The Massive Gap in Our Understanding of Why KC Doesn’t Control Its Own Police Department

The local press has produced various articles on why Kansas City does not control its own police department, with mixed explanatory success. The fact that the governor of Missouri selects almost the entirety of the KC board of police commissioners, whereas all other cities in the state form their own boards, no doubt inspires many confused and angry internet searches. Local control is step one of police reform here — the KCPD will not reform itself, and the deeply conservative state legislature will be of no assistance; both these bodies are desperate to keep control out of the hands of the relatively progressive city council. Pieces on how this absurd state of affairs came to be offer valuable information, but what is also needed is an article on what we don’t know. This is admittedly risky, as it’s possible someone knows the answers to the nagging questions herein, but if that’s the case then his or her historical research is itself difficult to find, or at least it has been for me.

Some articles, such as the one from FOX 4, only speak of 1930s Kansas City and the need to wrest police control away from mob boss Tom Pendergast. The Beacon focuses solely on this, yet notes that first Pendergast had to weasel control away from the state, without further comment. More outlets barely seem to realize that the Pendergast story is less important if Kansas City had state control before that; The Pitch and KCUR write that state management began in 1874, when the KCPD was first formed, but still focus on 1932-1939, when Tom ran it. The Star does a little better, explaining that during the Civil War, Missouri was one of the slave states that did not join the Confederacy, but sought to prevent arms and munitions in St. Louis from being used for Union purposes by seizing control of the St. Louis police department (local control was given back in 2013). The same set-up — a governor-decided board — was then used for Kansas City in 1874.

Little more is said, though this isn’t fully the fault of the journalists. It could be that no historian, professional or amateur, has researched the circumstances of 1874. Why was the St. Louis model used for Kansas City? Who were the key players? What motivated them to take their positions, whether for or against? And many other questions. Journalists typically have little time to turn around a story; if historians haven’t done the work, which can take weeks, months, or years, the article may not be properly fleshed out. This explains the focus on Pendergast and St. Louis — that’s the information available.

Some may be satisfied with the knowledge that KC’s state of affairs has its roots in St. Louis’. That is all that’s needed, after all, to show a link between American white supremacy (the desire to aid the Confederacy, which sought to preserve slavery, by controlling armories) and our lack of local control. This connection is being used in the crucial legal push to reestablish local power. (I will never forgive FOX 4 in that last link, by the way, for its headline “Woman Sues KC Police Board,” as if Gwen Grant, president of the Urban League, was a complete nobody, like some “Woman Eaten By an Alligator in Florida.” Try “Activist,” “Organizer,” “ULKC President” or something.) That historical link is undeniable, but it bothers the historian, and probably a lot of readers, that no further context is available. We want to know more. Say, for example, that those who pushed for state control of KC forces in the 1870s had their own reasons that related to race. Clearly, the Civil War had been over for a decade, but what if — and this is completely made up — they thought the state would be better than the city at keeping black officers off the force? This would be important to know for its own sake, significantly altering the meaning of state control of our police, but could also service the campaign to correct the problem. It would make any “rooted in racism” statement even more powerful; it’s a much more direct connection. Alternatively, of course, there could be an entirely different context. What if — and this is again imaginary — the intentional modeling of KC’s board on St. Louis’ was far less nefarious. Perhaps there were good intentions, even if one disagrees with the policy. Getting control of the police away from the mob in the 1930s might be a later example of this. Maybe the 1874 decision was likewise independent of racial questions. Or what if the city council was so racist someone wanted outside control? We can imagine anything we want, because we don’t know. (Uncovering a more benign motive would certainly be used against the campaign — knowledge, as much as we crave and cherish it, can come with a cost.)

The assumption seems to be that what happened in 1874 was due to mere precedent. In other words, St. Louis had a governor-appointed board of police commissioners, so it was decided KC should be the same without much thought. This is entirely possible, but without further research it could be entirely wrong.

So let’s examine what we do know of the events. We know that in 1874, representative James McDaniels introduced House Bill 866, entitled “An act creating a board of police commissioners, and authorizing the appointment of a permanent police force for the City of Kansas.” Formation and outside administration came at the same time. This language is identical to the act passed for St. Louis in the Civil War era. H.B. 866 (which one can read in its entirety here) passed easily, 92-10. In the Missouri senate, it was then called up by Senator John Wornall, a name Kansas Citians will recognize if they’ve ever driven down a certain road. In that chamber, the vote was 21-0 in favor. This is in contrast to the St. Louis bill, passing 50-32 and 24-8, with plenty of debate, as The Star documented.

Who was James McDaniels? An 1874 book offering short biographies on the members of the Missouri legislature described him as “about twenty-seven years of age” and a native of Vermont. He was a real estate agent in Kansas City, and one of three representatives from Jackson County. The book describes him as a “progressive Democrat,” which marks him as a reformer. Progressives of the late 19th (and early 20th) century tended to seek government solutions to the problems wrought by industrialization and urbanization, like poverty, political machines (that’s what Pendergast had later), and corporate power. A progressive advocating a police force, state-controlled no less, could only be thought of as odd in the context of today’s sensibilities and meanings. With cities growing rapidly, and slums and crime a problem, a larger, more organized police force would have been seen as a fine way to create a better society, at least by someone like McDaniels. However, without more information, we simply do not know McDaniels’ true motives. Overall, his time in the legislature was brief; he was elected in 1872, served for a couple years, got H.B. 866 passed his final year, and disappeared.

What of the ten who voted against the bill? There were two representatives from St. Louis, Truman A. Post and Joseph T. Tatum. There was James B. Harper, Radical Republican from Putnam County, who fought for the Union in the Missouri militia. And there was the second representative from Jackson County, Republican Stephen P. Twiss (our third representative did not vote). Twiss grew up poor in Massachusetts but eventually became a lawyer and served in that state’s legislature, according to his (much longer) biography in the 1874 text. It is carefully noted that he “voted for the Hon. Charles Sumner in his second election to the United States Senate” (this was when legislators, not ordinary voters, chose U.S. senators). Sumner was head of the Radical Republicans, the anti-slavery advocates. Twiss moved to Kansas City after the Civil War and, after losing to the Democrat Wornall in a race for Missouri senate, was elected to the Missouri house. Why was Twiss against the bill (so fiercely he tried to repeal it in 1875), when McDaniels and Wornall were for it? As before, note that Republicans shooting down a police force and/or state control must not be thought of as strange here — Republicans and Democrats were very different ideologically in past centuries compared to the modern parties. Overall, eight Republicans voted No, alongside two Democrats. Other Republicans joined the mostly Democratic legislature to pass H.B. 866. So maybe that hints at something. Those generally against the bill were Republicans, who were generally against slavery. But whether the bill had any motives connected to post-war racial politics, we do not know.

I had hoped to offer more information than just the key players, but it became clear rather quickly that this would require weeks, months, or years. Perhaps I will circle back to this if I have the time and energy for such a project. So many vital questions linger — we still know next to nothing. Why did McDaniels base his bill on St. Louis’? Was it mere precedent and ease? “That’s how it was done before, and how it passed before, so why not?” Or were there political motives? Did the city council agree with the legislation? Did the more primitive police forces that existed before the formation of the KCPD, such as the sheriff and deputies, agree with it? Why did Twiss vote against it and try to have it repealed? Was he against a police force itself, against state control, or both? Or did he dislike some other aspect of the plan? Why did the third Jackson County rep, James R. Sheley, abstain from voting? Why did two St. Louis legislators vote Nay? Did they sympathetically oppose state power over another police force, frustrated by their own city’s experience, or was there another reason? Why did Republicans oppose the legislation? Does a large majority voting for the bill in both chambers mean there wasn’t much debate on it?

To answer these questions, one must put on the historian’s helmet. We’ll have to track down the journals and diaries of all those actors, in historical archives or by finding their descendants. Newspapers from the 1870s will have to be located and studied in the archives for stories of these votes and debates. We’ll need more government records, if they exist. And did any secondary sources, such as books, comment on these things later? These are huge ifs — even if these items were created, they may not have survived nearly 150 years. McDaniels, perhaps the most important person in the story, does not appear to have been a man of prominence, and will likely prove difficult to study. Twiss is a bit easier to find, as he became a judge and ran for KC mayor (and in the 1850s may have helped found the Republican Party). His (theoretical) documents could have been better preserved. Wornall’s, too. Hopefully this writing aids whoever undertakes this endeavor, whether my future self or someone else.

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Did U.S. Policing Evolve from Slave Patrols? Well…Sort Of

How American Policing Started with Carolina Slave Catchers” and similar headlines need asterisks. There are big elements of truth in them, but also a betrayal of the nuance found in the historical scholarship on which they are based. There is also the problem of lack of context, which perhaps inappropriately electrifies meaning. American policing starting with slave patrols is a powerful idea, but does it become less so when, for example, we study what policing looked like around the globe — and in the American colonies — before slave patrols were first formed in the early 18th century?

Obviously, permanent city forces tasked with enforcing laws and maintaining order have existed around the world since ancient times. There was a police unit in Rome established by the first emperor, China had its own forms of policing long before Western influence, and so on. As human communities grew larger, more complex systems (more personnel, permanent bodies, compensation, training, weaponry) were deemed necessary to prevent crime and capture criminals.

Small bands and villages could use simpler means to address wrongdoing. In traditional societies, which were kin-based, chiefs, councils, or the entire community ran the show, one of unwritten laws and intimate mediation or justice procedures. Larger villages and towns where non-kin lived and worked together typically established groups of men to keep order; for example, “among the first public police forces established in colonial North America were the watchmen organized in Boston in 1631 and in New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1647. Although watchmen were paid a fee in both Boston and New York, most officers in colonial America did not receive a salary but were paid by private citizens, as were their English counterparts.” There were also constables and sheriffs in the 1630s. True, American society has virtually always been a slave society, but similar groups were formed elsewhere before the African slave trade began under the Portuguese in the 16th century. There were “patrolmen, sergeants and constables” on six-month contracts in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries. There were sheriffs, constables, and coroners (who investigated deaths) in England in medieval times. Before the 1500s, armed men paid (whether by individuals or government) to prevent and respond to trouble in cities had been around in the West for about 4,500 years — as well as in China, African states, and elsewhere (India, Japan, Palestine, Persia, Egypt, the Islamic caliphates, and so on).

This is not to build a straw man. One might retort: “The argument is that modern policing has its roots in slave patrols.” Or “…modern, American policing…” Indeed, that is often the way it is framed, with the “modern” institution having its “origins” in the patrolling groups that began in the first decade of the 1700s.

But the historians cited to support this argument are actually more interested in showing how slave patrols were one (historically overlooked) influence among many influences on the formation of American police departments — and had the greatest impact on those in the South. A more accurate claim would be that “modern Southern police departments have roots in slave patrols.” This can be made more accurate still, but we will return to that shortly.

Crime historian Gary Potter of Eastern Kentucky University has a popular 2013 writing that contains a paragraph on this topic, a good place to kick things off:

In the Southern states the development of American policing followed a different path. The genesis of the modern police organization in the South is the “Slave Patrol” (Platt 1982). The first formal slave patrol was created in the Carolina colonies in 1704 (Reichel 1992). Slave patrols had three primary functions: (1) to chase down, apprehend, and return to their owners, runaway slaves; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who were subject to summary justice, outside of the law, if they violated any plantation rules. Following the Civil War, these vigilante-style organizations evolved in[to] modern Southern police departments primarily as a means of controlling freed slaves who were now laborers working in an agricultural caste system, and enforcing “Jim Crow” segregation laws, designed to deny freed slaves equal rights and access to the political system.

Here the South is differentiated from the rest of the nation — it “followed a different path.” This echoes others, such as the oft-cited Phillip Reichel, criminologist from the University of Northern Colorado. His important 1988 work argued slave patrols were a “transitional,” evolutionary step toward modern policing. For example, “Unlike the watches, constables, and sheriffs who had some nonpolicing duties, the slave patrols operated solely for the enforcement of colonial and State laws.” But that was not to say other factors beyond the South, beyond patrols, also molded the modern institution. It’s simply that “the existence of these patrols shows that important events occurred in the rural South before and concurrently with events in the urban North that are more typically cited in examples of the evolution of policing in the United States.” In his 1992 paper, “The Misplaced Emphasis on Urbanization and Police Development,” Reichel again seeks to show not that slave patrols were the sole root of U.S. policing, but that they need to be included in the discussion:

Histories of the development of American law enforcement have traditionally shown an urban‐North bias. Typically ignored are events in the colonial and ante‐bellum South where law enforcement structures developed prior to and concurrently with those in the North. The presence of rural Southern precursors to formal police organizations suggests urbanization is not a sufficient explanation for why modern police developed. The argument presented here is that police structures developed out of a desire by citizens to protect themselves and their property. Viewing the development of police in this manner avoids reference to a specific variable (e.g., urbanization) which cannot explain developments in all locations. In some places the perceived need to protect persons and property may have arisen as an aspect of urbanization, but in others that same need was in response to conditions not at all related to urbanization. 

In other words, different areas of the nation had different conditions that drove the development of an increasingly complex law enforcement system. A common denominator beyond the obvious protection of the person, Reichel argues, was protection of property, whether slaves in the South or mercantile/industrial interests in the North, unique needs Potter explores as well.

Historian Sally Hadden of Western Michigan University, cited frequently in articles as well, is likewise measured. Her seminal Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas makes clear that Southern police continued tactics of expired slave patrols (such as “the beat,” a patrol area) and their purpose, the control of black bodies. But, given that Hadden is a serious historian and that her work focuses on a few Southern states, one would be hard-pressed to find a statement that positions patrols as the progenitor of contemporary policing in the U.S. (In addition, the Klan receives as much attention, if not more, as a descendant of patrols.) Written in 2001, she is complaining, like other scholars, that “most works in the history of crime have focused their attention on New England, and left the American south virtually untouched.” She even somewhat cautions against the connections many articles make today between patrol violence and 21st century police violence (how one might affect the other, rather than both simply being effects of racism, is for an article of its own):

Many people I have talked with have jumped to the conclusion that patrolling violence of an earlier century explains why some modern-day policemen, today, have violent confrontations with African Americans. But while a legacy of hate-filled relations has made it difficult for many African Americans to trust the police, their maltreatment in the seventeenth, eighteenth, or nineteenth centuries should not carry all the blame. We may seek the roots of racial fears in an earlier period, but that history does not displace our responsibility to change and improve the era in which we live. After all, the complex police and racial problems that our country continues to experience in the present day are, in many cases, the results of failings and misunderstandings in our own time. To blame the 1991 beating of Rodney King by police in Los Angeles on slave patrollers dead nearly two hundred years is to miss the point. My purpose in writing this text is a historical one, an inquiry into the earliest period of both Southern law enforcement and Southern race-based violence. Although the conclusions below may provide insight into the historical reasons for the pattern of racially targeted law enforcement that persists to the current day, it remains for us to cope with our inheritance from this earlier world without overlooking our present-day obligation to create a less fearful future.

It may be worthwhile now to nail down exactly what modern policing having roots in slave patrols means. First, when the patrols ended after the Confederate defeat, other policing entities took up or continued the work of white supremacist oppression. Alongside the Ku Klux Klan, law enforcement would conduct the terrors. As a writer for TIME put it, after the Civil War “many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves.” An article on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (!) website phrased it: “After the Civil War, Southern police departments often carried over aspects of the patrols. These included systematic surveillance, the enforcement of curfews…” Second, individuals involved in slave patrols were also involved in the other forms of policing: “In the South, the former slave patrols became the core of the new police departments.” Patrollers became policemen, as Hadden shows. Before this, there is no doubt there was crossover between slave patrol membership and the three other forms of policing in colonial America, sheriffs, constables, and watchmen. Third, patrols, as Reichel noted, had no non-policing duties, plus other differences like beats, steps toward contemporary police departments (though they weren’t always bigger; patrols had three to six men, like Boston’s early night watch). Clearly, slave patrols had a huge influence on the modern city police forces of the South that formed in the 1850s, 1860s, and later. (Before this, even the term “police” appears to have been applied to all four types of law enforcement, including patrols, though not universally — in the words of “a former slave: the police ‘were for white folks. Patteroles were for niggers.'” But after the war, Hadden writes in the final paragraph of her book, many blacks saw little difference “between the brutality of slave patrols, white Southern policemen, or the Klan.”)

Notice that the above are largely framed as post-war developments. Before the war, patrols, sheriffs, constables, and watchmen worked together, with plenty of personnel crossover, to mercilessly crush slaves. But it was mostly after the war that the “modern” police departments appeared in the South, with patrols as foundations. Here comes a potential complication. The free North was the first to form modern departments, and did so before the war: “It was not until the 1830s that the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged in the United States. In 1838, the city of Boston established the first American police force, followed by New York City in 1845, Albany, NY and Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1853, Philadelphia in 1855, and Newark, NJ and Baltimore in 1857” (New Orleans and Baltimore were in slave states, Newark in a semi-slave state). This development was due to growth (these were among the largest U.S. cities), disorder and riots, industrialization and business interests and labor conflict, and indeed “troublesome” immigrants and minorities, among other factors.

That point is raised by conservatives to suggest that if Northern cities first established the police departments we know today, how can one say slave patrols had an influence? A tempting counter might be: these states hadn’t been free for long. Slavery in New York didn’t end until 1827. While that is true, the North did not have patrols. “None of the sources I used indicated that Northern states used slave patrols,” Reichel told me in an email, after I searched in vain for evidence they did. Northern sheriffs, constables, and watchmen enforced the racial hierarchy, of course, but slave patrols were a Southern phenomenon. One can rightly argue that patrol practices in the South influenced police forces in the North, but that’s not quite the strong “root” we see when studying Southern developments.

This is why boldly emphasizing that modern departments in Southern states originated with patrols is somewhat tricky. It’s true enough. But who would doubt that Southern cities would have had police departments anyway? This goes back to where we began: policing is thousands of years old, and as cities grow and technology and societies change, more sophisticated policing systems arise. The North developed them here first, without slave patrols as foundations. Even if the slave South had never birthed patrols, its system of sheriffs, constables, and watchmen would surely not have lasted forever — eventually larger police forces would have appeared as they did in the North, as they did in Rome, as they did wherever communities exploded around the globe throughout human history. New Orleans went from 27,000 residents in 1820 to 116,000 in 1850! Then 216,000 by 1880. System changes were inevitable.

Consider that during the 18th and early 19th centuries, more focused, larger, tax-funded policing was developing outside the United States, in nations without slave patrols, nations both among and outside the Euro-American slave societies. In 1666, France began building the first modern Western police institution, with a Lieutenant General of Police paid from the treasury and overseeing 20 districts in Paris — by “1788 Paris had one police officer for every 193 inhabitants.” The French system inspired Prussia (Germany) and other governments. There was Australia (1790), Scotland (1800), Portuguese Brazil (1809), Ireland (1822), and especially England (1829), whose London Metropolitan Police Department was the major model for the United States (as well as Canada’s 1834 squad in Toronto). Outside the West, there were (and always had been, as we saw) evolving police forces: “By the eighteenth century both Imperial China and Mughal India, for example, had developed policing structures and systems that were in many ways similar to those in Europe,” before European armies smothered most of the globe. Seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century Japan, one of the few nations to stave off European imperialism and involuntary influence, was essentially a police state. A similar escapee was Korea, with its podocheong force beginning in the 15th century. As much as some fellow radicals would like the West to take full credit for the police, this ignores the historical contributions (or, if one despises that phrasing, developments) of Eastern civilizations and others elsewhere. Like the North, the South was bound to follow the rest of the world.

It also feels like phrasing that credits patrols as the origin of Southern departments ignores the other three policing types that existed concurrently (and in the North were enough to form a foundation for the first modern institutions, later copied in the South). Sheriffs, constables, and watchmen were roots as well, even if one sees patrols as the dominant one. (Wondering if the latter had replaced the three former, which would have strengthened the case of the patrols as the singular foundation of Southern law enforcement, I asked Sally Hadden. She cautioned against any “sweeping statement.” She continued: “There were sheriffs, definitely, in every [Southern] county. In cities, there were sometimes constables and watchmen, but watchmen were usually replaced by patrols — but not always.”) Though all were instruments of white supremacy, they were not all the same, and only one is now in the headlines. In their existence and distinctiveness, they all must receive at least some credit as the roots of Southern institutions — as our historians know, most happenings have many causes, not one.

“Many modern Southern police departments largely have roots in slave patrols but would have arisen regardless” is probably the most accurate conclusion. Harder to fit in a headline or on a protest sign, but the nuanced truth often is.

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U.S. Segregation Could Have Lasted into the 1990s — South Africa’s Did

The 1960s were not that long ago. Many blacks who endured Jim Crow are still alive — as are many of the whites who kept blacks out of the swimming pool. When we think about history, we often see developments as natural — segregation was always going to fall in 1968, wasn’t it? Humanity was evolving, and had finally reached its stage of shedding legal racial separation and discrimination. That never could have continued into the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. We were, finally, too civilized for that.

South Africa provides some perspective. It was brutally ruled by a small minority of white colonizers for centuries, first the Dutch (1652-1815) and then the British (1815-1910). The population was enslaved until 1834. White rule continued from 1910 to 1992, after Britain made the nation a dominion (self-governing yet remaining part of the empire; full independence was voted for by whites in 1960). The era known as apartheid was from 1948-1992, when harsher discriminatory laws and strict “apartness” began, but it is important to know how bad things were before this:

Scores of laws and regulations separated the population into distinct groups, ensuring white South Africans access to education, higher-paying jobs, natural resources, and property while denying such things to the black South African population, Indians, and people of mixed race. Between union in 1910 and 1948, a variety of whites-only political parties governed South Africa… The agreement that created the Union denied black South Africans the right to vote… Regulations set aside an increasing amount of the most fertile land for white farmers and forced most of the black South African population to live in areas known as reserves. Occupying the least fertile and least desirable land and lacking industries or other developments, the reserves were difficult places to make a living. The bad conditions on the reserves and policies such as a requirement that taxes be paid in cash drove many black South Africans—particularly men—to farms and cities in search of employment opportunities.

With blacks pushing into cities and for their civil rights, the government began “implementing the apartheid system to segregate the country’s races and guarantee the dominance of the white minority.” Apartheid was the solidification of segregation into law. Legislation segregated public facilities like buses, stores, restaurants, hospitals, parks, and beaches. Further, one of the

…most significant acts in terms of forming the basis of the apartheid system was the Group Areas Act of 1950. It established residential and business sections in urban areas for each race, and members of other races were barred from living, operating businesses, or owning land in them—which led to thousands of Coloureds, Blacks, and Indians being removed from areas classified for white occupation… [The government] set aside more than 80 percent of South Africa’s land for the white minority. To help enforce the segregation of the races and prevent Blacks from encroaching on white areas, the government strengthened the existing “pass” laws, which required nonwhites to carry documents authorizing their presence in restricted areas…

Separate educational standards were established for nonwhites. The Bantu Education Act (1953) provided for the creation of state-run schools, which Black children were required to attend, with the goal of training the children for the manual labour and menial jobs that the government deemed suitable for those of their race. The Extension of University Education Act (1959) largely prohibited established universities from accepting nonwhite students…

[In addition,] the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (1949) and the Immorality Amendment Act (1950) prohibited interracial marriage or sex…

The created conditions were predictable: “While whites generally lived well, Indians, Coloureds, and especially Blacks suffered from widespread poverty, malnutrition, and disease.”

