McWhorter on police violence

June 14, 2020 • 11:30 am

Although John McWhorter, a professor of English and linguistics at Columbia University, is also a contributing editor at The Atlantic, his new essay on police violence was not published there. Rather, it’s in Quillette. Given that in length, style, and quality (it’s very well written and makes cogent points) it would be suitable for The Atlantic, I’m guessing that he didn’t even try to publish it there. That’s because it makes an argument that is politically uncongenial to The Atlantic and to much of the Left:  that perhaps the claim that black men get shot by police at a rate higher than their frequency in the population  is not a function of police racism, but of a greater frequency of interactions between blacks and police due to a higher crime rate in black communities.

This idea is heterodox, contrarian, and is suitable for Quillette. But no mainstream Leftist media would ever touch it, even though it might contain some truth. It’s not ideologically acceptable to say that while there are some racist cops, the difference in the relative frequency of blacks versus whites killed by cops could be due to a higher crime rate among black males and in the black community, perhaps itself a function of poverty that breeds crime. This is a valid hypothesis, but it taboo for most of us to discuss. As black men, however people like McWhorter and Glenn Lourycan say this without fear of being deemed “racists”.

Read for yourself (click on screenshot).

First, the disproportionality:

. . . .it remains true that black people are killed at a rate disproportionate to their percentage of the population. Does this decisively demonstrate racial bias or murderous animus on the part of American law enforcement? Blacks represent about 13 percent of the US population but about a quarter of victims in cop killings. Whites constitute about 62 percent of the population but only half of those killed by the police. With slight fluctuations, these trends have been broadly consistent.

But you can’t say that this itself is prima facie evidence that cops are racist, and that they murder men like George Floyd because they’re black. As McWhorter notes:

However, these figures are not necessarily evidence of police racism. According to the Washington Post‘s database, over 95 percent of the people fatally shot by police officers in 2019 were male, and no serious-minded person argues that this is evidence of systemic misandry. So what, then, accounts for the disproportionate representation of black men among those killed by cops?

McWhorter gives lots of examples of both black men and white men killed by cops in nearly identical circumstances, but the deaths of whites gets much less attention because it doesn’t play into a narrative of police racism. One is Tony Pimpa, a 32-year-old white man who suffocated in 2016 when a cop put a knee on his back for 13 minutes. Timpa’s crime was calling the cops himself for help because he feared he might be a danger to himself when he was drunk. That’s just the first example, and McWhorter gives others:

Timpa was, of course, just one case and might be dismissed as an anomaly. On the other hand, we are told that what happened to George Floyd is what happens to black people “all the time.” But because the killing of black suspects by white police officers receives more media attention and elicits more outrage, such instances leave us vulnerable to the availability heuristic—a cognitive bias that leads us to form judgements about the prevalence of phenomena based on the readiness with which we can recall examples. Had Tony Timpa been black, we would all likely know his name by now. Had George Floyd been white, his name would likely be a footnote, briefly reported in Minneapolis local news and quickly forgotten. In fact, white people are victims of police mistreatment “all the time” too. And just as the Timpa case tragically parallels the Floyd one, there are countless episodes paralleling those we hear about involving black people.

In 2014, John Crawford, black, was shot dead by police while waving a BB gun. In 2016, Daniel Shaver, white, was waving a pellet gun out of motel window and suffered the same fate. In 2015, officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott, black, in the back and killed him as he was running to evade a traffic ticket; the following year, Andrew Thomas, white, was shot in the neck by a police officer and killed as he climbed out of the SUV he had crashed trying to evade arrest. In 2015, Sam DuBose, black, was shot dead as he tried to escape a traffic summons in his car; the same year, Michael Parker, white, was shot dead in the same way while trying escape a ticket for a moving violation. In 2016, Philando Castile, black, was shot dead in his car by a cop as he reached under his waistband for his license and registration during a traffic stop; the same year, Dylan Noble, white, was shot dead under almost identical circumstances. Also in 2016, Alton Sterling, black, was shot dead in front of a convenience store as he was being detained for unruly conduct; the same year, Brandon Stanley, white, was shot dead in a convenience store for trying to avoid a warrant.

Of course these are just parallels and don’t answer the question we want to know: are black people more likely to be murdered by cops on a per capita basis, in a given set of encounters, with controls from white suspects in similar situations, with all other things roughly equal? If that’s the case, then racism is implicated. Anecdotes like those above won’t answer that question.

But the point McWhorter is making is that there are other causes for higher per capita rates of blacks being shot by police, and we have to work out why this is the case. He mentions some alternatives (I’ve bolded the crux of his thesis).

The socioeconomic gap between blacks and whites is doubtless an important contributing factor. Police are called to poor neighborhoods more often, so poverty makes someone more likely to encounter law enforcement. From the 1970s through the 1990s, many conservatives argued that too many black people were on welfare. Liberals and progressives replied that, firstly, more white people were on welfare and that, secondly and more importantly, a greater proportion of the black population is on welfare because a greater proportion of black people are mired in poverty. In this context, former Washington Post journalist Wesley Lowery observed that black people are about two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by cops than their representation in the population would predict. Today, the percentage of black people living in poverty is about two-and-a-half times that of whites (22 percent and nine percent, respectively, in 2018).

This disparity in poverty rates means black people are also disproportionately represented in rates of violent crime. Poverty can lead to dangerous survival choices that include lucrative criminal activity. Furthermore, outstanding warrants can cause suspects to flee law enforcement when stopped for other trivial infractions. This disparity cannot explain every fatal police shooting, including some of the most notorious examples, such as the shootings of Tamir Rice and Philando Castile. Nevertheless, the tragedy remains: Higher aggregate crime rates lead to more encounters with police officers overall which increases the likelihood that a proportion of those encounters will get out of hand. Entrenched socioeconomic disparities should concern us all, and are as intolerable as cop murders. But the idea that the police murder out of racist animus is much less clear than we are often led to suppose.

This is not to say that McWhorter thinks that no cops are racists, or that there isn’t a systematic form of racism among some police departments. He notes, for example, that blacks are disproportionately pulled over by cops for drug searches, and that must be due to race since the disparity with whites disappears after dusk when race is harder to identify. Further, blacks are more likely than whites to be handcuffed, put up against a wall, or confronted with drawn weapons.  If one can indeed show that the same disparity holds for murder with the appropriate controls, then, Houston (and Atlanta and Minneapolis), we have a problem.

Here’s McWhorter’s ending:

Police officers are too often overarmed, undertrained, and low on empathy. Some police officers are surely racist and act like it. But it does not follow that white cops routinely kill black people in tense situations out of racist animus. This scenario may seem plausible—I believed it until only a few years ago. But there are times when facts are counterintuitive, and it is important to get the facts right and to analyze them with clear eyes and a clear mind (the enlightening work of criminologist and ex-cop Peter Moskos is helpful in this regard). Rhetoric has a way of straying from reality, and to get where we all want to go, it is reality that we must address.

 McWhorter’s message is that we shouldn’t rush to judgment about racist killer cops. It may be too late: the claim is largely taken for granted by many. But McWhorter can get away with saying this only because he’s black, and thus can’t be called a racist (I suspect he’s already suffered that, though). That only African-American can argue this way without opprobrium is, as they, problematic.  To paraphrase Dr. King, the validity of an argument should not depend on the pigmentation of the person who makes it.


172 thoughts on “McWhorter on police violence

  1. “McWhorter can get away with saying this only because he’s black, and thus can’t be called a racist (I suspect he’s already suffered that, though).”

    I bet some have said “He’s not black.” Since they think race is socially constructed when it suits their narrative, and physical at other times for the same reason.

    Joe Biden just did that. Right?

  2. Sounds to me that McWhorter is using that old Christian stand-by of blaming the victim, rather than addressing the problem with anything new or particularly useful

    1. I think, rather, that he is saying that the problems that blacks face in America are much more complicated than is general being acknowledged. Accepting that would be prerequisite to identifying solutions.

    2. There are actual studies to back up what he is saying.
      Including studies that show black and Hispanic officers are more likely to shoot black suspects than white officers.

