Andrew Sullivan immerses himself in hot water by saying “only some black lives matter”

December 6, 2020 • 1:30 pm

The mantra “All Lives Matter” is rightfully criticized as an effort to marginalize black people, for it’s an attempt to practice “whataboutery” on the slogan “Black Lives Matter”, words meant to emphasize that black people count just as much as white ones. It’s an anti-racist slogan, and a good one, even though the movement has been coopted for some goals with which I disagree.

But title of Andrew Sullivan’s new Weekly Dish piece (click below if you have a subscription) might sound just as offensive to people of color, even though it’s not meant to do down racial justice. Rather, Sullivan is pointing out that the number of black people killed by other black people dwarfs the number of unarmed African-Americans killed by cops (and not all of those cops are white). And yet, he argues, if black lives do matter, why is this problem given so much less attention?

Now you may say that the statement that “Only some black lives seem to matter” (Andrew means “the ones killed by cops”) also tries to diminish the problem of police racism, but that’s not what Sullivan is about here, for he notes that “there remains a real problem with police interaction with African-Americans.” As he says,

. . . . killing by a representative of the state is a much, much graver offense than that by a fellow civilian. We should take it much more seriously than regular crime. That’s why I favor every measure to increase accountability from the police — tackling their unions, de-militarizing their equipment, ending qualified immunity, putting more resources into de-escalation training, and so on.

But then he goes on to quote the data, and after that highlights the folly, in view of that data, of calling for reducing policing, whether it be by eliminating cops or “defunding” them to the point that crime prevention and protection is seriously diminished.  I’ll give a few quotes from the article, as the data should be seen by anyone who deals with these issues:

Nationally the toll on black lives from violence is shockingly disproportionate. The data from 2019 show 7,484 homicides of African-Americans, compared with 5,787 homicides of whites. That we have become used to this discrepancy doesn’t make it any less awful: African-Americans form only 13 percent of the population and yet comprise 54 percent of homicide victims. If you look at black men alone, it’s even worse. They comprise less than 7 percent of the population and a whopping 46 percent of the murder victims. Black men, in other words, are over six times more likely to be killed than the general population — and young black men face even worse odds.

Increasingly black children and minors are victims as well. . .

. . . It is not therefore an exaggeration to say that African-Americans are being gunned down in America vastly out of proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole. We’ve heard this truth before, of course, but usually when talking of police shootings. And it’s true that police disproportionately kill black men — 26 percent of fatal police shootings are of black men, compared with their 7 percent of the population as a whole. This is a vital, troubling issue that deserves attention. But the disproportion for African-Americans killed by civilian shootings is almost twice as skewed as that for those killed by cops.

And the scale of it is on an entirely different level. In 2019, 243 black men (including only 13 unarmed black men) were shot dead by cops. In comparison, a whopping 7,484 were killed by civilians. If you believe that black lives matter, where is the outrage about that 7,484? If Travis Nagdy, a young man of color, had been killed by a cop, you would know his name by now. Because he was killed by a civilian, you probably don’t.

I live in a city where these statistics are often in our face on the evening news. Time after time we hear about black teenagers or kids shot, often accidentally, and the toll can be brutal. So far this year in Chicago, 715 people have been victims of homicide—227 more than in all of 2019. Most of these killings are on the South and West sides, areas where black and Hispanic people live. In 2016, a year for which I could find data, 75% of the 762 murder victims in Chicago were black, and 71% of murderers were black; yet in the city as a whole, 30.1% of the residents are black.  It is a valid question—one apart from that of police brutality—why blacks disproportionately kill each other so often. And if you do think that black lives matter, as most good people do, then surely this is a problem that must be addressed. (Gun control, in my view, is one of several solutions.)