Then, in 1970, blacks lost their citizenship entirely.

Apartheid ended only in the early 1990s due to decades of organizing, protest, civil disobedience, riots, and violence. Lives were lost and laws were changed — through struggle and strife, most explosively in the 1970s and 80s, a better world was built. The same happened in the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s. But our civil rights struggle and final victory could easily have occurred later as well. The whites of South Africa fighting to maintain apartheid all the way until the 1990s were not fundamentally different human beings than American whites of the same era. They may have held more despicable views on average, been more stuck in the segregationist mindset, but they were not different creatures. Varying views come from unique national histories, different societal developments — different circumstances. Had the American civil rights battle unfolded differently, we could have seen Jim Crow persist past the fall of the Berlin Wall. Such a statement feels like an attack on sanity because history feels natural — surely it was impossible for events to unfold in other ways — and due to nationalism, Americans thinking themselves better, more fundamentally good and civilized, than people of other nations. Don’t tell them that other countries ended slavery, gave women the right to vote, and so on before the United States (and most, while rife with racism and exclusion, did not codify segregation into law as America did; black Americans migrated to France in the 19th and 20th centuries for refuge, with Richard Wright declaring there to be “more freedom in one square block of Paris than in the entire United States”). If one puts aside the glorification of country and myths of human difference and acknowledges that American history and circumstances could have gone differently, the disturbing images begin to appear: discos keeping out people of color, invading Vietnam with a segregated army, Blockbusters with “Whites Only” signs.

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The 1939 Map That Redlined Kansas City — Do You Want to See It?

In 1933, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation was created as part of the New Deal to help rescue lenders and homeowners from the Great Depression. Homeowners were out of work, facing foreclosure and eviction; banks were receiving no mortgage payments and in crisis. The HOLC offered relief by buying loans, with government funds, from the latter and refinancing them for the former. It also set about creating a map of 200 U.S. cities that lenders could use to make “safe” loans rather than risky ones.

Risky areas, marked in yellow or red, were those of both lower-value homes and darker-skinned residents, the “undesirables” and “subversives” and “lower-grade” people. This entrenched segregation and the racial wealth disparity, with blacks and other minorities having a difficult time getting home loans, ownership being a key to intergenerational wealth. The Federal Housing Administration also used the HOLC map when it backed mortgages to encourage lending (if a resident couldn’t make the payments, the FHA would step in and help — as long as you were the right sort of person in the right part of town; see Racism in Kansas City: A Short History).

Kansas City’s map was completed April 1, 1939. You can see that the areas along Troost (easiest to find by looking at the left edge of the grey Forest Hill Cemetery) are yellow, with red portions east and north of that, where blacks at this time were most heavily concentrated. The yellow shade actually extends, in some places, west of Troost to streets like Rockhill. Each section can be clicked on for a description (D24: “Negro encroachment threatened from north”; D21: “It is occupied by a low grade of low income laborers, chiefly Mexicans, some negroes”). The use of this map by lenders, real estate agents, developers, governments, and more would solidify the Troost wall and Jim Crow repression, and impact Kansas City into the next century.

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If Your Explanation Implies There’s Something Wrong With Black People, It’s Racist

Conservative whites who consider themselves respectable typically do not use the explicitly racist causal explanations behind higher rates of black poverty, violent crime, academic struggle, and so on. Ideas of blacks being naturally lazier, more aggressive or deviant, and less intelligent than white people are largely unspeakable today. Instead, these things are simply implied, wrapped in more palatable or comfortable language so one can go about the day guilt-free. This isn’t always conscious. It’s startling to realize that such whites, probably in most cases from what this writer has observed, do not realize their beliefs imply racist things. This is simply cognitive dissonance; it’s people believing with every fiber of their being that they are not racist, and therefore any explanation they believe cannot be racist, no matter how obviously it actually is to observers.

A few examples:

The problem is black culture. You don’t want to say there’s something wrong with black people. Instead, say there’s something wrong with black culture! This black culture is one of violence and revenge, of getting hooked on welfare instead of looking for work, of fathers abandoning mothers and children to create broken, single-parent homes, and so on. But obviously, to say there’s something wrong with black culture is to say there is something wrong with black people. Where, after all, did this “culture” come from? To respectable conservative whites, who should always be asked that very question immediately, it comes from black people themselves. Such whites won’t include an educated explanation of how history, environment/social conditions, and public policies produce “culture” — how recent American history birthed disproportionate poverty, how poverty breeds violence and necessitates welfare use, how a government’s racist War on Drugs and the crimes and violent deaths bred by that very poverty might mean more families without fathers. They surely won’t point out, as a nice comparison, that the white American culture of yesteryear that placed the age of sexual consent for girls at 10 years old, or a white European culture of executing those who questioned the Christian faith, obviously did not stem from whiteness itself, having nothing to do with caucasian ethnicity — so what does “black culture” have to do with blackness? Are these not human beings behaving in predictable ways to the poverty of the place or the theology of the time? People who think in such rational ways wouldn’t use the “problem is black culture” line in the first place. Nay, it is black folk themselves that create this culture, meaning something is terribly wrong with the race, with blacks as people, something linked to biology and genetics — as uncomfortable as that will be for some whites to hear, it is the corner they have readily backed themselves into. After all, white people do not have this “culture.” Why? Are whites superior?

It’s all about personal choice. Another popular one. The problem is black people are making the wrong choices. They have free will, why don’t they choose peace over violence, choose to look harder for a job or a higher-paying gig, study harder in school, just go to college? The response is again painfully obvious. If racial discrepancies all just boil down to personal choices, this is simply to say that blacks make worse personal choices than white people. This is so self-evident that the temptation to throw this article right in the garbage is overwhelming. To whites, blacks are making choices they wouldn’t personally make. There is no consideration of how environment can affect you. Take whether or not you flunk out of college. You hardly choose where or the family into which you are born, and growing up in a poor home affects your mental and physical development, typically resulting in worse academic performance than if you’d been born into a wealthy family; likewise, children don’t choose where they are educated: wealthy families can afford the best private schools and SAT tutoring, black public schools are more poorly funded than white public schools, and so on. Such things affect your ability to graduate college, or even gain admission. Nor is it considered how environment impacts your decisions themselves. For instance, witnessing violence as a child makes you more likely to engage in it, to choose to engage in it. Nor is there a thought to how social settings affect the choices you’ll even face in your life — if you live in a wealthy area without much crime, for instance, you are less likely to experience peer pressure from a friend to commit an illegal act (just as you’re less likely to see violence and thus engage in it later). One can be more successful in life with fewer opportunities to make bad choices in the first place! But none of that can be envisioned. For respectable conservative whites, there is something wrong with black people, something defective about their decision-making or moral character. White people, in contrast, make better choices, the right choices, and are thus wealthier, safer, better educated, families intact. Again, the implication of inferiority is front and center.

Good parenting is really the key. It all comes down to parenting. If black parents stuck together, emphasized to their kids the importance of education, a hard work ethic, the family unit, and turning the other cheek, all these racial disparities could come to an end. The disgusting implications are no doubt clear to the reader already, meaning we need not tarry here. To pin social problems on poor parenting, without any consideration of outside factors, is to simply say black humans are inherently worse parents than white humans. Whatever the problem with black moms and dads, white ones are happily immune.

These implications must be exposed whenever one hears them, and the conversation turned away from race and biology and toward history and socio-economics. Toward the truth.

The racial wealth gap in the United States was birthed by the horrors done to blacks: slavery meant black people, apart from some freemen, started with nothing in 1865, whereas whites began wealth accumulation centuries before, a colossal wealth gap; Jim Crow oppression meant another century of being paid lower wages, denied even menial employment and certainly high-paying jobs, hired last and fired first, kept out of universities, denied home loans or offered worse terms, taught in poorly funded schools, kept out of high-value neighborhoods through violence and racial covenants, and more; studies show that even today racism still affects wealth accumulation in significant ways. By studying history in a serious manner, we begin to understand why the racial wealth gap exists and why it has not yet closed — not because there’s something defective about black people, but because, beyond today’s challenges with racism, there simply has not been enough time for it to close. People who lived through the Jim Crow era, some mere grandchildren of slaves, are still alive today. This is hardly ancient history; it’s two or three generations.

The poverty that persists does to blacks what it does to human beings of all races. It exacerbates crime (not only theft or the drug trade as ways of earning more income, but from the stress in puts on the brain, equivalent to sleep deprivation, causing people to act in ways they simply would not have had they been in more affluent settings), it hurts the performance of students, it leads to more men confined to the cell or the coffin and thus not at home, and other challenges. Bad public policies, from city underinvestment in the black parts of town to the War on Drugs, make things worse. It is right to be a good parent, to make wise choices, and to value a positive culture — but for whites to imagine that some abandonment of these things by our black neighbors is the root cause of racial disparities, with no discussion of history and social conditions and how they persist and affect human beings, is racist and rotten to the core. Respectable conservative whites (and some black conservatives who focus exclusively on parenting, choices, and culture) may not notice or be conscious of such implications, but this can be made temporary.

If we consider ourselves to be moral creatures, it is our responsibility to give these rosier modern framings of old racist ideas no quarter.

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Should We Talk About How Trauma Affects Police Behavior?

In the discussion of police brutality, generally speaking, one camp calls for sweeping, radical, even terminal changes to policing in order to end beatings and killings of civilians, while the other camp stresses that police officers have extremely dangerous, high-stress jobs and, while mistakes do occur at times, certain changes will only make things more dangerous for cops and for the public at large. There’s some talking past each other here, but perhaps one of the more significant things that is missed or simply isn’t much discussed is how these ideas are connected: of course people who go through trauma might be more likely to snap and murder someone for no reason at all.

A couple clarifications here. First, many on the Left will have little sympathy for the police no matter how traumatized someone might be by seeing dead bodies, blood and brains splattered about, raped children, and beaten wives, or by being shot at or otherwise attacked. After all, individuals who join police forces do so by choice, participate (whether aware of it or not) in an oppressive system that ensures the constant harassment and mistreatment of people of color, and so on. For some of my comrades, talking about how officer trauma might contribute to police brutality would be a major faux pas, offering excuses or a sympathetic ear to the other side in a rather uncomfortable way. Yet if police trauma does exist, and if it does contribute in some way to police brutality, it makes sense to think about it, discuss it, and figure out what to do about it. Sympathy isn’t required. Second, it should be clarified that acknowledging trauma as a possible cause of police violence doesn’t mean other causes, such as racism, machismo and power, poor training and use of force procedures, age, a dearth of education, complete lack of punishment, and so forth don’t exist and have devastating effects on society. (Another one is the human tendency to mistakenly see things you’re watching for. If you’re speeding and watching for cops, every other car begins to look like a cop. If you’re watching for guns or threatening movements from someone you’ve pulled over…) Finally, a discussion like this one isn’t meant to distract or deflect from the terrible trauma that victims of police violence live with for the rest of their lives. If there is a way we can stop one trauma from leading to another, we should pursue it.

We know officers’ experiences contribute to PTSD and other serious psychological and physiological problems. “Research has indicated that by the time police officers put on their uniform and begin general patrol, their stress-related cardiovascular reactivity is already elevated,” and this is followed by, generally speaking, “at least 900 potentially traumatic incidents over the course of their career.” Some officers will have bigger problems, if they came from the military and were traumatized in the bloodbath of war. Extreme stress and PTSD can lead to aggression and exaggerated startle response and recklessness; in police officers it’s been shown to lead to less control in decision-making “due to heightened arousal to threats, inability to screen out interfering information, or the inability to keep attention.” Academics in The Huffington Post and Psychology Today have connected occupational trauma to brutality, as have former officers on fervent pro-cop sites (for example, could reforms addressing trauma “reduce the number of inappropriate decisions some officers make? If we are concerned about the dysfunctional actions of some cops, is it possible that some of the fault lies with the rest of us who ignore the trauma that officers go through?”). More research would be valuable, but it’s a safe bet police trauma contributes to police brutality. (A connection also exists, by the way, between officer stress and violence against their romantic partners.)

This writer doesn’t have too much more to say on the matter — it simply seems important to connect the two ideas mentioned in the first paragraph, especially for those of us who care about justice and about encouraging others of very different views to care as well. “True, the police have dangerous jobs, but do you see how the extreme stress that most officers experience might make police brutality a serious problem? Perhaps there are other factors, too. Perhaps there are societal changes we can make that would address both officer PTSD or safety and police brutality against ordinary people.” It could be a way to build a bridge or find a sliver of common ground.

How to actually address such trauma will range wildly, of course, from the reactionary, though valid, sentiments from police departments about the need for more mental healthcare to the radical (“Radical simply means grasping things at the root,” Angela Davis) idea that we “Abolish the Police.” After all, no police means no police trauma. And no police brutality. Convincing people that trauma contributes to brutality seems far easier than agreement on how to solve these things.

This is a bit of an aside, but I’m still determining where I personally fall when it comes to what to specifically do about the police. I firmly believe that broad changes are needed concerning: who responds to certain nonviolent calls (it need not be quasi-soldiers, at least not as first responders); the allocation of resources, with reform devoting huge sums into addressing the root causes of crime, namely poverty, instead of into policing and other initiatives that only address the symptoms; the qualifications, education, training, evaluation, use of force procedures, and weaponry of those who respond to violent calls; what an individual can be pulled over or confronted or arrested for, just serious changes to law and policy; who investigates police misconduct (not the departments) and how abusive officers are punished, beginning with termination and blacklisting and ending with prison sentences; and much more. These things, perhaps combined with better mental healthcare and therapy, reduced hours, increased leave, shorter careers, and so forth for those facing traumatic situations, can reduce both the trauma and violence. (Although I don’t recall the specific incident, in the news a few years ago there was a report about how the officer who killed an unarmed black man in the evening had witnessed a murder or suicide that morning; taking him off duty seems like it would have been an obvious thing to do.) But I do suspect that modern societies will always have some traumatic situations and need individuals to enter them, whether it’s the police or something resembling the police. Perhaps more personal study is needed. I recently asked of my acquaintances:

I haven’t studied #PoliceAbolition or #PrisonAbolition theory with any depth. Currently, it seems likely to me that future human societies — more decent ones, with prosperity for all, unarmed response teams, restorative justice, and more — would still require some persons or groups authorized to use force against others in circumstances where de-escalation fails, and require some persons to be separated against their will from the general population, for the sake of its safety, during rehabilitation. These scenarios seem likely to be far rarer when we radically transform social conditions and societal policies, but not disappear completely. Can anyone recommend abolitionist literature that either 1) specifically makes the case that such circumstances would never occur and thus such force requirements are void, or 2) that argues such circumstances would indeed occur but specifically lays out how such requirements could be handled (force could be used) by alternative people or institutions without, over time, devolving back into something close to today’s police and prisons.

My mind may change as I go through some of the recommended readings, but as it stands I wonder if the number of individuals authorized to use force, their trauma, and their brutality can only be greatly reduced, rather than eradicated completely. While a better human society is possible and will be won, a perfect one may be out of reach.

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Cop Car Explodes, Police Pepper Spray Passenger in Moving Vehicle During Plaza Protests

The events of 10:00pm to midnight on May 30, 2020 on Kansas City’s Plaza — protests and unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — included the following. 

The police, in riot gear and gas masks, blockaded the intersections along Ward Parkway, refusing to allow newcomers, additional protesters, to move deeper into the Plaza, angering a small but growing crowd. “Let us through!” Journalists likewise were not allowed to enter. From the vantage point at the blockade, it was clear a gathering of protesters was locked in a standoff with police up around 47th and Wyandotte Street. The sound of helicopters, sirens, police radios and bullhorns, and protesters’ shouts clashed in the air. Sharp pops. The protesters inside fled west as one, as police dispersed tear gas. Much concern was voiced from the crowd at the barrier.

After a time, an explosion rocked the Plaza. “Shit!” exclaimed members of the crowd, among variations — and even the police could not help but turn their heads away from the masses and look. It appeared a parked car, near where the standoff occurred, had been firebombed. The press later indicated it was a police car. “It’s going down, boy,” someone said. Flames and smoke rose high, and shortly thereafter fire fighters arrived. Meanwhile, a man, tall and skinny, yelled at the police at the barrier, saying he was a veteran who fought for the rights the police trample upon — “You’re a fucking disgrace.” Two women likewise unleashed their anger.

Walking west along Ward Parkway, in an attempt to follow the group of runners from afar, revealed a bridal shop window smashed. Some jokes from observers about black people wanting to get married tonight — though there did not appear to be anything looted. A young woman and man huddled together nearby, the woman distraught over the scene. Soon the pair entered the store through the front door, quickly followed by a shouting cop. “She owns the place, man, it’s all right,” the observers said. The pair echoed this, and the cop recommended finding someone to board up the window. Various other storefronts were boarded up, in advance, along the street.

“I’m just trying to get to my fucking car,” a passerby said to an acquaintance, realizing he could not enter the parking garage due to the blockades. In the street, gas canisters, COVID-19 masks, abandoned signs, water bottles, graffiti. Another broken storefront window, more graffiti. A fire department vehicle with a smashed windshield. A black woman thanking a cop for being out tonight doing his job.

Reaching Broadway, where one could finally turn north, showed a few people arrested and sitting on the pavement outside the Capital Grille at the feet of the police. They did not seem a part of the fleeing protesters, and may have been taken out of their cars, which were along the street, doors open. Moving north, one met the protesters, now all scattered and disjointed, many moving south but some further west and some simply hanging out here and there. The faint sting of tear gas infected the eyes. Strangers made sure one was all right.

“H&M!” a man hollered triumphantly, a valuable bundle in his hands, before three cops on bikes appeared from nowhere, sirens blasting. The man and several other looters sprinted south down Broadway, pursued.

The central Plaza secured, the main confrontation point became the blockade where the crowd witnessed the car explosion, Ward Parkway and Wyandotte. The group grew considerably, to a few hundred, swelled by the protesters that had fled the tear gas a block north. It was young, diverse. The ranks of police were reinforced as well.

Protesters gathered in Ward Parkway, signs held high: “I Can’t Breathe,” “Black Lives Matter.” A few cars zipped around wildly in circles, as if to emphasize the protesters’ control of the street. A white car with four or five people in it pulled up and distributed water, while also providing the tunes. A dance circle formed for a time, while both sides held their ground. Skateboards, scooters shot by. A more festive atmosphere. A chant began — no justice, no peace. But mostly individuals had their say — calls for an end to police killings and abuse.

Eventually the police ordered the protesters to clear the streets and return to the sidewalks or face arrest. The street was full of people, but most were already there. The police seemed to select one individual to make an example of, and surged toward a white man with a sign, arresting him. Their orders ignored, the police pressed forward. Someone threw a water bottle at them. The police shook their gas cans ominously. “Scary ass motherfuckers,” a young woman said. Another woman was arrested. A man hollered, “The police started as slave-catchers! Not much has changed.” “You don’t have to do what your superiors say,” someone called out. Some taunted the black officers, the so-labeled “Uncle Toms.”

The police surged forward, pepper spray raised. A protester threw a brick or rock at them as everyone scrambled in retreat, by foot, scooter, or vehicle. The white car that had delivered water was in trouble, needing to back up toward the police in order to get out of its space and flee. Several officers walked up to the vehicle menacingly. “They’re going, they’re going!” shouted protesters. “Leave them alone!” An officer sprayed into the face of someone in the back seat as the vehicle backed up and lurched forward, the driver clearly panicked.

After pushing their line forward, the police then retreated back to their original position. The crowd then began moving forward, back to theirs.

The police announced that gas would be used if the crowd did not disperse, which the crowd had no interest in doing. The hiss of gas pierced the night air as cans were thrown, grey smoke billowing and streaking behind them. Pandemonium. Screams and shouts as all turned and ran, except for one brave soul who threw a can back. The tear gas burned, blinded. The police, marching forward, were quickly obscured, swallowed by smoke and distance, as the protesters splintered into three masses and fled east, south, and west.

The tear gas appeared to end the Plaza protest — by midnight the crowd had not reformed. However, a woman, leaning out the passenger window of a car moving down Ward Parkway, called out, “We’re going to Westport!”

The time is 3:40am on Sunday, May 31, 2020. Three of the four officers involved in George Floyd’s death have yet to be arrested.

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Some Things Are Worse Than Other Things: the Philosophy of False Equivalence

Imagine, if you will, six scenarios:

  • A Nazi punches a man walking down the street because he is a Jew; a Jew punches a man walking down the street because he is a Nazi.
  • A woman says to another “You’re the problem with America. Get out of this country, fucking bitch” because she is Hispanic; a woman says to another “You’re the problem with America. Get out of this country, fucking bitch” because she is unabashedly racist.
  • A restaurant owner refuses to serve a man because he is gay; a restaurant owner refuses to serve a man because he despises gay people.

The mind’s first temptation may be to construct creative contexts, but there are no ambiguities here. The Nazi is not just an ultraconservative; he believes in Nazism and wears the swastika. The Hispanic woman is a citizen born in Idaho and the racist woman knows it; the racist woman is not merely concerned with how unfair illegal entry is to those waiting their turn or that illegal immigrants are “stealing jobs,” but rather she does not like Hispanics — living in the same neighborhood as they, working with them, hearing Spanish, and so forth. The first restaurant owner and the second man denied service both go way beyond trust in biblical teachings about how homosexuality is an abominable sin — it disgusts them beyond words, they believe it should be a crime as it once was, they don’t value the life of a gay person equal to that of “normal” straight person. These being hypothetical scenarios of my own creation, there are no excuses nor saving grace available.

The question explored here isn’t which of these things are wrong and which are right. People have different ideas concerning when violence, extreme disrespect, or denial of service is acceptable, if ever. Sorting through all that, making a case one way or another, is not the point. Let’s proceed from the standpoint that all of these things are morally wrong. That is, after all, the typical premise of someone presenting a moral equivalence relevant to this discussion. The premise is: a racist attack is morally wrong and an attack against a racist is morally wrong. The moral equivalence is: an attack against a racist is as morally wrong as a racist attack.

Is it?

Are the scenarios above and their inverses truly equal in their “wrongness”? Or can two things be wrong, but one slightly less wrong?

