are a little higher on the race
    totem pole. Above Aleuts [Eskimos] but between mixed race
    blacks and Mexicans/Guatemalans/Hondurans.Recommend

  • Ramchand

    DId you hear about the NYPD law about ‘Stop and Search’??
    That was basically applied and used in ghettos. Like parts of
    Queens, Brooklyn, Jamaica, Bronx….all depressed neighborhoods.
    And was used on minorities…police could stop anyone, walking down
    the street, for no reason, and search them. Simply because they “looked” suspicious. That included your countrymen. Simply because they ‘look’
    different. The law was struck down, recently, because it was declared unconstitutional. And 99.99% who were stopped and searched were
    minorities. And a hefty percentage was Bharatis. Even though they
    were totally innocent, law abiding people. Nothing to do with crime.
    Yet they were stopped and searched because they were dark skinned,
    minorities. A great lady lawyer, ethnic Indian, fought and repealed this
    law. Last year.Recommend

  • Kurtis Engle

    It isn’t about race, directly. It is about the lack of repercussions when cops go nuts. And this leads to the fact that they tend to go nuts.

    Who am I? A 52 year old white man. The only time I worry, is when the police show up.Recommend