Can Cultural and Media Elites Really Be This Ignorant? Nope. They’re Lying to You About the Police

The American political scientist Bernard Cohen observed in 1963 that the press “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.” This, of course, “depending on the map that is drawn for them by writers, editors, and publishers of the paper they read.”

Host of Disney’s The View, Whoopi Goldberg, you will recall suspended a while back for debunking the false perception that the Holocaust was about race (I’m being sarcastic), asks “Do we need to see white people also get beaten before anybody will do anything?”

She quickly disclaimed, “I’m not suggesting that. So don’t write us and tell me what a racist I am.” This was a revealing disclaimer, as it indicates that she doesn’t know that white men are far more like to suffer death at the hands of police officers than are black men—as if there is a paucity of body and dash cam footage of officers shooting and beating white men to death.

Image from the “mostly peaceful protests” following the release of the Nichols video

It’s true: every year, cops kill twice as many white men as black men. In fact, half of those shot by the police are white. Year after year. (See Manufacturing the Illusion of White Supremacy.) So if you wonder if it would help the public get the problem of police brutality for the public to see white people being beaten, then show the body and dash cam footage of police beating white people.

Clearly Whoopi is talking about the white public since she raises the issue of identification in empathy production. So why not ask why the media won’t show video of cops beating and killing white people? She has a television show. She can’t show people the footage? Show them Tony Timpa’s deaths at the hands of cops—including black cops. I remember he was calling for his mother. Show the black officers at the scene taunting him. (I can’t watch the video again, frankly, but I will share it below.)

Tony Timpa’s death at the hands of Dale police officers

Whoopi won’t show the audience of The View because she doesn’t know that video exists. Again, she’s worried people are going to complain that she is suggesting cops beat white people as if they aren’t already. If she wasn’t ignorant of the truth, she would herself show the public videos of cops shooting, beating, suffocating white men. Since it happens more to whites than blacks, there is plenty of source material from which to choose.

Does it seem odd to you that the mainstream media of a hopelessly racist society, a society with white supremacy beating at the heart of its institutions, a nation so systemically racist that protesters are out in the street calling for dismantling it and starting over—does it seem weird that the mouthpiece of a societal order so shot through with racism would go as far out of its way as it possibly could to avoid showing you video of black cops—or any cops—beating and killing white men?

If police body cam footage show cops suffocating a white man and no media shows the footage, are white men actually suffocated by the police?

So now you know that over the last several years, the police have killed twice as many white men as they have black men. You should also know that controlling for situational factors (was the assailant threatening officers and civilians with violence?) and considering benchmarks (such as the rates of criminal violence in the vicinity), that there is no evidence of racial bias in lethal police encounters involving black civilians.

We’ve known from scholarly work going back at least to the 1980s that, while one can find instances of racial prejudice here and there (it’s probably a pipe dream to believe that we will completely eradicate race prejudice in our lifetimes), there is no evidence of systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

I have blogged about extensively. Here’s a summary of some of that scientific research on the subject (I apologize for the length of this paragraph): William Wilbanks, in The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System, published in 1987, produced a comprehensive survey of contemporary research studies, searching for evidence of discrimination by police, prosecutors, judges, and prison and parole officers and found that, although individual cases of racial prejudice and discrimination do occur in the system (of course), there is insufficient evidence to support the claim of systematic racism in American criminal justice. In a comprehensive review of studies of the criminal justice system, published in the pages of Crime and Justice in 1997, Robert Sampson and Janet Lauritsen find “little evidence that racial disparities result from systematic, overt bias.” Roland Fryer, in a paper published in the Journal of Political Economy in 2018, finds no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account when turning his attention to the most extreme use of force. Joseph Cesario and colleagues report in a 2018 issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science that, adjusting for benchmarks, no systematic evidence of anti-black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentification of harmless objects. In fact, when analyzing all shootings given crime rates, exposure to police accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for blacks. This is the “exposure hypothesis,” where serious criminal activity increases the likelihood of officer-civilian interaction and this influences the frequency of policing shootings. In a 2019 study published in Journal of Crime and Justice focusing on violent crime arrests or weapons offense arrests, Brandon Tregle and colleagues find that blacks appear less likely to be fatally shot by police officers. 

What explains the finding in some of these studies that cops are more likely to shoot white assailants/suspects? We must be careful not to speculate as to why this is the case, but analyses suggest that police officers are more reticent to shoot black men than they are white men. Ponder that in light of the media coverage.

And may I note for the sake of reason that approximately ninety-five percent of those killed by the cops are men. Is that because cops are sexist? Or is there another reason why the vast majority of those who die at the hands of cops are men? If so, ask yourself why you didn’t jump to the conclusion that cops are sexist. Do you think Jordan Peterson thinks it’s sexist to point out that men are overrepresented in criminal violence? Then consider how you have been programmed to react without thinking. (See The Police are Sexist, too.)