There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that one of the solutions is NOT less policing.  Those who call for that are, in my view, lunatics: so woke that nobody’s life means much to them. Yes, by all means reform the police, involve social workers when police alone won’t do, and get ride of hyper-militarization. But in view of statistics like those above, cutting way back on policing is not the answer. In fact, American blacks are in general against reducing policing, as Sullivan notes (and the bolded bit, which is my emphasis, will get him into that hot water):

Yes, I know many now insist that abolishing or defunding the police is not their real agenda. And for some, that may be true. But the record is quite clear: abolition of the police and of incarceration was exactly what many BLM activists and critical race theorists demanded, and still demand. It’s what the Minneapolis City Council voted for last June. It’s what Ilhan Omar explicitly demanded. It’s what the autonomous zone in Seattle enforced. It’s what BLM’s DC branch explicitly endorsed. It’s what the newly elected congresswoman Cori Bush supports. It’s what was painted on the streets of DC in letters large enough they could be read from an airplane. Abolition, in fact, is integral to critical race theory, and its view of the police as mere extensions of “white supremacy”, even when police departments are often very racially diverse or majority black, and run by black police chiefs.

It is no accident that the killing of George Floyd prompted a massive outpouring of protest while no such national movement emerged in response to, say, the killing of a one-year-old child in Brooklyn. Black lives matter, it seems. But some black lives matter more than others — depending entirely on who took them.

This left-progressive view is not one shared by most African-Americans. Or, for that matter, by leading and successful black pols like Barack Obama and James Clyburn and the late John Lewis. Polling in 2018 showed that only a small minority — 18 percent in one survey — opposed hiring more police officers, while 60 percent want more cops and more funding. A Gallup poll this summer found that “61 percent of Black Americans said they’d like police to spend the same amount of time in their community, while 20 percent answered they’d like to see more police, totaling 81 percent. Just 19 percent of those polled said they wanted police to spend less time in their area.” So mostly white leftists last summer campaigned for something a hefty majority of actual African-Americans oppose. And, of course, it is the African-American community that endures the murderous consequences.

The notion that the cops are universally reviled in the African-American population is just as false. In a Vox/Civis analysis poll, 58 percent of black Americans said they have a favorable opinion of their local police. In the Gallup survey, 61 percent are “very confident” or “somewhat confident” about “receiving positive treatment” by police.

It seems to me, and here Sullivan agrees, that the “defund the cops” movement is a drive led mostly by well-off white people that is against the wishes of most black people.

Reformation of police departments is much to be desired, and will go a long way towards easing the feelings of many blacks that the cops put targets on their backs. But even if we bring down the number of unarmed blacks shot by cops to zero, the huge problem of homicide in the black community will remain. Who in their right mind would say that the solution is to get rid of the cops?

54 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan immerses himself in hot water by saying “only some black lives matter”

  1. The mere recitation of those statistics by Sullivan comprises one of the most courageous pieces of writings he has ever done, and I have been reading him since the 1980s.

    It has been essentially taboo and self-cancelling to make reference to those kinds of statistics, especially by a white male, and imply that the issue may be cultural and something that can be addressed via cultural changes. We know that in “Woke” orthodoxy, victims are believed to have no agency. In fact, the presence of agency disqualifies almost thoroughly from the victim category.

    Here is Dr. John McWhorter, Columbia University, addressing the topic from a slightly different angle:

  2. Gun control, in my view, is one of several solutions.

    And ending the war on drugs. Make all drug use legal. Have registered suppliers provide the stuff to any adult. Instant and massive reduction in crime (and in spending on prisons, etc).

    1. Here here! I used to be a criminal defense attorney in drug court in NYC, now I write articles about drugs, I’ve studied the medicine of them for years. Oh, and I take some from time to time. I know quite a bit about this topic as it happens.

      The WoD is The Worst Mistake we’ve made in the last century. It started in 1913 w/ the Harrison Act. Not only is it racist (it is), it denies that it is the PROHIBITION of the drugs which causes nearly all the damage we see – the crime, violence, misery and the OD deaths. The more you learn about this topic the more you see we have our priorities ass-backwards. Plus, our stupid WoD destroys many countries to the south of us. I’d vote for ANY politician who’d end it, INCLUDING TRUMP whom I can’t stand (were that politician able to end it, unfortunately they wouldn’t be).
      D.A., J.D.,

  3. I have two suggestions- One is replace the slogan ‘defund the police’ with ‘train the police’, and the other is replace the term ‘public intellectual’ with ‘intellectual troll’ for those who find provocative labels for their rather mundane ideas, so that they can claim victim status when they’re misunderstood.