  3. One of the mechanisms allegedly used by white people to suppress blacks over the decades and centuries has been to create circumstances that make reported crime higher in black neighborhoods. This then justifies the heightened policing that holds down development in the black neighborhoods. It is a horse and cart argument, in other words.

    Is it true? I am no scholar on the subject. Some reports I have seen make it seem like it is true. That is, that first blacks get arrested more and imprisoned more, and then their higher rate of arrest and imprisonment is used to justify more intense policing and suppression. It is this cycle that is the racism.

    1. Homicides are considered an especially reliable crime statistic. Black men have a murder rate of at least 7-times that of white men, and 11-times if you add unsolved murders in overwhelmingly black neighborhoods where no stranger dares to go.

      Why would you expect that in such areas crimes are more likely to be reported? They are notorious for a no-snitch code that even protects murderers. Which is why, in some of them, 70% of murders are never solved…

  4. I’ve been thinking about the police a lot, as I’m sure many people have. And what I keep coming back to is that as a profession, they seem to have shown us they lack judgement and restraint, the qualities necessary for communities to support their policing. They’ve shown they too easily kill, they too easily escalate, they too easily use force. They have shown they jump to conclusions, and will lie to protect their own.

    I’m not naive enough to call for the removal of any type of police, but the system we’ve got isn’t working. I don’t know what the answer is, but something surely needs to change.
    (And with that, my not particularly useful or new two cents).

    1. I do not know the answer either, but US cops have the reputation of being very trigger-happy.
      Maybe it would be an idea to enlighten themselves, to see how it is done, in police forces that claim substantially less victims.
      Note the US does not do really badly on a world wide scale (46.6 annually per million), but pretty badly among industrialized countries. Luxembourg (hard to believe!)comes second among industrialized countries with 16,9. All others have single digits: Canada scores 9.7, France 3.8 and all others under 3, many under 1. (Wikipedia)

        1. Police in the US who assume that everyone is carrying a gun are primed to kill lots and lots of innocent people. Because most Americans don’t carry guns. We see the consequences the warrior mentality playing out over and over.

          1. I think I’ve mentioned before that (pre-covid) I volunteer at my state capitol as a legislative tour guide. We are an open carry state with an open carry capitol. That means, sometimes, we get visitors sporting all their weaponry. We are to treat them as we would anyone else, regardless of how intimidating it could seem. If we ask this of a volunteer workforce made up primarily of unarmed,gentle, elderly retirees, we should most certainly be able to ask it of our heavily armed police. And yet.

          2. “Because most Americans don’t carry guns.”

            True, but if you were a cop you’d always be jumpy that the suspect you’re talking to did have a concealed weapon. Hence the jumpiness, the aggression and the trigger-happiness.

            1. No need for a concealed weapon. There’s always an open weapon, in the cop’s holster.

              How fast can a young man close a 20-foot distance to a cop? Faster than the cop can get their gun out, more than likely. A cop can’t afford to be knocked down or rendered incapacitated.

          3. I had such an unpleasant experience about police fear of guns in the New York Subway. Once I was going to a job interview, wearing a suit. I had to change trains in a large station for an uptown train. I was late because the first train was delayed, and I was rushing to locate the connecting train. I walked to a policeman, a bit hasty, and asked him where I would find the uptown train. He jumped backwards and grabbed his revolver, but didn’t point it at me. I showed my hands and he put the revolver back. But I also witnessed reverse behaviour. A white person threatened a black policeman with a baseball bat. He went behind a door separating two cars, and just kept looking.

        2. In the UK (except N Ireland) only some police officers carry firearms. Specially-trained firearms officers. Last year there were only a few killings by police. That will be us in 150 years.

          1. To make a potentially flawed analogy, it reminds me of how we treat birthing in the US. Every birth (for the most part) gets an OBGYN, and midwifery is rather rare. We treat them all as potentially high risk despite no evidence showing that that is more safe or useful. Other countries has a system that looks at the individual risk and assigns their medical professional, whether midwife or surgeon, as needed.

          2. There are nevertheless unnecessary shootings in the UK. The 1999 case of Harry Stanley comes to mind. He was a Scotsman walking home with a bag containing a table leg that had just been repaired by his brother. He stopped for a drink in a pub, where the person who served him mistook his Scottish accent for an Irish one and thought the table leg was a gun; they called the police and Mr Stanley was shot and killed as he continued walking home. As it happened, he was no angel and had a conviction for an armed robbery 25 years earlier. But the officers who shot him did not know his identity (and therefore were unaware of his past) when the fatal shots were fired.

            Needless to say, the police officers who shot an unarmed man were cleared of any offence. The moral seems to be, give police officers guns anywhere in the world and it is likely that they will shoot first and ask questions later.

            1. There have been several police shootings of unarmed citizens over the years in the UK. The de Menezes shooting is the one that comes to my mind.

              But in Britain, such shootings are quite rare in comparison with the USA and will remain so as long as we have strict gun laws.

    2. I am personally critical of police for many of the tactics they employ, however, I think it is wrong to adopt the stereotype that this is all police. I think that remains to be shown. I also think that being a police officer, especially in a city, is one of the worst jobs there is, and we could easily find ourselves without police because they decide it’s not worth it.

      1. The cause and effect reflect back on each other. It’s one of the worst jobs there is because everyone hates them. Everyone hates them because they’re doing it wrong. The only solution is to break the circle.

    3. There are about 50-60 million encounters between police and citizens per year in the US.

      There are about 10 million arrests per year.

      That’s a really big denominator.

      As my boss at a US regulatory agency said: People are basically fuck-ups. This includes cops, who are undertrained, etc. With 10^7 opportunities per year, some bad outcomes are inevitable. Which is not to say we shouldn’t have CAPA procedures in place to do our best to drive that number to as close to zero as possible (forever).

  5. I read this article from McWhorter a few days ago and posted it for my friends to read. I also posted Sam Harris’ recent podcast. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone cares to actually review any evidence or have an honest discussion. Minds are already made up and the answer is that cops are just out to kill black people. And now we have this Atlanta situation, which is totally different than the George Floyd situation. Already we have seen an officer fired and the Chief resign and from what I’ve seen so far it looks to be a reasonable use of force that was used. It’s going to be hard to get good and honest people to be cops if this is the way they are treated.

    1. How is shooting to kill a person who doesn’t have a lethal weapon (tasers are not lethal weapons) a reasonable use of force?

      If you stay 25 feet away from a taser you can not be harmed. At all. Why is killing a guy while he is running away from you remotely “reasonable”?

      1. Established protocol for law enforcement: when a suspect fires a taser at you, you are authorized to use deadly force.

        Why? Because if you get paralyzed by the taser, and the suspect is not, he can walk over to you, take your gun, and execute you.

        I got this information from a retired police officer.

        1. Ask you friend what happens if the taser is fired at you and you are 30 feet away.

          Well, you don’t need to. Nothing. The range is 25 feet. So I ask again, how is it justifiable to kill someone under these circumstances?

          1. Your point does not invalidate the established legal protocol for use of deadly force.

            Notoriously, PDP/drunk suspects have been seen to not get stopped by tasers. Many law enforcement people have been killed because of this. “They should have shot their gun instead” is too late a suggestion.

            In this case, one or several zaps by cop have failed. If the officer(s) move closer and are “not allowed” to shoot guns, and the duel goes taser to taser, who do you think will win that?

            1. That’s the typical justification used to justify the use of excessive force.

              The guy was running away. He was not a threat to the cops. Why is that so hard for people like you to accept?

              1. “That’s the typical justification used to justify the use of excessive force.”

                At least until someone shows up with cellphone video.

              2. He was under arrest. It is the police’s job to arrest him. Not to let him assault police and flee the scene. What if the suspect had already killed someone?

                Please visualize what “as soon as a suspect in a crime (even murder) gets away from constraint and runs [out of range of tasers, for instance], law enforcement must let him go. They shan’t shoot bullets.”

                Is that what you want?

                By the way, if addressed to me, what is the full meaning and context you asserted onto me by the phrase “people like you?”

              3. “What if the suspect had already killed someone?”