The question of systemic racism in lethal police encounters is a settled one. (If unconvinced, please see The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police-Civilian Encounters; The Far Podcast: The Myth of Systemic Racism in Lethal Police Officer-Civilian Encounters; Perpetuating the Big Lie About Lethal Police Encounters; Again, The Myth of the Racist Criminal Justice System.)

Here are some other facts that settle questions—and raise some questions, as well.

We know that black males, comprising six percent of the US population, commit half or more of all homicides and half or more (sometimes around 60 percent) of all robberies. We know that black men are overrepresented in other serious crimes (aggravated assault, burglary, rape, theft-larceny). It’s not racist to cite the unpleasant facts. Why are these the facts? (See Mapping the Junctures of Social Class and Racial Caste: An Analytical Model for Theorizing Crime and Punishment in US History; Poor Mothers, Cash Support, and the Custodial State; Death by Cop Redux: Trying to Save the Narrative in the Era of Trump.)

We know that whites are far more likely to be the victims of black perpetrators than the other way around. (See Why are there so Many More White than Black Victims of Interracial Homicide? Is There Systemic Anti-White Racism?) We’re told that the white supremacist’s racist rhetoric risks increasing bias crimes against black people. Is it possible that woke progressive rhetoric about how all whites enjoy skin color privilege and are collectively responsible for black suffering risks increasing bias crimes against white people? (See Reparations and Blood Guilt. Also, Demoralization and the Ferguson Effect: What the Left and Right Get Right (and Wrong) About Crime and Violence. I wrote many other pieces on this problem, so check out Freedom and Reason.)

Source: FBI Crime Data Explorer

In their 1957 American Sociological Review article on the techniques of neutralization, Gresham Sykes and David Matza elaborate Edwin Sutherland’s differential association theory which states that individuals learn criminal behavior through techniques of committing crimes, as well as enculturation in the motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes conducive to violations of the law. Neutralization is defined as a technique that allows a person to justify or rationalize criminal conduct. 

There are five techniques of neutralization. Two of them directly pertain to this question. One is denial of responsibility. In this technique, the individual blames his conduct on forces beyond his control, for example his personal situation of poverty and joblessness. When segments of society constantly tell people that their situation is somebody else’s fault, they will feel justified in breaking the law. The other pertinent technique is denial of victim. In this technique, crime is viewed as a punishment or revenge towards a person who the perpetrator believes wronged him, thus redefining himself as a victim. “They deserve it,” the perpetrator tells himself as he separates a man from his money or ends his life.

There is a notorious illustration of neutralization techniques at work in the person of Eldridge Cleaver, a leader of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and 1970s. Cleaver rationalized his rape of white women as a political act. “Rape was an insurrectionary act,” he writes in his book Soul on Ice. He admits that he found it most satisfying “because I was very resentful over the historical fact of how the white man has used the black woman. I felt I was getting revenge.”

This problem has long been recognized. Friedrich Engels writes about it back in the 1840s in his Conditions of the Working Class in England. He describes a situation of demoralization that allows individuals to rationalize law breaking. Marx and Engels later called this phenomenon “primitive rebellion” and condemned it (See Demoralization and the Ferguson Effect: What the Left and Right Get Right (and Wrong) About Crime and Violence.)

Of course, none of this means that all blacks are murderers or robbers or racist against white people (saying that would commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness or stereotyping). But we might ask whether, if race prejudice motivates some whites to target blacks with violence, does race prejudice motivate some blacks to target whites with violence?

And we must ask why blacks are so drastically overrepresented in serious crime. Keep in mind that, with respect to murder, most victims of black perpetrators are other blacks. And if black lives matter, then why isn’t this problem high on the priority list of the antiracist?

These are important questions, but it seems a equally pressing question as to why the media is determined to convey the false perception that black overrepresentation in the criminal justice system is the work of racist police officers, prosecutors, and judges rather than the very clear evidence that this is really because blacks are overrepresented in serious crime. In order to move forward rationally, the public needs facts.

After all, the behavior of the media is very curious if the claim is true that the United States is systemically racist. We’re told that white supremacy is ubiquitous in American culture (which is probably why we have such a hard time seeing it). As a man trapped in the academy, I hear it all the time. White progressives weep in public over the white supremacist character of America. (See below and also Such a Beautiful Moment—The Self-Flagellating of White People; The Church of Woke: A Moment of Reckoning for White Christians?). This is an institutionally racist society, we’re told.

