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Race, Riots, And The Police

Coleman Hughes Fellow, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal
Jamil Jivani Author, Why Young Men
Rafael A. Mangual Fellow and Deputy Director of Legal Policy, Manhattan Institute; Contributing Editor, City Journal
Jason L. Riley Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute
Thu, Jun 18, 2020 EVENTCAST

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Race, Riots, And The Police

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Even as protests over the death of George Floyd devolved into riots reminiscent of 1960s-era unrest, activists have made “defund the police” a rallying cry. The turmoil has reignited important debates about race, policing, and the future of urban life.

What does racial justice look like in urban policy? How should America’s leaders think about public-order and policing amidst the current chaos? Join the Manhattan Institute’s Coleman Hughes and Rafael Mangual along with Jamil Jivani, author of Why Young Men, for an important discussion of these issues, moderated by Jason Riley.

Event Transcript

Jason Riley:

Welcome to the Manhattan Institute's event cast on race, riots, and the police. Thank you all for joining us for this important, and timely conversation. My name is Jason Riley. I'm a senior fellow here at the Manhattan Institute. And I want the viewers to know that throughout the program, please enter your questions on any of the platforms that you're watching us on, and we will either wrap them into the discussion, or save them for the Q&A at the end of the event. So, I just want everyone to know that before we get started.

Jason Riley:

So, as I said, this of course, could not be a more important or more timely conversation that we're going to have today. Since the death of George Floyd in police custody last month, we've seen nationwide unrest. We've seen protests not only here in America, but internationally. And we've also seen a certain narrative take hold. It starts with the assumption that the only way to properly view George Floyd's death is through a racial lens. In fact, all encounters between police and black suspects are increasingly viewed this way. It's a narrative that assumes the behavior of Derek Chauvin as typical police behavior toward black suspects.

Jason Riley:

And it assumes that George Floyd is a black every man in America, that what happened to him happens to black people all the time. That blacks, essentially, leave the house each day worried about having a violent encounter with police. The media has run with this narrative, which faces very little pushback, very little skepticism. And it leaves us with the impression that the biggest problem facing black America today are in fact the police. That law enforcement is at the root of social inequality in America.

Jason Riley:

And so, we find ourselves in the middle of a national conversation about policing. There are calls to defund the police and abolish prisons. There's legislation being discussed in Congress that would make it easier to prosecute cops and fire them. We have armed radicals that have taken over entire neighborhoods of a major city like Seattle, that includes a police precinct, that has been abandoned. And these people have the mayor's blessing in doing so. There are commentators who are not only making excuses for the rioting, and the looting, but indeed cheering it on to a large extent. So, what's going on here? And that's the point of this event today. We've invited some panelists to talk about that. I'm particularly interested in what they have to say because they fall within the demographic group in whose name all of this is happening.

Jason Riley:

That is they are young men of color. They're supposed to be the biggest beneficiaries of what's being advocated in the wake of George Floyd's death. So, let's get to our panelists. I'll briefly introduce them. And then we can get started with the questions. First up we have, Jamil Jivani, who's a lawyer and author. And who heads a nonprofit organization aimed at helping young people called Road Home Research & Analysis. Is a graduate of Yale Law School, and the author of the book, Why Young Men: The Dangerous Allure of Violent Movements and What We Can Do About It.

Jason Riley:

And I hope we get a chance to talk about that book. Our next panelist is Ralph Mangual, who's a deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute. And has written widely on urban crime and policing, and the criminal justice system in general. And finally, we have Coleman Hughes, who's just recently joined the Manhattan Institute and is a graduate of Columbia University. Coleman has testified before Congress about slavery reparations, and he's written widely about race for any number of publications, including the New York Times, and Wall Street Journal, and Quillette.

Jason Riley:

So, let's get started with the questions, gentlemen. And I thought I would start with you Ralph. And with a very basic question, that I think a lot of people have assumed, but I wanted to get your take on this. And that is, do we know that the Floyd encounter with police was racially motivated? That it happened because Floyd is black. Can we make an assumption? And if not, why have so many people jumped to that conclusion?

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, so, I mean, it sounds like a simple question, but I think the answer is pretty complicated. The short answer is no, I don't think that we can make that assumption because as far as I've seen there's just no evidence that officer Chauvin harbored racial animus that motivated his actions that day, which were reprehensible irrespective of what his views on race are. But I think the reason that so many people have assumed that this was racially motivated is because the event fits into a preexisting rhetorical structure, right? That rhetorical structure is built upon the assumption that policing is a system that was built to perpetuate [inaudible 00:06:21].

Rafael Mangual:

And so, when you have a terrible instance of misconduct like the case of George Floyd, when the officer is white, and the victim is black, the question of motivation is assumed. It's considered to be a foregone conclusion. And as to what some of the reasons for that are, I can only speculate. I think one might be the power that we've seen that these narratives can have to drive change, and to obscure facts that get in the way of the change that a lot of people have been capitalizing on these events to effect.