Today, this debate arises constantly. We have open Nazis walking around the mall and white supremacists attacking or murdering people of color, unhinged riders unleashing racist rants on the bus, with medical institutions refusing to treat LGBT Americans and pastors wishing more gay people had died in the Orlando massacre. We also have Antifa and others sucker-punching Nazis and advocating we “Kill Nazis,” a gunman killing Republicans, business owners kicking out Trump supporters — and people attacking them physically or verbally. Opposing protesters brawl in the streets.

To reiterate, all of these things could be called morally wrong. After all, they do harm to others. But here we need to add an important point: to say a scenario is more morally wrong than its inverse is not to advocate for either. To conclude, for instance, that denying service to a bigot is less morally egregious than denying service to a gay person isn’t to automatically or necessarily advocate for denying service to bigots. One can still oppose both because he or she has determined they are both on the spectrum of immorality, even if at different points. Likewise, to say that some things are worse than other things, to believe a scenario worse than its inverse, is not to say this is always true for any other scenario and its inverse. As we will see, where motives are more equal the immorality of actions are more equal.

Turning back to our hypothetical situations and whether they involve false equivalences, we first have to agree upon the principle that some actions can indeed be morally worse than others — that a spectrum of morality makes sense. This shouldn’t even have to be argued, but there may be some religious fundamentalists or others who posit all “sin” is equally wrong. So lying about your age is just as wrong as rape. This sort of black-and-white thinking isn’t something most people, including people of faith, take seriously, so we won’t spend much time on it. (And we’ve already seen how morality is opinion-based even if God exists; see Where Does Morality Come From?The Philosophy of MoralityYes, Liberals and Atheists Believe in Absolute TruthIs Relative Morality More Dangerous Than Objective Morality?) Most people would conclude stealing money from a man’s wallet is not as wrong as killing him, and so forth. So some wrongs are more wrong than other wrongs.

Then we need to recognize that the same action, doing the same harm, can be less wrong — even morally right — if done for certain reasons. Ethics are situational. Motives matter. Again, most everyone accepts this. Take an action like killing. Killing a man because you want his wife or because he looked at you the wrong way is a bit different than killing in self-defense or in war. Those last two situations are often regarded as morally right, though there’s plenty of debate about it. That doesn’t matter — what matters is that the underlying principle is agreed upon: the same act will have a different moral status depending on why someone does it. A spectrum is easy enough to envision. Perhaps killing someone in self-defense is less wrong than killing someone in war, which is perhaps less wrong than killing someone because he or she used the “white” restroom, etc. Use your imagination.

If motives matter regarding the morality of some actions, might they for others?

The actions of our scenarios are the same, but the motives are not — which may alter the morality of the action.

Think of the possible motives, the driving forces, of the Nazi, the racist woman, the bigoted owner. What comes to mind? Conspiracy theories about the inferior Jews ruling and ruining the nation, discomfort with a country growing less white, preferring gays scared back into the closet — out of sight, out of mind. Whatever you envision, it likely isn’t good. It isn’t something you find morally right. And what of the possible motives of the Jew, the Hispanic woman, the gay man? Opposition to Nazi ideology, racism, and discrimination come to mind. These are likely stances you agree with and find morally right, even if you don’t approve of the action that followed.

How is it, then, that anyone can say these scenarios and their inverses are equally immoral? How are two identical actions equally wrong despite one having more moral motives and the other more immoral motives? This is like saying that killing in self-defense is just as bad as killing someone for looking at you the wrong way. It is saying that motives do not matter.

But most people believe they do. Why the double standard? Does it involve the severity of the action? Why do motives affect the morality of a more serious action like killing but not a less serious one like a punch, name-call, or refusal to serve? There is no logical reason that I can see. Lying is a less serious action, but we all understand that lying about someone raping you would be worse than lying about how late you were past curfew.

Again, there may be situations where X is as equally wrong as Y, but it seems like that would require motives that are more equally wrong. Lying to your spouse about losing the dog is roughly as wrong as lying to your spouse about spending vacation money on a new television. Killing over jealousy is about as wrong as killing over insults. But the motives of our situational pairs are much farther apart, polar opposites in fact. (One may insist they are the same because each attacker wants to exert power over the other, put him in his place, seize control, do what’s best for herself, express hate, intimidate, hurt, and so on, but that only takes one temporary step backward. Why are they doing those things? What are the motives behind those motives? Can all hatred be equally wrong — say, racist hatred versus hatred of a racist — if the motives are ethical polar opposites? Aren’t the motives morally different, even if you frown upon where they lead? Of course they are, as we saw above.)

(Now, folks will disagree over what motives are moral, but for each person there will always be an array of motives that include some more moral and some less. If you’re a Nazi sympathizer, you’ll think racist motives more right and opposition motives more wrong, and apply the same to the actions — but no one in his or her right mind can hold both racism and anti-racism as equally moral or immoral! Therefore the logical argument in this piece, finalized below, applies to everyone who accepts the premises with which we began, that not all sins are equally wrong and that the same action can have a different moral flavor dependent upon motives.)

Is the double standard topic-based? If our near-universal way of thinking about ethics involves an action having a changed moral character following a changed motive, there has to be some kind of justification for not applying this to matters of bigotry. I cannot think of any such justification. What possible reason could there be to exclude this topic, to create a new, special standard that doesn’t apply to anything else? None exists. (Imagine excluding matters of war — what could possibly justify doing that?) A racist attack therefore must be morally worse than an attack against a racist. (Or, if you’re a racist or one of their sympathizers with different views on the motives, as discussed above, it must be morally better! They cannot be equal.) Some may say it’s radically worse, others just slightly, but based on our premise of ethics it must be worse (or better, for you Nazis) to some degree — it’s a logical necessity. If they were equally wrong, we’d have to throw motives out the window, and there would be no reason to stop at matters of bigotry (just as there’s no reason to exclude it). Self-defense would be just as wrong as cold-blooded murder based on that new premise. Lying to save an innocent life would be just as wrong as lying to end one. And so on. With no justification existing to exclude actions related to a certain topic, one must hold all actions to the same standard — either motives matter or they do not. (Same for hatred and so forth.) Again, that’s what’s logically sound for each person regardless of his or her unique views on what’s ethical: you can’t logically think two identical actions equally wrong if you also think one motive is more moral than the other (which you will if in your right mind). If you think motives matter for other moral questions, that’s simply what makes logical sense.

If it’s still difficult to see our scenarios as false equivalences, it may help to consider others, perhaps from other time periods, where gaps between “wrongness” seem bigger, more obvious. The way humans observe history is always less morally confused than the way we observe the present. Hindsight and all. Note these also could unwisely be labeled identical attempts to exert power over someone, hurt someone, lash out in hate, and so on:

  • Would a slave killing his master be as wrong as a master killing his slave? Isn’t one about liberation, the other subjugation?
  • Would a rich woman stealing from a poor woman be just as wrong as the reverse? Might one motive be greed, the other need?
  • Were the Allies just as wrong to invade France in 1944 as Germany was a few years earlier? Is there any side in any war less wrong than another?

Motives matter, always. That is why some things are worse than other things.

As a last word, while I don’t believe this fact affects the logic, it’s important to note that in our scenarios, and real-world ones that spark the equivalence debate (one truly wonders why it’s difficult to see that the alt-right, full of people who advocate a “White Ethno-State,” is generally evil, whereas Antifa, full of people who advocate standing against “racist and fascist bigots” is generally not), attacks against bigotry are a reaction to bigotry. Bigotry comes first; the only “reaction” it entails is one against who people are: their ethnicity, sexuality, gender, etc. Reduce bigotry and there will be fewer reactions; but reduce reactions and bigotry will crush people per usual. Again, this isn’t to necessarily advocate for violent or hurtful reactions. It’s simply to recognize the worse problem, the root problem — and focus our energies on obliterating it in ways ethically acceptable to each of us personally.

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Conservatives Are More Likely to be Racist

One early morning at Salem State University in Massachusetts, students stumbled upon vandalism of benches and a fence at the baseball fields. Spray paint had been used to write “DIE NIGGERS,” “Whites Only USA,” and “Whites #1.”

What are your first thoughts concerning who did this? You’re a reasonable person, so you know this might be a hoax. That happens from time to time. But if this was done in earnest — by someone who sincerely wanted to degrade and threaten black people and extoll the white race — who seems most likely? It seems likely the culprit was white. Gun to your head, it was probably a man, or more than one, just a couple buddies out having some “fun.” Perhaps someone younger, a student; this is a school, after all. Now, was this person more likely liberal or conservative? Who would be more likely to write “Whites Only” or “DIE NIGGERS”? Left or Right, quick.

If this was no hoax, and if we were all to be honest with ourselves, the probabilities might increase as we move along the political spectrum. In other words, the far Left seems least likely (recall we’re focused on content here, not the act of vandalism itself, which some on the far Left do happily partake in), the mainstream Left still unlikely, the center perhaps somewhat likely, the mainstream Right more likely, and the far Right most likely. At no spot on the spectrum is the act impossible, but such a probability scale shouldn’t be all that controversial for anyone with a handle on reality.

In this particular case, we needn’t wonder long, as the vandals included “Trump #1” in their graffiti. This was part of the hate crimes that swept the U.S. after Trump’s election, as Trump supporters gleefully attacked, verbally and physically, Hispanics, Muslims, blacks, Jews, gays, and women — weeks of terror.

But, one protests, the answer to the theoretical was biased and the anecdotal is weak argument. True enough. Conservatives and liberals always dig up examples, point at each other, and insist the other ideology is more prone to racism. (Here we mean against people of color; conservative whites who think anti-white hate from liberals is a bigger problem will have to educate themselves elsewhere). How can we know who is right?

One way is to simply ask people their views.

In 2014, Nate Silver and Allison McCann looked at Americans’ answers regarding race in the General Social Survey, which has been issued for decades. Self-described Republicans were, from 1990-2012, 5-10% more likely to object to a close relative marrying a black person, 5-20% more likely to believe blacks “lacked the motivation” to get out of poverty, and 2-10% more likely to say blacks are more lazy than hardworking. 2-5% more Republicans thought blacks were more unintelligent than intelligent, until things evened out between liberals and conservatives in 2009.

Things have been about even regarding comfort with living in a diverse neighborhood, with only occasional spikes in conservative opposition, and even concerning voting for a black president, except between 1994 and 2007, when in fact white Democrats expressed stronger opposition.

The good news is that for both groups racist views are in general declining. Majorities today do not have (admit) explicitly racist views; this article is not intended to posit all conservatives are racist. The bad news is that for both groups today over 20% dislike the idea of living in a neighborhood that isn’t majority-white, over 20% oppose interracial marriage in their family, over 30% think blacks are lazy, over 40% that they lack motivation, and 15% that they are unintelligent. And that’s just the Americans that will admit to extreme (conscious) racism, as this is a survey. So while this article is indeed intended to settle a recurring debate, it is also a condemnation of (and call for reflection from) us whites on the Left. Our scores, while better, are hardly anything to celebrate.

The aggregate of all responses looked like this:

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The 2012 American National Election Studies survey revealed similar answers. 18% more white Republicans saw black people as lazy than white Democrats, with an 8% lead concerning belief in lack of intelligence and an 18% lead in thinking blacks had too much influence in politics (at the time, there was a black president, one black Supreme Court justice, and no black senators; the country had seen a single black president, six black senators, and two Supreme Court justices since 1776). Nearly 35% more white Republicans thought blacks would be just as well off as whites if they’d try harder — a belief requiring a racist premise about black laziness.

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But the data from these two surveys, and others, can be a bit misleading — and not in a way that will comfort the Right. By lumping together Democrats of all sorts (centrist, Left, far Left), and doing the same with Republicans, the data reflects more timid differences in ideological views of race. As we move further to the right, views grow increasingly racist; as we move further to the left, views become decidedly less racist:

Among strong Democrats and strong Republicans, the numbers [concerning who thinks blacks are lazy] become even more stark, 20 percent compared with 46 percent. Furthermore, 41 percent of whites who say they are extremely conservative believe black people are lazy, compared with 14 percent of whites who say they are extremely liberal. On the question of whether black people are unintelligent, it’s 30 percent for extremely conservative whites versus 11 percent for extremely liberal whites. This clearly suggests that racial animus is more prevalent among conservatives and Republicans.

That is significant. It also mimics the probability scale envisioned above.

A 2016 YouGov survey asked white people if they thought black people typically “give more to society” or “take more.” For a large majority of conservative respondents, no amount of good black people do for society — teaching students, creating art, running a business, waving hello, nothing — could outweigh the racist laziness myth.

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In an article called Trump Did So Well Because Many Conservatives Are Just Like Him, I collected surveys and studies to show how a significant portion of Trump supporters (though not all) hold extremely bigoted views. But the article didn’t dive into how much worse these views were compared to Clinton supporters. A 2016 Reuters/Ipsos poll of 16,000 Americans found that

In nearly every case, Trump supporters were more likely to rate whites higher than blacks [concerning positive traits] when their responses were compared with responses from Clinton supporters.

For example, 32 percent of Trump supporters placed whites closer to the top level of “intelligence” than they did blacks, compared with 22 percent of Clinton supporters who did the same.

About 40 percent of Trump supporters placed whites higher on the “hardworking” scale than blacks, while 25 percent of Clinton supporters did the same. And 44 percent of Trump supporters placed whites as more “well mannered” than blacks, compared with 30 percent of Clinton supporters.

Trump fans were also more likely to dislike minorities compared to other, more sane, Republican voters.

There is a wealth of other surveys that show comparable results to the four included here; they are not difficult to find.

Moving on from surveys, there are also scientific studies that indicate conservatism is deeper in the racist mud than liberalism. Research shows that dislike of government services and spending, especially welfare, increases as racial animosity does. A 2014 study from Northwestern University showed that whites with no political affiliation more strongly favored conservative policies when distressed over increasing racial diversity in the U.S. In fact, even those with a political affiliation — any — who became distressed moved to the right. A 2012 study of the U.K. showed social conservatism is linked with greater prejudice. Conservatives were less likely to agree with statements such as “I wouldn’t mind working with people from other races.” Other studies link antiracism and social liberalism. A 2013 study found that American conservatives had less favorable views of black people than liberals, unless black people had conservative values and attitudes (liberals also favored persons of color who thought like them). As with Trump, greater anti-black attitudes among citizens more strongly predict votes for the Republican candidate, even when he’s not running against a black man, for example with Bush. Areas of the South with histories of strong Klan activity correlate with stronger Republican loyalty. And so on.

No, not every survey nor study will fit into this pattern, but most do. That consistency across sources deserves serious consideration.

All this makes sense in light of what “conservative” and “liberal” actually mean at the conscious and subconscious levels — and how their adherents opposed or supported the civil rights movement, and other social movements, based on those meanings (see Which Broadened Freedom For the Oppressed? Liberalism or Conservatism? and Why Liberals and Conservatives Think Differently, From Someone Who’s Been Both), regardless of ideological changes within America’s parties, a topic conservatives who insist “Liberals are more racist because the Democratic Party supported slavery and the KKK” desperately need to study (see Republicans Used to be Liberal, Democrats Conservative). While not all conservatives are racist by any means, the evidence suggests that, while both sides have work to do to master true racial tolerance, more conservatives lag behind.

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The Ethics of the N-Word

When I wrote “Why Black History Month Isn’t Racist But White History Month Would Be (and Other White Conundrums),” I summarized and closed with the following sentence: “Because you know your history and because you are a decent person.”

Of all white conundrums, “Why is it OK for black people to say the N-word but not white people?” is probably the most embarrassing. The answer to this question is of course identical to the conclusion of the prior article, but I did not include the infamous racial slur because it seemed like the topic deserved its own piece. Further, while the answer is the same the question is a bit different. The last article concerned why white people shouldn’t celebrate their race the way many black people do. That had something to do with whiteness — what should white identity really entail? White people being able to freely say racial slurs has nothing to do with whiteness. Only blackness.

Asking why it’s “not OK” for whites to use the N-word is really asking why it isn’t socially acceptable. Asking why something isn’t socially acceptable is asking why a majority opinion exists that this something is immoral. What’s socially acceptable is always rooted in ethics, from slavery to the age of consent, and thus the question is actually “Why is it immoral for whites to say the N-word but not blacks?”

Morality concerns what does harm to others. Our answer is thus self-evident. Whites who use the slur do more harm (psychologically, emotionally) to black folk than other black people who use it.

“It’s like a knife,” Ice Cube told Bill Maher after Maher used the slur. “It’s been used as a weapon against us by white people.” Maya Angelou described it as a “poison.” Human beings, she said, “are worth everything. Women are better than being called the ‘b’ word, and blacks are better than being called the ‘n’ word… You are better than being called the word that would deny your humanity.” It is astonishing that some white people seem confused that a term historically used to mark blacks as subhuman, worthy of oppression, rape, and murder, might cause emotional distress, from embarrassment to rage. (It’s not actually astonishing; white people have a long history of lacking basic empathy and critical thinking skills.) The slur causes such pain that physical dangers like knives and poison often accompany its description.

While some African Americans use the N-word and others despise it so much they do not (Ice Cube and Angelou, respectively), in either case the word coming from a white person has a different connotation because of our history. That is obvious and hardly complex. Even if the user considers himself or herself an antiracist or speaking without racist intent, the impact needs to be considered as well. It’s what ethical people do. They think about how their actions affect others; for the N-word, the impact of a white user is simply not the same as that of a black user, even if some black people are also bothered when fellow blacks use the term.

If what’s immoral is based on what causes harm to others, we know then that varying amounts of harm translates to varying degrees of wrong. Ethics exist on a continuum, a sliding scale; they are not black and white. A poor man who steals $25 from a rich man to buy a meal because he is hungry has not committed a wrong as grave as a rich man who steals $25 from a poor man because he is greedy. The intents are quite different, and while the financial loss is the same it hardly has the same impact. A woman who kills a rapist in self-defense has not committed so grave an immoral act (in fact, none at all in my view) as a woman who kills her husband to cash in a life insurance policy. Different intent, even different impact: though the loss of either man may cause pain to their family and friends, one scenario rids the world of a rapist.

Knowing ethics are situational, it’s easy enough to imagine a continuum for the immorality of the N-word, from least wrong (or perhaps not wrong at all) to most wrong, such as:

  • A white person quoting a black person criticizing the word or a white racist using the word (as a means of education)
  • A white person using it when singing hip-hop alone in a car (only potential harm exists: frequent use of the word privately could lead to public use)
  • A white person using it in a joke or mimicking its use as a term of endearment among black people (these contexts cause emotional and psychological harm)
  • A white person using it to degrade, vilify, oppress (overt racism, extreme emotional and psychological harm)

Other scenarios could be conjured. While some will object, insisting these are all equally immoral (or disagree on the order — perhaps the first and second could be switched, as the first one is public and might cause more harm), emphasizing that the use of the N-word is on an ethical continuum is key to demonstrating why it’s not OK for white people to use it, why it isn’t a double standard, hypocritical, all that intellectual laziness.

Imagine the scenarios we would put before those above. These would be situations even less unethical, perhaps morally acceptable. For example, a black person singing along to hip-hop, using the N-word as a term of endearment with a friend, writing a song that includes it, etc. None of these carry the harm or potential harm that the examples featuring white folk do (even though they may carry some, such as upsetting other African Americans who do not use the term, influencing white folk, and so on).

So we see how different contexts and different speakers cause varying degrees of harm, which changes the immorality accordingly. To be moral, we whites must be cognizant of the pain we can cause. You do not use the N-word because you know your history and because you are a decent person.

(Here I must acknowledge my bias. As a white writer interested in race, I often am in the first category for whites above, quoting others word-for-word so as to preserve the full power, whether wickedness or wisdom, of the N-word. I do not censor the words of James Baldwin:

What you say about somebody else, anybody else, reveals you. What I think of you as being is dictated by my own necessities, my own psychology, my own fears, and desires. I’m not describing you when I talk about you, I’m describing me… I didn’t invent the nigger… I’ve always known that I am not the nigger. But if I am not the nigger, and if it’s true your invention reveals you, then who is the nigger?… You’re the nigger, baby. It isn’t me.

Nor do I censor — whitewash — the true wickedness and hatred of whites who use the slur to tear down and demean black people, such as when a Baltimore teacher, in addition to calling her black students “idiots” and “stupid,” screamed that if they didn’t take schoolwork seriously each would end up a “punk-ass nigger who’s going to get shot.”

There are times when the N-word is redacted not to protect black people but to protect white people. Not all readers will agree, but I think there are moments when quoting the word — in writing; verbally falls elsewhere on the moral continuum — can remind whites of its evil, its pain, in the same way exposure to the true barbarism of our racial history can deeply impact white people and change them in positive ways. In a time of white denial, such an education of the word’s full power may be helpful.)

But even after understanding the moral difference between users of different colors and accepting that whites should not use the term, whites may yet have a remaining conundrum: “Why do black people use the term when it’s hate speech targeting them?”

While again emphasizing that many African Americans detest the word no matter who says it and would never say it themselves, we need to understand that appropriating derogatory labels is a very human thing to do, almost to the point of being predictable. Victims often seize the hate speech of perpetrators and adopt it because it strips the latter of their power.

There are many examples in world history of this. “Yankee Doodle” was originally a song used by the British to mock the American troops during the Revolution (yankee itself was likewise a term of derision). The song was quickly appropriated by the Americans. Next, observe what the GLAAD Glossary of Terms notes of queer: “Once considered a pejorative term, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBT people to describe themselves; however, it is not a universally accepted term even within the LGBT community.” Impressionist was created to mock Monet and others who didn’t paint in an ultra-realist fashion. If a sneering art critic inspires the reclamation and redesign of insults, why wouldn’t white supremacists? A jesuit was originally someone criticized for using the name of Jesus too often. Suffragette was first intended to mock militant women. Nasty woman became a badge of honor in 2016, as did deplorable. For many African Americans, “black” used to be a pejorative, “negro” respectful, but now it’s the reverse. There are countless other reappropriations, varying in their degrees of popularity, from tree hugger to bitch. Parents even teach children to handle bullies in a similar manner. Adopting words meant to attack and insult you is a human trait that speaks to our resiliency, feelings of self-worth, and deep appreciation for irony and tragicomedy. Understanding this should erase white people’s assumptions that black people who use the N-word are expressing nothing but self-loathing.

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Petition Against the Militia

On the weekend of August 19, 2017, leftist activists organized two events in Kansas City, Missouri: a rally against prisoner abuse and a march against white supremacy. Though successful, these rallies were stalked by men dressed in camouflage and armed with knives, handguns, and rifles — members of a right-wing “militia” group called the “Three Percenters.”

These men were inspired by the “militia” that protected the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and Confederates in Charlottesville, Virginia, the week before. They were not present to protect the Kansas Citians gathering for justice for prisoners and people of color, as they absurdly implied in the press and to passersby. They came to intimidate, no doubt with some hope a protester would break a window or step out of line in some fashion so they could murder said protester and call it justified. The Three Percenters circled the protesters during speeches and then followed them on their march.