                This is the kind of speculation I would not want police to make. In most cases, if the suspect gets away then the police have to go after them. They can’t just shoot someone based on “they might get away” or “they didn’t follow my orders”.

              4. @John Donohue:

                “Please visualize what “as soon as a suspect in a crime (even murder) gets away from constraint and runs [out of range of tasers, for instance], law enforcement must let him go. They shan’t shoot bullets.”

                Your argument proves too much. It is against police protocol for officers to use deadly force merely to prevent a suspect from fleeing. (Just ask the retired police officer you asked about the taser.)

                Standard policy for US police forces forbids the use deadly force except where officers reasonably believe a suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily injury to themselves or others.

              5. “It is the police’s job to arrest him.”

                It is not the police officer’s job to execute him. The cop failed to do his job.

            2. If the officer(s) move closer and are “not allowed” to shoot guns, and the duel goes taser to taser, who do you think will win that?

              The police officers: there are two of them and they have a taser and two guns between them.

              The fact that there are two of them invalidates the protocol in this instance.

              1. jeremy, no. This suspect showed immunity to being tasered. If both officers were not allowed to shoot him with guns, but they moved in to stop him with their tasers instead, he could have immobilized both with his, and perhaps killed them both.

              2. No. If he managed to taser one police officer, you are back to the one on one situation. He hadn’t done that, however. He really should not have been shot at the time he was shot given that there were two police officers present.

              3. jeremy pereira,

                “One on one.”

                An officer of the law is not some gunslinger in a fair fight on the streets of Deadwood. If a suspect is shooting, police are authorized — required — to deploy deadly force to stop him.

                Not to mention the suspect had already shown immunity to tasers. So it would be an unfair fight, taser to taser, on the streets of Atlanta.

                Once a suspect resists arrest and begins assaulting and shooting at police, deadly force is the needed response.

              4. An officer of the law is not some gunslinger in a fair fight on the streets of Deadwood

                Perhaps somebody should remind US police officers of that.

                If a suspect is shooting

                This suspect wasn’t shooting.

                Once a suspect resists arrest and begins assaulting and shooting at police, deadly force is the needed response.

                The suspect wasn’t shooting.

              5. jeremy pereira

                That was poor. An empty jab followed by a deliberate avoidance of my framework. Really poor.

                The result is you stopped responding to me and got to blurb out your own thing.

                Carry on.

              6. You would think that, with accusations of police brutality flying around, the police officers dealing with the protests in the US would be on their best behaviour, but, no, we see images of police officers beating people. We see them assaulting journalists. We see them fracturing people’s skulls. We see them gunning people down for resisting arrest. They really do need to be reminded that they are not in the wild west. Seriously.

                I have responded to you. I’ve explained to you why I think the police officer in this case was wrong to kill the victim. There were two police officers present, so the scenario you described could not have happened. You haven’t given a satisfactory response to that yet.

              7. Clearly many police officers, rightly, view the protests as against them. It should be no surprise that some of them react badly to it. One last night’s evening news, they interviewed a police chief from a small Florida town who had knelt with the protestors. Her SWAT team has quit to protest her actions. It’s us against them evidently.

              8. Her SWAT team has quit to protest her actions

                They are not alone. The team whose officer assaulted Martin Gugino apparently resigned en masse in support of the officer. I find their lack of self awareness inexplicable.

              9. Needed response?
                I can think of several alternatives in the situation here in which the suspect was running away holding only a taser. The cop could just back off, let the suspect go and call backup, follow in his vehicle, follow on foot, shoot at the ground near the suspect, shoot to disable.
                I suspect police in most European countries would not shoot to kill. It’s time to retrain police to deescalate rather than escalate.

            3. Where do you get your information 1)that Rayshard Brooks was actually tasered. What I find is that the officer attempted to taser him, and that’s an ambiguous statement.

              You make the argument that Brooks was indeed tased and that because he was intoxicated he was immune to the taser, which brings me to question 2) I do not find information that drunk people aren’t affected by tasers; but people high on certain drugs such as meth, or with mental health issues can be unaffected by the shock. Please give a citation for drunk people being unaffected by tasers.

              You also speak of “the strength and adrenaline power of a suspect.” That again is something associated with a person high on drugs or mentally ill, not alcohol. You’re mixing a lot of things up just to make your argument that he should have been shot.

              Note – even if he was tasered (no proof yet), tasers are notoriously unreliable, so if he was tasered and showed no effects it could be because of a faulty taser, not some brute strength brought on by alcohol.

              Without substantiating your claims I find your argument disingenuous and implicitly prejudicial.

              1. Jenny,

                You find my claims in error, then immediately accuse me of lying (disingenuous) and being a bigot (prejudiced)?

                Non Sequitur. And that’s being polite. I look forward to your apology.

                1) NYTimes and various video reports show and claim he was tased during the wrestling.

                2) suspect failed DUI. “Intoxicated” does not mean only alcohol. It did not say “breathalyzer.” I suggest you await the autopsy to invalidate me on the minor point(s) about which chemicals rendered the suspect able to overwhelm two officers. And who cares?

                3) none of your claims make any difference to the central point: is this a justified shoot or not.

              2. “the central point: is this a justified shoot or not.”

                But that’s an easy answer–no.

              3. tomh,

                How do you figure? What did the officers violate in the protocol? They used deadly force when attacked by a fleeing suspect firing a taser at them.

                [that is separate from ‘what could they have done better to constrain’, thus preventing the escalation]

              4. Well, I don’t consider someone 30 feet away who turns and points a taser an “attack” worthy of killing for. Although that’s interesting too. The first reports called it a “stun gun” which can’t actually be fired but requires contact to be effective. Have to wonder why that was changed. Regardless, you may consider that justification for killing someone, I don’t.

              5. @ John Donahue

                Please don’t trouble yourself to be polite, just go ahead and call a spade a spade.

                1) Question not yet answered: Can you please give me some links to specific articles (such as the NYT article) and/or videos that state Brooks was tasered. Even if he was tasered, as I stated the reason he might not have been affected is not necessarily a result of the “intoxicants in his blood stream,” whatever they might be, that turned him into someone impervious to electric shock and having abnormal strength. And I have seen absolutely nothing that speaks to him having the kind of superhuman strength characteristic of those on meth or other drugs or who are severely mentally ill. Where does that assertion come from?

                As far as “which chemicals rendered the suspect able to overwhelm two officers” –more than once, you asserted that he was under the influence. The reports I heard were that he failed a field sobriety test, and I heard/read reports that he was drunk, and I can find no evidence that alcohol produces effects you attribute to him, but of course he could have other substances in his system. I await the autopsy. If I’m in error then I’ll apologize.

                “Who cares?” I assumed that you cared since you made that assertion more than once about why you assert that he was impervious to a taser and you used that as a justification for killing him. Now it’s “who cares,” it’s of no consequence to you.

                As far as my statement that I considered your argument disingenuous and prejudicial and that translates to being a bigoted liar, I’m surprised you didn’t accuse you of being an outright racist. I find meaningful distinctions between the words “bigot” and “prejudice.” I also make a distinction between being disingenuous and being a liar. If I think you’re a liar then I’ll call you one.

              6. @ John Donahue

                “I’m surprised you didn’t accuse you of being an outright racist” should read:

                “I’m surprised that you accuse me of accusing you of being an outright racist.

              7. Let me try that again:

                “I’m surprised that you didn’t accuse me of accusing you of being an outright racist.

              8. I haven’t followed this case, but just as a point of info: A couple of years ago, Sam Harris analyzed a video of a skirmish between two police officers and a guy who didn’t want to be captured. The officers spent about 10 minutes trying to subdue the fellow and get cuffs on him. He was able to escape there grasp over and over. It was pretty ridiculous to watch. He was not an especially big fellow either. Sam’s point was that the cops were not trained in martial arts so could not do their job properly without escalating and risking a fatality. This shows that suspects are not always easily subdued, depending on training. Many factors play into an arrest situation so I think it often requires an investigation to get all the facts on the table.

