This is How the Media Invents Racism
… and Why You Think There’s an Epidemic of Cops Killing Blacks
by Alexander Zubatov
Quick: name a single white man killed by police this year or last year. Just one.
You probably can’t, can you? I certainly can’t. But, you respond, that makes perfect sense because cops aren’t going around killing white people. Oh really? Did you know that, according to The Washington Post, of the 990 people killed by police in 2015, 494 were white, while only 258 were black. (In case math isn’t your strong suit, that’s many more white people than black people.) So why can’t you name any of them?
Okay, sure, you say, the absolute numbers might be the way they are, but percentage-wise, 49.9% of those killed by police were white and 26% were black, while whites are 63% of the population, with blacks comprising only 13% of the population, so you can see right there that there’s racism going on. Yeah? Well, what if I told you that the overwhelming proportion of people killed by police are young rather than old (a true statement)? Would you conclude that there’s ageism going on? Or what if I told you that the overwhelming proportion of people killed by police are men rather women (also true)? Would you conclude that this is a clear case of sexism? Of course you wouldn’t. Instead, you’d very quickly jump to the correct conclusion: cops aren’t killing old people or women in large numbers because old people and women generally just aren’t getting themselves in situations where they’re going to be involved in an adversarial interaction with cops in the first place. Little old ladies knit. Little old ladies don’t rob stores, pack heat, join gangs (of little old ladies?), break laws, create disruptions, take dumb risks, get inebriated or high or even loiter on dangerous street corners. What’s more, because virtually no little old ladies do these things, the risk that they will get mistaken for someone who does is pretty much nonexistent. This is why little old ladies, whether white or black, don’t get killed by police.
So far, everything’s simple and logical, right? Now, stay with me for another step. Would you be surprised if I told you that the poor are far more likely to get killed by police than the rich (another true statement)? No, you wouldn’t be surprised. That’s because the same basic reasoning applies. The rich might sometimes commit crimes, but these tend to be the kinds of white collar crimes of the sort that won’t get them involved in shootouts or aggressive confrontations with cops. Cops are also far more likely to be present in poor neighborhoods because these neighborhoods tend to be higher in crime. The result of all of this is that the poor are simply a lot more likely to be involved in adversarial confrontations with cops and, therefore, a lot more likely to get killed by cops.
Okay, now let’s fill in the final piece of the puzzle. Blacks are disproportionately poor in America. (You knew that already, right?) They’re much more likely to be living in poor neighborhoods. For that reason (and not because they’re inherently violent or any other nonsense like that), blacks are much more likely than whites to be involved in adversarial interactions with cops. The crime rates track this. According to FBI data, whites are responsible for 69% of crimes (+6% as compared to their percentage of the population), while blacks are responsible for about 28% of crimes (+15% as compared to their percentage of the population) — and I should add here, with a thanks to David Shuey’s comment on this article for this insight, that the FBI’s stats lump together whites and Hispanics (around 90% of whom, based on their skin pigment, get classified as “white” rather than “black”), while Hispanics have a significantly higher crime rate than whites, so that the FBI’s “white” crime rate is artificially inflated. Moreover, when we turn to violent crimes — the kind that would be most likely to lead to deadly interactions with police — the data is even more stark: despite being 13% of the population, blacks commit over half the homicides in the United States. DOJ statistics show that between 1980 and 2008, blacks committed 52% of homicides, compared to 45% of homicides committed by whites. More recent FBI statistics tell a similar story. In 2013, black criminals carried out 38% of murders, compared to 31.1% for whites, again despite the fact that there are five times more white people in the U.S. From 2011 to 2013, 38.5 per cent of people arrested for murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault were black. When you factor in these relevant numbers, you see that blacks are actually less likely than whites to be killed by police. The data is there, it’s coming from many different sources, and it’s pretty clear.
So, with all of that in mind, I’ll ask you the same question again: why are you most likely unable to name a single white person killed by cops these last two years? The question isn’t some sort of abstruse imponderable. In fact, it has a simple two-word answer: the media.