The Kansas City Police Department allowed this. It could have kept these counter-protesters behind a police line, cornered off away from the crowd, as it did during a June 10, 2017 protest/counter-protest. But instead the “militia” was allowed to stalk the crowd. Videos even surfaced of a disturbingly friendly police-“militia” relationship, in which one Three Percenter says the KCPD asked them to come and another tells police they’d “keep you in the loop” concerning any altercations (highlighting what they were there for, to take matters into their own hands, the police a mere afterthought).

Because the Three Percenters were there to intimidate, because weaponry readied against unarmed protesters is both unnecessary and enormously increases the risk of altercations, violence, or death, because protesters felt unsafe, and because (as with a car mowing down protesters) it is only a matter of time before a “militia” kills a protester for no reason, we demand the following:

1. During future events, “militias” and other counter-protesters will be kept at a safe distance behind a police line. The police will not allow them to leave their area, circle the crowd, enter the crowd, follow the crowd, or harass or terrorize or intimidate the crowd in any way.

2. The KCPD will immediately release a public statement declaring the above is official policy and will be followed to the letter.

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It Can Happen Here

The chilling hatred white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-nazis displayed in Charlottesville, Virginia, the weekend of August 12, 2017, was an affront to human dignity — and at multiple times a literal attack upon it. On Friday night on the University of Virginia campus, students standing up against the “Alt-Right” were surrounded and assaulted. At the “Unite the Right” rally the next day at a city park, a rally participant ran over and killed Heather Heyer, a paralegal and anti-racist activist. He injured 19 others in the attack. Others severely beat Deandre Harris, an anti-racist protester and hip-hop artist, in a parking garage. Fistfights broke out elsewhere.

Symbols of white supremacist violence, genocide, and oppression were prevalent. Swastikas and Nazi salutes, Ku Klux Klan hoods and crosses, Confederate flags and burning torches. Chants like “Proud to be white,” “You will not replace us,” “White lives matter,” and “Blood and soil” (an old Nazi slogan) filled the air. Many enjoyed the privilege of walking around with heavy weaponry and acting provocatively without fear of swift and painful police retribution.

Yet standing against them, arm-in-arm and singing, were local clergy. People of all colors, genders, orientations, and beliefs worked together — truly, the American ideal — to show with their bodies and voices that white supremacy has no place in a decent society. Residents and visitors from around the nation, youths and workers, radicals and civil rights activists, they all marched through the streets together in the name of justice. Not all went home unscathed. One did not go home at all. But all did the right thing in that moment. History will look as admirably upon them as it looks upon the souls attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday 1965.

It is their example that Kansas City must follow. With our words and with our bodies, Kansas Citians must confront racial hatred in all its forms. What happened in Charlottesville can happen here.

Kansas City is still scarred by its history of oppression of people of color: from where we live to how long we live to how much wealth we have. Events in 2017 alone have left an open wound in our present. As documented, swastikas, nooses, slurs, vandalism, threatening phone calls, declarations of “white power,” Alt-Right literature condemning a diverse America, beatings, and a shooting by a man hunting Arabs have all been experienced in our city in the past eight months alone. The past few years is an even darker story. There is no question the same elements that made this weekend’s horrific events possible exist in Kansas City.

We will confront daily the legacy of Kansas City’s white supremacy, working for equality and prosperity for all people. All of Kansas City — especially white people, who have turned away in the face of injustice for too long — must address racial and other mistreatment or stereotyping wherever they see it and at the moment they hear it. All of us must be fearless in the face of danger. We must confront hatred with our words and our bodies. We will speak up and show up. Justice expects nothing less. History expects nothing less.

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The Racism of Dr. Seuss

In the 1920s through the 1940s, Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel worked as a political and advertisement cartoonist, his work appearing in publications such as Life, PM, Judge, and Vanity Fair. He started writing and illustrating children’s books in 1936, but most of the popular works we know today, like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, weren’t created until the 1950s and 60s.

While such books are beloved, Dr. Seuss’ cartoons in the newspapers often contained vilely racist imagery. Depictions of black Americans and Africans played on white notions of black savagery, inferiority, and animalism. His drawings of the Japanese and Japanese Americans served propaganda functions important to the United States, namely presenting them as treacherous and evil to stoke support for the war effort and justify discriminatory barbarism like the illegal imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans in what U.S. officials called “concentration camps.”

To his credit, Dr. Seuss did change his tone over time–it is believed he looked back on his racist fear-mongering with regret. His cartoons about blacks changed first, transforming during World War II to encourage the eradication of anti-black prejudice and support for equal opportunity in the workplace, to unite the nation in its fight against racist, fascist regimes abroad.

Yet at the same time, he was creating cartoons featuring Japanese monsters you see. He wrote to readers that complained:

Right now, when the Japs are planting their hatchets in our skulls, it seems like a hell of a time for us to smile and warble: “Brothers!” It is a rather flabby battlecry. If we want to win, we’ve got to kill Japs… We can get palsy-walsy afterward with those that are left.

Dr. Seuss visited Japan in 1953 to study the effects of the war on Japanese children, an experience that changed him. He dedicated Horton Hears a Who! to Mitsugi Nakamura, a university dean he befriended there. Horton and books like The Sneetches are widely viewed today as apologies for past racist sentiments and artwork.

One example of his early anti-black racism were ads for Flit, a bug spray. Dr. Seuss’ drawings of Africans strongly resembled apes, a popular comparison of that era–not to mention earlier and later ones.

Another example was a cartoon playing on popular American figures of speech. The setting is a store. Shoppers are looking to buy things one would never buy: a needle for a haystack, a fly for your ointment, a wrench to throw in your machine to make it stop. In the final panel, with their massive red lips, are “n—–s for your woodpile” (a saying that meant something seemed suspicious, likely derived from escaped slaves hiding at Underground Railroad locations). A white sales clerk shows off his black merchandise to a white buyer.

During World War II, the Japanese were widely considered racially inferior, unintelligent, treacherous, savage, and murderous. The majority of the American populace, media, and governmental bodies characterized them as mad dogs, yellow monkeys, cockroaches, vipers, and vermin. Dr. Seuss did his part to feed the bigotry and fear, portraying the Japanese as monsters, as pig-nosed, squinty-eyed, devilish little fiends. Dr. Seuss’ “Japs” were an infestation of street cats, large insects, or terrorists waiting for word from Tokyo to begin blowing up Americans.

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Educators Crafting Curriculum on Kansas City’s Racial History

On Wednesday, June 29, 2016, about 40 Kansas City high school teachers, college professors, and public librarians gathered for an educator summit at the Central Resource Library of Johnson County to begin creating a curriculum on Kansas City’s racial history.

The library’s Race Project aims to “facilitate intentional dialogue about the structural forms of racism in America and Kansas City. We focus on the American education system in particular, attempting to conduct a sincere investigation into the history, causes, and potential solutions to systemic, structural racism.” The project has several important partners, including high schools in Blue Valley, Raytown, Wyandotte, and Shawnee Mission, Rockhurst University, and author Tanner Colby (Some of My Best Friends are Black), who has spoken at more than one event.

Wednesday’s summit sought to

create meaningful curriculum on racial inequalities in the KC area, and to promote social justice initiatives that encourage community and student engagement incorporating We are Superman, Our Divided City, Racism in Kansas City: A Short History, and Some of My Best Friends are Black. Participants will engage in active dialogue about the difficulties embedded within “race talk,” practice the use of “classroom tools” to enhance classroom conversations about race, develop grade-level appropriate curriculum that fosters critical thinking, research skills, and that address local social justice issues in the Kansas City area.

Of importance to the group was teaching high school and college students current inequities between blacks and whites in Kansas City — in wealth, education, healthcare, police stops and searches, and so on — and then researching the historical causes, all in a student-led manner. Various proposals were offered after this, including having students go to grade schools or middle schools to teach the next generation, having students design feasible ideas on how to address the inequities and social ills and then competing for grant or scholarship funds in the spirit of a “science fair,” or taking students on bus tours to important places in Kansas City’s racial past.

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Man Who Bombed Birmingham Church, Killing Four Black Girls, Up For Parole

Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., the last survivor of the KKK members who bombed a Birmingham, Alabama, church in 1963, could be released from prison early.

Blanton, now 78, was convicted in May 2001 for participating in the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed four black girls — Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Morris. It was an act of white terrorism — one of many — in response to the desegregation of Alabama schools.

Blanton spent almost 40 years a free man after the attack, and then served 15 years in prison after the FBI arrested him and a jury found him guilty. The two other men who were convicted alongside him passed away in prison.

The president of the Birmingham NAACP said Blanton’s release would be “a travesty of justice.” The NAACP, family members of the victims, and other social and racial justice groups are urging the Alabama Parole Board to deny Blanton freedom. Organizations across the country have taken notice. Bread and Roses, a Massachusetts non-profit and social justice group, called on the public to join the protest:

For years, Blanton lived free while loved ones mourned and wondered if the people behind the bombing would ever pay for their heinous crime. Fifteen years in prison is not punishment enough for perpetrating a hate crime that cost four girls their lives. Tell the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to deny Thomas Blanton Jr. parole by contacting The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles, PO Box 302405, Montgomery, Al 36130-2405, (334) 353-7771.

The board will hold a hearing on Wednesday, August 3, 2016, to decide Blanton’s fate.

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KCPD Officer Donald Ebert on Terence Crutcher Killing: “Good Shoot”

On Wednesday night, September 21, 2016, the Ida B. Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality in Kansas City reported that Donald Ebert, a police officer with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department wrote on Facebook of Terence Crutcher: “Should have dropped the entitlement card and listened the first time. Good shoot.”

A Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer shot and killed Crutcher, an unarmed black man, as he walked toward his vehicle. The police claim Crutcher refused to follow directions and that the officer feared Crutcher was trying to get to a weapon in his car.

Ebert wrote his comment on a CBS News post, a comment still up mid-Thursday. After being criticized by another Facebook user, Ebert slammed people with “kiss the babies and poor me syndrome” who don’t blame Crutcher for the lethal actions of the officer. “No one wants to take responsibility for their own actions they rather blame everyone else.”

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Letter to the KCPD

To the Kansas City Police Department:

I am writing this because black lives matter. And when I learned that one of your officers, Donald Ebert, praised the shooting of unarmed Terence Crutcher in Tulsa on social media, I was sickened. Ebert publicly declared that the death of Crutcher entailed a “good shoot” (good shot?) and that Crutcher held an “entitlement card,” or a feeling he didn’t need to follow police commands. The implication in all this, of course, is that Crutcher got exactly what he deserved.

Kansas Citians and people across the country will debate on whether the Tulsa officer shooting Crutcher was justified. But it would be nice if the people sworn to serve and protect Kansas City at least pretended like the death of a human being, regardless of circumstance, is a tragedy.

Even when a police officer is forced to kill someone who is trying to commit a senseless murder, it is a tragedy. Can we not be empathetic people? It’s a tragedy for the officer, who had to take a life and may suffer from PTSD as a result, as so many officers do. It’s a tragedy for the would-be-murderer’s family, for perhaps even he had a mother. Can we not ask caring questions, questions loved ones or friends might ask, like How did he get like this? What drove him to commit such evil acts? And it is a tragedy for the deceased, because though the officer was justified in his or her actions, the would-be-killer can never be redeemed, has no possibility to become the heartening story we all love to share on social media of someone on a troubled path who turned his life around and changed the world in a positive way. No, it may not usually happen. But at least when people live, when they live long enough to see justice in court or prison, there is a chance at being reborn.

And if that is heartbreaking, how much more so for people like Crutcher, an unarmed, nonviolent man with car trouble? Had Ebert shown sensitivity toward the loss of life and all the people it affected, I wouldn’t be writing this now. I believe that even people who disobey police commands or resist arrest have the right to life; Ebert clearly does not agree, but I believe as a thinking adult he is capable of expressing his opinion in a way respectful of the situation and respectful of the dead. Being flippant and praising the result is unacceptable.

KC needs officers that respect civilians. I request you fire this officer immediately.


Garrett S. Griffin

Royals ‘Negro Leagues Day’ Ad Lacks Black People

On April 28, 2016, the Kansas City Royals tweeted an advertisement for the “Salute to the Negro Leagues Day” that featured five white people, possibly the most thoughtless advertising blunder in modern Kansas City history.

Somehow, someway, this ad made it through original concept discussion to the photoshoot to the design to approval and publication on social media without anyone suggesting it might make sense to include a black Kansas Citian. No, I will go farther. Is it not unbelievable — unforgivable — that the majority of the people in this ad are not African American? Who could say otherwise, when the league this day is supposed to honor was an effect of and a refuge against a white supremacist society that legally oppressed and openly tortured and murdered black people?

And how is it that one wouldn’t automatically think to feature blacks, Hispanics, and other nonwhites even if this ad wasn’t for Negro Leagues Day? Are there not also black and brown people coming to each Royals game? Is it not also a multicultural team?

Of course, I give the benefit of the doubt to the creators. I assume this was done without racist intent, and I feel most sensible Kansas Citians would agree (and will be delighted they fixed their mistake and created a more diverse ad). Had anyone had the wit to realize what a horrific P.R. mistake they were making, this whitewashed image would have been buried forever. Rather, this is a testament to white insensitivity. It is a testament to how far to the back blacks remain in our white minds. It is likely an example of subconscious anti-black bias that awards little importance to black people, their feelings, or their interests. According to an ingrained racial preference, the important fans are white fans. The important people to advertise to are white people.

(Just so no reader thinks I am speaking out of turn, all the Marketing and Promotions professionals, including the Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, listed on the team website are white, as a simple social media search reveals. Of course, if there had been nonwhites on staff this ad would still be thoughtless and inappropriate.)

This is an incident that should be highly revealing to those that believe racist thought is a thing of the past and that we whites have nothing left to work on. (Those ideas are nothing new, of course: in 1962-1963, 60% of whites thought blacks were treated equally and 85% of whites thought black kids had the same opportunities as white kids to receive a high-quality education.) To anyone who understands that racism can be measured scientifically, and that conscious and unconscious racist sentiment still exists and leaves blacks disadvantaged in serious ways in our city and our country (therefore making whites, divorced from the very possibility of such mistreatment, quite privileged indeed), the implications of this event are obvious:

If whites are so oblivious that they do not even notice they are advertising a day that honors the likes of Buck O’Neil and Satchel Paige with an all-white cast, what else might they be oblivious about?

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KMBC Doesn’t Realize ‘Thug’ is a Racial Code Word

On Thursday, KMBC 9 News published a story on a black man who robbed a Jimmy John’s on 39th Street, pulling out a gun and pointing it mere inches from an employee’s head. Within the story itself, the man’s reprehensible actions were reported with the professionalism one would expect from a news organization. He was labeled a “suspect” and a “gunman.”

When KMBC shared the story on Facebook, however, professionalism was abandoned for racially-charged language. “Do you recognize this thug?” the status asked.

What most thinking persons suspect, yet the news station seems oblivious to, is that “thug” has indeed become a modern racial slur. Thug is almost exclusively used, by media and individuals, to describe black male suspects or criminals (or even, at times, peaceful black protesters or nonviolent black drug users). Richard Sherman put it best when he said, “The only reason it bothers me is because it seems like it’s the accepted way of calling somebody the N-word nowadays.” This was after he was labeled a thug despite not engaging in any violent or vulgar language or actions, the precise same label actual rioters in Baltimore received thousands of times on major networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox.

Defined as a “ruffian,” “criminal,” or “violent person,” the word has gone through slight evolutions over the years and been applied to many different social troublemakers, from members of the Italian mob to unionists to civil rights and anti-war activists. Like the N-word, thug was adopted by black hip-hop and rap artists as a way to describe self and culture, and is sometimes used to describe black suspects and criminals by prominent African Americans like Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. And there are exceptions to the rule — when thug is used for whites. However, none of this makes it acceptable for media outlets to also partake, knowingly or unwittingly, in language that is today typically reserved for people of color. It is indecent and insensitive for any professional organization that serves a diverse community.

It is almost difficult to envision KMBC asking, “Do you recognize this thug?” in reference to a white man. This is because our language, like our society as a whole, has yet to reach a place of racial equity, a place where blacks are viewed and spoken of in ways no worse and no better than whites. We must watch media portrayals of black criminals closely for signs of bias.

KMBC needs to recall that words can have a great deal of power. They can move us toward that place of racial equity or take us farther away, but they rarely keep us still. The station also must realize avoiding terms that have been tinged with racial meaning is not terribly difficult. As one black Kansas Citian commented on the story: “Thug??? Why not man, suspect, person, criminal, gunman, etc. We all know why he was referred to as a ‘thug.’” Whether or not KMBC realized this word has racial meaning, this seems like a good time to listen to Kansas Citians of color and reflect upon why and how language can hurt its own viewers.

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Beyoncé and the Black Panthers

Beyoncé and her dancers, clad in black leather and black berets, their hair Afroed, reminded the world as it watched Super Bowl 50 of the Black Panthers, a radical leftist organization birthed in the 1960s by white American oppression.

Beyoncé and her dancers stood together on the football field and raised their fists in the traditional radical symbol “power to the people,” a sign of both solidarity with allies pushing for positive social change and defiance against oppressors.

After the performance, a group of dancers raised their fists once more. One unfolded a piece of paper inscribed with “Justice 4 Mario Woods.” Woods, reportedly armed with a knife, was shot to death in a heated confrontation with both black and white San Francisco police in December. Super Bowl 50 was held in San Francisco.

The performers also posed for a similar photo hailing Black Power off the field after the show.

The halftime performance came one day after Beyoncé’s music video “Formation” came out, which drew fire from angry whites for its “anti-police” message. In the video, Beyoncé sits atop a sinking police cruiser, a black child dances in front of a line of policemen in riot gear, who eventually raise their hands, graffiti on a wall demands police “Stop Shooting Us,” etc. “Formation” was one of the songs performed during the Super Bowl.

The Black Panther Party, founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California, was largely inspired by the ideology of Islamic minister Malcolm X (Beyoncé and her women formed an “X” at one point, likely a reference to him). Malcolm X summed up his view on violence, in accordance with his faith and belief in self-defense, when he said in 1963, “Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”

Formed in 1966, the year after Malcolm X’s assassination, the Panthers aimed to promote self-defense against police abuse and white vigilantes, to unify workers against capitalist exploitation, to embrace black pride, to make African Americans politically powerful and economically self-sufficient, to end illiteracy, hunger, and poverty in black communities, and to fight and die at any time for freedom.

Marxist ideas of transferring power to the common people–giving black people the economic, social, and political power to control their own destinies–attracted many. So did the idea of revolution, violent conflict, as a way to achieve basic human rights.

It was, after all, a time of virulent racism (it should be obvious to all that blacks faced far more severe and deadly oppression than the American colonists who rose up in revolution against the British).

White employers refused to pay blacks the same wages as whites, or hire them for more skilled, higher wage positions; white banks refused to provide home loans to blacks; school districts gerrymandered attendance zones to keep black and white schools distinct; white businesses fled from budding areas of black commerce; white producers charged black stores more for goods.

White residents fled from black neighbors; white real estate agents steered blacks away from nicer homes in white areas; white city councils, city planners, and developers refused to invest and build in black areas; white voters rejected tax increases that would benefit black schools and neighborhoods; white landlords refused to properly maintain property inhabited by black families.

White policemen beat and abused blacks suspected of committing crimes against whites, but ignored black on black crime in the ghettos; white judges and juries handed black criminals longer prison sentences and more frequent executions; white terrorists shot, hung, beat, mutilated and bombed innocent African Americans to keep them out of stores, schools, public facilities, neighborhoods, voting booths, and political positions.

Peaceful protesters exercising First Amendment rights were attacked and killed by police and vigilantes alike. The Black Panther Party and its message of self-protection appealed to those who saw Dr. King’s pacifism as inadequate (while respecting and upholding Dr. King’s belief in socialism).

So the Panthers made use of their Second Amendment rights: they armed themselves against a government that failed–for centuries–to protect their human rights, and in fact frequently worked to destroy said rights. They decided to defend themselves, especially against abusive policemen, whom they called “pigs.”

The Panthers used (what else?) the Declaration of Independence to justify revolution against the State. In their Ten-Point Program, which outlined their demands (the first being “We Want Freedom”), the Panthers reminded blacks and whites alike:

…governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government…

…when a long train of abuses and usurpations…evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Yet the Party was more than organizing for self-defense and revolution. Nationally, the Party was renowned for organizing dozens of community programs such as free clothing, shoes, food, education, legal representation, and health clinics for communities of color. They worked with welfare organizations, churches, and local businesses (some white) to ease black poverty.

They organized black history classes, including some that introduced whites to the horrors of slavery and oppression; this glimpse of true history left many whites terrified, tearful, and angry enough to join the fight for civil rights. They held rallies, marches, and strikes to push for black equality.

And although Panther women faced frequent sexual pressure and advances from the men, and sexism in general, the Party aimed to liberate women and promote equality—it was “empowering,” a “source of pride” and “strength,” in the words of one female Black Panther leader.

By the early 1980s, the Black Panther Party was destroyed. From the outset, the U.S. government and local authorities worked to undermine and eliminate it.

The FBI, which has a long history of working to destroy leftist and civil rights organizations (the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, etc.), installed spies, helped assassinate Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in Chicago, forged letters to create disunity, illegally imprisoned activists, destroyed property like food meant for distribution to the poor, and attempted to discredit the Party through propaganda. The FBI authorized municipal police to terrorize members at home, at meetings, and at protests.

When Bobby Seale was arrested for protesting at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, he was not allowed to choose his own lawyer—he was gagged and bound in the courtroom. Many Party leaders were forced to flee the United States to avoid death or imprisonment.

The Panthers’ deadly clashes with police also lost them support from more moderate black civil rights groups and more affluent blacks, and of course progress in civil rights legislation also convinced some their promised revolution was no longer necessary.

(See Reynaldo Anderson, On the Ground: The Black Panther Party in Communities Across America; Gaidi Faraj, Unearthing the Underground: A Study of Radical Activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army; Paul Alkebulan, Survival Pending Revolution: The History of the Black Panther Party.)

Today, with the rise of more radical movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, Beyoncé’s homage to the Panthers should come as no surprise. It is a time of immense anger toward the State and white-dominant society.

Research shows nearly all whites hold subconscious anti-black biases, and a solid majority consciously believe racist myths about blacks (whites in simulations are much quicker to shoot both armed and unarmed blacks). Black job applicants with identical resumes as white applicants are still less likely to be called back for an interview, and blacks are less likely to be offered a quality home loan than whites with the same (sometimes worse) qualifications and income levels. Likewise, whites receive better medical care at the same facilities than blacks with identical diagnoses and medical histories.