              9. Jenny Haniver,

                You wander down the lane of triviality once again. Who cares what gave the suspect superhuman strength? I never used anything to claim justification for the use of lethal force other than the suspect firing a taser at the officers.

                As I explained, per protocol, they are required to use lethal force to protect their own lives while in pursuit of a fleeing suspect. That is what they are doing once the suspect pointed the taser at them and fired it … they are no longer trying to stop the suspect from fleeing. Notice that the officer tossed aside his taser — the situation had escalated and use of the gun was called for — for protection.

                >> … meaningful distinctions between the words “bigot” and “prejudice.” I also make a distinction between being disingenuous and being a liar.<<

                Really. Nice. I guess that gives you qualified immunity, right?

                You misspelled my name.

              10. The officer was fired, and the chief of police resigned!

                Clearly those that ought to be calm and objective in APD do not agree with me that this sequence, while horrific, still falls into the legal window of “justified” per the official training and protocol of Atlanta PD. They rushed to judgment and totalized that the officer is a murderer.

                So be it. Better change the protocol and retrain every law enforcement officer in this nation.

              11. @ John Donohue

                Forgive me for misspelling your name. It was pure carelessness and not indended as a slight. I need reading glasses.

                Thank you for sending the NYT article and video. Before I saw your NYT link, I found information at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and on CNN that Officer Rolfe fired a taser at Brooks while Brooks was running away after he’d grabbed Officer Brosnan’s taser during the struggle

                The accounts I’d read prior to being apprised of this information (including watching partial and compressed videos) did not explicitly state that during the struggle either officer fired his taser (they use words like “attempted to,” and “deployed,” so I assumed that the supposed firing of the taser was during the struggle. You yourself made the same assumption that the taser was fired during the struggle, “During the wrestling, the suspect was tasered. That did not even make him slow down, just filled him with more rage.”

                I do not see it definitively stated that a taser was actually fired during the struggle, only that attempts were made. At that times of my previous posts, I did not find anything that indicated Officer Rolfe, in pursuit of Brooks when he was fleeing, had fired his taser at him; however, insofar as I can determine that is when the taser was fired. Therein lies my confusion (and yours?). Perhaps the accounts I read didn’t have access to all the videos and analyses at the time they published their reports.

                Nonetheless, there are a variety of reasons unrelated to “the fury of a drugged suspect” why Brooks could have bested the two officers during the struggle and why Rolfe’s taser didn’t stop Brooks.

                Again, I don’t find anything that lists alcohol as one of the substances that renders a person immune to the effects of being tased. And as I stated previously tasers are unreliable for a variety of reasons, so supposed immunity may well not have been the issue.

                You say all that’s unimportant. If so why do you make these statements that assert Brooks was impervious to being tased and strongly imply that this was because drugs and/or alcohol in his system endowed him with brute strength that enabled him to overcome two armed police officers:

                “This suspect showed immunity to being tased”

                “the suspect had already shown immunity to tasers.”

                “During the wrestling, the suspect was tasered. That did not even make him slow down, just filled him with more rage.”

                “Notoriously, PDP[PCP?]/drunk suspects have been seen to not get stopped by tasers. Many law enforcement people have been killed because of this.” “During the wrestling, the suspect was tasered. That did not even make him slow down, just filled him with more rage.”

                “Officers have died because they either 1) did not take into account the fury of a drugged suspect; or 2) had no “Plan B” training.”

                As for my use of the words “disingenuous” and “prejudicial,” I deliberated and chose them specifically because they carried contextual nuances that you are unable to discern.

              12. Jenny Haniver

                All your long wander has been previously countered, and now again utterly rejected.

                1) my “confusion.” I at no point have been confused. Nor do I make unsupported claims. I absorbed the NYTimes piece PRIOR to making the assertion that a taser dart hit the suspect during the wrestling;
                2) the supposed nuance between vicious insult words on my person. You owe an apology.

          2. Without condoning the shooting, it seems to me pretty easy to analyse a video and come to the conclusion that the victim is 30 feet away, but, if you are the police officer on the ground in a potentially life threatening situation, it might not be quite so easy to judge the distance as you seem to think.

            If the police officer in this instance was following established protocol as John Donohue states, then the police officer has a defence for his actions.

            Having said that, the rationale given for why the established protocol is what it is doesn’t stand up in this case because there were two police officers present.

            1. How incompetent are two cops that can’t cuff a half-asleep drunk, and instead let him take a weapon from one of them and run away. Those cops are the ones that should have had sobriety tests. They should be fired for incompetence if nothing else.

              1. I’ve seen the video (well, as much of it as the BBC would show), he wasn’t as half asleep as he appeared, at least not at the moment he decided to resist arrest.

                That said, I agree, they should have been able to restrain him without further incident.

              2. tomh,

                I agree 100%. They were incompetent. Not only did he escape two officers, he took an officer’s weapon away. That is incompetence.

                One added note: part of their incompetence was underestimating the strength and adrenaline power of a suspect. Officers should be trained to double belief in what a cornered suspect can accomplish.

                During the wrestling, the suspect was tasered. That did not even make him slow down, just filled him with more rage.

                They should have been trained as to what to do when that happens.

                Officers have died because they either 1) did not take into account the fury of a drugged suspect; or 2) had no “Plan B” training.

                And … perhaps, if Plan B is to shoot a gun, they are holding back on that due to perception of police brutality. That is dangerous.

      2. The rules of engagement, and for the use of deadly force can be pretty complicated.
        I have a pretty good handle on the rules for military combatants, or at least how they were when they applied to me.
        I have at least read the Atlanta police policy. It is sort of open to interpretation.

        Here they are:
        An office may use deadly force when-
        “1. He or she reasonably believes that the suspect possesses a deadly weapon or any object, device, or instrument which, when used offensively against a person, is likely to or actually does result in serious bodily injury and when he or she reasonably believes that the suspect poses an immediate threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or others; or

        2. When there is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm (O.C.G.A. Section 17-4-20) and the employee reasonably believes that the suspect’s escape would create a continuing danger of serious physical harm to any person.”

        But things like a taser or nightstick, at least as I was taught, are “less lethal” than a bullet or grenade. Using less lethal methods are still considered to be potentially lethal, just less so.
        Something like pepper spray or an LRAD is considered a nuisance deterrent, and actual not lethal.

        Once you have relieved a cop of his taser, and used it on him, you can certainly relieve him of his gun and other equipment.

      3. The running away scenario was specifically called out by Sam Harris as unjustifiable. And he noted that the cop (I can’t remember which case this was) got 20 years. Which he said wasn’t necessarily enough time for him.

        I agree. Running away, by definition is unthreatening.

        In other cases, it depends. Is the unarmed person wrestling for your gun? There’s always a firearm in the mix when a cop is there: It’s in their holster if nowhere else.

        In the Castile case, it seemed clear cut: The cop should have been convicted (IMO).

        The Floyd case is clear cut (IMO).

        So is the Tony Timpa case.

        Both of these last two were F-ups, not intentional murder. Dead-wrong; but not intentional. Which is not to say the cops shouldn’t be held accountable — they should be.

        I think training actually could help in these types of cases (last two mentioned). Cops should know, front of mind, that pressing someone into the ground can kill them. I think in both of these cases, they thought they were following procedure. And they had probably done it dozens of times before.

        1. I’ve seen reporting that the cop that killed Floyd had quite a rap sheet, having been overly aggressive a number of times in the past. This means there was plenty of warning that this guy was unsuited to his job. It seems to me a critical part of the solution has to be more independent review of these cases, and curbing excesses by cop unions from preventing cops from being fired if they deserve it.

    2. I can only assume you don’t know the details of this incident. In any other developed nation this incident would not have resulted in a death. This incident is a perfect example of what is wrong with police in the US.

    3. Unfortunately I don’t think anyone cares to actually review any evidence or have an honest discussion.

      McWhorter has not reviewed any evidence. Because the evidence shows that the rate at which police kill people is not statistically correlated with crime rate. See specifically the chart “It’s Not About Crime” on that link if you don’t believe me.

      Instead, it seems to be highly dependent on specific location; in some cities the police kill people at a rate even higher than the (non-police) murder rate, while in other citiies, even some with very high crime rates, the police kill practically nobody.

