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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Critical Thinking Exercise

There are more than 6,000 African-American homicide victims a year. That is a very, very high rate, of about 34. (Those rates are usually given in numbers per 100,000.) The overall rate for the US is about 4 per 100,000. A civilized country like Spain as 0.8 per 100,000. A very violent country like Venezuela has 53; Honduras is worse.

Police killings of African Americans are in the range of about 100 per year. So what percent is that of total homicides. Let's see... [does math in head]: 1% is 60, so 2%, rounding up a bit.

Since we don't want police to kill unarmed civilians at all, even one such person in this category is too much. We are outraged, justifiably. It is an abuse of state power, and that brings greater outrage, because it makes all of us complicit in the crime.

Most child abuse is not by the hand of priests. Yet we are more outraged by their abuse than by almost any other set of child abusers. Why is that? The church is supposed to be better than that. So outrage at those scandals is actually a back-handed form of respect: we respect those institutions implicitly, police or church, and hold them to a much higher standard. Suppose parents habitually dropped their 11-year old boys and girls off at pool halls or strip clubs and other places of ill-repute. Yes, you would pretty much condemn that as bad parenting. We expect the Catholic church to be better than a pool hall. It might actually be safer than the pool hall, but when it isn't our reaction is predictably stronger.

The conservative argument attempts to minimize the importance of police shootings by comparing them to the much vaster numbers of killings, the 98% that is not at the hand of the police. The typical liberal argument carries the false implication that the police are the main killers of black people. Both those narratives are really kind of dumb. We are right to be outraged by any abuse of state power, and it doesn't matter very much that this is only 2%. On the other hand, if our main concern is with the violent loss of human life, then the other 98% is also significant.


Vance Maverick said...

True, but also consider how much time we spend with priests, versus with our families and friends: clearly even the faithful are with priests less often, so we'd expect the rate of child abuse by priests to be lower. Similarly, even African Americans (imagine a grim and bitter expression here) spend less time with police than with civilians, so we'd expect the rate of killing by police to be low.

Jonathan said...

Yes, but Blacks have disproportionate contact with the police. They are arrested more often, etc... Consider the idea of the "talk" that black parents have with their children. Watch out for the police, be very cautious and respectful. The police are indeed dangerous, but as you point out you are more likely to be killed by a family member or acquaintance, and that is true for everyone.

It is almost certainly the case that that the average encounter with a police officer is more lethal than the average encounter with a random person. That's an angle I hadn't considered. Imagine two kinds of poisonous snakes, one which you are around all the time and strike now and then, the other which you see more rarely, but are more venomous. Even though the first kind of snake does more damage to the community, the community reserves its wrath for the more venomous one.

clarissasblog.com said...

"Most child abuse is not by the hand of priests. Yet we are more outraged by their abuse than by almost any other set of child abusers."

- This really depends on who the "we" are. I'm definitely not one of the "we" because I don't come from a strong religious tradition. Since I don't come from the school of thought that expects anything better or anything just even remotely positive from priests, I'm not more outraged by child abuse by priests. I'm a lot more outraged by parental child abuse.

Jonathan said...

That confirms my point, I think. If you don't think of the church that way in the first place your outrage will be less. It could be too that you are a critical thinker and know that more abuse is perpetuate in the family.

Leslie said...

"The typical liberal argument carries the false implication that the police are the main killers of black people."


delagar said...

Yes, I have to agree with Leslie. I've never heard any liberal imply that the police are the main killers of black people. I'd been deeply shocked if many (or any) liberals think that.

And "disproportionate contact" with police does not equal more contact with police than with one's own community. Even if you are being stopped frequently by the police, as happens to many black males in NYC, for instance, you are still spending the vast majority of your time with people who are not police. I think Vance's point is correct, in other words.