Blacks are more likely to receive longer prison sentences and the death penalty than whites who commit the same crimes. They are more likely to be pulled over and searched while driving lawfully than whites driving lawfully. Unarmed Americans killed by police are consistently twice as likely to be black than white.

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On Reverse Racism

How do we who consider ourselves antiracists define racism? This would seem to be the natural starting point when dissecting the notion of reverse racism (defined as racism against whites).

I view racism as a virus with many strains: conscious beliefs in special flaws in black people (i.e., the white myth of a characteristic black laziness used to explain disproportionate black poverty and welfare use); subconscious biases of the same nature; individual oppression; systemic oppression; or a simple dislike of black folk. I have described and do describe these beliefs, attitudes, and actions as racism (and destroying them as the work of the antiracist), and I’m sure many of you have done the same.

Some of my fellow Leftists will object. “You are confusing ‘racism’ with ‘prejudice’ and ‘discrimination,’ good sir.” And this strikes at the core of the matter, which is of course semantics.

I normally wouldn’t craft an entire piece on an argument birthed by varying definitions, but when the linguistic bloodshed reaches such a level that it begins to inhibit the antiracist cause, well, it becomes difficult to resist.

A liberal stance is that reverse racism does not exist because, as Tessa Thompson’s character in Dear White People put it,

Black people can’t be racist. Prejudiced yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people can’t be racist because we don’t stand to benefit from such a system.

Franchesca Ramsey, whom I encourage you all to follow on social media, responded to the idea that mistreatment like bullying and racial slurs should be labeled “racism” by saying, “Those are examples of racial prejudice, not racism. That’s because racism isn’t just about individuals. It’s about institutional power.” Indeed, she defines racism as “individual feelings about people of color…supported by institutional power” — so for example, it would be bad enough if someone were to be seen as more dangerous, more aggressive, and more deviant just based on skin color, which Ramsey defines as racial prejudice, but when an institution like the criminal justice system uses its power to lock up this person for a longer prison term than someone of a “less threatening race” who committed precisely the same crime, that is racism (and a massive societal problem blacks face today and have for a long time, long before the War on Drugs).

Zeba Blay of the Huffington Post wrote:

Some people simplify racism as one group not liking another, and think “racist” and “prejudiced” are interchangeable. But racism is a concept that operates on both an individual and institutional level. At its core, racism is a system in which a dominant race benefits off the oppression of others — whether they want to or not. We don’t live in a society where every racial group has equal power, status, and opportunity.

In their definition of racism, Ramsey and Blay at least mention the working relationship between individual and institution, acknowledging the necessity of the former (“racism isn’t just about individuals”; it “operates on both an individual and institutional level”). Some don’t bother, which can really make things confusing. Here I’m reminded of what the great Black Panther Stokely Carmichael said: “If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.” S.E. Smith recently went so far as to say, “Racism is structural, not personal.”

In sum, they are saying only prejudice (defined as the belief in stereotypes about groups) and discrimination (acting on your prejudice in a harmful way) are strictly personal. Racism cannot be strictly personal. It doesn’t exist unless prejudice and discrimination are institutionalized: supported by government, the education system, the criminal justice system, corporate power, and so on. It’s privilege combined with power. If this is the meaning, reverse racism indeed does not exist.

This writer takes a slightly different tack. I see institutionalism as one of the five major strains of racism mentioned above, not the only strain. I much prefer how the Oxford Dictionary defines racism: “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” or “The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race.” Here prejudice and discrimination fall under the umbrella of racism, rather than standing apart.

I don’t see my preferred definition as “more accurate” than what Ramsey and others use, though I do selfishly like that it encompasses my five strains. I also don’t cling to it because it is most common (the Marxist and the atheist are used to small herds) or for tradition’s sake (I say that while not forgetting Carmichael and others who long ago formulated their definition).

However, I believe viewing institutionalism as one of the symptoms rather than the whole disease does more for the cause of racial justice.

All respect to my comrades, I have been amazed that “reverse racism does not exist” is a hill many Leftists seem prepared to die on. Look at this article thus far. It has taken me this long just to sort through the opposing definitions! Surely such time and energy in discourse, whether in person or online, might be better devoted to actually proving that blacks receive longer sentences than whites for the same crimes, including hate crimes, which many whites still think is total nonsense, than arguing that no, a black kid beating up a white kid while spouting anti-white slurs is only prejudice and discrimination, not racism, because it has no connection to historical and modern institutional power. Surely we have bigger giants to slay.

It’s not just being too lazy to argue the point, nor saying the point has no value. We should simply seriously consider what is most productive when engaging with white folk who, as Cornel West would put it, are still “sleepwalking.” How do we best reach people? Many whites who hear “reverse racism does not exist” will immediately close off their minds to anything further you have to say. Granted, the mere words “race” or “racism” can have the same effect, but the denial of reverse racism is a line in the sand for the more reasonable and sensible whites — the reachable ones. Besides, justice won’t allow us to abandon our proselytizing concerning racism, but reverse racism is, I think, a different story. Now, using a broader definition of racism and thus acknowledging reverse racism exists isn’t suggested here to protect white feelings, allow shifty debate partners to distract or diminish from the injustices people of color constantly face (the usual strategy), or yield an inch to “the enemy.” What it does is quickly lay common ground down which the semi of reason can come barreling.

By my definition of racism, I can readily acknowledge reverse racism exists. Not the strain of systemic oppression, naturally, but rather others — the black American who distrusts or dislikes whites, prefers not to hire whites, commits a hate crime against a white person, believes all white people are innately racist or hateful, and so on. Given our brutal racial history and our modern problems, it would be quite remarkable if these types of attitudes and actions were beyond the realm of the possible. Other definitions call them prejudice and discrimination, mine labels them racism — both to incorporate what I see racism as and to create a starting point for a more effective conversation that might more easily change white thought.

With that short acknowledgement I have lost no ground. My ideological opponent and I have simply accepted the popular (and in no way inferior or inaccurate) definition of racism, and I can raise without delay the two points regarding reverse racism that matter most: origin and scale.

Scale addresses the deflection (“White people are discriminated against, too!”). We do not need to redefine racism to obliterate the deflection. Yes, no matter your race and no matter what race you’re thinking about or interacting with, harmful stereotypes and hateful acts are wrong, horrific, and deserve condemnation. But the racism of all strains that blacks face is an infinitely more colossal problem than that which whites face. It isn’t white names on resumes that are 50% less likely to get a call back for an interview. It’s black names. It isn’t white kids who are 2-3 times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school compared to others who commit the same offenses. It’s black kids. And on and on into every arena of life. Yet we live in a society where whites are so shockingly divorced from the facts that they can think discrimination against them is worse than against people of color at the precise same time the FBI finds only 10.5% of all hate crimes in 2015 were directed against whites (a typical percentage), even though the U.S. is still nearly 70% white! White supremacist and rightwing extremist violence is more frequent than that of Islam, the Left, and black nationalists combined. 23 of the 900 hate crimes that occurred in the 10 days following the election were against Trump supporters, mostly white, yet we somehow pretend this is just as egregious as all the rest combined (directed against Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, blacks, gays).

White delusions are quite astounding. It’s not that abuse against whites isn’t wrong and must cease, it’s that no knowledgeable or thinking person would use reverse racism to diminish the importance of dismantling anti-black racism and its effects, past and present. The difference of scale is huge.

Origin addresses where race hatred comes from. I don’t pretend to know the perspectives of black folk or the black experience, but I do not believe for a moment that anti-black sentiment and anti-white sentiment come from the same place.

As someone who writes often about racism, I occasionally have friends who send me videos of black people beating up or harassing white people — as if I was unaware such things were even possible. When that happens, I watch the video or read the article and say — earnestly — that such things are awful and as equally wrong as white folk beating up black folk. Then I speak frankly: hatred and violence do not always come from the same place (in fact, looking at history, they rarely do). We must not pretend hatred and violence against one group cannot be a reaction to hatred and violence against another.

I much suspect that anti-white racism is largely a reaction to anti-black racism. Racism against blacks largely stems from the idea that there’s something wrong with black people — laziness, aggression, deviancy, lower intellect, immorality — which racist whites use to explain black poverty, crime, broken families, lower test scores, etc., rather than bothering to look at history and economics. This blame inspires some whites to do horrific things. Racism against whites is largely an angry backlash against these racists myths, modern mistreatment at the hands of individuals and institutions, and perhaps the past oppression that dug this social pit African Americans are still trying to climb their way out of. This anger can inspire some blacks to do awful things.

These are not the only factors, and you are correct if you think racism from either side feeds racism on the other. But the point is that anyone who takes American history seriously or has an ounce of respect for social researchers who collect and analyze data on today’s world would conclude racist sentiment does not come from the same place, the same history and motives and feelings and thoughts. If we accept reality, it’s easy to imagine that if anti-white racism vanished tomorrow anti-black racism would continue to thrive, yet if anti-black racism vanished anti-white racism would be severely diminished. That is why I personally focus on ending anti-black racism.

I wonder how many conversations did not get to these important things due to semantics.

Arguing reverse racism doesn’t exist because of definitional differences is like spending your days searching for the perfect battlefield while two giants destroy your land.

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Short Thoughts on Racism


April 22, 2021

Ma’Khia Bryant would be alive today if police didn’t go straight for the handgun when de-escalation isn’t possible (as it sometimes won’t be). We have nonlethal tools and tech.

“No opportunity” to de-escalate isn’t an excuse. “Obeying training” isn’t an excuse when your training is shit, incorporating nothing between de-escalation and shoot to kill. I know this really sidesteps or ignores what allegedly happened to Daunte Wright, people harmed or even killed by nonlethal weaponry, who should respond to violent calls, and the whole debate on whether police are needed in a modern (or radically changed) society — but assuming they are, they should stop pretending nonlethals don’t exist and can end many violent situations without loss of life.

December 23, 2020

On The Star’s apology series (

Has The Kansas City Star also devoted itself to pushing for new policies and funding organizations doing the same?

June 3, 2020

During the George Floyd protests: 

The only marching cops should be doing is to HQ to draft radical policy changes.

May 28, 2020

Four cops had George Floyd handcuffed, pinned on the pavement. It was over. It could have stopped there, a lift of the knee. Instead the police chose to continue. Instead they killed him.

But maybe it couldn’t have stopped there. To lift the knee would have been to acknowledge wrongdoing, to listen to the screams and begging of victim and bystanders. To offer a nod of legitimacy to grievances against absolute power. But police don’t obey people. People obey the police. The police don’t take orders from civilians, much less black people (yes, I believe this tragedy is rooted in racism, conscious or subconscious) or victims. As the knee rises, so the authority falls. That’s inherent to policing and to power dynamics in general — the pressure to continue what you’re doing even if it’s wrong, to avoid undermining your own authority. They kept the knee there because they were told not to. “Power trip” as a phrase hardly captures the merciless brutality here, but I believe it is so.

May 6, 2020

On the Ahmaud Arbery killing:

White people, just leave black people the fuck alone. It is not your responsibility to get your guns and confront someone you think (likely due only to his skin color) is a thief. Black people have enough to worry about with the police racially profiling and confronting them. These white men deserve prison, nothing less.

September 10, 2018

On unnecessary police force in Westport:

You can punch someone in a place other than their face. You can punch someone’s arm. And you can do it to break up a fight. For some reason other than “because you can” or for fun. It can be proper police protocol. And it can STILL be unnecessary force. It can still be unnecessary violence against a black woman. These things aren’t mutually exclusive.

July 26, 2018

It’s funny how you often hear “The Democratic Party was the party of slavery and the KKK” but rarely hear “The Democratic Party founded the Confederacy and the Confederate flag was a flag of the Democrats.” Both are true statements.

I think you don’t really hear the latter because it raises uncomfortable questions (not least of all: “Does this imply a connection between extreme racism and the Confederacy? Shouldn’t we burn all these flags?”). Questions like: “Why, if the Confederacy was a Democratic institution, do only conservatives and Republicans care about it and fly its flag today?” Or: “How is it that Democrats ruled the South during that era, but today Republicans rule the South? Was it a liberal bastion back then?”

These questions might lead to a serious study of history that reveals the obvious but not commonly discussed truth: the Democratic Party was the more conservative party in that era, the Republican Party the more liberal party.

May 31, 2018

On the police shooting of Nell Lewis:

The Lawrence Police Department and Johnson County, KS Sheriff’s Office have some explaining to do.

1) Was ordering the driver out of his car absolutely necessary? Was it not in the realm of the possible for the officer to simply issue a ticket and head out, even if the driver wasn’t cooperative? Is it a natural law of the universe that the police MUST exert power over an uncooperative person? Could an officer not be the bigger person–swallow the pride, skip the power trip–and just tell an uncooperative person to have a good night and get that ticket paid on time? Instead of ordering him or her out? Is de-escalation just too difficult? Is escalation–“step out the car”–the only way?

2) Was a second officer absolutely necessary? When first responders learn to handle things in a better manner there will be no need for backup. This was another pointless escalation.

3) Was use of the handgun absolutely necessary when other, less lethal weapons are available? The use of any kind of weapon could have been easily avoided of course, if the first responder had better training, but why was the first weapon used the most lethal? Do stun guns not exist? Do rubber rounds only exist for crowds and protests? Will we not try anything else before simply resorting to the bullet?

December 8, 2017

Many whites who lynched and segregated black people are still alive. #ItAin’tOver

October 30, 2017

This article is good because it educates residents on excessive force deployed by the KCPD ($6 million in settlements for brutality over just 5 years), but a bit odd because it feels as if 41 Action News framed it to imply the big payments to victims of brutality, criminals or not, is the major problem here. The headline, the first two sentences, the section headers (name, $$$), including Washington’s rap sheet to emphasize he’s a criminal, including his grinning mug shot, and so forth make it seem like police brutality is primarily bad because it ends up giving money to criminals (one victim, by the way, was not charged with a crime for the incident in which he was brutalized). Well, no, police brutality is the problem. Police brutality is wrong in and of itself. Big settlements wouldn’t happen if police brutality didn’t happen. Whether you see payouts as proper compensation for police crimes or hate seeing criminals get a dime, that’s the simple truth. Perhaps I’m making mountains out of mole hills or reading too much into the article, but local news is so pro-cop one can’t help but wonder if this framing is a way to make a story on police brutality go down easier.

September 26, 2017

On the Fraternal Order of Police letter to Marcus Peters:

Hopefully Chiefs player Marcus Peters can gently explain to the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police that it is the responsibility of the police in this country, and theirs alone, to not kill unarmed people. It is the responsibility of the courts to imprison officers who use unnecessary force. Improving community-police relations is a positive thing and should be done, but won’t end the atrocities Peters and others are protesting. Police need to radically change their policies, training, and weaponry. They need to explore implicit and overt racial biases and how they influence police behavior in documented experiments. They need to learn to de-escalate. They need to learn to handle wounded pride and not ask people to step out of the car because they don’t like their tone or won’t cooperate. They need to stop investigating what four black men on the corner chatting are up to if there’s not a shred of probable cause for anything. They need to use non-lethal bullets. They must stop planting evidence and lying. They must never again investigate themselves. They need to submit to stricter civilian oversight and control. And yes, they need to have the real threat of rotting in prison to keep them in line. Again, connect with communities and build relationships. If Peters and others will join you, great. But it’s on YOU to end racial profiling, to stop beating and killing people for minor slights, over your unreasonable fears and implicit or conscious racial biases, or for nothing at all. Until that happens, the protests will continue, and hopefully Peters will remain involved. It’s not about personal “fulfillment.” It’s about voicing opposition to what YOU, and the Kansas City Missouri Police Department and departments across the US, are doing and have the power to end.

September 26, 2017

White people, let’s talk. Let’s talk about why many of us suddenly give far fewer shits about rights when black people need or use them.

Protest rights, speech rights, gun rights, due process rights, the right to life, privacy rights, equal treatment rights, voting rights, and on and on. When black people boldly use or demand these things, they are the enemy. They are “uppity,” “ungrateful,” “disrespectful,” “dangerous,” “un-American.” “No-good n—–s.” They have crossed the line. They have pushed against the walls of the box white people require them to remain in. They broke the rules.

I get it, you don’t think black people are treated any differently than white people. You think police brutality isn’t disproportionately against black folk due to unreasonable fear, you think racial profiling is fiction, you think verdicts and sentencing in the courts are the same for people of all colors according to their crimes, you think a black man can walk around with a gun on his hip as freely as them good ol’ white boys, you think you’d be just as pissed if a white person knelt for the anthem to protest God not being in schools anymore, you think loud protests and blocked streets and civil disobedience and property damage and riots were only acceptable for white people in 1773, and you couldn’t care less if stricter voter ID laws decrease the black vote. I get it because white ignorance is real; whites in the era of burning black people hanging from ropes and taking home their genitals as trophies thought black people had it pretty good too, and should just shut up and stop complaining. The U.S. was, after all, the greatest nation on earth in 1950 as well, was it not?

The thing is, whether you stupidly think black people are simply making stuff up or in it for attention, that DOES NOT MATTER one iota. Citizens have rights regardless. They have them no matter what. Rights aren’t offered conditionally; on the condition, say, that what a black person is saying about his or her own lived experience has been fact-checked by fucking white people. Black people can exercise their rights however they please. Anywhere, any time.

So fuck the white line, the white box, the white rules. Let’s do what we can, fellow white people, to utterly purge these things from our own minds and those of others.

September 24, 2017

On Colin Kaepernick and those who knelt with him:

Progress comes on the backs of troublemakers, not they who worship the State.

August 12, 2017

A word to my fellow white people:

Have you spoken up yet? It is sometimes said that in times of injustice remaining neutral aids the oppressor. You cannot be neutral on a moving train. When racism rears its ugly head will you speak against it? Will you show up when it rallies in your city? Will you go tell it on the mountain that bigotry is unacceptable in our country? Look upon what your fellow whites are doing in Charlottesville:

Whites organizing a “Unite the Right” rally using imagery reminiscent of the Nazi Imperial eagle in response to the removal of statues of “heroes” who fought for a new nation founded explicitly to preserve black slavery, a “pro-white” rally to “advocate for white people.”

Whites hosting a KKK-reminiscent night march with torches, raising the Nazi salute with free hands, surrounding counter-protesters and assaulting them. They chanted “White Lives Matter” and “You will not replace us” and “Proud to be white.”

Whites attending the main event with their shirts bearing Hitler quotes, their Confederate flags, their red Klan robes, their “Jews are Satan’s children” signs, free hands again raising the Nazi salute. A sea of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and Alt-Right symbols, such as the Klan cross and Nazi flag. A chant rises into the air: “Fuck you faggots.” That was alongside “White Lives Matter” and “Blood and Soil,” an old Nazi slogan.

Whites from “militias” with rifles walking freely through the streets. It is difficult to imagine the police allowing black people to do the same, as with surrounding other groups.

A car running over counter-protesters after violence breaks out between rally-goers and counter-protesters. One person has died. A black man named Deandre Harris was assaulted. A State of Emergency declared, the “Unite the Right” rally disbanded by police. The white rightwing extremists are regrouping at another park.

Sitting in history class, we whites often imagined what we would do if we had lived in that generation where people proudly raised their arms in the Nazi salute or condemned diversity as a threat to white power and glory. Well, here we are. This is our generation. And as in prior eras, white silence is violence. Speak up. Show up. Make racists afraid again.

June 21, 2017

On Quincy Blakely’s arrest:

Look at this cop. There is no reason here to ask Blakely where his gun is or to get out of the car. He’s done nothing wrong. Think on this, this is Texas! You don’t even need a license, a CHL, to carry loaded guns in your car. So what if he’s got a gun? Are all people with guns in Texas dangerous? Or just black ones? Do the cops in Texas ask everyone they pull over for a burned out bulb if they have a weapon in the car? Do they make everyone who is armed step out of their vehicle? I somehow doubt it, think of the absurd waste of time.

Why ask questions about the weapon at all? If he does have one with him then he’s probably just a good ol’ boy like all the white Texans packing heat. He even has a CHL…again, which you don’t need…which was presented honestly and voluntarily. His wife and child are in the fucking car. Why not just take the driver’s license and see to the task at hand? Instead the cop gets on the typical power trip. Wants to get the man out of the car because he can. Because you have to demonstrate your power and authority. Why did he do this? What activated the power trip?

He’s scared. Look, he can barely form words when he learns he’s facing a black man with a weapon lurking somewhere. Is he that scared with the good ol’ white boys? No, he’s scared of Blakely because Blakely is black. And as a black man, Blakely knows what’s happening. He hates it, it’s hurtful, he’s scared for his life. Frustrated with the cop’s stupidity and racial profiling, and knowing he is likely safer in his car, Blakely refuses to obey. Refusal of course can’t be tolerated, so force must be used. An incredible relief that no one is dead. But of course the woman is also ordered out of the car, part two of the power trip. She did nothing wrong either.

This video is a good example of how this all works: a cop mistreats a black person, the black person reacts in way that doesn’t please the powerful, and the powerful must nip that in the bud no matter how dangerous escalation becomes or who dies. This was the fault of the injustices and pride of the powerful, not the very human reaction to that injustice and pride. This is why we say #BlackLivesMatter.

Blakely is being held on a ludicrous $500,000 bond.

May 25, 2017

It’s funny how some white people think “My wife is black” or “I have lots of black friends” somehow makes them incapable of racism. It may help, but doesn’t make us invincible. You could be in love with a black woman and still stereotype blacks as on average lazier than whites, whether she is included or excluded.

Time to turn away from white hubris.

January 7, 2017

It seems to me that some conservative whites, and others, struggle to understand that racial hate crimes can be equally vicious, but not equally punished.

In late 2015, 3 white students in Idaho held down a mentally disabled black student and inserted and repeatedly kicked a coat hanger into his rectum, requiring hospitalization. The leader of the assault was offered a sweet deal by prosecutors, and will not go to prison. He gets probation and community service.

Recently, 4 black students in Chicago bound and gagged a mentally ill white student, beat him, made him drink from a toilet, and cut his hair and clothing with a knife. These black students are not likely to get a pleasant deal. They will almost certainly go to prison for years, if not much or the rest of their lives. I — and YOU, probably — would be quite shocked if this was not the case.

I’m not saying these cases are precisely the same. For instance, the black students’ records are longer and uglier than the white students’. The incidents are in different states and cities. But each case can be called twisted, sick, evil, and a hate crime (it is also remarkable some liberals insist the Chicago case was not a hate crime, despite what the students are saying in the video they made). Most Americans have an expectation that a decent society would punish such horrific acts roughly equally — not let the white kids go.

Nor am I saying convenient anecdotes like this should be or are our only indication that this nation has a major problem when it comes to sentencing blacks and whites. Research into the matter overwhelmingly confirms blacks are punished much more harshly than whites of the same background for the same crimes in the same cities and states. Such studies are not hard to find — but they do take a long time to read, considering the volume. This isn’t just a made-up social ill. Anecdotes hint at a pattern, which can be confirmed or disproved using scientific methods.