      Looking at that chart, it appears that policing in the southwest is significantly worse than policing elsewhere, with Tucson, Abuquerque, Mesa, Kansas City, Phoenix, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City (7 southwest cities) all in the top 10 of highest police killings on that chart.

      1. Unfortunately many people believe they have the right to or should resist arrest either because they are innocent, they don’t believe what they are doing should be a crime, or for other reasons which I can only speculate about. The fact is some people commit minor offenses (or are accused to have committed minor offenses), but it is the resisting and fighting officers which ultimately leads to deadly force being used. That’s why murderers who don’t resist arrest are regularly taken into custody alive and others who have committed less serious crimes who resist and fight officers are not. I can think of several high profile cases like this in recent years. Further, even when the police use deadly force there seems to be little evidence race is a motivating factor. I know you didn’t mention race, but that is what many people believe or feel and that is the reason we are having all these protests and riots.

        1. “Further, even when the police use deadly force there seems to be little evidence race is a motivating factor.”

          That certainly depends on how you look at it. We often see police approach a situation involving black people with a certain built-in anger. That causes people to resist the situation as they see no reason for the anger and take it personally. The situation sometimes escalates and a black person gets shot. These situations are hard to analyze statistically as how does one measure anger?

        2. I can think of several high profile cases like this in recent years.

          That is precisely the “availability hueristic” McWhorter wrote of in his Quillette piece. A great deal of study of this as a source of cognitive error was done by the Nobel Prize-winning Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky.

        3. Did George Floyd resist arrest? There’s no credible evidence that he did. Oh, and maybe he’d murdered somebody so the cops needed to kill him.

          1. Actually, extended video (earlier in the sequence of events) makes it look to me as if he did resist arrest.

            But that doesn’t matter is his case: The cops should not have restrained him the way they did.

        4. Your explanation requires us to believe that people in Tucson resist arrest far more than people in, say, Buffalo NY.

          Do you have any evidence for that sort of claim? Because if not, the null hypothesis is going to be that no such trend exists, and the data is explained sufficiently by there not being a correlation between violent crime and police killings.

      2. Samuel Sinyangwe and Deray Mckesson seem to run, and

        I don’t reject their data just because they are hardcore anti-police activists, although I would be very careful about their conclusions, or how the specific data points were chosen.

    4. You think that was a reasonable use of ‘deadly’ force?

      The guy was running away and they shot him in the back.

      Perhaps it is allowed under the police protocols there but it is in no way reasonable.

  6. I know anecdata does not data make, but something that happened last month keeps coming to mind. A colleague ordered lunch in via Door Dash. When it arrived, the delivery man (a young African American man) rang the bell, gave us the teriyaki, and went back to his car. Seconds later an officer (white, female) was ringing the bell. She was very concerned after seeing a ‘suspicious person’ at our door, who just ‘dashed off’ moments later. I told her who he was and she asked if I was sure. This is in a very white town in a very white state. Never has this happened with a white delivery person. It was concerning, and bizarre.

  7. Some policemen unquestionably rely too heavily on force, including lethal force, in situations where it is not called for. The victims of this inclination are by no means limited to African-Americans, as the current BLM cliché insists. Another category, which has not been memorialized in demonstrations, is individuals with cognitive disabilities. See:

    Nonetheless, John McWhorter’s analysis is unanswerably cogent, clear, and thoughtful. This guarantees that it will be dismissed by the Woke: intersectional principles tell us that cogency, clarity, and thought are all parts of the oppressive system, which the fully and truly Woke are proud to reject.

  8. An interesting paper (the authors respectively being Afro-American and Asian):

    “Do White Law Enforcement Officers Target Minority Suspects?”:

    Two interesting texts written by Adolph Reed Jr. (an Afro-American scholar):

    * “How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence”:

    * “Antiracism: a neoliberal alternative to a left”:

  9. The Atlantic, to which I have subscribed for almost 40 years, has become, alas, increasingly woke.

    But it still has good, fair young writers like Conor Friedersdorf who also has a weekly mailing of recommended articles throughout many periodicals. I subscribe and it may interst you:

    The articles he brings to your attention can be about events that most media hardly report–and ones more widely written about. As example, the rampage that last weekend that left 18 people murdered in Chicago within 24 hrs (most of whom, both perpetrator and victim, are black.)

    Actually, that same weekend, not just the 24hrs, was far, far deadlier in Chicago. Google and see just how little coverage it received, essentially no national/international coverage.

  10. This morning on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show (CNN), he interviewed Phillip Atiba Goff (not to be confused with Phil Goff the philosopher), the founder and CEO of The Center for Policing Equity ( They claim to be dedicated to using data science to investigate race in policing. On the show, Goff said that there was racial bias in policing at three different levels, only the first of which receives the bulk of attention:

    1. How police interact with citizens on the street.

    2. The areas to which police are deployed. In other words, what areas are considered “problem areas”.

    3. Where certain crimes are considered crimes. For example, cocaine possession is investigated on the street but not in corporate offices.

    He made a lot of sense to me. I was impressed that he was data driven and not making emotional appeals. It was a short but very interesting segment.

    1. Thank you for pointing out #3. I would also point out that what counts as a crime is a part of the problem. Until recently, the penalty for possession of crack cocaine was many times more severe than the penalty for white powder cocaine. The color of the typical user of each drug is correlated with the color of the substance. Poetic injustice. This disparity has been done away with (at the federal level at least), but less glaring ones remain.

      1. The federal drug laws enacted in the 1980s contained a 100:1 discrepancy in the treatment of crack and powder cocaine — possession of five grams of rock carried the identical five-year minimum-mandatory sentence as possession of half a kilo of powder. (That’s the minimum permissible sentence; the maximum was — and still is — 20 years for a first-time offender.)

        The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the crack/powder discrepancy to 18:1.

        1. Wow, I blew that one. My bad. I guess Obama compromised with himself before compromising with Republicans on this. What a milquetoast. Shame on me for buying his spin on this “fix”.

  11. As noted, Sam Harris has decided that he can in fact get away with taking this same position in yesterday’s episode of his podcast. I hope people recognize that his standing as an intellectually honest person justifies him presenting his views in spite of being white. It’s fine to disagree, but we should at least listen to his arguments and the evidence for them.

    (As a half-joking aside, I would go even further and avoid dismissing his view of panpsychism, unfairly influenced though it may be due to his wife’s exploration of it 😉)

        1. Thanks for asking… I really just wanted to register a disappointed minus vote, and it is a matter of opinion, but… 1. after immediately unmasking Jordan Petersen as a deranged and utterly fatuous fraud, he continued to ‘debate’ him instead of dismissing and ignoring him (and his vast audience); 2. just listen to how often he attacks people’s motives as soon as they disagree with him; 3. after hanging terrorism and all kinds of egregious crimes on Muslims in general, he dismisses white supremacy on the far right.

          I know many will disagree, and it’s off topic, so I’ll just indicate what some areas of disagreement are.

          1. That sounds wholly incongruent with Harris’ usual take on things. And the link you provide is to somebody we don’t know (Eyinah?) who does not have any backup for her criticism. She is talking about a Sam Harris podcast episode before Sept 19, 2019. But she offers no link to the exact episode, nor does she mention it by title or number. We are in the dark as to what of Harris’ remarks she wants us to consider. Can you be more specific than she is?

            1. Eiynah is the person (Pakistani/Arab/Canadian ex-Muslim, anon for security reasons) who stood up for Sam when he got mugged by Batman on Bill Maher. (Forgotten the actor’s name).

              Her original discussion with him in 2016 is here, if you’re interested–

              Here’s a link to a quote about the “destruction of Europe” due to Muslims

              I do think he overstated the dangers of radicalised Muslims, especially in relation to the refugee crisis a few years ago. The far right here in Germany for example is a very great deal more dangerous than radicalised Muslims.

              I didn’t want to get into a big critique of Sam — I still like much of his earlier work. I do think he ran out of smart things to say some years ago and would’ve been better off getting off stage. I find him dull and tendentious these days, and every issue he touches seems to turn into a vicious debate about what exactly he meant to imply, rather than about the issue itself.