Jason Riley:

I'd like to ask you the same question Coleman, why have so many people assumed this was a racial incident? And do you agree with Ralph that it might have something to do with fitting a narrative that maybe some activists, some political types, some more progressive commentators want to push?

Coleman Hughes:

Yeah, absolutely. I agree with Ralph that the short answer is we don't know if it was racially motivated. That sounds crazy to people who haven't been paying attention to the full range of people who get killed by police in this way, but it's worth reminding people there was a white man named Tony Timpa who died in a very similar way under the knee of a Dallas police officer for 13 minutes in 2016. And that was released on video. And it didn't spark as much outrage as the George Floyd incident, which leads to your question, which is why is it that people view this as something that only happens to black people? And the answer lies in the massive coverage bias in the national media. Dozens of white people, at least a dozen, sometimes several dozen unarmed white people get killed by the cops every year.

Coleman Hughes:

And those stories just die in the black hole of local news, they never escape and make it to national news. So, people who are just following the news casually, understandably, get the false impression that this kind of thing overwhelmingly or only happens to black people. And in many ways it's not their fault because it's what the national media has fed them. And then the question becomes, why is there that coverage bias in the national media? Why have we heard about George Floyd but almost no one knows the name Tony Timpa? And the answer to that, I think it has something to do with an understandable sense.

Coleman Hughes:

I can certainly speak for myself, but I think many Americans were raised watching and rewatching the videos of white police officers brutally hosing, and sticking the dogs on civil rights protestors in the '60s, peaceful protesters. And that kind of mold is imprinted in many ways on the country's moral imagination and almost ingrained in our sub-conscience. So, when we see a white officer doing something to a black man, it actually hits the American mind much differently, and much more poignantly than if we saw a white officer doing the same thing to a white suspect or a black officer doing it to a white suspect, or a black suspect.

Jason Riley:

Jamil, do you agree with Coleman that the media plays a role here in helping people jump to these conclusions, regardless of whether all the facts have been laid out that white cop, black suspect must be something fishy going on here? What role does the press play in leading people to jump to conclusions?

Jamil Jivani:

Yeah, I mean, I do think that the media does play a role. Certainly, the media helps direct our attention to some cases and not others, but part of why the media has the control on that narrative is that it is speaking to a reality. And that reality is disproportionality, and the way disproportionality works in our society. I think when people see George Floyd, for example, being killed by a police officer, it is objectively more likely that it would happen to George Floyd because he's black than it would happen to a white person. And that disproportionality is a source I think of genuine frustration and concern.

Jamil Jivani:

I think a lot of black people across America know that they're more likely to be stopped by the police. They're more likely to interact with the police. They're more likely to have a negative encounter with the police than a white person. Now, why that is the case, I think deserves a much more nuanced conversation than the media currently makes space for. But I do think we need to acknowledge that that is a reality that black people are disproportionately experiencing law enforcement in this way. And I think the media wants to point us to certain explanations over others for why that may be the case.

Jason Riley:

Well, let's have that more nuanced conversation. I mean, that's part of why we wanted to have this panel. So, black encounters with police, the rate of those encounters, why is it so much higher than with other groups? Are the police picking on blacks? Are they over-policing these communities? Do they have it in for blacks? What explains this disproportionate number of encounters between black communities and police officers?

Jamil Jivani:

Well, a big part of that I think is the way violent crime is dispersed in a city, and in a given geographic area. If you live in a majority black neighborhood, you're more likely to be exposed to gang violence, gun crimes. You're more likely to have to worry whether your kids are going to make it home safe after going to school, or going to visit a friend's house. And so, you're calling the cops, and you're relying on the cops to provide some stabilizing presence for community safety. And because of that, black people are going to interact with the cops in a disproportionately higher rate.

Jamil Jivani:

Is prejudice and bias a factor? I'm sure it is just like prejudice and bias is a factor in every other part of life. It's part of how human beings think and experience the world. But I do think that the way violent crime is distributed in American cities is a big part of why police are having more common interactions with black individuals than others.

Jason Riley:

Okay. Ralph, Jamil says that racism still exists. It could be playing a role here in the way communities are policed. Congress is right now considering some reforms, including making it easier to fire cops, or prosecute cops. Police aren't perfect, [inaudible 00:13:26] central database for police that have been disciplined. So, they can't move to another state, join the force, and hide their backgrounds, and so forth. I'm just curious what you make of these reforms in general on principle, whether you think they're good? But more importantly, how much of a difference do you think these reforms will make when it comes to getting at the problem Jamil was talking about?

