So, I’ve been having an ongoing political debate with my business attorney, Kevin J. Keefe, who is what I consider a middle-aged, white, bleeding-heart liberal (he would disagree about being called a bleeding heart...lol) on issues surrounding race, violence, police brutality and recently the #BlackLivesMatter movement. A few weeks ago we had a pretty boisterous debate about the killing of Black people by police and how the numbers were being reported. It was my argument that the numbers did not take into affect the racial demographic of the neighborhood of where these officer-involved homicides happened in or the circumstances surrounding each incident.
MONOPOLY ON VIOLENCE
Fast forward several weeks as I sat watching the Melissa Harris-Perry (MHP) Show on Sunday, September 6, 2015, which topics including, among other things, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Black Panthers before them, directly confronting and challenging the State’s use of violence and also, whether a theory known as the “Ferguson Effect” (…the intense national scrutiny of the use of force by police has made officers less aggressive and emboldened criminals) exist.
While both MHP and the panelist made some very valid points throughout the show, it was MHP’s spin on the Monopoly on Violence and what followed that inspired me to right this piece; more on that later. MHP starts this segment by reading a short quote from German sociologist Max Weber. Weber, who wrote in his 1919 essay Politics as a Vocation, states that "a state is any human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" thus, "the modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination”. In other words, Weber describes the governing body (state) as any organization that succeeds in holding the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents of its territory. Such a monopoly, according to Weber, must occur via a process of legitimization. Without this state, who holds the monopoly on violence and the fear of physical force by its territory, there would be anarchy. MHP goes on to give a layman’s example of Weber’s writing saying “… if I jump out of my car, handcuff you and throw you in a cell, it’s called kidnapping; if the state does it, we call it arrest…”.
MHP then seems to go on to agree with Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand, who had a significant influence on Libertarianism and believes that government must have this monopoly on violence and force, by reading the underlined portion of her quote from our 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, that states: “The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man's self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breaches or fraud by the others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law. But a government that initiates the employment of force against men who had forced no one, the employment of armed compulsion against disarmed victims, is a nightmare infernal machine designed to annihilate morality: such a government reverses its only moral purpose and switches from the role of protector to the role of man's deadliest enemy, from the role of policeman to the role of a criminal vested with the right to the wielding of violence against the victims deprived of the right of self-defense. Such a government substitutes for morality the following rule of social conduct: you may do whatever you please to your neighbor, provided your gang is bigger than his.”
The Monopoly on Violence is simply way of saying we the people vote for our governed body and believes that our government’s use of physical force is legitimate and that we will trust our government use of such force, violence and coercion to carry out its duties of protecting us. Rand further goes on to say that should that trust be violated, should the government use force against a man who doesn’t show force or uses arms against someone who is disarmed, then the government role’s reverses from protector to the deadliest enemy. I agree with many aspects of Weber's and Rand's arguments, mostly that they government (state) must maintain its monopoly on violence but that is must be both legitimized and must be used to PROTECT the people.
MHP then states “when the people instead declare the state's power, especially embodied in its police, it's no longer legitimate; that its use of violence, force and coercion is bias and should be questioned. Well it sets up an existential dilemma because if those citizens succeed in convincing others that the states violence is illegitimate then the state can lose its power to govern…” First, we are a country of laws and anyone not following those laws are committing a crime. Criminals pose a danger to the grater community and therefore should be removed from that community. I could immediately see where the narrative was shifting which cause causes me to give MHP the side-eye.
MHP goes on to cite examples of police violence toward the non-violent direct action voting rights activist that happen just over 50 years ago, the harassment of Dr. King and others by the FBI, later tactics employed by the FBI against the Black Panther Party and now the Black Lives Matter Movement as examples of the citizens declaring that that state’s use of violence was no longer legitimate. While I would argue that she’s mixing apples and oranges, I definitely think this is NOT what Webber was speaking about in his writing of monopoly of violence. And Rand, well this holds true only if you believe that the groups cited above were not breaking any laws (be we can save that argument for another time). It was the portion of the segment, which asked whether the “Ferguson Effect” existed, that seems the be misplaced or ironically thrown in with questions on police violence toward blacks, voting rights, Jim Crow Law, civil rights, Black Panther Movement and discussing the Black Lives Matter movement’s growing number of critics in the wake of the recent attacks on police, which is subsequently my reason for me writing this piece.