              I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m dodging your question. It’s difficult to chase up the examples I remember from a few years ago, as google only sends me to loons like Glen Greenwald et al.

              1. The quote from Sam about Muslims is: “I think it’s reasonable to worry whether we are witnessing the destruction of Europe right now, and for demographic reasons…it has nothing to do with skin color.”

                He’s clearly talking about the gradual shift of European culture, due to massive immigration. Now, I agree that it might be hyperbolic, but he qualifies it with “reasonable to worry whether”. He does not make a prediction, only a yellow flag, it seems to me. I’d suspect Eiyna has some ideological grudge going on by trying to portray Sam as some crazy lunatic. I’m not interested enough to pursue the debate further.

          2. Yet overall, Sam Harris remains one of the most decent public intellectuals I’m aware of.

            I think we should not expect too much. Anyone who does not behave tribally and examines arguments on little other than evidence will pay a price. He will have few friends, if any, and a lot of strangers will be able to cancel him at no cost to boost their own social status. On the other hand, you can be successful if you’re tribal even if your skills are pathetic (Dave Rubin comes to mind). I have found that people who are very intellectually honest are often autistic with poor social skills. And they suffer because of that handicap…

            1. Yeh, I don’t mean to be too harsh on Sam — he is certainly no Dave Rubin! I just wanted to register my disappointment in him sometimes.

              1. Please listen to his latest podcast, can we pull back from the brink. I think he handles things very well. My only nit to pick is that he needs to normalize all the data he cites. I’m not sure he did that.

              2. I do listen to him occasionally (if I can download it and speed him up to normal talking speed!). I don’t mean to damn him completely — merely that there have been a few too many times when I’ve thought he’s been less than honest or been inconsistent with his values and wound up giving right wingers a pass. My initial note here was simply meant to be a subjective ‘nah’ to the subjective description of him as intellectually honest.
                Thanks for responding!

              3. >> if I can download it and speed him up to normal talking speed

                The audio player on his website lets you speed it up while maintaining the pitch. In the control bar at the bottom is a “x1” and this is a menu that lets you select different speeds. Putting the speed at x1.25 makes it sound more normal, x1.5 sounds a little rushed.

    1. Wasn’t there a recent article that countered that claim, saying that if one looks at the statistics fairly, there’s no significant difference between male-led and female-led countries?

        1. Yes…it has been debunked. Including in this website.

          But it’s the NYTimes and I guarantee you that some of your friends and my friends have swallowed every word with no question.

  12. Our interlocutor, Dr. Coyne, writes:

    “As black men, however people like McWhorter and Glenn Lourycan say this without fear of being deemed “racists”.”

    I think important to remember that there are now distinctions being made. In fact, it was Nikole Hannah-Jones, among others, who made the remark between being “racially black” and “politically black”.

    No doubt she considers McWhorter “racially black” and therefore not speaking with his black voice and consequently, irrelevant, but something of a threat because, in her mind, he gives cause to white supremacists, and others, with his argument.

    It’s no different than this notorious statement by US Representative from Mass., Ayanna Pressley regarding “voices”:

      1. In South Africa the standard insult is “coconut”: dark on the outside, white on the inside.

  13. All that being said, what would have been the response if the Bundy clan who took over the Oregon state park, or illegally grazed their cattle on Federal land for immense profit had been black. What if black people had a similar movement like the Tea Party; carrying weapons and holding racist signs disparaging Bush or Trump? What if the people who recently stormed the Minneapolis capital building brandishing weapons had been black? What if one of the key features of the Black Lives Matter movement was to carry firearms? How fast would Obama have been impeached and how many more death threats would he have gotten had he done 1/100th the controversial actions/words/lies Trump has done/said. This society is deeply and systemically racist. That to me is the crux of the problem. I don’t see how pointing out that cops might not be murdering blacks out of racist animus to the extant that we “think” they are is helpful in addressing the larger issue of racism in America. How does American society break the feedback loop of poverty? Pointing out that cops might not be as overtly racist when committing a black murder doesn’t really do anything to quell my anger or distrust. Plus, I’m very skeptical of statistics (most of them hidden from public scrutiny) coming out of police departments.

    Lastly, if the white police officer who killed the white Tony Timpa was taped (assuming he was killed exactly like George Floyd under similar circumstances) I highly doubt it would have been a “footnote”. The act of seeing the murder take place, a snuff film if you will, and the subsequent inaction by officials is what sparked the outrage (in Floyd’s case and others). I would also be interested to know if the cop who murdered Timpa was punished or not; as far as I know, he could have been immediately indicted and prosecuted, which would damage McWhorter’s argument. I didn’t read the entire piece, but I think it would behoove McWhorter to investigate what happened to the white cops who killed white people. Perhaps they were more severely punished, or perhaps they were also slapped on the wrist; that would be an important fact to know. Either way, comparing all these similar murders reinforces the fact that we need some serious changes in how we do policing in America.

    1. All that being said, what would have been the response if the Bundy clan who took over the Oregon state park, or illegally grazed their cattle on Federal land for immense profit had been black.

      They certainly would not have had a 41 days long armed occupation of a federal facility. They would not have had the FBI get evangelical preacher Franklin Graham to fly his private jet out to aid in the negotiation to surrender. They wouldn’t have been able to terrorize a town for over a month. They wouldn’t have ‘constitutional sheriffs’ supporting them, nor state representatives visiting and plotting their treason with them. They wouldn’t be walking free today advocating for their seditious fantasies. I could go on.

    2. The Timpa death was taped, on Dallas PD body cam. I have not/will not watch it but according to Harris, the cops are heard making jokes while he dies. I believe it is on YouTube.

        1. Don’t know how well those Police cams work if they’re not public property. But at least we have our citizens’ smart phones to tell the tales. “Eye witness”…you would know, but I imagine smart phones have upended this area of a prosecutor’s “tool kit”. We talk about making sure all officers have cams; we also need to know where their uploads are going. A “cop cloud” won’t do. When those under scrutiny have the first wave at scrutinizing the data, we have a problem.

  14. Anecdotes and national stats are both not very helpful. We need separate data for every police department in the country, and we need to know as well the race of the police officers involved in fatal shootings. A website with live information can be done in a few days, celebrities can chip in. That’s the only way to know where there is systemic racism, and who are the racists.

    1. I dislike the term “systemic racism.” I would like someone to explain how our institutions, as opposed to some people in them, are racist, and what institutions we could have that are not racist.

      1. One example I read yesterday:
        ‘John Ehrlichman, counsel and assistant to Mr. Nixon and a Watergate co-conspirator, later revealed the truth: “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the anti-war left and Black people. … We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”’ Marie Henein – Globe and Mail

      2. Here’s some info for you. You can google the term and get a lot more info…this is a brief summation I found after a few seconds of searching.

        In the United States, institutional racism has been responsible for slavery, settlement, Indian reservations, segregation, residential schools (for American Indians), and internment camps. While most of these institutions no longer exist, they have had long-term impacts on our society. As a result
        of institutional racism, racial stratification and disparities have occurred in employment, housing, education, healthcare, government and other sectors. While many laws were passed in the mid-20th
        century to make discrimination illegal, major inequalities still exist.

        Institutional racism is distinguished from the bigotry or racial bias of individuals by the existence of systematic policies and practices within institutions that effectually disadvantage certain racial or ethnic groups. Institutional racism can only exist in institutions where the power to enforce and perpetuate policies and practices is invested in white people. Certain housing contracts (such as restrictive covenants)
        and bank lending policies (such as redlining) are forms of institutional racism. Other examples include racial profiling by security and law enforcement workers, use of stereotyped racial caricatures by
        institutions (such as “Indian” mascots in sports), the under- and misrepresentation of certain racial groups in the media, and barriers to employment or professional advancement based on race.

        1. Yes, when you extend the term to American Indians, there definitely was institutional racism. And in the Southern states there was as well. I don’t think we can say things haven’t changed.

          1. Winston Churchill’s remarks about American Indians have been under the spotlight recently: “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” For what it’s worth, he said that in 1937 in the context of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine.