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah. I mean, look, I think that's really the right question. And before you answer it, I think we have to get a realistic picture of just how big of a problem police violence is, right? One of the problems as I see it within this broader debate is that there's been this toxic narrative that's caught fire, particularly, in the black community, which says that policing as an institution can be fairly characterized by unjustifiable uses of force, the majority of which are purposefully reserved for black and brown people. This is false, right? Police use of force is extremely rare. And that's true, whether we're talking about lethal force or non-lethal force, right? Lethal force is used in about 0.003% of all arrests. And that's coming from estimates from 2018, where police made 10.3 million arrests, and fired their weapons an estimated 3043 times.

Rafael Mangual:

When it comes to non-lethal force, it's generally used in less than 1% of all arrests, right? This does not evidence a large scale problem. And that's the first practical limit that a lot of these popular reform proposals are going to face in terms of the difference that they could make, which is to say that because the problem with police violence is so overblown, there just really isn't all that much room for improvement, right? And police have made incredible progress on this front over the last several decades.

Rafael Mangual:

And this is just one of the political problems is that they've gotten absolutely no credit for that progress, right? In 1971, the NYPD fired their weapons more than 800 times. They wounded more than 220 people, and killed almost 100. By 2016, those numbers were down to 72, 20 something, and nine, respectively. None of that progress is reflected in the rhetorical posture of this debate. And so, I think that's one practical limit that any policy proposal is going to face is the extent to which it's going to be able to overcome this overwhelmingly powerful narrative. But the second is that, there's just not a lot of data behind a lot of the popular reform proposals that we're seeing.

Rafael Mangual:

I do agree that it has been made too difficult to fire some bad police officers when they misbehave in a lot of departments. And I think that reflects some very real concerns about job security. And there are ways around that that we should be talking about. And the support for that is really just a general incapacitation argument, right? The same way that it benefits society to incapacitate a criminal by imprisoning them, it benefits society to incapacitate a bad cop by taking that power away from them. But we have to do that reservedly and soberly. And unfortunately, our conversation right now just doesn't allow us to get to that point. And so, I don't have a ton of hope, for the potential that these popular reform proposals have to make things better.

Jason Riley:

What do you think about that Coleman? Some of these proposals are calling for collecting more data, better data, sharing more data. For instance, different police departments, collect crime in different ways or collect, I should say, data in different ways. There's no central database where they feed the information into, in terms of the behavior of their officers, how often they fire their weapons, and so forth. There's no uniform way of reporting this nationwide. Some of this legislation would move us in that direction. I know you're a data guy.

Jason Riley:

I like data too. We all like to use it, but I'm wondering if that's the real problem here when it comes to the narrative being pushed. And if they had better data, we wouldn't see the narrative that we see pushed out there. I'd like to see more data too. Do you think it would make much of a difference in terms of changing the conversation we're having nationally?

Coleman Hughes:

Yes. So, I'm pretty aligned with Ralph here. And so, there are two things to say. One is, which reforms make sense? I think, transparent data makes a lot of sense to me. Universal body cams makes a lot of sense to me. Perhaps changing qualified immunity, although, I can see both sides of that one, demilitarized weapons, makes a lot of sense to me. But then there's this other question of how much will that address the problem of deadly shootings of unarmed Americans? And here I am rather pessimistic because I think we're misunderstanding why these shootings happen to begin with. First, there's Ralph's point, that the numbers are very low to begin with. And it's harder to bring them lower from a low point than to bring them low from a high point.

Coleman Hughes:

But many of these shootings happen because America is the foremost gun country on planet earth, which means when a cop pulls over a suspect, for example, that that cop has a legitimate fear that the suspect has a pistol hidden in the glove compartment. And that means in America, unlike in say Britain, when someone reaches for their wallet or for their smartphone, a cop is going to have a fear that can't be legislated away that the suspect is about to pull a gun on him or her. And it has to be said that roughly 300 cops die every year, and that has an effect on how American cops approach an American suspect. So, we can do all these reforms.

Coleman Hughes:

And I think we ought to have a very serious and rational conversation about how we can make police departments accountable because the status quo, I think is unacceptable, which is that, short of shooting someone in the back, it's very difficult to get punished as a police officer in this country. That seems like it has to change to me. However, at the same time, we also have to manage our expectations about what is possible. I think we probably can. I certainly hope we can get to a place where we never see something like George Floyd or Tony Timpa again, but I would bet all the money I have that no matter what we do, we cannot get to a situation where there are zero or even very close to zero deadly shootings of unarmed Americans because of the reality of being a gun country.

Jason Riley:

Okay. So, Jamil, what I think I'm hearing here, and I certainly agree with it, what I'm hearing is correct is, no one thinks cops are perfect. We should find ways to get rid of bad cops, root them out of the police forces. That's all for the good, but at the end of the day, policing doesn't seem to be the central problem here. You said before, that police are in these communities because that's where the 911 calls originate. They have legitimate reasons to be there. Which gets me to this question, is making policing the centerpiece of this national conversation we're having right now the right way to go? And if police aren't the central problem or policing isn't the central problem, where would you like to see the focus of this conversation?

