Focus on facts: The dangers of screaming ‘racism’

By Jess Craig / Columnist

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Aug. 9, 2014. Ferguson, Mo. Police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. Michael Brown was black. The police officer was white. Brown was unarmed. On Nov. 24, a grand jury in St. Louis County chose not to indict Darren Wilson for any criminal charges. 

In the days, weeks and months following the grand jury hearing, violent protests and public uproar ripped through the town of Ferguson and cities across the country. Campaigns gained national attention, accompanied by the emergence of phrases like “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” “I Can’t Breathe” and the earlier “If They Gunned Me Down.” Walkouts, die-ins, traffic stoppages and rallies outside of police departments consumed American news stations. The racism debate was reignited, and every justifiable police homicide that occurred following the Michael Brown episode served only to fuel the race debate.

This nationwide response to the Michael Brown case reaffirmed the public’s ability to draw attention to important social issues. 

The hasty attempt to resurrect the civil rights movement, however, also propelled an infatuation with racism among the media and attentive public and showcased the danger of modern-day protest. 

Today, it seems that public uproar and advocacy for change presented in the mainstream media are fueled solely by emotion and groupthink. Logic, fact and evidence do not seem to be the primary foundation of argument, social protest or political change. 

ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism newsroom that aims to produce stories fueled by “moral force,” falsely suggested that young black citizens are 21 times more likely to be victims of lethal police action than young white citizens. It is fallacious to conclude that blacks are always unjustly targeted by police, because such a narrow statistic overlooks underlying factors leading to higher rates of incarceration, including increased crime rates and problems within many minority communities. Slate, President Obama and public figures, including LeBron James, Andrew Hawkins and Usher, echoed the false allegations by supporting these emotional sentiments over fact.  

Furthermore, there is no definitive countrywide or even statewide statistic on how many white or black citizens are killed by police officers every year. According to the New York Daily News, only a small percentage of police departments report records of fatal police shootings to the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Census of Jail Inmates reports that per 100,000 residents of state prison and local jails, 2,289 are black and 412 are white. More simply, the population of black inmates is 5.5 times larger than the population of white inmates regardless of age and sex. It is, therefore, a logical conclusion that black Americans are more likely to commit a crime than white Americans and are therefore more likely to face off with police officers, rather than be consistantly and unjustly arrested or confronted by them. 

Unfortunately for the civil rights radicals, these data do little to support the theory that the American police force is racist. 

And yet justifiable lethal police force has been rarely addressed compared to the Michael Brown incident. The unfounded racism controversy that followed the Michael Brown case polluted and skewed every successive case of police brutality and lethal force action following the Michael Brown case. For example, just two days after the Michael Brown shooting, police officer Bron Cruz shot and killed 20-year-old Dillon Taylor in a Salt Lake City 7-Eleven convenience store. Dillon Taylor was white. The police officer was black. Taylor was unarmed. An investigation of the incident, which relied heavily on Cruz’s body cam, cleared the police officer. Was the police officer racist? No, he was doing his job — a very dangerous one. 

The most recent lethal force action in St. Louis, Mo., which resulted in the death of 18-year-old Antonio Martin, is an even better example of how the race debate overshadowed good police work. After responding to a report of theft, the police officer encountered Martin at a gas station. Martin was armed and pointed his weapon at the police officer, who discharged three bullets from his weapon, one of which hit and killed Martin. Video of this shooting confirms the officer’s story, and the town’s black mayor quickly refuted any question of racism, despite immediate protests at the scene. 

But rather than appreciate police protection, a number of protesters erupted in further violence targeted at police, and there have since been many instances of threats against police and unfortunately police fatalities. 

Emotion may be an easy, instinctual response. Groupthink may be an attractive opportunity to belong. And certainly emotional responses cannot and will not ever go away. But fact and logic must be the most important factors in our national dialogue. Fact and logic cannot be afterthoughts – or not thought at all. 

But, because emotional response heavily influenced the racism debate, this more recent anti-police hatred was an easy and unsurprising transition. This is not to say that there are certain instances of unnecessary police brutality and police corruption. But the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Antonio Martin and Eric Garner incidences are simply not justifiable cases of racism.  

As Daily News columnist, John R. Lott Jr wrote, “Screaming ‘racism!’” may attract a TV audience. But uncritically spreading bad information is downright dangerous.”

Screaming “racism” where racism doesn’t exist will inhibit Americans from combatting present and future instances of racial discrimination. And, as we enter 2015, we have mass groups of Americans going up against the police. This trend  will only push us toward a country where law is not enforced, criminals are not punished and citizens are not protected. 

Jess Craig primarily writes about social and political issues for The Pitt News.

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