          2. That’s not an argument, nor the argument you put forth. You dislike the term “systemic racism” what do you propose replacing it with? Yes, things have changed; that means nothing in this context.

  15. I think the article is interesting but really accomplishes very little toward fixing the problem. I don’t think racism or how much of it is the cause really gets to the problem at all. In the United States we have police killing nearly 1000 people per year. It is very consistent. Compare that to how many the police kill in England and France. It is almost nothing compared to right here in America. Why is this happening? Answer number one is guns. 60 percent or more of the police kills in America are people with guns. So the police are all jacked up looking for guns on the people they are confronting. Lots of guns. The other big difference is training. The police in Europe get about 2 years of training to get on the police force. In America it is about 5 months. Next would be the type of training and procedures. The standard for police to shoot is expectation that their life is in danger. In Europe the standard is higher and there must be a certainty that their life is in danger.

    So our police need an overhaul all the way around. But we also need to eliminate guns and by that I mean hand guns. In this country they are as plentiful as water. Everyone who even thinks of being a criminal of any kind has a handgun. If you get killed by the police you can give part of the credit to hand guns.

    1. ” In the United States we have police killing nearly 1000 people per year. Compare that to how many the police kill in England and France.”

      What is the per capita difference?

      1. It’s been well known in the software industry that technology can be racist – we’ve seen it with our own eyes. Most AI systems are learning based, so the behavior of the system is determined by the data that is used to train it. AI systems tend to be racist because the data is racist. For instance, movies before the 60s were loaded with negative black stereotypes, so if you were to train a learning system with movies the system would learn those racist stereotypes.

        People in the machine learning sector are well aware of this and work to counteract these problems, but McWhorter’s claim “Machines cannot, themselves, be racists” is pure nonsense. Machines will be as racist as they’re trained to be (just like people).

        1. Didn’t they arrest the computer at one stage in the Equity Funding Corporation of America accounting fraud case?

        2. It’s very dangerous to promote this “machines cannot be racist” nonsense, especially as law enforcement adopts AI tech.

        3. I do not think so. Racism requires self-awareness and animus. Machines presently do not have either. If a machine is programmed or learns to output racial epithets, it has no idea of the meaning of the words nor how they would affect a listener. AI or not, in this regard the machine is just a dumb robot. To ascribe to it an intention or feeling and call it racist is just nonsense.

          1. Racism requires self-awareness and animus.

            I don’t agree with that definition of racism. If a machine unfairly discriminates against a certain race, isn’t that racism?

            1. I think you are just getting caught up in language issues. We can refer to a machine, or a software process, as “racist” because it makes the same kind of choices a racist would make. Technically, it’s anthropomorphism but the language makes it hard to avoid sometimes. Plus it’s useful. Would we send the machine to a racial sensitivity training class? Probably not, but perhaps we might do the equivalent and re-train it on a different data set.

              1. I think you meant to direct that comment to me, not Mike. I hope it is not just another semantic issue. God I hate that. If someone trains his dog to attack people of a certain color, is the dog racist? You can define it that way, but I think that defines racism down. The dog has no concept of race in its brain, so it cannot be racist. Racism requires the entity to have a concept of race. All humans are the same to the dog except that it has been conditioned to attack if it detects a certain skin color. You could do the same with different color cats. The dog would attack its owner in blackface. It doesn’t hate a particular human because of his race. It just knows if he attacks a human showing a certain skin color it gets fed.

              2. You both seemed to be arguing on opposite sides. I was just pointing out that what you arguing about may be more of a trivial language issue than something of substance. We may say that something is racist when it acts as a racist would, even if that something is not an agent that we would normally accuse. Perhaps it recognizes that someone is to blame for the racism but we don’t yet know enough to trace it back to its ultimate cause. A facial recognition algorithm can be called racist even though everyone knows that the cause lies elsewhere, perhaps with its programmer, its owner, or an unintentional byproduct of how it was trained. There should be no reason to argue over that.

            2. A machine has no concept of “unfairly.” It does what it is programmed to do directly or indirectly by humans. The programming may simply have been badly designed as it was in some of the mentioned cases. What if the program is designed to distinguish blacks from whites for the purpose of affirmative action? Does that make the program meritorious?

              Perhaps if computers ever obtain AGI, your claims will have some merit. Right now they are premature.

              1. What if the program is designed to distinguish blacks from whites for the purpose of affirmative action? Does that make the program meritorious?

                If affirmative action is meritorious, then then the program is meritorious.

        4. Machines are tools and can be used by racists to further their ends, but it is senseless to say that the gun a racist uses to harm a black person is itself racist.

          1. I think the distinction here is that guns don’t make decisions, but more complex machines do. For instance, the decision whether or not to approve a credit application is often made by machines.

            1. I can agree that an algorithm can have discriminatory outcomes that may be good or bad, but to ascribe intent to the algorithm itself is not useful, IMO. The algorithm may have been designed by a racist to achieve racist goals. That I can get. Or perhaps it reflects implicit racism of the designer. Or perhaps it was just a dumb mistake by the designer.

        5. “It’s been well known in the software industry that technology can be racist…”

          If an AI predicts that young black men are more likely to commit crime would you regard that as racist?

  16. I’ve seen the Timpa case brought up as a whataboutist argument many times now.

    What’s important to understand though is that the only reason we even have video of his murder is because press and criminal justice advocates badgered the police for over a year to finally release the video. So yes, some people cared a whole lot about his killing, and it wasn’t the bad faith conservative Twitterati who never even mentioned his name before two weeks ago.

    Floyd’s murder was seen contemporaneously. The entire nation knew his name before the body was even cold because we had the video right then and there, not a year later.

    1. McWhorter specifically notes, “Timpa was, of course, one case and might be dismissed as an anomaly” before going on to argue his case.

  17. I am sympathetic to both sides of the argument but a personal experience made me question stereotyping. My wifes car was stolen out of the garage a few years ago. The local police came to investigate and the next thing I know I am being questioned as if I stole our own car. There actually footprints in the snow that I mentioned but he just said there are easier ways to get a new car. By the way, I am white but I think the officer just jumped to a conclusion because of lazy thinking. Later, the car was found by a stake out of a drug house by a neighboring police force. We got the car back.

  18. The US police reminds me of “McNamara’s Morons”.

    My question is, are there mental aptitude tests requirements for the US police?

    Perhaps someone with a low IQ just does not have the cognitive skills to police difficult situations.

    1. On this morning’s Fareed Zakaria GPS show, he had a segment about policing. A guest claimed that American police training was only something like 5 weeks, much shorter than in Europe, and that this meant they didn’t have time to teach cops the finer points of policing.

      1. Where I grew up in Reno NV (small city, lots of crime ’cause gambling, tourism and drug trade), a lot of people joined the police after high school because it was a better option than the military. They weren’t interested in college and I doubt many had opportunities in the “trades”. So the police force was composed of people without a lot of options; I think many just wanted authority they never had. That’s not a good way to recruit; sort of getting the dregs of society and making it easy for them to “succeed”. Give them a gun and badge and “go have at’em boys”. At least that’s the way I see it. Policing is a disparate business in these “United” States.

    2. Obviously:

      There’s a distribution in any population
      Better recruiting is part of the puzzle

      I know a few cops personally: They are not morons and they are not evil.

      Saying, “all cops a [bad, stupid], is just as silly as saying, “all black people are X.” (fill in the X)

  19. I found the McWhorter article unsatisfying. He acknowledges that there is racist bias relative to outcome–black people are overrepresented as victims of police violence–but then all he does is to suggest that this isn’t NECESSARILY evidence of police racism. There COULD BE other explanations such as a racial bias in poverty (which in any case begs questions about the existence and nature of systemic racism) and the amount of contact between cops and (poor) black people. But he makes very little effort to search for data from studies that might have tried to gather evidence of biased policing. Other people have made such an effort. See this lengthy Washington Post piece, for example:

    Overall, it seems irresponsible to raise the question (maybe police aren’t racist after all?) in a way that would give succor to those who don’t want a particular answer, without closing the loop and critically evaluating the evidence that would/could answer the question.