Jason Riley:

I mean, a lot of people are paying attention right now. If you think we're overemphasizing the role of police in black homicides in this country, and by every data measure we have, we are in fact doing that, more than 7,000 black homicides last year, two or 3% involving police, where should the focus of this conversation be?

Jamil Jivani:

Well, I mean, I would say if the goal is to get our societies and our cities in particular to a place where they could reasonably start reinvesting money away from law enforcement, and into proactive things like mental health, and social services, and childcare, and all these other things, it's a necessity that violent crime is reduced. And so, it's a vicious cycle in that respect where the problems that require us to invest more in policing then take money away from things that might address the core issues that require the police to come into the neighborhoods in the first place. Every police officer and police chief I've spoken to readily acknowledges that these are problems we are not going to simply arrest our way out of.

Jamil Jivani:

The lesson I think of the last 25 years is that law enforcement can have a heavy hand on crime, but that will also have devastating effects on families and communities at the same time. So, there is a role for the communities themselves to play. And I think a lot of black Americans that I've worked with understand that there's a tension there between the need to address violence in our neighborhoods, and also create conditions for the police to interact with our young men less often. Where I don't think that tension is appreciated is among people who shape the narratives, and don't live in neighborhoods where we have that very real tension on the ground.

Jamil Jivani:

If you don't have to worry, when you see on the news that a shooting has happened, and you're not thinking, "Well, what intersection did that take place? Because maybe my mother or my cousin lives there." Then you probably don't have the real value of police on your mind on a regular basis. So, there's a broader class dimension, I think to this, where if you are privileged enough to not need the police, it's easy to vilify them. But if you live in a situation where you need the police, and you see their immediate value, I think you necessarily have more complicated worldview. And Black Lives Matter as a community group that is emerged to provide a voice on this issue, I think reflects where there is a class difference here.

Jamil Jivani:

Black Lives Matter is very out of step, I would say, on many issues, at least its leadership is, with the opinions of the average black voter in America. I mean, if Black Lives Matter was an authentic voice for the majority of black people, I don't think Joe Biden would have won the Democratic primary, for example. I don't think you'd see in polls and surveys that people do want to talk about things like family. There are more positive views on law enforcement among the average black voter than Black Lives Matter leads you to believe.

Jamil Jivani:

There's a lot of, I would say, rather conservative or center-right views on economics, and the need to create jobs, and opportunities, and education reform for black families. So, I think on the ground, we already see it as a more complicated conversation. The police are not the center point, it's in the, I would call it an upper class or let's say what, Michael Lind, the author of The New Class War would call a managerial class narrative that I think puts police as the center of the problem.

Jason Riley:

Well, let me ask you a quick followup, Jamil, because I know you've written about role models and guidance in these communities, particularly, for young black men. The hip hop culture, and that's influenced, rap music and so forth. Are young black men in these communities being taught to view the place with suspicion? Is this a cultural problem?

Jamil Jivani:

Well, I think absolutely that there's a glorification of criminality in a lot of pop culture. A lot of that pop culture is a big business that makes money off of the arts and expression of young black men. And it's very incentivized, I think for a lot of black men to embrace criminality, at least on a cultural perspective, if not in your actual actions, and behaviors. So, absolutely, I think it is a problem. And I wish that we held people who see their cultural role to address systemic racism to the same standard when it comes to addressing criminality in some of these neighborhoods, because it's heartbreaking that people get to make billions of dollars a year selling gangster fantasies, and it's young black men who pay the price for that.

Jason Riley:

Okay. Ralph, I wanted to ask you if there's a danger here in the over-focus on policing. In other words, is it not only wide of the mark if the goal is to reduce the number of black deaths each year? Is it dangerous to do this? Could there be a backlash among law enforcement? And how might that look? How might that play out? I know you've ridden with cops, you've written a lot about policing in urban areas. What is the danger here of scapegoating law enforcement?

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, I mean, I think the danger is twofold. The first part is that it feeds in unrealistic impression that's just unmoored from the data that these things that we saw in the video with George Floyd are regular occurrences as opposed to aberrations, right? That creating and feeding that impression in my opinion is indefensible, yet, the danger is that people actually believe it, right? There was a 2016 Morning Consult poll, and it found that twice as many black respondents reported worrying more about those they know becoming victims of police brutality than of gun violence, twice as many. And consider also that a study published in the American Sociological Review in 2016, showed that high profile cases of police violence lead to black residents being less likely to report crimes.

