Another Oumou Kanoute? Another Anecdote for the Myth of Systemic Racism

Amanda Gorman, a Harvard graduate and the youngest inaugural poet in US history, claims she was racially profiled by a security guard who “tailed me on my walk home.” She claims the incident occurred Friday night, but she has neither identified the security guard nor the company for which he worked. “He demanded if I lived there because ‘you look suspicious,’” Gorman tweeted. “I showed my keys & buzzed myself into my building. He left, no apology. Gorman tweeted that this is “the reality of black girls.” “One day you’re called an icon,” she tweeted, “the next day, a threat.”

The novelty and relative insignificance of her contribution to western civilization, and the fleeting fame that comes with that, appear to be behind her story. I have seen this drill too many times to accept it without a lot of evidence (and even then, it sounds like an overreaction in the spirit of Oumou Kanoute at Smith College). Gorman tweeted: “In a sense he was right. I AM A THREAT: a threat to injustice, to inequality, to ignorance. Anyone who speaks the truth and walks with hope is an obvious and fatal danger to the powers that be. A threat and proud.” An ego this big needs attention. A spoken word treatment coming to a venue near you.

Amanda Gorman speaks at Joe Biden’s installation at the US Capitol on January 20, 2021.

CNN, always on the lookout for anecdotes to help them rationalize egging on BLM arson, looting, vandalism, and violence across several months in 2020, connected the alleged incident to the zeitgeist: “The encounter with the security guard Gorman describes is reminiscent of police violence and aggression against Black Americans, whose deaths have sparked national movements, including #BlackLivesMatter.” CNN continues: “Black men are approximately 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of police over a lifetime as compared to White men, according to research by the National Academy of Sciences.”

As a criminologist, using statistics this way drives me up the wall. They like this NAS statistic because it is not an explanation. The fact of disparity does not indicate injustice. It could be that black men are approximately 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of police over their lifetime as compared to White men because black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to put themselves in situations were police officers are more likely to use deadly force to protect themselves or others. In fact, that is the reason. I have blogged extensively about this on Freedom and Reason. I understand that CNN does not read my blog. But they either don’t read or ignore the scientific studies that inform my blog. That is inexcusable.

The facts debunking establishment media claims (i.e. propaganda) keep coming. A new report, by J. Beck, a BJS statistician, Race and Ethnicity of Violent Crime Ofenders and Arrestees, 2018, based on data with which I am quite familiar as a criminologist, finds no racial disparities in crimes committed versus arrests made indicating systemic racism.

The study found that, based on data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, black people are overrepresented among persons arrested for nonfatal violent crimes (33%) and for serious nonfatal violent crimes (36%) relative to their representation in the US population (13%). In contrast, white people are underrepresented. White people account for 60 percent of US residents in the study (it’s actually between 67 and 73 percent), but 46 percent of all persons arrested for rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and other assault, and 39 percent of all arrestees for nonfatal violent crimes.

Beck compares these data to data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) to determine how much offense and arrest differences by race and ethnicity may be attributed to differences in criminal involvement, Overrepresentation of blacks in found in all measures. Black people accounted for 29 percent of violent-crime offenders in the NCVS, 35 percent of violent-crime offenders in incidents reported to police (UCR), and 33 percent of all persons arrested for violent crimes.

Among the most serious incidents of violent crime—rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault—there were no statistically significant differences by race between offenders identified in the NCVS and persons arrested per the UCR. In other words, white and black people are arrested proportionate to their involvement in serious nonfatal violent crime overall and in proportion to their involvement in serious nonfatal violent crime reported to police.

As I have confessed on this blog, some of this I should have known. Some of it now known in research that has emerged over the last few years. My political-ideological sympathies positioned me to believe the myth of systemic racism in the criminal justice system (and more generally in American society). I uncritically trusted arguments that reinforced that belief and pushed to the side studies that challenged it. It’s an error called confirmation bias. It was Heather Mac Donald’s 2016 The War on Cops that began turning me around. Then empirical studies starting emerging in which no researcher could find any evidence of bias in lethal civilian-police encounters. Could they be right? I took the studies apart. Yes, they are right. I revisited Wilbanks’ 1987 The Myth of the Racist Criminal Justice System (I had trusted Reiman’s critique of it) and found that Wilbanks was right. And he wasn’t the first one. And it’s not just lethal civilian-police encounters. It’s everything. American criminal justice is systemically not racist.

Here’s the reality of where we are: Black Lives Matter has no actual issue upon which to justify its existence as a protest movement. Its arguments are false. Even anecdotes it uses have been debunked. “Hands up” didn’t happen. Jacob Blake had a knife. Etcetera. Systemic racism is a mirage that dissipates upon closer examination. It is sustained by faith-belief, not be reason or evidence. It is reinforced by corporate media propaganda.

To be sure, woke lefties don’t think I am wrong about what I said back then. They think I’m wrong about what I am saying now. Instead of changing their views on the basis of fact and reason as I do, they say I have been radicalized, that I have fallen under the spell of rightwing ideology, that I have been “red-pilled” (as if that’s a bad thing). I would say that that’s their problem, but in today’s climate, it’s my problem, too. But I cannot knowing lie about it. To continue believing something that is not true is worse than accusations of disloyalty, of heresy, of apostasy.

Not a little bit worse. A lot worse. And not just because I value integrity. The fact is that black men are drastically overrepresented in serious crime compared to whites. The police, in doing their job, arrest more black men than white men relative to their population and even absolutely because black men commit more crime. Black men, only around six percent of the US population, are responsible for more than half of homicide and robbery and a third of aggravated assault and burglary. Cops don’t arrest more black men because they are racist. Sure, there are racist cops. There are racists in a lot of occupations. But law enforcement is not racist. America is not racist.

Inner city Baltimore

The question we need to ask ourselves, if we care about black people, what we need to explain: Why are black men overrepresented in serious crime? It’s not because of poverty. There are twice as many poor whites as there are poor blacks. The explanation is complex. Blaming law enforcement for doing their jobs won’t unravel that complexity. It more than a distraction. We cannot defund the police. We cannot depolice our communities. When we don’t adequately police our communities, we put our citizens at risk. Crime drives out business and jobs. Children cannot learn when they are not safe. Residents who can afford to leave—the very residents who help bring stability to these communities—leave for more orderly communities. This is bad for black people. Until order and peace are restored in these neighborhoods, these communities cannot develop and meet the needs of the people living there. But crime control is a crucial piece of investing in these communities.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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