"The Genuine Danger Faced by Blacks..."

by Conor Friedersdorf

Jack Dunphy writes:

The real tragedy of this episode is that the genuine danger faced by blacks in America is not posed by racist police officers but rather by other blacks, particularly blacks armed with guns and lacking any moral constraints on using them. Black men make up only about 4 percent of the nation’s population, but in 2004 they accounted for 35 percent of its homicide victims, a figure I suspect has changed little since then. And the great majority of these black victims, as Mr. Gates surely knows, are killed by other black men.

But such facts just aren’t “box office” for Mr. Gates, who feigns indignation at his arrest but must be inwardly gleeful that his victim ticket has now been punched, courtesy of the Cambridge Police Department.

Several aspects of Mr. Dunphy's argument puzzle me. It is certainly a tragedy that many black people are murdered at the hands of other black people, but why is that "the real tragedy of this episode"? Whether or not it was justified, what does the arrest of a black Harvard professor on disorderly conduct charges have to do with the black murder rate?

Mr. Dunphy is right to assume that Professor Gates knows a great majority of black murder victims are killed by other blacks. So what? Why does Mr. Dunphy expect that a man being arrested in his own home -- rightly or wrongly -- would use the incident to draw attention to the utterly unrelated issue of black on black violence? What exactly would've been the transition in that press conference? "After being arrested today, I just want to say that black people should stop killing each other." Huh? I suppose if Mr. Dunphy thought himself wrongly arrested he would choose whatever social problem regards as most destructive for whatever racial group he belongs to and inveigh against it instead?

As an empirical matter, I agree that the black on black murder rate is a bigger threat to black Americans than racist police officers (I am not implying that the Cambridge officer is a racist). Again, I fail to see the relevance. A pregnant woman is most likely to be killed at the hands of her lover, and many more are beaten -- in fact, a pregnant women is far more likely to suffer domestic abuse than to be wrongfully arrested by misogynistic cops. Should a pregnant woman arrested for disorderly conduct therefore refrain from complaining about the police, and instead inveigh against domestic abuse, since that is "the genuine danger"?

In fact, there is no one "genuine danger" faced by any group of people. Both being murdered and being wronged by racist police officers are dangers that blacks in America face -- and for a specific black person, which danger is greater depends a lot on where they live, how old they are, etc. As an LAPD officer, Mr. Dunphy is surely familiar with the documented instances of racist cops in his own department, a distinct minority of officers to be sure, but a minority that's nevertheless famously sent some black men to the emergency room and others wrongfully to prison.

And insofar as there are racist cops who are mistreating people in black communities, the effect is to poison the relationship between whole neighborhoods and the police departments that serve them, something that exacerbates the murder rate by making it less likely that even the majority of good cops get the cooperation they need to solve cases -- and making black juries less likely to believe testimony by white officers against actual murderers (see Mark Fuhrman).

Finally, there isn't sufficient evidence one way or another to conclude that Professor Gates "must be inwardly gleeful that his victim ticket has now been punched." The assumption that he feels that way is rather odd.