During this segment Sam Sinyangwe, researcher and activist with Mappingpoliceviolence.org made a statement, which was echoed several times throughout the show, when talking about the #blacklivesmatter movement, and the officer-involved shooting deaths of Black people “…at least 815 people have been killed by police this year which is a increase from last year and the year before…”. The panelist then moved on to talk about the critique of the Black Lives Matter Movement, DOJ Reports from Ferguson & Philadelphia and aggressive policing never addressing the HUGE 815 Black people that were killed by police year-to-date (Jan 1-Aug 30). I found it very hard to believe that 815 Black people have been killed by police year-to-date and that only the Black Lives Matters Movement was talking about this epidemic. Something didn't sound right.
This got me thinking about the conversation I had with my business attorney several weeks ago and decided to look at the raw data. I spent the remainder of that Sunday afternoon/evening researching DOJ, local reports & news stories about all officer-involved deaths, year-to-date, by race, city and the racial demographic of that city, method of homicide and the circumstances surrounding the incident (whether the person was armed or unarmed, etc). What I found was shocking.
BLACK DEATHS BY THE NUMBERS
In fact, there were NOT 815 Black people killed this year, but 815 people killed total. Of total 815 officer-involved homicides nation-wide from 1/1/2015 - 8/30/2015, 105 (13%) were Black:
27 (26%) of them were Black and the other 78 were classified as Non Black or Unknown.
Of the 27 Black people there were involved in a officer-involved homicide, 22 (81%) of them were armed and the shooting was justified.
Of the 27 shooting of Black individuals 12 (44%) of the shooting occurred in cities where Black and Hispanic/Latino held the majority of the racial demographic (i.e. District Heights, MD, 93%, Dallas, TX, 67%, etc). It would find to reason that in these cities, Black people might have a higher rate of run in with police and have a possibility of being shot by police officers than other races.
* While I didn't investigate each case, I noticed that quite a few of these cases were mis-categorized as unarmed case.
Black individuals are NOT shot at a disproportionate or higher rate than our white counter parts. I've went through the numbers of previous months of 2015, and found similar results. Using the data from www.mappingpoliceviolence.com, a website monitoring police killings with a focus on Black deaths by police, and found that of the 815 people were involved in an officer-involved homicide in to date in 2015, 215 (26%) were Black. According to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau, Blacks make up 13.45% of the United States population. While I did find it initially troubling that we are being shot at 2x’s the rate of our population (not 3-5x's as I’ve heard many Black Lives Matters panelist throw around), when I reviewed where the majority of the deaths occurred and after looking at the numbers more closely, taking into account the racial demographics of the cities were the deaths occurred (like Chicago), the social economic status of the communities, the fact that 70-85% of the time the person was armed, as well as other factors, that evidence doesn’t support that we are being killed at a disproportionate rate that any other non Black race.
My conclusion of the Black Lives Matter movement is that it's very clear that the numbers used to support there narrative are skewed and inaccurate. If this was purposely done (and I can't see how anyone could make a mishap like this by accident) and their reason was to show outrage to mainstream America about the perceived violence that goes on in our black communities by law enforcement, then I think they accomplished their goal. Do we Black people have issues with police targeting us? Absolutely. However, what I would like to see from Black Lives Matters, is for them to refocus their efforts and switch focus from violence from law enforcement toward Black people to violence from Black people toward other Black people. Become more than just social media hashtag, more than just a perceived movement. Go into our neighborhoods and teach our young Black brothers and sisters the importance of getting an education, give the parents tools and resources on how to handle their out of control kids, empower the community on getting out the vote, knowing our rights and how to deal with law enforcement and now that you finally acknowledges that #TransLivesMatter and the CIS & Trans women struggle in the black community, teach tolerance & acceptance and talk to religious leaders about how we can take this fight the pulpit, because if you want to stop confrontations between our people and law enforcement, officer-involved homicides of our brother ans sisters, and Black on Black crime were someone might end up dead, this is where it ultimately begins. Its starts long before we’re pulled over by the police officers, run away from or hurl bottles at low enforcement during protests, long before we get into an argument with our fellow brother or sister and not have the social skills or foresight to not go pick up a gun and long before a someone finds themselves in a situation with a Trans person and feels they need to react with violence. We can do it but we need more than a social media hashtag campaign or violent protest, we need community action!
While I’m not sure if the producers of the MHP Show crafted the narrative as to purposely omit that the 815 deaths were not of only black people or is was meant to confuse or mis-educate its audience, I do know that without the correct information, we all do ourselves a grave injustice and disservice.
UPDATE: Thanks for the all the inbox messages and comments. However, please leave your comments below so that we can have a full and open conversation about the topic.
-Howard Nelson Cromwell,
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