    1. I can’t read the Washington Post article because it’s behind a paywall. McWhorter’s piece includes reported statistics that he acknowledges “[…] lead to a general sense that cops treat black people as an enemy”. He simply points out that some white people are killed by cops in circumstances that many believe only happen in cases where the police are trying to apprehend a person of color. He accepts that the number of black people killed by police is disproportionately high (and that of whites, disproportionately low) but finds this equates to the proportions of both populations in poverty. His article, as he makes clear in his final sentence, is aimed at getting “where we all want to go” and to achieve this he believes we need to address the reality and not the rhetoric.

  20. Totally agree with him on the availability heuristic – in fact it’s been kind of alarming to see how easily people’s intuitions can be manipulated via media. I received an email from a company recently describing how it was unfair that mothers of black teenagers would now need to be in constant contact with them to know that they were safe from the police – indicating that this had suddenly skyrocketed to the leading cause of death for black teenagers, way above and beyond things like car accidents. I also see plenty of people on Twitter saying “This would never happen to a white person!”, when of course similar things do, in fact, happen to white people. Stuff that the most basic Google search would clear up – a lot of people really seem to assume that the world they see on the news is representative of all reality.

    I find this worrisome. If there are better systems we can create anywhere, regardless of the area, I am all for it. If there is a way to create kindler gentler police departments if we pour resources and energy into it – great, let’s do it. Anecdotally, for example, I’ve heard people online say good things about Camden’s new police department. Although it is early days with that, it may be a positive example. What worries me, however, is that it seems as if people may be acting out of moral panic, which rarely leads to well thought out outcomes. I think it’s important to look at data as well as highly emotional situations that are highlighted in the news. It worries me that this is being discouraged as unsupportive behavior.

  21. Y’all live in a police state, if the news is anything to go by. By the police, for the police. To serve and protect the police.

    I think there are two systemic problems – one, there is no national police force with uniform standards of conduct and competence. But there are far too many quasi-police forces, far too many ‘private armies’, and far too many little local police forces answerable to nobody except themselves and the local council – a recipe for corruption. Just check out ‘civil asset forfeiture’. In theory the state or the Feds could step in, but how far does it have to go and how often does that happen?

    Secondly, there are guns everywhere, which just results in an arms race, and when you’re holding a gun everything starts to look like a target. I’ve seen comments about how unwise it is to expect the military to do policing but some of those SWAT teams (who needs them?) look exactly like stormtroopers.

    I have the luxury to live in a country (New Zealand) where the police don’t carry guns (they may have them in their cars, well hidden out of sight). Every couple of years some cop here gets carried away and thinks he’s Elliot Ness but they’re fairly rare and usually get weeded out. The police do not want cowboys. Just recently the police did try out an ‘armed response unit’ but the trial was abandoned, ostensibly because of complaints that it disproportionately targeted Maoris and other minorities (which it probably did, de facto rather than intentionally) but I suspect also for PR reasons – the sight of gun-toting heavies in black armour gives the average New Zealander the shudders and the police don’t want to be seen as the enemy. In particular, I’m sure recent events in the US have given them a good example of what to avoid.

    I have to say my occasional encounters with the police for discussions over the performance of my car have generally been amicable and have taken place in a far better atmosphere than if the cop was carrying a gun.

    How y’all get out of the toxic mess you’re in I have no idea but ditching the Second Amendment and Trump would be a start.


      1. The second amendment does not need to be ditched, just not cherry-picked. Just don’t leave the ‘well organized militia’ part out.
        Trump will be ditched in a few months (d*g willing), but that in itself will not be sufficient to reform. How much of the present enthusiasm will be left in a few months?

        1. The SCOTUS has ruled, repeatedly, and pretty definitively the latest time (DC handgun case), that the individual right to own guns is in the 2nd Amendment.

          Not saying I agree with this.

          1. DC v. Heller was a 5-4 decision. Majority – Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito. Dissenters were, Jr.Stevens , Souter, Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer. One vote is not all that decisive. One appointment and it could change under a next president. Note that the word “militia” is explicit in the second amendment. This was ignored by the majority.

  22. When I was 20 traveling with a friend to a State where 20 years was legal for drinking, we were accosted on our way back in a State where it wasn’t legal to drink at that age by a State Trooper. I’m not sure what our blood alcohol was but likely substantial. He gave us a ticket and told us to park by the highway for a couple of hours before driving home. He did not place us in handcuffs or threaten us with arrest. We showed up a month later before a magistrate who fined us $75 each. A few years later when I joined the Air Force I confessed to this crime. However they weren’t able to find it. I suspect my $75 went into the magistrate’s bank account, with possibly a percentage into the police officer’s account. I would like to know why they would put anyone parked in a car sleeping it off into handcuffs.

  23. There have been other studies that reached similar conclusions. I must agree with the data. The idea that cops are slaughtering blacks on the street (I’ve read some commentators go as far as call it genocide) is a myth.

    However, I do believe that the USA is suffering today from it’s past unresolved racism. I’m no Critical Theorist, but the obvious frustrations of the black community can’t just be hand waived away.

    Dating back to the failed reconstruction (which in turn was exacerbated by Sherman’s brutal scorch Earth war policy), our policies have been woefully inadequate in resolving the plight of African-Americans.

    With that said, I am a bit of a ‘Respectability Politics’ adherent. Using Rap music as a proxy for black culture, there is a fair amount of misogyny, anti-nuclear family, anti-education, pro-violence and pro-criminal gang activity that they would do well to discard.

    1. Valuing education is often identified as being “anti-black” in “urban” communities in the US. This is certainly prevalent in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

      It’s abundantly clear that a person’s race doesn’t determine their ability to learn. However, their attitudes and those of the culture that surrounds them can affect it.

      The path out of poverty is: Education.

  24. McWhorter says:

    “Higher aggregate crime rates lead to more encounters with police officers overall”

    I picked this because it was included in bold and this is just not true.

    1. People who steal flat-screen TVs and pairs of sneakers (I don’t condone this) encounter police more reliably than Hedge fund managers trading millions on illegal insider tips and all other kinds of assorted thuggery that happens on Wall Street. We have seen cops jump on kids shoplifting (again I don’t condone shoplifting) – I have never seen this happen to men in suits and ties stealing money from grandma’s pension fund. Think of how many rich crooks got arrested during the financial crisis of 2008 (hint: 1: Bernie Madoff – his crime was that he stole from other rich people; perhaps in 2008, he should have stuck to illegally foreclosing homes of poor people and he would have found himself working in the Trump administration like Steve Mnuchin)

    2. If you are rich, you often get to decide what is legal and what is not. They have lobbyists and industry groups who help you do that. Things such as allowing stock buybacks, tax evasion using offshore accounts, buying deadly weapons, etc, all used to be illegal or should be illegal but is all totally legal. Again I dont see the cops busting in one of the offices of these people and hauling them out in a degrading way.

    People who are at the receiving end of police brutality understand this even if perhaps some of the simplistic slogans (and I agree there are a few) don’t do full justice to the fact that this is a truly complex intersectional issue which relates to both race and class. Are black people poorer than white people – in general yes. There are lots of reasons for that – one of the main ones is that blacks have been systematically excluded from the single-biggest creator of inter-generational wealth in the US – i.e: owning property. This exclusion was explicit in the past, now it is more subtle. We know property taxes fund schools and the problem perpetuates. This is just one example, there are many.

    A lot of people would rather the cops not check in on the MAGA thugs marching with guns in state government buildings or the Bundy ranch people taking over a federal property. If some people did this, they would rightly be condemned as “terrorists” while others who do the same of course as we know are “patriots”. It is just not true that, “Higher aggregate crime rates lead to more encounters with police officers overall” – or if it is true, it is true only because we have agreed as a society that a lot of crime is not considered to be a crime. And we would rather the cops control the poor and the unwashed masses and not get in the hair of the rich.

    McWhorter is trying to argue against a straw-man as if the only argument that there is here is the simplistic one that he is trying to debunk without taking into account the intersectionality of race and class and their interplay.

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