Violent Crime, Not Police Abuse, Is The Real Threat To Black Americans

John Lott President, Crime Prevention Research Center
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Yesterday’s “Nationwide Day of Rage for Ferguson,” demonstrations that were planned to protest police violence against blacks for the 51 cities across the U.S., was a bust. Is it possible that most blacks believe that violent crime, not the threat of police, is the real danger that threatens black Americans, particularly young black males?

The high point of protests was a mere 40 people showing up outside the White House. Some 20 to 30 people showed up in cities such as Boston, Denver, and Des Moines. In places such as St. Louis and Oakland, virtually no one seemed to turn up.

While a new Gallup poll shows blacks have less confidence in police and the criminal justice system than whites, the gaps are hardly overwhelming. Thirteen percentage points more blacks have very little/no confidence in police (25 percent versus 12 percent) and ten percentage points more feel that way about the criminal justice system (40 percent versus 30 percent). But on the honesty and ethics of police, the gap is even smaller – seven percent say it is low/very low (17 percent to 10 percent).

As each day passes, Michael Brown looks more like a thug, not an innocent victim. Unsubstantiated news reports indicate Officer Darren Wilson “suffered severe facial injuries, including an orbital (eye socket) fracture, and was nearly beaten unconscious by Michael Brown moments before firing his gun.” The 6’4”, 292 pound Brown had just manhandled a store clerk 15 minutes before his altercation with Wilson.

Yet, Wilson, who in February received a commendation for “extraordinary effort in the line of duty” and never had a complaint lodged against him, was instantly viewed as the guilty party in Brown’s death.

Many have made up their minds that Wilson is guilty. On Sunday, Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-MO) had no doubt: “this entire case of the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer.” Democrat Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s characterization of Brown as the “victim.”  Twice within a week, Obama complained: “There’s no excuse for excessive force by police.”

Within days of the shooting, Michael Brown’s family released an angry statement blaming, Darren Wilson, the police officer: “execution style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender.”

These feelings don’t come out of thin air. Black pepole have legitimate historical grievances over how they have been treated by police. But today the main problem facing the black community is black-on-black crime.

Many black people have their lives disrupted by the criminal justice system, but the lives and property of many blacks are also protected by that same system. The average black person is 6.5 times more likely to be murdered than the average white person. But the police aren’t the ones killing blacks. Over nine out of every ten black people who were murdered were murdered by other black people.

The claims of current discrimination by police are weak. Take NBC’s Meet the Press this past Sunday, Andrea Mitchell claimed she had proof of racism in Ferguson’s law enforcement: “I think with a 67 percent African American community here, Wesley, and 83 percent is the arrest rate and incarceration rate is 93 percent African American, which shows you are targeting blacks.” Unfortunately, as just noted, blacks generally commit crimes at higher rates than other groups. Indeed, if blacks in Ferguson were to commit murders at the same per capita rate that blacks do nationally they would make up 94.2 percent of those incarcerated.

If we want to protect blacks, we need more police, not fewer, in black communities. But that will mean even higher arrest rates for blacks. The question is whether we want to protect black victims or black criminals.

With these murders heavily involving drug gangs, radical solutions that would take the profits out of drug gangs should be considered, including possibly legalizing drugs.

In Chicago, it costs around $700 to go through the process of getting a concealed handgun permit. Poor, law-abiding blacks living in high crime urban areas are the very ones who are disarmed by such rules.

Surely an argument can be made for a more diverse police force, though it is dangerous to do that by lowering the standards of those who become officers.

The demonstrations might have fizzled as potential marchers might have realized that Brown was a very risky person to lionize. There is a chance that Brown was a thug. And if he preyed on the store clerk and the police officer, he probably also preyed on lots of other people. Whatever the evidence eventually shows on Brown, one thing is clear: violent crime is the real threat to black Americans.

John Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a former chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission.  He is the author of eight books including “More Guns, Less Crime” (University of Chicago Press, 2010, 3rd edition).