We’re living in a time that’s very divisive. You’d think we could at least all agree (black and white, right and left, etc.) that comparable crimes should be punished comparably. If you’re white and think so too, when an incident like the Chicago one occurs don’t just say, “Well, well, well, looks like blacks can commit hate crimes too!” and leave it at that. Yes, condemn it. Condemn all hate crimes, no matter who commits them, and then speak out against inequality in sentencing. Because while hate crimes can be equally horrific, our justice system’s response to them is not equally just.

January 2, 2017

A major problem in the U.S. today is that many whites have adopted the strange idea that Jim Crow oppression was eons ago. That because anyone can make it to whatever career or income they want in America and because it’s been “so long” since blacks were paid less than whites, confined to menial work, refused entry to colleges, denied home loans, etc., the only thing that explains disproportionate black poverty today is some special flaw in black people (that’s what we call racism, and it’s quite common).

Well, putting aside the fact that widespread oppression and mistreatment did not completely end after the 1960s and even continues today, 45-odd years is NOT THAT LONG. Many black people who experienced the worst of Jim Crow are still alive. Many white folk who oppressed them are still alive. The whites foaming at the mouth in rage at black kids joining their kids’ schools? Some are still around. They are our parents, our grandparents. If you’re older, perhaps it was you. Yet racism is supposed to be over? The 1960s were so long ago that all black folk should have caught up to white folk economically? Yet so recent people remember it? When you study how intergenerational poverty actually works, you see that overcoming it is a slow process indeed.

The truth is finally eradicating the last remnants of Jim Crow is going to take a bit longer than 45 years. That speaks to how effective it was at keeping black folk down — not how blacks are somehow lazier than whites and therefore haven’t caught up financially yet.

They say time heals all wounds. Instead of bathing in racist fantasies, why not consider this wound is still healing?

October 2, 2016

It is fitting that Black Lives Matter should have the same initials as the Black Liberation Movement.

September 23, 2016

Truly, it’s easy to feel that when you’re calling out for social justice you’re just shouting into the wind. It’s easy to take that one meme seriously: “Wow, your political posts on Facebook totally changed my entire worldview, said no one ever.”

Don’t believe it. Don’t ever believe it. I’m living proof that people can change. I spent 18 years a hardcore conservative, 2 years middle-left, 4 years a liberal, and 4 years a Marxist. From devout to atheist, too. I’ve watched others change, too. People I’ve debated for years have changed their minds on issues, even if reluctant to admit it. Someone told me my writings changed him in a huge way. Someone bought me a beer to apologize for old ways of thinking. People I haven’t spoken to in years message me asking for my opinion because they want a take different than their own.

Never give up, folks. Don’t be discouraged. Take heart. When you speak, people listen. And while it doesn’t come fast, people do change.

Peace and solidarity.

September 22, 2016

Dear conservative white people: How can I say this? If the ONLY time you bring up the welfare of black people is when you’re trying to get folks to shut up about Black Lives Matter and focus on black on black crime, or trying to score cheap points in a debate over abortion or gun control by pointing out racist influences or racist supporters of yesteryear…we notice that. If that’s the ONLY time, just serving a momentary, special function for you, we see that. And we see through it.

September 21, 2016

Dear fellow white people: You know how when you’re speeding you keep a sharp eye out for cops and suddenly every other car you mistake for a cop? How you start to see what you’re wary of?

Now think about the police and unarmed black men.

September 13, 2016

The most important question to ask white Americans is this:

“In American society today, blacks are disproportionately poor. Do you believe that if the roles of blacks and whites were perfectly reversed in U.S. history, if WHITES faced Jim Crow oppression, would whites still be disproportionately poor? In this alternate reality, would they still not be at economic equality with blacks?”

If the answer is Yes, the white person has accepted that an ugly racial history — not personal flaws like the racist myth of “black laziness” — created our massive racial wealth gap. The effects of past oppression can still be felt and seen.

If the answer is No, whites would not still be disproportionately poor, that white person is a racist. He or she believes in the fundamental superiority of the white race to overcome things like poverty. Racism, pure and simple.

July 28, 2016

I did not know #RyanStokes. But I do know he did not deserve to be gunned down from behind by the Kansas City Missouri Police Department. #3YearsTooLong

July 27, 2016

As white people, one of the most naive and ignorant things we say about race is this: “If racism has been such a problem, why are black people only raising hell about it now?”

First, whether or not you hear complaints about discrimination kind of depends on your skin color, doesn’t it? This is a sign of our white privilege. As a white person, you don’t ever have to think about race if you don’t want to. It’s certainly not something you worry about. It’s not something you had to talk about at the dinner table. But according to our black brothers and sisters, it’s a different story for them. Black kids get “the talk” about racism, racial profiling, how to handle themselves around the police, and so on. White mothers generally don’t have to worry, when their kid hops in the car, if the police will harass or harm them. For white mothers, the police are out there to protect their kids (even though sometimes this view is incorrect). Polls show minorities today view racism as a much greater problem than whites — no shit, as they are the ones experiencing it (the polls are nearly identical, by the way, to those taken in the 1960s; whites have a bad habit of being oblivious). Do you actually think that if you were black, you wouldn’t experience much more discussion on race and modern racism with family and friends?

Second, there is ALWAYS someone raising hell. It doesn’t always make the national or even local news, but activists ARE working against discrimination and segregation in your community — no matter where you live. But if you don’t care about social and racial justice, you’re not going to hear much about them and their activities. If you don’t have activist friends, if you don’t follow groups’ pages on social media, you won’t hear much of it. But there are always protests, rallies, marches, vigils, meetings, forums, even civil disobedience. Personally, I was ignorant of the groups in my own community until I started focusing on social justice issues. Then, all of a sudden, they were everywhere — and many existed long before Black Lives Matter, long before Mike Brown. One Struggle KC. Ida B Wells Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality in Kansas City. Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO). Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity – MORE2. Una Lucha KC. Urban League of Greater Kansas City. Freedom Incorporated. SURJ KC – Showing Up for Racial Justice, Kansas City. The NAACP, CORE, the Panthers, and SNCC didn’t pack up and disappear after the 1960s, either. They are still at work today. Just because you’re sleepwalking, doesn’t mean others are.

July 6, 2016

“If he was holding a weapon and was trying to kill a bystander or a cop.”

That is the only time I would think a policeman justified if he killed my son, father, brother, or friend. How about you? If your brother got disrespectful with the cops? If your son ran? If your daddy resisted arrest? If your friend was illegally selling something? Would it be ethical then? Bullshit.

Hold others to the same standards you use for yourself and your family. #AltonSterling

June 7, 2016

Too many whites seem confused as to what racism actually is. It isn’t just dropping racial slurs or some vague dislike or irrational hatred of black people. It’s finding out that the average black person is more likely to be poor than the average white person, and (instead of acknowledging how our racial history created large pockets of minority poverty that still exist today) conclude that black people are simply more likely to be lazy than white people, under the guidelines of conservative ideology where people are poor due to laziness. In other words, ascribing a special flaw to a racial group.

That’s racism by definition.

March 29, 2016

In 1963, 60% of whites thought blacks were treated equally in America. In 1962, 85% of whites thought black kids had the same educational opportunities as white kids.

If we whites could be that delusional while blacks were being beaten and lynched for seeking their basic human rights, do we really think whites couldn’t possibly be delusional NOW, when racism is much more SUBTLE?

September 12, 2015

An interesting public forum on race relations last night put on by Second Presbyterian and Communities Creating Opportunity (CCO). I admire Kansas City Missouri Police Department Deputy Chief Robert Kuehl for being a panelist and being willing to take the “hot seat.” He seems like a good man concerned about racial equality and justice, but obviously should have foreseen how his phrase “All Lives Matter” would be taken by most black members of the audience, and many liberal whites there as well. Anyone who has paid any attention to the news or social media knows that “All Lives Matter” is largely a white conservative backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement. “All Lives Matter” could have easily been a phrase created by progressives, antiracists, civil rights activists, but it wasn’t. It was a direct reaction to Black Lives Matter birthed by conservative whites who confuse the pursuit of justice (an end to the disproportionate police killings of unarmed black men and women) with some sort of juvenile demand for special privileges. As Airick Leonard West pointed out, to huge applause from the crowd, All Lives Matter masks the different needs of different communities. All Lives Matter, created by conservative whites who refuse to believe that discrimination could possibly be an issue in 2015, is at its core an accusation of reverse racism: “How dare you elevate black lives over all others!” This only distracts from the real issues that birthed the Black Lives Matter movement.

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The Evidence of Widespread American Racism

White conservatism generally stresses that while some whites surely dislike blacks and overtly discriminate against them, racism is no longer a significant societal problem. That is, there are a few “bad apples” in the American bushel, but not enough to affect the lives of most blacks or justify protest movements pushing for change.

Actual research into the subject, however, reveals a rather different story — one of widespread racial prejudice and discrimination that works to cripple any notion of equal opportunity.

First, we must address something many whites simply do not understand: racism can be measured scientifically. That is, researchers can either analyze real-world data or conduct experiments using the scientific method (controlling for outlying variables), which can demonstrate how large a problem racism actually is.

For example, mentioned below is a study showing resumes with “black” names are 50% less likely to be called back for an interview than identical ones with “white” names. In this experiment, researchers created fictitious resumes with equal job and educational achievements for the black and white “applicants,” sent them out to job openings in Chicago and Boston, and waited. The results indicate serious anti-black bias in the labor market.

Second, note that results like this are incompatible with the idea of a “few bad apples.” Were this an insignificant problem — were a black man or woman to come across a bigoted white employer just every so often, once in a blue moon, a 50% discrepancy would simply not be an expected or accurate result. The “bad apples” would not have the numbers to create a drastic statistical disparity such as this; the problem must therefore be more widespread.

Third, it’s important to remember that not all discrimination stems from conscious stereotyping. True, surveys show about 60% of whites can openly admit belief in stereotypes concerning blacks: greater laziness, higher aggression, or lower intelligence in blacks, and 25% of whites say an ideal neighborhood would be totally free of them (see citations in Wise, Colorblind). Among Trump supporters, 40% think black people are more “lazy” than white people. 50% believe blacks are more “violent” than whites. 16% think whites to be a “superior race,” while 14% are “not sure.” This is conscious racism. But nearly 90% of whites hold subconscious (implicit) anti-black biases.

Implicit biases mean whites hold certain dangerous ideas about blacks without even realizing it or being able to control it, ideas pumped into our consciousness since birth, ideas so strong and so pervasive even some 48% of blacks subconsciously believe them. These are subconscious associations: associating blacks with danger, violence, laziness, and so on, versus more positive associations for whites. Those interested in studying implicit biases more should look into Harvard University’s Project Implicit.

Clearly, this is not a small-scale problem. Whether within our awareness or beyond it, anti-black biases lead to discrimination. With prejudice so large an issue, it would be remarkable indeed if the effects were insignificant.   

With these three key understandings, observe a few of the arenas in which racism affects the opportunities of African Americans.



Not only are there millions of reports of housing discrimination each year, blacks seeking a home loan are two and a half to three times more likely to be steered into a subprime (high cost, low protection) loan than equally-qualified (same income, credit, etc.) whites. And, as we would expect with such a pervasive problem of anti-black bias, even higher-income blacks are more likely to be offered a subprime loan than same- or lower-income whites. In New York City, “black households with annual incomes of $68,000 or more are five times more likely to have a subprime mortgage than white households with similar or even less income” (Wise).

In Pittsburgh, a study showed that when blacks have better credit, less debt, and higher incomes than whites they are given higher interest rates on loans (among other things) 56% of the time.

In Chicago and Los Angeles, studies showed blacks and Hispanics were, compared to equally-qualified whites, “told about fewer loan products, offered less assistance, and denied basic information about loan amount and house price.”

Real estate agents also consistently steer black buyers into poorer “black” neighborhoods when said buyers earn incomes that would allow them to afford nicer homes in “white” neighborhoods (Wise).



As mentioned, when researchers decided to send out resumes to employers, identical except half had “white” names at the top and half had “black” names, the latter was 50% less likely to be called for an interview. The study was entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?

Black men without a criminal record are less likely to be called back for an interview than white men with criminal records, all other qualifications being equal.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, blacks are thus twice as likely to be unemployed than whites with the same work and educational background. That is, among blacks and whites without college degrees, whites are more likely to be hired. Blacks with college degrees are likewise twice as likely to be unemployed compared to others with college degrees.

One often hears conservative whites explaining away doubled unemployment rates among blacks by stating either A) more blacks need college degrees to make them more employable, which ignores the fact these studies look at similarly qualified blacks and whites or B) blacks tend to be twice as lazy as whites, an old racist myth of innate inferiority that, as noted above, too many whites seem willing to believe.


The Criminal Justice System

As surprising as this may be to many whites, blacks and whites use illicit drugs at about equal rates (whites are sometimes a bit more likely to do so). Yet law enforcement tends to pursue black criminals with much more enthusiasm than white criminals.

Blacks are more likely to be pulled over and searched while driving (even driving lawfully) than whites (even driving lawfully). One might suppose whites trying to pretend racism is a thing of the past would say blacks are simply worse drivers, a notion not supported by any evidence. Or perhaps that police focus more attention on black communities — which is true, as blacks disproportionately live in high-crime areas and police are concentrated in such places. That affects such statistics. But such facts exist alongside clear discrimination. For instance, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. One could say it’s because the police are concentrated in high-crime black areas, not low-crime white ones. But black youth are fifty times more likely than white youth to be imprisoned for their first drug offense (see Poe-Yamagata and Jones, And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Minority Youth in the Justice System). White youth get off much easier when caught. 

Where the police operate and actual discrimination come together with toxic results. During the War on Drugs, two-thirds of the people thrown in prison were people of color, even though they do not use illegal drugs at higher rates. An uncovered interview with a Nixon aide recently showed targeting and jailing black people was a political strategy of the war. Michelle Alexander writes,

In seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983.

The War on Drugs could have been fought in white neighborhoods. It wasn’t.

Minorities now comprise 60% of all U.S. prisoners. True, part of the reason is higher crime rates for murder and other acts (minorities are more likely to be poor, which results in higher violent crime) and where police are focused, but part of it is discriminatory punishment. For example, blacks are more likely to receive longer prison sentences and the death penalty than whites who commit the same crimes.

How police treat unarmed blacks in confrontations is different than how they treat unarmed whites in confrontations. From 2013-2015, over 57% of black women killed by police were unarmed, vs. only 20% of white men killed by police being unarmed. So when the police kill white men, the latter are usually armed; when they kill black women, the latter are usually unarmed! Overall, blacks in this time period were nearly 7 times more likely to be killed while unarmed in interactions with police (“Race, Gender, and the Contexts of Unarmed Fatal Interactions with the Police,” Washington University in St. Louis). 

Blacks are killed disproportionately to their population. Blacks who were not attacking an officer when killed made up 39% of total deaths in 2012, way out of proportion to a small black population, 13% of Americans (compared to 46% of total deaths being white, who are nearly 70% of the American population). Unarmed Americans killed in the first half of 2015 were twice as likely to be black than white. 35% of unarmed people killed in 2017 were black (and 37% of those who were not attacking police). Part of this can be explained by disproportionate police presences and interactions where blacks live, as we saw before. But it is also the expected result of police officers associating blacks — innocent blacks included — with aggression and criminality. They are even perceived to be bigger, more threatening, than they are. That’s what the science shows.

How many studies do we need before you acknowledge a problem might exist?

The police are more likely to become physically violent or draw their weapons at blacks than whites in similar situations (“An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force,” National Bureau of Economic Research). “The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests, and Police Use of Force” from the Center for Policing Equity found blacks are more likely, by a factor of nearly four, to experience police force, even when controlling for crime rates. “Protecting Whiteness: White Phenotypic Racial Stereotypicality Reduces Police Use of Force” (Social Psychological and Personality Science) found that the whiter you are, the less likely you’ll have force used against you.

“A Bird’s Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015” (Criminology & Public Policy) found that, when shot by police, “civilians from ‘other’ minority groups were significantly more likely than Whites to have not been attacking the officer(s) or other civilians and that Black civilians were more than twice as likely as White civilians to have been unarmed.”

“Is the evidence from racial bias shooting task studies a smoking gun? Results from a meta-analysis” (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology) found that “relative to White targets, participants were quicker to shoot armed Black targets, slower to not shoot unarmed Black targets, and more likely to have a liberal shooting threshold for Black targets.” That was a meta-analysis of 42 studies.

“A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014” (PLOS One) found “evidence of a significant bias in the killing of unarmed black Americans relative to unarmed white Americans, in that the probability of being black, unarmed, and shot by police is about 3.49 times the probability of being white, unarmed, and shot by police on average.” Plus, they noted “there is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.”

“Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) showed how police officers associate innocent blacks with criminality and aggression. “The Police Officer’s Dilemma: Using Ethnicity to Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals” from the same journal showed ordinary civilians in simulations are far quicker to shoot armed blacks than armed whites, and decide faster to spare an unarmed white than an unarmed black.

“The Correlates of Law Enforcement Officers’ Automatic and Controlled Race-Based Responses to Criminal Suspects” (Basic and Applied Psychology) found that during simulations police officers with anti-black biases shoot unarmed black suspects more often. “The Consequences of Race for Police Officers’ Responses to Criminal Suspects” (Psychological Science) showed police officers are more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed blacks than unarmed whites. Fortunately, the bias diminished with extensive time in the simulation. In fact, “Across the Thin Blue Line: Police Officers and Racial Bias in the Decision to Shoot” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) credited time in simulations when police officers (who had implicit biases) did not use lethal force in a biased way during tests. This kind of training, among others, is important, and may explain why some studies contradict the idea of racist use of police force.

Even black off-duty cops are more likely to be killed by police. 

One older experiment looked at what whites thought when a white man and a black man came to blows. When the white man pushed the black man, 17% of white respondents said this was a violent act. But when the black man pushed the white man? 75% of whites characterized it as violent. A 2015 study showed whites still view the actions of blacks more threatening and aggressive than identical white actions.


Portrayals in the Media

Although whites (due to their numbers) commit most crimes in the U.S., in the white-dominated media black criminals often receive disproportionate news coverage, as many studies show.

During one period in New York City, for example, blacks were arrested for 51% of crimes, but received 75% of the news coverage on crime. In Orange County, California, a 2000 study made similar findings: “African-Americans were overrepresented as perpetrators” in local news broadcasts. Blacks are more likely to be revealed to the public in a mug shot than whites who are arrested; for whites, media outlets find yearbook or family photos. One study found that when whites were exposed to a disproportionate number of black mug shots, they supported harsher incarceration policies than when they were exposed to mostly white mug shots.  

A study from the University of Houston found that “long-term exposure to local television news, wherein African-Americans are depicted frequently and stereotypically as criminals, predicted increased negative implicit attitudes toward African-Americans.” A University of Illinois study found the exact same thing.

Blacks make up one-third of welfare recipients (though only 4% of blacks use cash assistance, 6-12% use housing assistance, and 11-19% use food stamps; see Loveless and Tin, Dynamics of Economic Well-Being). But the media has reinforced in white minds the idea that most welfare users are black. The media mostly portrayed welfare recipients as white from 1950 to 1964. Yet, from 1967-1992 they were portrayed as black in nearly 60% of news stories. In 1972 and 1973, nearly 75 percent of stories gave a black face to American welfare (see Gilens, Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy).

Also, just to twist the knife, missing black children receive less coverage than missing white children. From 2005-2007, black children made up 19.5% of the missing youths reported on the news, even though 33.2% of missing child cases involved black kids. Non-blacks made up 66.8% of the actual cases, but received 80.5% of media coverage.

Further — though note this is not a study — some have noticed white mass shooters seem more likely to be labeled “mentally ill” in the papers and on television, whereas people of color are labeled “thugs” or “terrorists.” Others point to headlines that say positive things about white suspects but negative things about black victims (who are often exclusively blamed for their own deaths, a standard rarely applied to white victims).


And more

There are of course many other arenas of life where discrimination takes place.

As Colorblind documents, “Black students are two to three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than whites, even though they do not, contrary to popular belief, violate school rules disproportionately, relative to white students.” This remains true even for black students from wealthier homes attending better schools. In one experiment,

Researchers had 132 educators watch videos featuring a diverse group of students and primed them to expect student misbehavior. Although no misbehavior actually occurred in the videos, teachers tended to focus their eyes on black students. This suggests that educators expected black students to act out more than other students.

Blacks and Latinos are also more likely, under “tracking,” to be put in lower-level classes they don’t belong in. Schools with more black kids have more police officers, regardless of actual crime or misconduct rates.

Studies show blacks are less likely to receive life-saving drugs and operations than whites of identical diagnoses, health insurance, income, and so on.

Also, if you are African American and attempting to sell something online, whites are less likely to contact you — and if they do, they will offer you less money than they would a white seller. Librarians are slightly less likely to reply to email queries from black-sounding names. 

Unsurprisingly, whites are less likely to believe racism is a problem than people of color.

About 40% of whites believe racism is an issue, compared to 60% of blacks and Hispanics. This is not so different from a darker American past — in 1963, while blacks were marching and being murdered for their rights, 60% of whites thought blacks were treated equally in America! In 1962, 85% of whites thought black kids had the same educational opportunities as white kids.

Even if the mountain of scientific research proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that racial biases are still a huge issue in American society did not exist, it would still very much make sense to listen to those who claim to be discriminated against. Whites have a history of being wrong about these sorts of things.

As Wise writes,

When more than half of blacks and a third of Hispanics report that they have experienced unfair treatment in public places at some point just in the last month because of their race, for whites to deny the seriousness of racism in America is to say, in effect, that folks of color are hallucinating, irrational or ignorant about their own lived experience. It is to say that we white folks know black and brown reality better than those who live it.

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‘It’s a Sin Problem, Not a Skin Problem’: On God and Racism

I am not a believer anymore. Yet it hasn’t been so many years that I don’t understand the appeal in attributing racism to sin. This is a common sentiment when American Christians admit racism is still a significant societal problem, coming in the form of something like “Only the Lord can change hearts” or “It’s a sin problem, not a skin problem.”

Putting aside whether a deity exists and whether he, she, or it happens to be the one Christians believe in, it is obvious that were all to live by the “Do unto others” maxim found in Matthew the world would be a much more decent place. The same can be said of “Wish for others what you wish for yourself” (Islam’s Hadith), which came long after Christ, or “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself” (Confucius), which came long before. Imagine a world where well-to-do whites didn’t go about pretending blacks were lazier than whites, because if they were poor or a national minority they wouldn’t want to be vilified. Imagine if police officers always gave people (children) like Tamir Rice an opportunity to surrender, rather than opening fire immediately, because that’s what they would want if roles were reversed. This would do immense good in ending racism and racism’s effects, and is a noble goal for religious and areligious alike.