Rafael Mangual:

And so, the first danger, it really is that it creates this wall between black and brown communities, which as we saw just by talking about the violence numbers and the disparities there, can be extremely dangerous when people are less likely to cooperate with police, less likely to call them into their neighborhoods to deal with these very real problems. But then as you intimated there's also the reality that the police might pull back, which is something that we've seen happen in recent years. And a lot of people will say, "Oh, well, that's just police being babies." That would be the right response if the reason for the pullback was this angry, "Well, go ahead and take care of it yourself." Approach.

Rafael Mangual:

But actually I think much of the pullback is just real fear, right? I've spoken to a few police officers in the last week in departments around the country actually, and they've all expressed just a real sense of insecurity. I don't know what's going to happen if I approach this guy, and maybe I should just lower my risk profile here. And over the long run, one of the dangers that this is going to have is that a lot of these reforms, and a lot of this rhetorical posture that demonizes police is going to lead to that job becoming more physically risky, and more legally risky. And as you increase the risk profile of a certain career, of a certain profession, right? One of the ways that people calculate whether a risk is worth taking is by considering their other alternative options.

Rafael Mangual:

And the more risky an endeavor becomes, the less attractive it becomes to people who have better alternative options. And so, what we're going to end up potentially doing is making policing attractive to a group of people that don't have very many options, which means that the recruiting pool is going to constitute people with lower IQ, less educational attainment, less stable psychological profiles. And perhaps, ironically, that might end up actually exacerbating the police violence problem that we've worked so hard to get down to zero. And so, yeah, these are real dangerous. They also inform in my opinion, radical, and just dangerous reform proposals that pursue decarceration at any cost, that pursue de-policing at any cost. And those have consequences too, right? There's a woman killed in the summer of 2018 in Chicago, her name is Brittany Hill. She's 24 years old.

Rafael Mangual:

She's standing on the street in front of her house, holding her one year old daughter, a car pulled up, this little girl waved to this car. And the guy in the passenger seat opens fire, and hits Brittany Hill in the torso just below where she was carrying her daughter. And she fell, and collapsed, and died in the street shielding her daughter from gun violence. And that little girl is going to grow up without a mother now. And the reason that plays into this discussion is because the person charged with her murder, Michael Washington had nine prior felony convictions, including one for second degree murder.

Rafael Mangual:

God knows how many dozens of arrests, he was on parole at the time. And people ask themselves, "Well, how can somebody like that be on the street?" It's precisely because this pursuit of criminal justice reform at any cost, this pursuit of decarceration at any cost, put him there. And it costs a young woman her life. And no one deserves to die like that. And it breaks my heart precisely because of what you pointed out, which is that there are real dangerous here that no one really wants to consider.

Jason Riley:

Coleman, Jamil talked about the prominence of groups like Black Lives Matter being able to drive the narrative here, and also the different perspectives. So, if you live in one of these communities, and your relationship with police versus if you live outside of these communities, and are speaking from that perspective. He also talked about culture though. Why isn't culture, black behavior, black attitudes, black habits towards police, towards law enforcement, why isn't that allowed to be part of the conversation?

Jason Riley:

Why can't we talk about black homicides that don't involve police? Like the ones Ralph was just describing, which of course are the overwhelming majority of them. Why is it so difficult to have an honest discussion about the role that black culture is playing here when it comes to incarceration rates, crime rates, and so forth, even though that seems to be the biggest elephant in the room?

Coleman Hughes:

Yeah. So, I think many people just get extremely uncomfortable. And you can feel the temperature of your own body almost rising as you utter the phrase black culture. But if you lower the temperature, and think about it, and think about what is important to discuss, every group has a particular history, and a particular culture that is shaped by that history. And if cultures were all the same, we wouldn't have any need for a word like multicultural. And so, the difference between how many Americans seem to view black people and white people is that white people are this group of people that they can behave good or behave bad, if they behave bad, they deserve to be called out, and shamed, and implored upon to change their behavior.

Coleman Hughes:

They are agents in the sense that they can make decisions, and be held responsible for those decisions. That's why we condemn white cops for being bad, or why we condemn Amy Cooper in Central Park for calling the police on a man she ought not have called the police on, and using race in that way. When a white person does something bad, the instinct, which is not wrong, it's the correct instinct is to hold them responsible as a human capable of making decisions. But when a black person does something bad, there's a very different attitude people take.

Coleman Hughes:

And they think they're being enlightened. They think this is a sign of their moral superiority, that they don't blame a black person for doing something bad, but it's actually the opposite. The only people you don't blame for doing something bad are like children, babies, and dogs, because you understand that if they do something bad, they can't be appealed to, to change their behavior. So, by excusing any misbehavior by black people, people think they're doing the morally enlightened thing, but it's actually the essence of dehumanizing.