  4. This so totally misses the point. What makes the killing of Black Americans by police so heinous is the perversion of the justice system. When Black people are killed, the deaths are treated as slightly messy inconvenience by the justice system. Often the killers are let free and if they are police, they don’t even lose their jobs. We rely on the police to protect us, and when they are killers instead of protectors, there is no justice, and THAT is the tragedy that is an integral part of our culture. The killing of Black people by Black people is a tragedy but on the same level as the killing of White people by White people. It is whether the killings are prosecuted and punished that illustrates the essential racism in our culture.

    1. Yes, the US police are too aggressive and kill too many (they do have to deal with an armed populace of course). But it’s hard to find actual evidence that blacks are treated worse than whites in who gets killed. (Yes, more are killed than their proportion of the population, but once you factor in that they are a younger population, and are more likely to live in inner-city, high-crime-rate areas, and also that they commit homicides at a higher rate, the disparity is explained.) And cops who kill whites also tend to get off (e.g. the Daniel Shaver videoed killing and acquittal).

    2. It would not surprise me to learn that in all aspects of the justice system black men are treated unfairly to white men for similar crimes. For example, it could very well be true that blacks accused of breaking and ending may end up incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites. If such biases do in fact exist, the legacies of slavery and racism would be a major cause. Still, to prove the case, we need to go beyond anecdotes. Probably statistical analyses exist on these questions. If so and they bear out the hypothesis then the major thrust of protest should agitate for justice system reform. Focusing on police malfeasance and calls to defund it will not deal with the structural changes needed in the justice system.

      1. When I was first starting out and used to attend morning cattle calls in court — especially on Monday mornings when the judges would handle first appearances for arrests over the weekend — I used to sit there sometimes and think to myself, “if ET were to land in a courthouse, he’d think that earthlings spent their youth as black and brown men dressed in prison coveralls, then later maturated into white guys with gray hair in dark suits and black robes.”

        1. HHAHAH. Killer. ET would indeed think that.
          Ahh the Monday morning case backlogs! It takes me back and its only been 12 years. Seems like longer (and damn it I’m only 50! Old enough to know what ET is though)

  5. If he had just said, ‘… But some lives seem to matter, in the woke mindset, more than others…’, he’d have been all right. I don’t get it. He’s a very experienced media commentator—I’d have thought being absolutely precise and explicit about to whom he was attributing that attitude would be quasi-instinctive with him, at this point in his career.

  6. Unconvincing attempt to gain sympathies by claiming whites are the problem.

    Blacks are, unsurprisingly, more in line with BLM demands than whites. This includes less opposition to defunding the police. 2016 GSS: and newer stats from YouGov:

    And of course, BLM has never pretended to be about anything other than white-on-black violence. So why bring up black-on-black crime percentages?

    1. “BLM has never pretended to be about anything other than white-on-black violence.”

      You might want to read their charter.

    2. well, one might bring up black-on-black violence because, to first order estimate, it is the only thing that matters in terms of reducing violent deaths of young black men. 97% of the problem is the overwhelming majority of it (Capt. Obvious there). Why would one focus their energy and time on the 3% problem instead of the 97% problem? Even if you solve the 3% problem 100 percent, you haven’t moved the needle on the problem at all.

      And I’ll answer my own question: Politics.

      The same reason that poor school performance is 100% blamed on schools, teachers, principals, and the rest of society, not on those most directly responsible for it: The students and their parents. Kid is truant 60% of the time? School’s fault. Parents never come to conferences, never respond to email or phone calls? School’s fault. Kid never does homework? School’s fault. Mentioning the parents’ and kids’ responsibility in this context is a political third rail. They talk about the achievement gap nearly every day on my local NPR station. Do they ever mention that parents and kids might have some effect on this? They do not.

      1. Of course we should be driving the number of unarmed people (of color or colorless) killed by police as close zero as possible.

        We should be concentrating on it. We should demand policies in PDs that correct for errors, that require better training, etc. Every incident is different. And they need to be evaluated on their details.

        Everyone should remember there are about ten million arrests per year in the US (pretty steadily dropping 1990-2019). So we are talking tenths of a part per million. When you get into rates that low, further improvement gets very hard and the cost curve steepens.