However, the idea that one just needs to “find Jesus” and pray the racism away somewhat implies that non-Christians and atheists are a much larger part of this racism problem than true believers — indeed delaying progress on eradicating racism. That may not be on anyone’s mind, but it follows rather basic logic. Given that there is no actual evidence Christians are less racist than nonbelievers (it may actually be the opposite, though other factors like political ideology are also involved), not much more needs to be said to address any who take this implication seriously — except perhaps that 70% of Americans call themselves Christians and 23% call themselves non-religious, meaning the policeman who guns down an unarmed black person or the employer who tosses aside a résumé because it has a “black” name at the top are more likely to be Christians than anything else. Just by sheer numbers, racist incidents will involve more Christians than nonbelievers. But I suppose one could simply say many who call themselves Christians are not “true” Christians, not seeking the Lord earnestly, not praying specifically to dispel their racist attitudes and those of others, and so on.

In any case, the main point is this: While the “Do unto others” maxim is what all should strive to live by, and those who find the Lord could in fact help in the fight against racism if they take that maxim more seriously than they used to, addressing “sin” cannot eradicate racism.

Why? Well, a sin is considered to be a conscious decision. It is a personal choice to violate a deity’s law, whether it’s telling a lie, committing adultery, or going before the altar of God with a disability, flat nose, or scab. If you had a subconscious sexual attraction to someone even though you’re married, that could not be called a sin — you wouldn’t even be aware of it! Not if we’re using the generally accepted definition of sin, anyway.

When we talk about racism, we are not just talking about conscious racism. The white person who thinks to herself that blacks by nature are less intelligent or more aggressive than whites is consciously racist. She believes there’s something fundamentally different about the nature of people who don’t look like her. The person who does not believe these ideas of white superiority is not consciously racist, but can still hold subconscious anti-black biases. Subconscious fear of blacks, as well as notions of laziness or lower intelligence, is something that infects the subconscious of nearly all white people and even some black folk, according to psychological research. People who believe they have no biases — liberals and conservatives alike, believers and nonbelievers alike — are often surprised to learn that they actually do at a subconscious level (they learn through tests like Harvard’s Project Implicit). Subconscious racism, or implicit biases, is not something people have control over or are aware of, until scientific methods are used. It has many predictable effects; for example, studies show white policemen are quicker to shoot armed blacks than armed whites, and decide faster to spare an unarmed white person than an unarmed black person. When people act on implicit biases, they have no idea they are doing so.

The problem with “It’s a sin problem, not a skin problem” is then obvious. If your behavior is driven by subconscious fears or beliefs or desires, being beyond your very awareness, the behavior cannot be called a sin, because a sin by definition is a conscious choice. When an employer who rants to friends or muses to himself about supposed African American laziness throws out a black applicant’s résumé, that’s a sin. But when an employer who believes there really is no difference between blacks and whites besides skin tone and hair texture benignly passes over a black applicant’s résumé due to subconscious anti-black biases, that cannot be called a sin.

One might wish to simply redefine sin to include the wickedness of subconscious thought. After all, it’s “the fallen nature of man” either way. And that is fine, though there would remain a difference between conscious sin and subconscious sin. Does God punish people for beliefs they don’t know they have and cannot control? Like his existence, that is something we cannot know for sure. But I suppose a true believer can try to pray the subconscious biases away.

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A List of Black Anti-Crime Groups in KC, For Uninformed White People

Whites ranting about black-on-black crime usually stems from one of two purposes: trying to get Black Lives Matter advocates to shut up about police abuse or making not-so-subtle implications that blacks by nature are more deviant or aggressive than white people (because the idea of a disproportionate number of minority people living in poverty — the legacy of Jim Crow — creating disproportionate minority crime is somehow too difficult to grasp, even though poverty breeds crime among whites as well).

The absurdities are numerous, but looking solely at the first function, it should be obvious to thinking adults that complex societies often have multiple problems, and therefore it seems rather strange to condemn people who focus on one issue for not focusing on another. It’s important people are tackling problems they care about! But just because you focus on one doesn’t mean you don’t care about others! And just because one movement gets more media attention, or has larger marches or influence, doesn’t mean the other isn’t happening.

Further, the timing of the loudest condemnations of Black Lives Matter is interesting. When a police shooting occurs, outrage sounds across the country. A seemingly equally loud reaction then arises trying to silence Black Lives Matter by pointing to black-on-black crime. Yet a police shooting only emphasizes the importance of nonviolent protest against unnecessary force. Is a homicide in the inner city a signal for people to shut up about local violent crime? Quite the opposite.

Many black-led groups in Kansas City are working tirelessly to reduce violent crime in black neighborhoods. But if, as a white person, your interaction with black folk is limited because of where you live, work, or go to school, or if you aren’t actively connecting with social justice or community improvement movements on the other side of town, you may not have heard of them. This article provides a list that isn’t even complete (and won’t include efforts like the No Violence Alliance, which is a city and police program). These grassroots groups hold meetings, vigils, peace walks, protest marches, rallies, and social events. They raise awareness, influence policy, and support other people and organizations pushing for positive change.

So the next time someone says, “Black Lives Matter types need to f*ck off and go protest black-on-black murder, that’s killing more black people than the police,” perhaps this list can help. There are incredible people in Kansas City working on one of these important issues, some working on both. Perhaps we should let those who wish to focus on police violence do so and those who wish to focus on local crime do so. Only good can come from either.

Ad Hoc Group Against Crime: “The AdHoc Group Against Crime is a community resource that, through crisis intervention and prevention, supports youth and families who are affected by criminal behavior.”

100 Men of the Blue Hills: “This is an organization that provides men who are natural leaders in K.C. an opportunity to take on the responsibility of resolving conflicts on a grassroots level before they reach the level of violence. Many but not all of our members have been leaders in the street who are in transition and committed to abstaining from and preventing any acts of violence we can. We believe this effort must be led by real people who have credibility in K.C. and particularly our streets. Our intent is to keep our community safe,productive and beautiful.”

KC Mothers in Charge“Violence Prevention, Education & Intervention for Kansas City youth, young adults, families and community organizations.”

Aim4Peace“Aim4Peace is an evidence-based public health approach to cure violence in Kansas City… Aim4Peace uses highly trained violence interrupters and outreach staff, public education campaigns, Neighborhood Action Teams and community mobilization to reverse the violence epidemic in Kansas City, MO.”

Stop the Killing KC“A group of concerned Community Activists, Families, People, and support organizations who have made a commitment to the halt of violence and murder that is catastrophic to our families in our community.”

Momma On a Mission“Momma On a Mission, Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c) (3) advocacy program for the families of homicide victims: helping them with emotional support, awareness of services, and organizing community activities to solve crimes.”

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How Insane Do the Police Think Black People Are?

In the wake of the horrific police shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, there are few words that can be said that have not been said so many times before.

“He was unarmed.”

“He was someone’s father. He was someone’s brother. He was someone’s son. He was someone.”

“Experiments show police see blacks as more threatening and dangerous than whites — conscious and subconscious racism.”

“Arrest, convict, and imprison officers who use unnecessary lethal force — commit murder. No more commendations. No more paid leaves. Nothing will change without punishment, without justice.”

“He did not deserve to die. Even those who resist arrest have a right to life — or would in a decent society, anyway.”

“Could not rubber-coated bullets and other nonlethal options save lives? In some countries, the police do not even carry guns.”

All true statements. And of course the justifications from the police are consistent, even if at times outright lies (recall the police fabrications about Walter Scott’s murder):

“We thought he was reaching for a gun.”

“We thought he was a threat to our lives.”

The killing of Crutcher, however, raises a question that should spark critical thinking among fellow whites, a question that encourages healthy skepticism of official police reports, a question that harkens back to the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri: How insane, how blind with violent rage, do the police think black people actually are? Let me explain what I mean.

Crutcher was walking toward his vehicle with his hands raised, then reaches toward his car door. He had one officer pointing a gun at his back, another following close behind, and within seconds two more officers were on him. But from police accounts, the officers thought, in that moment, that Crutcher was stupid enough to — what? Lunge into his car, grab a gun off the seat, turn toward the officers, and mow all four of them down? Would Crutcher have thought he could survive such a thing?

But no, Crutcher was just a man with car trouble, with no weapon at his side or in his car.

What of Philando Castile in Minnesota?

Castile, sitting in a car with his girlfriend next to him and his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter in the back seat, with an officer at the window, mere feet away, was supposedly foolish enough to decide to dig for a gun, point it at the officer, and shoot him? As if Castile would have had the time to do such a thing before being shot. How heartless that officer must have viewed Castile, too, if he suspected Castile of trying something so reckless and dangerous with loved ones in the car!

But no, Castile was a man with a conceal carry permit, pulled over because the officer thought he was a thief — because the suspect in a recent robbery nearby was also black. Castile was racially profiled, then killed because an officer thought he was insane enough to reach for a gun and go to war while in a seated position, strapped in a seatbelt, and accompanied by his family.

Likewise, Mike Brown in Ferguson was, in the white imagination, so violent and so thoughtless that after putting some distance between himself and a police officer after they had an altercation, Brown, unarmed, turns around and supposedly rushes toward the armed policeman with the intent of assaulting him! The officer then has no choice but to riddle Brown with bullets.

There are other examples, equally tragic, but the point is obvious. A healthy dose of skepticism is needed when the police offer justifications for their actions (and official accounts of events) because they make assumptions about black rationality — that is, they assume innocent people like Crutcher are going to do the most brash, irrational, suicidal, dangerous thing possible. This belief is unsurprising considering the subconscious prejudices relating to higher aggression (and lower intelligence) in blacks that nearly all white people have, which affect police conduct in many ways, including police killings. The gap between how rational people act (would even the most evil of men run unarmed toward a policeman pointing a gun at him, if he weren’t mentally unwell or suicidal?) and how the police and some whites assume black people will act in moments of tension is indicative of entirely dangerous and delusional anti-black attitudes.

Now true, the police have extremely stressful jobs and will face mentally ill people who act without reason or people wishing to commit “suicide by cop,” but believing that “the police assume everyone is going to behave irrationally and dangerously, they have to” ignores the important reality that unarmed blacks who do not attack police are killed at a rate far out of proportion to the black population, something that cannot be said of similarly acting, murdered whites compared to the white population. In other words, if police treated everyone like a madman — treated them equally — we wouldn’t see disproportionate deaths of nonviolent black people. The police do not treat blacks and whites the same.

When around black people, too many police officers are on high alert when they needn’t be. Their assumptions kill innocent people, and the public is expected to nod agreeably at their justifications, despite the blatant absurdities of the assumptions!

Too many white people drink it up.

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The Armed Whites Flying Confederate Flags at the NAACP are the Stupidest Whites in America

In late August 2016, a group of about 20 people held a “White Lives Matter” protest in front of the Houston, Texas, NAACP building — with Confederate flags on display and assault rifles at the ready.

A protestor explained:

We came out here to protest against the NAACP and their failure in speaking out against the atrocities that organizations like Black Lives Matter and other pro-black organizations have caused the attack and killing of white police officers, the burning down of cities and things of that nature. If they’re going to be a civil rights organization and defend their people, they also need to hold their people accountable…

We’re not out here to instigate or start any problems. Obviously we’re exercising our Second Amendment rights but that’s because we have to defend ourselves. Their organizations and their people are shooting people based on the color of their skin. We’re not. We definitely will defend ourselves, but we’re not out here to start any problems.

And of course, he said they brought the Confederate flags to show Southern pride.

There are so many things wrong in this confection of inanity it is difficult to decide where to begin.

First, let’s go with the notion that the NAACP needs to “hold their people accountable.” What the f*ck are you talking about? The NAACP is not responsible for the actions of all black people (and neither is Black Lives Matter). A civil rights organization is in no way responsible for African Americans who riot against or seek murderous revenge over police misconduct, any more than Greenpeace is responsible for your carbon footprint. Only in a mind clouded by juvenile white delusions would it be the duty of the NAACP to corral and “get under control” all the “troublesome,” “criminal” black people.

And of course, saying that “their organizations,” black organizations like the NAACP, are “shooting people based on the color of their skin” is just thoughtless slander. Just because a black person participates in a riot or targets police officers does not mean the NAACP is behind it.

Second, what in the world does protesting killings of police officers (such as the tragic shooting in Dallas that killed 5 police officers, a revenge attack by a black veteran after police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile) have to do with “Southern pride”? Whites who use this term like to pretend (at least publicly) that the Confederate flag represents all Southern culture, tradition, and history besides slavery, insurrection and secession, Jim Crow laws, white terrorism, lynching, etc. — that it has nothing to do with racism or America’s barbaric racial history. If that’s the case, why bring it to a “White Lives Matter” rally? Your explicit aim is to stop black people from killing whites; what does that have to do with Southern pride, unless Southern pride is just a misnomer for “white pride”?

Could it be that the flag is actually a symbol of racial divisions? That it was birthed and popularized by pure, unadulterated race hatred? Can we stop playing make-believe? It originated as a battle flag for traitorous states that sought to preserve black slavery, and was popularized by a white terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan, after the war. According to Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s

…foundations are laid…upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth…

The creator of the flag (which originally had the stars and bars in the corner, the rest white) was quoted in the Daily Morning News on April 23, 1863, as saying:

As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.

The Confederate flag has never been about something noble. It was and is used as a symbol of anti-black sentiment; not in all cases, as discussed elsewhere, but at “White Lives Matter” rallies like this, held outside a civil rights organization that had nothing whatsoever to do with the deaths of police officers? There is no question. The protesters operate under a simple premise: black people are out of control. Under this premise, inextricable from white denial, unarmed, nonviolent black people aren’t killed by police way out of proportion to their low population, aren’t drastically more likely than whites to be stopped and searched for no reason, aren’t more likely to be physically abused by police than whites exhibiting the same behaviors, and many other well-documented injustices. Without the understanding that such things lead to race riots and anti-police hatred and violence, the problem is simply that blacks are hateful and violent for no reason — no matter how far below 1% the number of African Americans who actually commit such acts is. To these whites, the problem is black people, their “nature,” their “criminal tendencies.”

Such a view is racism by definition. Whether conservative whites simply don’t know about the mountain of research concerning anti-black discrimination and mistreatment or know of such things and ignore them, the result is the same: racist views about how our black brothers and sisters think and behave.  

Third, perhaps these poor, misinformed souls should pay closer attention to the news — or better yet, actually follow Black Lives Matter or the NAACP on social media. Then perhaps they’d see headlines like “NAACP President Condemns Violence After Michael Brown’s Death” and “NAACP Condemns Senseless Killing of NYPD Police Officers” and “NAACP Condemns Looting and Violence in Baltimore After Freddie Gray Funeral” and “Black Lives Matter Activists, Civil Rights Leaders Condemn Dallas Ambush” and “After Shooting Targeting Police, NAACP Denounces Violence From All Sides” and “Black Lives Matter Leader Condemns Violence at St. Paul Protest.”

Enter “NAACP condemns” or “NAACP denounces” into Google and you could spend days reading the NAACP’s rejection of violence and hate crimes against whites, police, and private or public property. Is this what the protestor meant by “failure in speaking out”? You can find similar condemnations from Black Lives Matter leaders, who believe in peaceful protest as the means for positive change.

There is so much more that could be said about this protest. How marching around with guns and the Confederate flag in the black neighborhood where the NAACP building rests is not going to ease American race relations. How the protestor wore a “Donald Trump ’16” hat and a shirt “with white supremacist symbols” (Washington Post). How he whined about how “We’re being told it’s bad to be white” and insisted Black Lives Matter should be labeled a “hate group or domestic terrorist group” — when there is zero evidence the organization itself called for any sort of violence, and its platform, if one bothered to actually read it, talks of ending mistreatment, violence, and discrimination against blacks, not, for Christ’s sake, mistreating, hurting, or discriminating against white people. In short, they want safety and equality.

After this protest, the term “white delusions” simply cannot do present conditions justice — a more appropriate term is surely “white lunacy.”

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Are Gun Rights the Only Way to Show Conservatives Racism is a Problem?

Both explicit anti-black sentiment and subconscious stereotypes of black people (as more dangerous, more aggressive, lazier, less intelligent) are still enormous American problems, which negatively impact African Americans in all arenas of life — housing, education, employment, policing, courts and prisons, the media, and so on (see The Evidence of Widespread American Racism).

And if the infection of racism is so pervasive, one might muse, could it also affect Second Amendment rights, something held dear by many conservatives? It has in the past, as many gun control policies, some supported by Reagan and the NRA, were racist responses to blacks arming themselves. If black and white gun owners are treated differently today, might the knowledge of a sacred right being violated due only to ethnicity awaken those on the Right who dabble in white denial to the disadvantages faced by black people?

To begin this discussion, a meme comes to mind that read: “It’s only called open carry when the man is white. When he’s black it’s called ‘Oh shit, he’s got a gun!'”

If you felt the pull of a smile at your lips, you’re already partially “woke,” as much as you may not realize it. “It’s only called open carry when the man is white… If he’s black it’s called ‘Oh shit, he’s got a gun!'” is only humorous if you believe there’s some truth behind it. It hints at a world where blacks (exhibiting the same behaviors as whites) are seen as more dangerous, more threatening, more deviant.

Rationalizations that a white person might use in defense have, to put it bluntly, no basis in reality — and rely on black stereotypes. “You’re more likely to be drawn on or shot by a black person”? Not if you’re white. 84% of white people are killed by whites (the “white-on-white crime” epidemic?). Likewise, as the races still live very segregated lives, black people kill other black people the vast majority of the time. With so many more whites in the U.S., a white person’s largest threat is other white people. In 2012, whites were charged with 69% of crimes, blacks 28%. Whites led in categories like rape (65%), assault (63%), and burglary (67%), while blacks led in murder charges (49%, a lead of 1%) and robbery (55%). More minor categories were dominated by whites. Looking at all violent crimes lumped together, blacks committed about 20% of them. And of course, if we look at mass shootings in America, some 64% of them were committed by whites since 1982, verses 16% by blacks, a 4:1 ratio (see The “Black War on Whites” is Another White Myth).

For a white person, it would make much more sense to fear a white man with a gun. (Not that it makes much sense, according to conservatives, to fear anyone with a gun unless he or she starts behaving violently. Conservatives point out conceal carry owners tend to be more law-abiding; as the National Review editor put it in an article celebrating more diversity in gun carrying, “Anybody who is worried about concealed carriers needs his ruddy head looked at.” Really, why fear someone with a gun?)

Yet American society is characterized by the unspoken, unreasonable fear of black people. Surveys indicate about 60% of whites can openly admit belief in stereotypes concerning blacks like higher aggression or greater criminal appetites — but nearly 90% of whites hold subconscious (implicit) anti-black biases. One experiment looked at what whites thought when a white man and a black man came to blows. When the white man pushed the black man first, 17% of white respondents said this was a violent act. But when the black man pushed the white man first? 75% of whites characterized it as violent.

The police are more likely to become physically violent or draw their weapons at blacks than whites in similar situations. Many studies show why. “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing” showed how police officers associate innocent blacks with criminality and aggression. “The Police Officer’s Dilemma: Using Ethnicity to Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals” showed ordinary civilians in simulations are far quicker to shoot armed blacks than armed whites, and decide faster to spare an unarmed white than an unarmed black. “The Correlates of Law Enforcement Officers’ Automatic and Controlled Race-Based Responses to Criminal Suspects” found that during simulations police officers with anti-black biases shoot unarmed black suspects more often. “The Consequences of Race for Police Officers’ Responses to Criminal Suspects” showed police officers are more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed blacks than unarmed whites. Unarmed Americans killed in the first half of 2015 were twice as likely to be black than white. Blacks who were not attacking an officer when killed made up 39% of total deaths in 2012, way out of proportion to a small black population, 13% of Americans (compared to 46% of total deaths being white, who are nearly 70% of the American population).

These things are rooted in the fear of the “dangerous, criminal black man.” This fear exists even in the minds of conservatives (and liberals) who encourage African Americans to arm themselves. It affects liberals, conservatives, moderates, civilians, police officers, whites, and sometimes blacks themselves. So it should be no surprise if blacks who carry are treated differently than whites who carry.

The result of one amateur social experiment, where a black man and a white man each strolled around in public with a semiautomatic weapon in an open-carry state, should come as no shock. Watch the video here, then read on.

Each of these men had the right to bear arms in public view. Why, one might ask, should either of them be stopped by police? (Again, why not assume these are “good guys with guns”?) Yet though they exhibited the same behaviors while exercising those rights, the black man was treated as a much graver threat. This is a fine example of how the law is colorblind but those who put it into practice are not. Americans technically have equal rights, but discriminatory practices persist. Thus Tamir Rice, Jermaine McBean, and John Crawford III were shot and killed while holding toy guns in open-carry states, conceal-carry permit holder Clarence Daniels was attacked by a white vigilante who spotted his firearm, Philando Castile was murdered after reportedly telling an officer he had a gun on him and a license for it, and so on.

Many black gun owners say they are treated differently than white gun owners. “If you have a firearm or you scare the wrong people, you’re going to get shot. You’re going to get killed. The perception of the scary black man still exists,” one leading black firearms activist said. Owners understand that carrying can give them the means to protect themselves against crime in their neighborhoods, but know it can make them a target of the police or white vigilantes who may see a white man as a good guy with a gun but a black man as a “thug.” These feelings come from countless incidents, from the Castile shooting to everyday police harassment of black gun carriers to the story of Mark Hughes, a heavily armed black man marching in Dallas right before the killing of multiple police officers, who was wrongly made a suspect and hunted down.

More voices deserve to be heard:

After Earl Brown, a black man working security with a legal firearm, was killed by police in Lauderhill, Florida, his wife Gloria said, “Honestly, I hear the N.R.A. talking about the right to bear arms. He had the right to bear his that night; they just never told us he wouldn’t have the right to life. It seems like white men and police officers are the only ones who have the right to bear arms in this country.”

After the Castile shooting, a member of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, a group of black gun advocates, said, “It terrifies me. Here I am telling black people: ‘Hey, bear arms legally. You’ll have a better opportunity to protect yourself. Maybe the law will respect you more.’”

Philando Castile himself had discussed the dangers with his sister, who reportedly said, “You know what? I really don’t even want to carry my gun because I’m afraid that they’ll shoot me first and then ask questions later.”

This is not to say misunderstandings, tragedies of police or vigilante shootings, do not happen to white gun owners, because they do. Further, these stories and the experiment above are anecdotal evidence, with sample sizes of one or two, not serious studies. According to The New York Times, “There is no data on whether legally armed white or black people are shot at higher rates in the United States.” So while there are many studies showing how blacks are treated differently by white civilians, judges, lawyers, the police, etc., there are no specific studies yet on how black conceal- or open-carry supporters are treated differently. But no matter where we stand on how grave a problem racial discrimination is today, we should all carefully consider the implications of the possibility.