The media is one of the dominant institutions in America, is it not? The media, like the educational system, oversees the shaping of mass perception and opinion. If this were a racist society, one marked by a pervasive antiblackness, why is the media and the education system devoted to creating sympathy for black Americans while casting white people as collectively suffering blood guilt? Whites are all racist to some degree, we’re told. You don’t even know how racist you are thanks to the fact that your bias is subconscious. They teach this in college classrooms. Hell, they teach to 4k-12 students. They teach students that whites as a group enjoy a systemic privilege, that whites are collectively responsible for the intergenerational trauma that explains the situation of black people. This is critical race theory.

Think about it: that the media obscure that fact that white men are more often killed by the police than members of every other racial and ethnic group (and not by a little) disappears white victims of lethal police encounters (see Disappearing the White Victims of Lethal Police Violence). That doesn’t sound like the propaganda one expects from racist institutions rooted in white supremacy.

Wouldn’t a racist system hammer home every day the phenomenon of black cops—or self-loathing white officers—killing white civilians to provoke widespread fear and loathing among whites of black people? Maybe to spark white riots in the street? Why are there even black police officers in an institution shot through with antiblack racism? For that matter, why are there so many affluent black academics, businessmen, lawyers, politicians, scientists, etc. How does that happen in a systemically racist society?

Not only is it paradoxical for the institutions of a white supremacist nation to portray whites as perpetrators and blacks as victims but, like the myth of the racist criminal justice system, it’s not true. The system of institutional racism, Jim Crow segregation, was abolished in the 1960s. I was just a wee lad. Many of the people reading this blog weren’t even alive yet. Think about it: racial discrimination against black people was made illegal when this old man was only a few months beyond his second birthday.

Almost 60 years ago, all the institutions of US society were forbidden under penalty of criminal or civil consequence of practicing racism against black people. A year later, in 1965, Lyndon Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, requiring all government contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to expand job opportunities for minorities. In other words, where discrimination is allowed to exist in America, it’s against white (and white-adjacent, i.e., Chinese) people in the practice of affirmative action, or what Europeans are honest enough to call positive discrimination.

How is it possible for people to continue to argue that systemic racism against blacks in American society is a thing when the entire structure of the social system is designed to prevent racial discrimination against black people?

This doesn’t help us understand why the media is perpetuating the myth of systemic racism in criminal justice. It doesn’t explain why our educational system, basing its curriculum on various crackpot theories including critical race theory, is indoctrinating the youth of America in the myth of systemic racism. But the fact that they do and that this is entirely contrary to fact after fact should strike you as a curious thing. Indeed, it should should you suspicious.

Please respond in the comments. I am genuinely curious. Have you ever bothered to ask yourself this question? Maybe that’s too embarrassing to admit. But has this paradox never dawned on you? A sophisticated propaganda system would have you not only repeating the approved slogans, but it would also produce the character of mind to which much of the obvious would never even occur. Is that it? Is that you?

Ask yourself why the media is so clearly biased in its reporting on lethal police encounters. The police kill twice as many white men as black men every year in America. But elites and activists want you to believe that this is something that more often affects black men, and to “prove” it they select the most unusual cases to illustrate a “systemic problem.” They make the extraordinary ordinary. The reason why the Memphis case stands out is that is so rare in America for the police to do something like this.

Should we criticize the police for their wrongful behavior. Absolutely we should. I am highly critical of the police. Obviously. In my criminal justice class students read Samuel Walker’s texts on police accountability. The entire semester is a critique of the cops and the justice system. My complaint here does not flow from some pro-cop line. I’m a libertarian Marxist, for Christ’s sake.

My complaint is the way the media manufactures the perception that policing in America is shot through with racism and that black men are targeted by the state in a manner analogous to slave patrols or Lynch mobs (see Debunking Mythologies Surrounding the American Criminal Justice System). Such a construction is utterly false. It’s a big lie. Maybe the biggest lie. And those in high places who spread the lie know it’s a lie. This is a propaganda project designed to dissimulate class power and disorganize the proletariat by ginning up racial antagonism.

As I said, systemic racism was dismantled when I was a little boy. Today I am an old man. One of the greatest fears of this old man is that, if we tacitly accept this narrative, we will again find ourselves in a nation marked by widespread racism. Isn’t this what elites want? Isn’t this what Whoopi wants?

The task of the thinking man is not to pick a tribe, consume its propaganda, and regurgitate it on the daily, but to study the evidence and decide for himself what is really going on.

Since what has inspired this blog is the death of Tyre Nichol, I feel obligated to share with readers a key piece of my work with young people, which is devoted to keeping them safe during civilian-police interactions: Dealing with the Police.

So a bit of advice: What’s the point of resisting arrest? If it’s an unlawful arrest, then you will have plenty of time to file a complaint later. But you can’t file a complaint if you’re dead. Just let the officers make the arrest and sort it out. Police will use force sufficient to overcome your resistance. The more you resist the more force they will apply. It’s not about who’s to blame. It’s about staying alive.

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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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