        And, from the cop’s perspective, any arrest in the US could play out like this:

        This isn’t going to be simple and it isn’t going to be easy. Just shouting “defund the police” is indulging in political platitudes.

        As Sullivan notes, Minneapolis is “enjoying” a dramatic attrition of MPD officers and a dramatic violent crime spree, including lots of car-jackings. I won’t be going into Minneapolis any time soon.

  7. Very interesting stats – I hope Sullivan doesn’t get in trouble because people don’t take the trouble to actually read his piece. The homicide figures for Chicago (population about 9.5 million assuming the Metropolitan Area is the region the homicides relate to?) are very troubling – for the whole of the UK (population about 67 million) the figure seems to be 809 (an increase of 40 on the previous year).

  8. Coleman Hughes discusses this same thing at more length, citing more stats, and he reaches the same “not all black lives matter to Black Lives Matter” conclusion. I’d encourage interested readers to consult his writings.

    I would be interested to read intelligent and thoughtful countervailing opinions on this topic, but I haven’t found any. Any suggestions?!

  9. It remains true that in the United States, people will only do the right thing after all else had failed. But in the case of guns even that may not be true. The answer to this problem is guns and nothing else really matters. The statistics alone should tell us this without further argument. What difference does it make how many cops are killing people and how many people are killing people. Ask the right question. What the hell are people in Chicago or any other city doing with guns. Specifically, hand guns. There is no reason that makes sense, but if you like killing then you will love guns in the city. If you remove the guns, the problem will go away. Sure some people will be killed with knives or automobiles but that will be far less than now. Just ask yourself what good are these guns?

    1. I’ve read that despite Chicago and Illinois’s stringent gun control laws, guns are smuggled in from Indiana. I’m not sure what can be done about this, but I hope someone will find a way to close the loophole.

      My less-than-practical solution would be for Illinois to forcibly annex Indiana, thereby reducing the number of red states, but I have a feeling that would create some controversy…

        1. GB, I am genuinely curious about what specific statutes or regulations you are calling for.

          As far as I know, no one is seriously advocating for outlawing handguns. Handguns are the gun issue. Long guns of all types account for less than 3% of gun homicide in the US. Bans on automatic rifles* is something of a distraction (from where the energy should be applied). It’s focusing on a miniscule slice of the problem.

          As a life-long gun owner and shooting enthusiast, I would be in favor of:

          1. Registering of every gun
          2. Holding gun owners legally responsible for the fate of their guns. They should be required to report all guns sales, losses, theft, gifting, etc. to the police or other government body.
          3. Close all sales loopholes for anonymous buying (gun shows, person to person, etc.)
          4. Legally require guns to be locked when not in use
          5. Require gun owners to complete a safety course prior to purchase
          6. Prohibit, among others, those on the terrorism watch list and convicted felons from owning guns.**
          7. Universal red-flag law
          8. Magazine size upper limit (8? 10?) No one needs a 40-round magazine for a handgun.
          9. Prohibit fully-automatic actions, bump-stocks, etc. that convert to high fire rates
          (I’m sure I am forgetting some of the things I would like to see.)

          Am I sanguine that any of the above measures will come in my lifetime? I am not.

          Given the world as we find it, prohibiting all guns in the US does not seem like a practical goal. Not in my lifetime anyway.

          The politics and practicalities do matter. One has to get the votes to pass such measures. One would not (I presume) want to turn currently law-abiding citizens into criminals by passing laws they will refuse to comply with.

          In Minnesota, you have to apply to your local county sheriff (I assume for a background check) in order to obtain a permit to purchase a handgun. No permit is required in Minnesota to purchase a long gun; but one fills in the same purchase form (but without the permit number) where those data go to the government.

          (* No company, as far as I can tell (I can’t claim an exhaustive search), manufactures a rifle with a semi-automatic action that is not in the military style anymore (they used to, when I was young). And we are only talking style here. A Remington 742 Woodsmaster fires just as fast as an AR-15 or an AK-M (and larger, after-market magazines are always available). People who pay for automatic rifles want the military style (these days), so that’s what the manufacturers produce. Picatinny rails can be retrofitted to any gun.)

          (** Many others are already prohibited, such as the mentally ill, those with restraining orders, etc. But, unfortunately, one can lie on the form you fill in to purchase a gun. I don’t know how these data are checked. Probably another area for improvement.)