Jason Riley:

Let me followup there with the cultural question, because I think, Coleman, when we talk about black cultural attitudes with respect to crime, and so forth, what we're really talking about is a subculture, certain segments of the black community, particularly, lower income blacks who live in poor communities, ghettos and slums, and so forth, and the culture that comes out of that environment. Which gets me to my followup, and that the George Floyd presented as the everyday black man, typical black person. Why do the sort of worst performers among blacks get to represent all black people? Most black people are not criminals, let alone career criminals. Most black people are not drug addicts. Most black people are not poor in this country, yet, it's the outlaw, the black outlaw, the criminal, the drug dealer, and so forth, that gets to represent blackness in America.

Jason Riley:

And I find that very troubling, but I don't see it ending any time soon. It seems to be something ... And you spoke about some people feeling good about themselves that let, this is a way of caring about the black community, when in fact these individuals don't really represent the black community.

Coleman Hughes:

Yeah. Well, I think because of the history of white supremacy going back to slavery, one of the features of black American culture is a deep sense of identity via victimhood. And ultimately, that can be blamed largely just on how entrenched racism has been throughout American history. That when you beat people down for hundreds of years, it's fairly natural for them to have a sense of identity rooted in victimhood, to some extent. But it's a deeply unhealthy reaction because then your entire sense of meaning becomes bound up in your being a victim of the system. It gives you a mental incentive to do worse in life because success is somehow a sign that you've lost your identity.

Coleman Hughes:

So, I think that is what's behind the tendency to ... It's not so much that George Floyd is being said to represent black America because he's from a particular subculture that would lead someone to maybe counterfeit bills, it's more that he's said to represent black culture because he was a victim of horrible police brutality. And that victim image is very deep seated in the black American consciousness.

Jason Riley:

Okay. Jamil, when you hear words like systemic racism, and white supremacy brought up in this discussion of George Floyd, or these other encounters with police, I mean, what comes to mind to you? What do you think systemic racism means? White supremacy means? And should that be part of this conversation, or essential part of this conversation the way some progressives want to make it? It's very prominent writers, Michelle Alexander's, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Black Lives Matter types, this all is part of their narrative, that black people live in a fundamentally racist, a fundamentally oppressive society. And that is the reason we are seeing these outcomes. That's the reason we see these encounters with police. And that's the reason we see these outcomes. And until we address that, we're going to keep saying it.

Jamil Jivani:

Yeah. Before I get to the systemic racism, just to respond to something Coleman said, because I think he's absolutely right to outline some of the pitfalls of associating black identity with people who are, let's say, struggling, or maybe dealing with some of the biggest challenges in our society. However, there is something I think very beautiful about that too, which is that it's a Christian ethic, right? It's the idea what Christ taught that, what you did for me is what you did for the least among us. The idea that there are successful black people who do well in our society, and then see someone like George Floyd and say, "That could be me." That is a level of empathy that I think America at large would benefit a great deal from. The question is just what we do with that empathy, I think, but the empathy is important.

Jamil Jivani:

And I wish there were the expectation on wealthy white people to see a white person in Appalachia struggling from opioids, and thinking that could be my son, or my nephew, or my daughter. So, I think that empathy can be very beautiful. And I believe that it's important. To the question of systemic racism though. To me, I think systemic racism isn't as often a vague word that actually places little responsibility onto anyone. So, if you say there's systemic racism, there's no actual racist that we get to point a finger at and say, "This person is being a racist. This person must change, or be removed from his or her position, or whatever the case." It allows us to have a faceless racism that makes it hard then to solve problems.

Jamil Jivani:

What I think is a valuable way of thinking about systemic racism is when we can identify actual policies that actively disadvantage people because of where they come from or what they look like. And thankfully, we live in a society where there's far fewer examples of that than there used to be. But one example that I can think of that I know the Manhattan Institute has taken a very serious look at is education policy. I mean, when you don't give parents a choice in where they can send their kids to go to school, and you know that if you force people to send their children to their local school, that was shaped by a history of segregation and inequality, and then you are then making that child destined to be in an unequal system, that sounds like systemic racism to me.

Jamil Jivani:

And the way that you fight it is you give people more choice, and more freedom, and not restrict them. And I think that is an outlook on how we deal with systemic racism that I would encourage people to adopt.

Jason Riley:

Ralph, there are a couple of questions coming in about the popularity of defunding the police, or moving resources away from police, closing prisons, and so forth, bail reform. How popular are these reforms in these low income black communities? Or is this something that progressives assume will go over well in these communities, or that activist have pushed in the name of blacks without rank and file blacks really being on board?

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, I mean, well, I'll say, I think they're certainly more popular now than they were even a month ago largely because of what's going on, and the peer pressure that that puts on people to get on board the train that has all the momentum at this moment in time, which is the reform train. But I do think you're right to suggest that there is at least a divide within black and brown communities around the country, where it is assumed that there is just equal subscription to the idea that these reform proposals as radical as they may be are good. And to the people who buy into that, I would just offer a warning, which is that we actually have a lot of evidence as to how things will look if we defund police, if we divert them away from the mission of crime control.