In case you didn’t realize this, the media is out to maximize its own bottom line; it’s not out to maximize your enlightenment. It wants clicks and ad revenue. To get what it wants, it has to sell a story and stir controversy. It knows that “White Cop Kills White Man” won’t get anyone up in arms. People are killed every day in one way or another, and we’re pretty much numb to it. We don’t care. Racism, on the other hand, is a hot topic. Racism sells. “Another Black Man Killed by White Cops” makes for a great story. Here’s an example from earlier today. This is what the front page of the New York Times online looked like this morning:
As of the time I’m writing this, we don’t yet know the facts of what happened in Charlotte, but consider the misleading impression this headline and the featured text below it are conveying. Those many who look only at the front page are being fed a story of what they will assume is yet another white cop baselessly shooting yet another unarmed black man in a long litany of such shootings (and the New York Times is expressly guiding us towards this assumption by describing this as “the latest in a long string of deaths of black people at the hands of police”). It’s only if you were to click into the actual story that you would see, first, that cops are actually being hurt in this (“About 16 police officers in Charlotte, N.C., were injured when a standoff between law enforcement and demonstrators turned ugly overnight after an officer fatally shot a black man on Tuesday afternoon”), second, if you read significantly down, that the guy who was shot might have had a gun himself (which, apparently, the police have now recovered), so it’s not yet clear who’s at fault (“Police officials said the officer opened fire because Mr. Scott, who they said was armed with a gun, ‘posed an imminent deadly threat’”), and third, if you read WAY down towards the very end, that the officer who did the shooting was actually BLACK (“It identified the officer who fired his weapon as Brentley Vinson, an employee since July 2014. Officer Vinson is black, according to local reports”). The inescapable conclusion is that the headline and the accompanying text are calculated to inflame racial tensions as much as possible (and drive clicks and the New York Times’ ad revenue, etc.), while all the real information that tells a very different story is buried somewhere in the text.
Or take this story The Guardian published to brighten up our New Year’s Eve in 2015. The headline says “Young black men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths.” The text tells us that “Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police.” Outrageous, right? Well, yes … but not in the way The Guardian likely intended. The Guardian has taken three groups — the young, men and blacks — who are each independently more likely to be killed by police because of the higher prevalence of adversarial police interactions between these groups and police, combined them into a single package “young black men,” and purported to give us the shocking results. And we should be shocked. We should be shocked that this brand of disgusting and undoubtedly conscious manipulation of the news has no consequences for those responsible for it.
This kind of systematic distortion of reality by the media — failing to cover police shootings of white people, flooding every police shooting of a black person with coverage, failing to distinguish between justified and unjustified shootings, ignoring or burying the race of the cops involved and using misleading statistics to perpetuate lies — is why you likely cannot name a single white person killed by police this year. It is also why you may think we’re living amidst a sudden and inexplicable epidemic of cops killing blacks, whereas the only real epidemic is an epidemic of the media talking about an epidemic of cops killing blacks, of the media trying to make a huge deal of every black person shot by police so that you get the misimpression that there’s something bigger going on.
The irony of the media’s irresponsible approach to the issue is that police brutality and police violence are serious issues. Instead of focusing on those issues as a nation united by a cause and mobilizing a cross-racial movement focusing on police conduct and police brutality, what we have is a divisive, polarizing story that leads people into a false dichotomy of being on the side of blacks or being on the side of whites & cops. In cynically maximizing its own profit margin at our expense, the media is needlessly inflaming racial tensions while taking the spotlight away from the real issue in need of resolution.
It is time for us to wake up and take back our narrative from the media moguls trying to steal it away to line their own pockets. It is time for us and for all of those who have been worked into a racial frenzy by the media and sent on the dead-end warpath of #Blacklivesmatter to mobilize all their energy and all their indignation to hold the true culprit’s feet to the fire. If you want to fight racism, fight actual racism and not its illusory specter. Fight the race-baiting media, the real racists for whom a racial angle and fanning the flames of racial animus higher and higher represents little more than a quick buck.
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Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, drama, essays and polemics. In the words of one of his intellectual heroes, José Ortega y Gasset, biography is “a system in which the contradictions of a human life are unified.”
His articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Federalist, Independent Journal Review, Acculturated, PopMatters, The Hedgehog Review, The Montreal Review, The Fortnightly Review, Mercatornet, New English Review, Culture Wars and nthposition.
He makes occasional, unscheduled appearances on Twitter (https://twitter.com/Zoobahtov).