          1. I support any and all legislative efforts to reduce or eliminate the availability of handguns. Your nine are fine with me. I will support those efforts and others which don’t succeed, too. I am not worried about what might not “sell well”, I’m tired of arguments about what can’t be done.

            I will happily melt down the 1848 Garibaldi rifle and bayonet* hanging in my living room if it gets caught up in legislation that reduces the amount of weaponry in hands of American citizens.

            * It is a civil war relic, rusty and not capable of firing anymore. But it is not a sacred fetish.

            1. Thanks for your reply.

              I hope some of those can be done. But I do not think it is likely.

              Nothing can be done outside the politics of it. It’s our democratic system. And there are (seems to me) too many nutters out there, who will vote every time. The big Trump turnout in November conforms to this conclusion. (Trump got 74M votes in 2020, contrasted to 63M in 2016. Biden got 81M, far, far higher than any previous candidate in raw vote count.)

              The cries for defunding the police work against efforts to limit access to guns. Riots and looting and arson do the same.

      1. “…guns are smuggled in from Indiana” makes it sound like substantial effort is required. In the 80’s when I was looking to test tear gas for a self-defense workshop, it was hard to come by—with laws against it, and even the internet was not cooperative in shipping to Illinois.

        Though no one could help me with that, living in Chicago, at least half a dozen did volunteer “But, if you wanted a gun…”

        1. Substantial effort probably is required. You can’t simply drive to a gun store in Indiana, buy a gun, and drive back home to Illinois. All legal firearm sales to a non-resident (whether from a dealer or a private party / gun show) must go through a federal licensee in the buyer’s home state. If you can’t prove Indiana residency, they’d be required to ship the firearm to a licensed dealer in your home state, who will apply all your local state laws before releasing it to you. That said, if you’re going to buy a gun illegally, I don’t know which place would be easier. 🙂

          I wonder if those people who suggested you could go to Illinois for a gun had ever tried it. There’s a common misconception that you can just drive across a state line to a gun store and walk out with a gun.

  10. I recall it was a city ordinance in Washington DC I think that ended up being the case that went to the men in robes that has lead to our guns unlimited society. However, if we want to get rid of hand guns we can. It only takes enough people who care and also know that guns are the cause of all of this. Forget about racism or some bad cops or who hates who, the answer is guns, hand guns.

      1. You would start by looking at any number of other countries who have done it. And look, the guy who lead that phony interpretation of the 2nd amendment is dead. The NRA is nearly dead. Just pass a law and do it.

        1. You ignore some critical factors.

          About 75% of the population does not even want a handgun ban, which makes it hardly acceptable in a democracy. This rate has steadily declined since the 1950s, when social trust was a lot higher and a majority agreed with you. But even back then, the US was not Australian and certainly not Japanese in that respect.

          But assuming it got legislated, how would you ever enforce it? In large parts of the country the police might not even comply. You could end up shooting otherwise law-abiding people who will not surrender their guns if they think tyranny is imminent. Many will hide manage to hide some of the hundreds of millions of guns, expecting that criminals will keep theirs. With the George Floyd riots in living memory, they might doubt that the government can keep law and order. The US has more crime than most first-world countries and some of the least safe cities in the world. And its institutions are deteriorating.

          Just show me that Chicago can be turned gun-free. Or drug-free, if that’s easier.

          1. I grew up in Australia and lived in Japan for 2+ years. They indeed have a better system (gun deaths in Japan are in the single figures) ….BUT… the cultures of both are entirely different to here. Unfortunately for what? 30-40K dead Americans each year.

            See my comments above about the “drug free”. We need to be “War on Drug-free” not drug free.

  11. To confuse violence by hoodlums with violence by law enforcement — the only entity sanctioned by a civilized society to employ violence in the protection of its citizens — is to mix kumquats and pomegranates. Here, let’s let Pulitzer-Prize-winner Leonard Pitts, Jr., one of the more eloquent voices American letters has produced on the matter over the past several decades, set it out for us, quick-like, in just a handful of paragraphs.