Rafael Mangual:

We have some evidence of how things will look if we start to drastically lower incarceration for its own sake, right? Again, I just point you to the Brittany Hill case, and the fact that in the city of Chicago, the people who are suspected of shootings or homicides have an average number of 12 prior arrests. That's a lot of criminal justice involvement under our current policy. To make our criminal justice system even less punitive is going to have the effect of putting more Michael Washington's on the street. And there's just no way around that. When it comes to policing I would just ask people, do you think it's a coincidence that the city of Chicago saw its most violent weekend of the year on the weekend of May 31st while police were busy quelling riots in other parts of the city? Do you think it's a coincidence that May 31st was the single most violent day in Chicago's history since 1961? When it started keeping track.

Rafael Mangual:

That is a very clear snapshot of what we can expect if we divert police away from the communities that need the most. And the idea that there is empowerment in these things ignores the very real downside risks that these policies carry. And those downside risks are not going to be equally born by people across the United States. And so, when Jamil says, that he's frustrated by the fact that a lot of these activists don't even live in the communities on whose behalf they're purporting to speak, I sympathize with that because homicide is extremely concentrated in the United States.

Rafael Mangual:

Just 2% of counties account for more than 50% of all murders. And even if you take a city like Chicago, the South and West side has a drastically different public safety picture than the North side of that city does. And to say that we ought to just, from the top-down, place these risks on the most vulnerable populations within our country, I think it's just irresponsible.

Jason Riley:

Coleman, well first, I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the use of these phrases like systemic racism, and white supremacy that just get thrown around in these conversations on the left. And I wonder if they mean different things to different people, or if they have no real meaning at all. So, if you have any thoughts on that, I'd like to hear them. And then I'd like you to talk a little bit about how Floyd's death is being used to push issues well beyond police reform in this country. I mean, we are now talking about movies that should be banned, books that should be banned, Aunt Jemima, and Uncle Ben have been dragged into this discussion. Where do you think this is headed?

Coleman Hughes:

So, to your first question, systemic racism, the term comes from a book written in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael, and Charles Hamilton called Black Power, which was the manifesto of the movement. It was then called Institutional Racism. And if you read that book, what they really meant by the term was a real estate agent steering a black perspective homeowner into a black neighborhood rather than a more upscale neighborhood. A racially biased banker that didn't give out a loan to a black business owner. What they meant was a subtle racism that is less violent than the KKK burning a cross on your lawn. So, in the original framing of institutional racism, I completely agree that that exists, and still exists today much less than it was then. But, unfortunately, what institutional racism has come to me, and to people who use it today is really basically any departure from perfectly equal outcomes.

Coleman Hughes:

If black people are 14% of the population, but one third of people in state and federal prison, that's sufficient proof for many people that we live in a systemically racist society. And I probably shouldn't have to say this obviously to the people here, but that's an extremely superficial analysis of the problem. You haven't looked at disparate crime rates. You're operating on this assumption that everything should be equal when that hasn't happened anywhere on earth for any group of people, rather than simply trying to make things better for the people at the bottom of society, regardless of their race, which ought to be the focus in my opinion.

Coleman Hughes:

And to your second question, I'm always curious, if you're trying to get the Aunt Jemima logo changed, or trying to get your local statue torn down, listen, I don't particularly care about any of these things. I'm not going to waste too much energy trying to preserve them. If people want to change them, that's just the way of the world, but you should stop and ask yourself, what are you doing? How is this helping the issue of police brutality, or how's this helping to reduce racism? Actually, ask those questions as if for the first time, and in general, the answer is absolutely nothing. What this is doing is giving us a sense of having accomplished something while all of the very real questions, all of the very real problems that people on the left and the right want to address albeit in different ways, remain.

Jason Riley:

Jamil, if you could pick up on that a little bit, we're talking about taking down statues, banning books, and movies, and so forth. I know a fair number of progressives, they're smart people. They know that taking down a statue of Jefferson Davis isn't going to close the learning gap in schools, or boost home ownership, or black incomes, or reduce black crime rates. It may be a worthy cause, but you're not getting much bang for your buck if the goal is reducing social inequality. So, why the focus? Why expend so much energy on these relatively marginal things in the grander scheme of things?

Jamil Jivani:

Yeah, it reminds me of when I was a student at Yale, and New Haven, Connecticut, where Yale is, has one of the greatest wealth disparities of any part of America. And my classmates in Yale would get very excited about wanting to change things like the name of one of the colleges in the university, because it's associated with someone who was a bad person in history. But they wouldn't get nearly as excited about, I don't know, maybe making the schools better in New Haven, so that the black kids who grow up in New Haven have a chance to go to Yale one day. And that difference in perspective always puzzled me. I think part of it is people wanting to feel like they're powerful. And it feels to them more achievable to change things like the name of a college, or the logo of a pancake syrup, or whether a statue is up or down. I think being reminded of your power as an activist is sometimes a very appealing thing.