If it is anything like other complaints of mistreatment, studies may soon exist to assure whites that this issue is not simply a confection of black delusions.

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Police Attacks on Forté Reveal Shocking Ignorance of Race in KC

In early August 2016, Kansas City’s chief of police Darryl Forté was under fire from heads of multiple Kansas City police unions.

The criticism came after Forté told the Kansas City Star:

We have to talk about real issues. Black lives matter. That’s real… As an African American male, with this opportunity in this city, I’m going to talk about it and I’m going to do some things to remedy some of the things we’ve done as an institution. When we talk about institutional racism, it’s real. Some of our policies, some of our practices, it’s real.

I’ll talk about it every time I get the mic because there is an issue with too many African American males being killed by police officers, and part of it, in my opinion, is unreasonable fear. Unreasonable fear is a huge one. And we talk about poor training. We all have to do the right thing every day. And I know we’re going to make mistakes, but that should be our goal, and we shouldn’t accept substandard police service from anybody.

Forté also opened up about his experience as a black man in Kansas City. Glenn Rice wrote in the Star:

Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté says he understands the delicate balance between the thin blue line that he swore to uphold and the struggles of being a black man in a society that often views him as a dangerous threat.

More than 30 years ago, shortly before he entered the police academy, Forté was pulled over and made to empty his trunk by white police officers for no discernible reason, he said. As he sought the chief’s job five years ago, a frightening note left in his mailbox so unnerved him that he had his wife and a daughter learn how to shoot a gun. Once he got the job, he was harassed.

“In talking to people, you feel what they feel, and being a black male, I understand what happens in Kansas City… I have experienced racial profiling, I have experienced bullying as a member of this police department. So these things are real and indelible.”

The response was swift. Brad Lemon, the head of Kansas City’s Fraternal Order of Police (Lodge 99), wrote in a statement:

I cannot understand any statement regarding unreasonable fear on our member’s part when dealing with life and death situations. We are humans, not robots. We have families and lives. The fear that officers feel during critical incidents is real. It is not for someone else to tell us what is reasonable or unreasonable.

Lemon praised his fellow officers as “the finest people I have ever known,” who are trained in a “nationally recognized academy.” He continued, “Our training is not sub-standard…in fact, I would challenge anyone to find fault with it.” Then, apparently not realizing his next sentence would be an admission that improvements can always be made, he noted, “Our firearms section was just recognized for identifying several training issues that provides options [sic] to disengage and seek cover while contacting armed and dangerous subjects.”

Scott Kirkpatrick, president of the Fraternal Order of Police (Lodge 4) in Kansas City, Kansas, posted an enraged statement on Facebook, calling Forté’s comments “misguided and dangerous” — and Forté himself a “detriment to our profession.” He spoke of the recent loss of two fellow officers, and how the Kansas City, Kansas, chief has had to work “tirelessly to keep our morale high.” But

your misguided statements in your recent interview have again torn those healing wounds wide open. In your interview, you say that the recent killing of suspects is a result of as you say “UNREASONABLE FEAR.” When I heard those words, I had to listen to them again because I could not believe that the head of a well-respected law enforcement agency, and person who wears the uniform, would make such ridiculous uninformed comments.

First, how would you pretend to know what was in the hearts of any of those officers. You have not spoken to them, nor you do know them. You have not been directly or indirectly involved in the investigation so you could not and do not know all the facts. Nevertheless, your uninformed speculation is just fuel to the fire of those who have already demonstrated a desire and willingness to harm police officers. When the enemies of justice see comments like this from you as a Chief, it gives them all the license they need to engage in unimaginably callous acts against those you are supposed to represent.

Second and most importantly, to suggest that an officer’s fear at any time is per se unreasonable without knowing the facts represents a monumental misunderstanding of the job we are doing out of the streets in the current climate. Officers are rightfully on edge. They have seen their brothers and sisters gunned down in cold blood simply for wearing the uniform. You say that their fear is unreasonable. Well tell that to Det. Lancaster’s wife and daughters. Tell that to Captain Melton’s children and loved ones. Tell that to the families of officers in New York, Dallas and Baton Rouge and as close as Baldwin, Missouri. The fear is real. People are out to harm us. And now your comments will only make things worse.

The fact that white police officers “cannot understand” why Forté would speak of “unreasonable fear” and “poor training” is hardly surprising. Too many whites have turned a blind eye toward the overwhelming evidence that police treatment of blacks is a bit different that police treatment of whites — even in Kansas City.

It’s time for Kansas Citians to wake up.


Wake up to the research regarding explicit and implicit biases.

When Forté says “unreasonable fear,” he means whites (including the police) often consciously or subconsciously view blacks as more suspicious or dangerous than whites.

Surveys indicate about 60% of whites can openly admit belief in stereotypes concerning blacks: greater laziness, higher aggression, or lower intelligence — and 25% of whites say an ideal neighborhood would be totally free of them. But nearly 90% of whites hold subconscious (implicit) anti-black biases.

Implicit biases mean whites hold certain dangerous ideas about blacks without even realizing it or being able to control it, ideas pumped into our consciousness since birth, ideas so strong and so pervasive even some 48% of blacks subconsciously believe them. These are subconscious associations: associating blacks with danger, violence, laziness, and so on, versus more positive associations for whites.

One experiment looked at what whites thought when a white man and a black man came to blows. When the white man pushed the black man, 17% of white respondents said this was a violent act. But when the black man pushed the white man? 75% of whites characterized it as violent.

Those interested in studying implicit biases more should look into Harvard University’s Project Implicit or read Tim Wise’s Colorblind.


Wake up to how biases affect police conduct. 

Mr. Kirkpatrick, Mr. Lemon, clearly Chief Forté is not saying “fear that officers feel during critical incidents” isn’t real. He’s not saying police officers are bad people. He’s not encouraging civilians who hate police and want to kill police to do so. For Christ’s sake, Forté is a police officer. Believe it or not, as the chief stressed in his response to his critics, you can be proud and respectful of officers but also work to address real problems relating to race. He is simply drawing attention to blatant injustices in American policing.

Studies show blacks are are far more likely to be pulled over and searched while driving lawfully than whites driving lawfully. During this War on Drugs, two-thirds of the people thrown in prison for drugs are people of color, even though blacks and whites use illicit drugs at about equal rates (whites are sometimes a bit more likely to do so). When members of your racial group are pulled over, questioned, and searched at drastically higher rates, they will disproportionately fill the jail cells. Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

And as for police shootings? How many studies do we need before you acknowledge a problem might exist?

The police are more likely to become physically violent or draw their weapons at blacks than whites in similar situations. “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) showed how police officers associate innocent blacks with criminality and aggression. “The Police Officer’s Dilemma: Using Ethnicity to Disambiguate Potentially Threatening Individuals” from the same journal showed ordinary civilians in simulations are far quicker to shoot armed blacks than armed whites, and decide faster to spare an unarmed white than an unarmed black.

“The Correlates of Law Enforcement Officers’ Automatic and Controlled Race-Based Responses to Criminal Suspects” (Basic and Applied Psychology) found that during simulations police officers with anti-black biases shoot unarmed black suspects more often. “The Consequences of Race for Police Officers’ Responses to Criminal Suspects” (Psychological Science) showed police officers are more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed blacks than unarmed whites. Fortunately, the bias diminished with extensive time in the simulation. In fact, “Across the Thin Blue Line: Police Officers and Racial Bias in the Decision to Shoot” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) credited time in simulations when police officers (who had implicit biases) did not use lethal force in a biased way during tests. This kind of training, among others, is important.

Unarmed Americans killed in the first half of 2015 were twice as likely to be black than white, the expected result of police officers associating blacks — innocent blacks included — with aggression, danger, criminality. Blacks who were not attacking an officer when killed made up 39% of total deaths in 2012, way out of proportion to a small black population, 13% of Americans (compared to 46% of total deaths being white, who are nearly 70% of the American population).


Wake up to racial injustices in Kansas City. 

Researchers from the University of Kansas write in Pulled Over (2014) that blacks in Kansas City are three times more likely to experience investigatory stops (these are not stops for actual traffic violations), especially in the white suburbs. They are twice as likely to not be told why, and five times more likely to be searched, but less likely to be found with anything illegal — and act no more disrespectfully than similarly treated whites.

One black Kansas Citian spoke of being followed by police for fifteen minutes. “They followed me all the way to the house…. I get out of the car…and they said, ‘Is this your car?’ And I said, ‘Yes’…. They ran the tags [and] I walked on in the house…. They did it for about a couple weeks.” Another described being handcuffed in a white neighborhood while his I.D. was checked to see if he was involved in a recent robbery. “He asked us where we lived and why we were over here. And he made us get out of the car…. I kept my composure…. I didn’t wanna, you know, give him a reason to do anything else…. They put us in handcuffs. And we sat outside for about an hour, and then they just let us go.”

Those are times when no one got hurt. In other incidents, abuse ends in trauma or unnecessary deaths.

  • In 2005, a black family in Kansas City, Kansas, sued after five white police officers entered their home without a warrant during a birthday party. In the ensuing confrontation, they beat adults and children with fists and flashlights, spouted racial slurs, and fired pepper spray.
  • In 2007, Sofia Salva was pulled over (for fake tags) on her way to the hospital. She was pregnant and bleeding, as video shows she calmly told two Kansas City officers. “How is that my problem?” one of them replied. The police jailed her for outstanding warrants. She miscarried the next day.
  • In July 2013, Ryan L. Stokes allegedly refused to stop running from police and was shot and killed by a black officer; the police said Stokes was armed, but that he hid his gun moments before he was shot.
  • In August 2014, graphic designer Jasmine Taylor filed a complaint against the Kansas City Police Department after an officer purportedly struck her in the face and knee during a traffic stop, sending her to the emergency room.
  • In July 2015, Javon Hawkins allegedly refused to put down a sword, and an officer shot him multiple times.

People don’t forget things like this. Every incident, large or small, whether harassment or a standoff that could have been de-escalated or ended with nonlethal weapons, creates a serious strain on police-community relations. As Forté said, they “have created outrage, and to ignore these sentiments and give no thought to what police can do to improve the situation would be irresponsible.”

No, Forté speaking the truth is not going to make things more dangerous for police officers. But willful ignorance of the root causes behind distrust and hatred toward the police — and some barbaric attacks on police officers — certainly will.

Wake up, Kansas City. Wake up.

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Study Shows No Racial Bias in Police Shootings. Or Does It?

Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer, Jr., in what he calls “the most surprising result of my career,” found in a new study that during police-civilian interactions officers were not more likely to shoot African Americans than whites.

After the New York Times reported the study, conservative outlets were quick to declare “Harvard Study Debunks Shooting Myth” (Commentary Magazine), “Does Race Play a Role When Police Kill Civilians? The Crime Data Say No, Not Likely” (National Review), and even “The New York Times and the Left Have Blood on Their Hands” (Real Clear Politics) — because apparently both have been pushing lies that ended up killing officers in Dallas (the writer didn’t explain why the Times would break now from its liberal propaganda and publish information that countered the narrative of its untruthful agenda, but no matter).

The results of Fryer’s study are encouraging, but should be taken with a grain of salt, as anyone who actually read the New York Times piece or the study itself might surmise.

First, it’s wise to keep in mind what police departments (and how many) were examined. The study looked at about 1,300 shootings in 10 police departments in three states from 2000-2015. Cities included Houston, Austin, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Jacksonville. The Times noted that Fryer’s

results may not be true in every city. The cities Mr. Fryer used to examine officer-involved shootings make up only about 4 percent of the population of the United States, and serve more black citizens than average.

Though 10 police departments of 12,000 in the U.S. may or may not be an adequate sample size, perhaps more important is that the areas examined had higher black populations, which could have a positive effect on police-minority relations.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.10.20 AM

via The New York Times

After all, Intergroup Contact Theory, the idea that increased contact between majority and minority groups reduces prejudice, is well established, and studies specifically relating to African Americans and the police align neatly: a 2006 study showed that “officers with positive contact with Black people in their personal lives were particularly able to eliminate [racial] biases with training.” Police departments around the country are trying to increase contact between the officers and the people they serve. Areas with more African Americans may have more African American police officers, too — a benefit for both white officers and relations with the black community.

In other words, it could very well be that American cities and towns with fewer black citizens — less interaction — may see more bias in police shootings.

And, as Dara Lind wrote,

Different cities have different approaches to police-community relations; different tensions; different standards for use of force… In fact, the cities Fryer and his team worked with are all members of a White House initiative on policing data launched in 2015 — and the kind of department that thinks data collection and transparency are important is likely to have different priorities in other regards than one that isn’t.

The 10 police departments involved in this study may be more pro-active in preventing police abuse than others.

Secondly, the 10 departments were examined to see who the police shot at and what the victims were doing (for example, “Black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon”), finding they shot blacks and whites at equal rates, but this didn’t examine frequency of encounters — and higher frequency can mean a higher death toll. Fryer and colleagues, as the Times puts it,

focused on what happens when police encounters occur, not how often they happen. (There’s a disproportionate number of tense interactions among blacks and the police when shootings could occur, and thus a disproportionate outcome for blacks.)

In other words, Fryer did not look into the frequency of incidents and how that might affect the total killed. He looked at what happened when there was an incident. So even if, and we can hope this is true, cops shoot blacks and whites at equal rates, wouldn’t increased incidents lead to higher death tolls for blacks — not just increased incidents resulting from blacks disproportionately living in poor neighborhoods, which tend to have higher crime, but also through police harassment and racial profiling, where blacks are much more likely to be pulled over or searched than whites exhibiting the same behaviors (which Fryer did find to be a severe problem)?

Perhaps a grave issue, then, still exists. Perhaps this research does not contradict disturbing trends found in policing previously, like unarmed Americans killed by the police being twice as likely to be black than white, across the entire nation, in the first half of 2015, or blacks who were not attacking an officer when killed making up 39% of total deaths in 2012, way out of proportion to a small black population, 13% of Americans (compared to 46% of total deaths being white, who are nearly 70% of the American population).

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.10.38 AM

via Vox

As Lind put it,

when people talk about racial disparities in police use of force, they’re usually not asking, Is a black American stopped by police treated the same as a white American in the same circumstances?… They’re saying that black Americans are more likely to get stopped by police, which makes them more likely to get killed.

Putting aside the fact that people are indeed asking that first question, you get the point. As Fryer writes in the study,

The empirical thought experiment here is that a police officer arrives at a scene and decides whether or not to use lethal force. Our estimates suggest that this decision is not correlated with the race of the suspect. This does not, however, rule out the possibility that there are important racial differences in whether or not these police-civilian interactions occur at all.

Glenn C. Loury, a mentor and colleague of Fryer, made this point as well (Making Sense, Harris) when he noted that because the study only looked at arrest data (if there is no arrest or violent incident, there is no police report), it “assumed that the processes leading to an arrest work in the same way regardless of race of the suspect.” The study showed that among the black arrestees there were more women and more unarmed persons, for instance, compared to white arrestees. Loury notes that the police may be “discriminatory in how they decide about arresting people and are quicker to arrest blacks who are less threatening than whites,” and this could possibly explain why the rate of blacks being shot is lower in the study. If the police are arresting blacks who are less of an actual danger, there may be less need to fire a weapon at them. This fact, if indeed a fact, could even coexist with the more abusive behavior against blacks. Discriminatory initiation of interactions and arrests, discriminatorily roughing someone up, but not actually needing to pull the trigger. It’s not contradictory.

Third, this study has not yet been peer-reviewed — where fellow scholars analyze Fryer’s methods to determine validity — nor published in an academic journal. It is currently a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Now, this does not at all mean it is seriously flawed, but it may be prudent to wait until the academic process is complete before celebrating the end of racism. Studies that have undergone peer scrutiny are usually the most reliable.

Fourth, Fryer’s data was provided by police departments, whose reports are not always truthful. The Guardian, which the FBI director called a leader in the documentation of police shootings, wrote that Fryer collected his information

largely by coding police narratives rather than considering the testimonials of witnesses or suspects (assuming that the suspects were not killed by the police in the shooting). The study therefore assumes police reports are unbiased sources of information about facts like whether or not the officer shoots the suspect before being attacked.

For this and other reasons, the Guardian sees the study as “misleading.”

Fryer admits that “the penalties for wrongfully discharging a lethal weapon in any given situation can be life altering, thus, the incentive to misrepresent contextual factors on police reports may be large” and that “we don’t typically have the suspect’s side of the story and often there are no witnesses.”

Fifth, and finally, it would be very remarkable if blacks were discriminated against in every arena of policing except for police shootings. Again, Fryer’s look at incidents where shots weren’t fired found significant differences in how blacks and whites are treated in comparable situations:

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 10.11.03 AM

via The New York Times

It would also be miraculous if experiments conducted with civilians and police officers where both were quicker to shoot armed and unarmed blacks than armed or unarmed whites did not translate into similar problems in the real world.

Studies show police officers associate blacks — innocent blacks included — with aggression and criminality (a stereotype most civilians have as well, whether or not they are aware of it). Studies like one in 2002 show that ordinary civilians in simulations are far quicker to shoot armed blacks than armed whites, and decide quicker to spare an unarmed white than an unarmed black. 2005 research in Psychological Science showed police officers were more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed blacks than unarmed whites. Happily, the bias diminished with extensive time in the simulation.

The 2006 study mentioned earlier, published in Basic and Applied Psychology, found that during simulations, as Fair and Impartial Policing put it,

Officers with negative attitudes toward Black suspects and negative beliefs regarding the criminality of Black people tended to shoot unarmed Black suspects more often in the simulation than officers with more positive attitudes and beliefs toward Blacks.

Studies from 2007 and 2009 suggest that officers with anti-black biases won’t act on them if they’ve gone through high-quality use-of-force training that diminishes implicit prejudice, a factor related to our first point above — some police departments have much more effective training than others, which can be the difference between life and death for civilians.

Jordan Weissmann writes:

Why would police officers be more likely to get rough with black and Hispanic subjects, but not more likely to fire on them? Fryer suggests it might be a matter of stakes. In theory, police stand to lose a lot more if they shoot the wrong guy than if they give him a blow with a nightstick. But there isn’t hard proof for that narrative, and frankly, given how rarely police appear to be punished after shootings, it’s not especially satisfying.

The Guardian wrote:

Fryer assumed shootings are not necessarily linked to a more general use of police force. Such an assumption seems hard to support: a black person in New York who is stopped by the police is 24% more likely to have a gun pointed at them than a white person, so why would they be no less likely to be shot by an officer? The two seem inextricably linked.

All this is not to say with certainty that Fryer’s work is flawed. But there are reasons to ask serious questions.

Inarguably, it is hardly time for black and white liberals to breathe a sigh of relief and make the Black Lives Matter movement a thing of the past, nor is it time for conservative Americans to pat themselves on the back for being right about racism being fictional. One study — or even two or three — isn’t quite enough for that, especially one that hasn’t been published and may not even contradict other research.

There is a mountain of evidence that both overt and subconscious racism greatly affect the lives of people of color (see The Evidence of Widespread American Racism). Even if, somehow, American police officers were never affected by implicit or explicit biases when reacting or deciding, there would still be much work to be done in the battle against discrimination.

Likewise, even if the police killed civilians without racial bias, mass protests against unnecessary police force would be a very positive thing for our society.

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Do People Who Resist Arrest Have a Right to Life?

Many questions follow in the wake of police shootings.

Primarily, what could the victim — whether black, white, brown, or other — have done differently? Did he or she remain calm and respectful, doing just as an officer asked?

In some cases, the suspect had no time to be respectful, as the police gave no opportunity to surrender. Look no further than the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. In other cases, such as that of Joseph Carlton, the suspect raises a firearm at an officer, who is then without question justified in opening fire.

Few would argue the suspect who points a gun at the authorities hasn’t sacrificed his or her right to physical safety. The less clear-cut cases are obviously where the controversies lie. Couldn’t the Baton Rouge officers have each grabbed an arm of Alton Sterling if they thought he was reaching for a gun, instead of shooting him repeatedly in the chest? Did Philando Castile tell the officer he had a firearm and a concealed carry permit before he was shot to death? Did Mike Brown actually attack a policeman?

Questions like this have torn the country apart, and won’t be settled here. But perhaps there is a sliver of room for common ground, concerning other cases, that should be explored.

Putting aside the obvious fact that many lives could be spared if American police were armed with rubber-coated bullets and the studies that show implicit biases against minorities make officers more likely to kill them, it does not seem like such a radical idea that when suspects resist arrest — disobey or struggle but do not grab a gun and do not assault an officer — they still have a right to life. That is, they still have a constitutional right, under the 14th Amendment, not to be deprived of life without due process of law (this is not to say those who assault officers deserve to die on the spot — officers should do all they can to prevent civilian deaths while defending themselves; we are simply trying to find common ground here).

After all, this is what each of us would want if the suspect was our own son, brother, father, or husband. We would want our sister, wife, mother, or daughter to retain the right to life even if she makes a terrible decision and grows angry or disrespectful with an officer, disobeys, or even struggles while being handcuffed. We tend to look at people who resist arrest as “criminals” who “get what they deserve” when they are riddled with bullets and bleed out on the sidewalk. Yet this is a standard unlikely to be applied to our own friends and family members were they to exhibit the same behaviors and make the same mistakes. As I wrote elsewhere, in that case people

would expect the police to find a nonviolent, nonlethal solution to the situation. He or she would want to live, or want his or her child to live, to see a constitutionally-guaranteed day in court…

If [one who defends police actions] could say honestly, “If it was my son, the police acted reasonably in killing him” then he or she has been morally consistent… If [one] has a change of heart, and says, “If it was my son, the police actions were not justified,” we can see how bankrupt [our ethics actually are].

If you think the police justified in shooting your father if he was being disrespectful or struggling out of anger, you may as well stop reading this now. But if you think that’s simply not egregious enough to justify the police killing him, you have to extend that standard to others and say that yes, people who resist arrest — excluding those who brandish a gun or actually assault an officer — have an unquestionable right to life.

So when Walter Scott was shot in the back as he ran from an officer, his right to life was violated. When Eric Garner became frustrated and resisted handcuffs and was choked to death, his right to life was violated. When Laquan McDonald, armed only with a small knife, walked past officers at a distance, ignoring their commands, and was shot 16 times, his right to life was violated. When Sam DuBose tried to prevent an officer from opening his car door, also starting his car, and the officer shot him in the head, his right to life was violated. Had an officer in McKinney, Texas, gunned down the girl screaming at him or the boys antagonizing him, he would have violated their rights.

The answer to “Do those who resist arrest have the right to life?” in America today is, in practice, most certainly no. In theory, for too many Americans, it is only yes if your own family is involved. Both of these must change.

And if they do, police officers who violate a citizen’s right to life must spend time behind bars. That is not only justice but also may prevent tragedies in the future.

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