    Anyway, it’s not like the topic has escaped the notice of black people themselves. Leading black voices have been speaking out about it for as long as I can remember. Hell, I recall the 1980s — when I was still young enough to give a shit what was on MTV, and MTV finally matured enough to break its color-barrier and put some black music on the tube — when several black artists released records remonstrating against black-on-black violence.

    Black folk hardly need the likes of a white-bread boy like Andrew Sullivan to ‘splain the problem to ’em. Ain’t like pronouncements from his high-and-mighty perch are gonna make the matter any more tractable.

    1. I read Mr. Pitts’s essay.

      Whites kill whites and Hispanics kill Hispanics, and so on, mostly because they live in the same general areas, and often people they may sorta kinda know.

      What precipitated Sullivan’s essay wasn’t that it’s merely black on black, but the huge numbers involved. That’s the crux of his argument: Given the huge numbers of black shooters and victims, Is the social/media attention commesurate?

      Google and see how much writing on this has gotten into big time media in the past 6 months.

      BTW, Pitts doesn’t touch on the actual magnitude of numbers vis a vis other groups. That omission is typical of this kind of apologia

  12. Not long ago some BLM member yelled at me — on the street, with no provocation — “Black lives matter!”, to which I replied (as I pulled out my handgun and aimed it at him), “Not more than mine.”

    …Well, you never saw a fool turn around and run so fast. He was gone in seconds.

    Need I add that this was in Arizona, which is a “constitutional carry” state?

    –Leslie < Fish

    1. It’s ridiculous for you to pull a gun on someone who yells at you, no matter what he said and no matter what kind of state Arizona is. Don’t do that, and if you do, don’t brag about it here. Capice?

          1. I don’t have a subscription to that site so I can’t pull up the reference, but in general raising a weapon (including your fist) in apparent preparation to attack someone is assault, even if you don’t ultimately commit any attack. (If you actually punch someone then you’ve also committed battery.) The “deadly weapon” part is what makes it aggravated.

            1. FindLaw requires no subscription. You should be able to access the statutes I’ve cited simply by clicking on the links provided.

            1. Hi Ken, thanks.

              Yeah, I saw that in the linked site (13-1204) but I could only interpret it as: A deadly weapon was used in a physical assault. (As opposed to brandishing a weapon. Which could be considered a direct threat of violence which could then evoke a defensive pulling of a weapon or other action by the person so threatened.)

              I can definitely see it falling under 13-1203(A)(2). That seems clear to me.

    2. As someone who’s witnessed blacks on public transportation loudly demanding that random white people profess that black lives matter (and who’s read a couple local news stories about people stabbed when they refused), I can appreciate you standing up to that kind of random racial intimidation if in fact that’s what it was.

      But actually aiming a gun at the guy takes you into criminal territory.

  13. police disproportionately kill black men — 26 percent of fatal police shootings are of black men, compared with their 7 percent of the population as a whole

    That’s a rather strange way for Sullivan to present those figures, since they implicitly assume that men and women should be killed by police at the same rates. Most of the disproportion in those figures comes from the sex difference, so I guess we should be complaining primarily about police misandry and only secondarily about police racism.

    1. Men commit the vast majority of violent crime. 78% of the murder victims in the US are male.

      2011 US arrest data from the FBI:

      Males constituted 98.9% of those arrested for forcible rape
      Males constituted 89.5% of those convicted for murder
      Males constituted 87.9% of those arrested for robbery
      Males constituted 85.0% of those arrested for burglary
      Males constituted 83.0% of those arrested for arson.
      Males constituted 81.7% of those arrested for vandalism.
      Males constituted 81.5% of those arrested for motor-vehicle theft.
      Males constituted 79.7% of those arrested for offenses against family and children.
      Males constituted 77.8% of those arrested for aggravated assault

    2. There is a much more grim aspect to it: The black-white crime ratio often exceeds the male-female ratio. This is even true for murders (8-12*:1 vs 7:1). Also, getting away with crime is probably much harder for whites than blacks, because the former tend to stand out in their communities. Why do so many whites get killed by police? Are they playing “suicide by cop” a lot? You’d have to correct for circumstances like “pointed gun at officer” to get a more meaningful picture.

      * I’m including unsolved murders for the 12:1 ratio, and assume that they are not interracial, which seems reasonable for places like Baltimore or NYC

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