Jamil Jivani:

And so, maybe it's the achievability of some of those goals that is part of the appeal. I also think part of the appeal goes back to the whole class thing that I brought up earlier, which I think is a really, really important issue. And I believe a lot of people on the right of American politics are starting to wake up to the realities of class in American society, which is that someone at Yale just doesn't have the same interests as someone growing up in New Haven going to a not so great school, even if they look the same. And I know that's hard for people who think that race is such a controlling variable for what our political agendas should look like, but the truth is that that's just not the case.

Jamil Jivani:

And it's unfortunate that some people don't want to recognize that, but I think the example you're giving about these symbolic gestures toward inequality, where in a finite amount of time and energy, we probably should be focused on bigger fish to fry. I think that's a sign of just class being a bigger variable in what people choose to spend their time on.

Jason Riley:

Okay. We don't have a lot of time left. And I wanted to pose a question and get an answer from each of you, if possible. And it has to do with how tolerant do you think the country at large will be at this agenda being pushed by, I would say a relatively small minority of Americans, progressives, leftists, activists, and so forth? And right now it's being indulged, I think largely. But I wonder how long white America in particular, which is still obviously a very large majority of this country is going to put up with it.

Jason Riley:

How long are they going to let Nikole Hannah-Jones, rewrite American history by telling us it's founded on slavery? How long are they going to let people tell them which movies they can watch, which books they can read, which words they can use? Is there a backlash that's going to come at some point from white America in particular? And I would just like to get each of your thoughts on that, or maybe you could start, Ralph.

Rafael Mangual:

Yeah, I think, if I were answering that question just based on recent history, specifically, like post 1968, where I think there was a lot of evidence that the riots there gave rise to Richard Nixon, and a lot of the law and order politics that animated our approach to crime policing, and incarceration from the '70s to the '90s, I would say that the answer to your question is, yes, I think we can expect a backlash. However, I think the dynamics on the ground are just very different today. I think there is, exponentially, more pressure being brought to bear, on white America in particular, that I'm not so sure there's going to be a willingness to fight back at least very loudly.

Rafael Mangual:

So, I'm not convinced that there will be a backlash this time around, what I do think will happen is that people will start to very quietly retract from interactions that are more fraught, retract away from cities. And that can be really devastating. The kind of disinvestment that will follow that I think can really hurt black and brown communities in particular. And I think can make for future conversations in our country that require us to be on the same page, more difficult to have. And, ultimately, I think it just really tears at the fabric of our nation, which is built on integration, and intermingling at a really necessarily high-level. And I worry about what that portends.

Jason Riley:

Oh, how about you Jamil? Coming backlash or will we just see statues of Thomas Jefferson coming down?

Jamil Jivani:

Well, I don't think we'll have a violent backlash or anything like that, but I do think that when you see more and more group think which is occurring on these issues an increasing rate, especially, at the institutional and managerial-level of our society, I do believe that there's going to be a demand for alternative ways of thinking about these things. And we're starting to see that happen. Tucker Carlson's ratings have been going through the roof during all this, because people want to hear from somebody who's going to say something different. And I think that is where I think the backlash will come from, is people saying, "I don't want to hear this group think anymore, who has something different to offer me?" And let's just hope that the people who are offering an alternative offer a positive one.

Jason Riley:

Well, that's interesting, Coleman, he mentions Tucker Carlson has been in the news lately. His ratings are up, but he's having trouble keeping advertisers, which tells you corporate America might be a little skiddish here even if there's a large majority of other Americans who want a straight shooter.

Coleman Hughes:

Yeah, absolutely. And it's not just Tucker Carlson, it's literally anyone who's saying a word that is anywhere from mildly skeptical of the Black Lives Matter narrative to totally dismissive of it, is having an upswell in attention being paid to them. And it's all happening relatively silently. This is the kind of dynamic that led the left, and me included to be absolutely blindsided in 2016 by Trump's election. It's just lots of people silently on their own time thinking, "Did George Floyd really die because he was black? I wonder." Because there's that little kernel of skepticism, and curiosity that can never be extinguished. And in a free country, it will find some way of expressing itself. So, I think the backlash has already happened, but it's a silent backlash.

Jason Riley:

Okay. Well, I'm going to wrap things up here. I want to thank you all for your time. It's been a very constructive conversation. I think we've covered a lot of ground, and heard a lot of different perspectives that I don't think you hear in a lot of other places when it comes to discussing what's been going on in the country in recent weeks. So, thank you again. I want to thank our viewers for tuning in.

Jason Riley:

I also want people to please consider subscribing to the Manhattan Institute's newsletters, or making a contribution to our mission. We have posted both links for doing so right in the comments window on your screen. And thank you again for your time, everyone. Be safe. (silence).

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