Let’s Do the Numbers Again

We are a nation of roughly 324 million people. We are the third most populous country in the world. African Americans are about 13% of the population, or almost 39 million people. One article in the Huffington Post says that at least 136 African American Men were shot by cops this year. We have this down to a script now. Cop shoots Black Man. The drumbeat starts. CNN goes 247365 repeating ceaselessly the headline, which is about 15 seconds long. The usual suspects say the usual things. There is SnapChat video. Riots, protests, and yet again the vigilantes want the cop’s head on a spear and a law demanding that no cop can ever shoot another black man. A black man can shoot a cop, that’s fine. Hell, we need more people shooting cops just so they understand that you can’t shoot black people. Just never the other way.

08shooting5-master315You are more likely to die of a heart attack than you are to be shot by a cop. Cardiovascular disease killed 46,000 black men in 2016. From 2010 to 2011 4,906 black men were murdered by other black men. A measly 0.00035% of African American men are shot by cops based on the Huffington Post story. But, so says the talking heads on the TV, it’s an epidemic and every African American is in danger.

Ways to Die for a Black Man

Death by Cop 1 in 236,000
Death Black Man 1 in 7,950
Death by Heart Attack
1 in 848

It was an epidemic in the 1980’s when the claim was made that you could not drive while black and complete your trip without being pulled over by the cops.

Here we are again taking the narrow specific case and making the claim that it is general. A tiny percent of African American men are shot by cops. The odds that no Black Man will ever be shot by a cop again are very bad for those who insist it cannot ever, ever, ever happen again. Odds are, it will. The script will get pulled out of its filing cabinet and we’ll do the thing again.

I have a friend who is a prominent physician. His daughter has gotten caught up in the hype and so is going to unfriend some of us because she believes we don’t care. Has she read my blog lately? The answer is, “Do it. Delete me from your friends list.” The risk of this daughter impacting my life by unfriending me is even smaller than the risk of another black man being shot by a cop. The daughter, though, has taken to heart the propaganda and by inference, decided that she too is fated to die at the hands of a white cop. It’s just a matter of time.

As I listened to the radio this morning I was reminded that about twenty years ago the talking heads were accusing the cops of profiling, of assuming that a car full of young black men must be up to know good. I can remember driving to pick up a fare near Market & 62nd Street on the Oakland/Berkeley border. It was in the wee hours between bar closing and Saturday morning weed-whacker reveille. Ray Taliaferro was humiliating yet another hapless conservative who had called in to say that we are overstating the case that all cops always arrest every driver who is black.

Then, like now, there was no talk of owning the reasons a cop might stop somebody. No, it was the cops who were unfairly arresting and ticketing black folks. Back then, it was just assumed that a white man could piss on a cop’s shoes and he’d get a laugh and a hearty handshake. A black man would get his dick shot off. Cray cray is old.

As I made my left on to 62nd street to pick up my fare a car flashed by me, music blasting, a passenger half-out of the window laughing and hollering at a woman on the sidewalk. The car accelerated and as I made my turn I heard screeching tires and a couple bangs.

The fare turned out to be an airport run to SFO for a couple headed to New York for the week. That night as I listened to KGO there was a report of an accident on Market Street that triggered a road rage incident in which several people had been shot. One of the victims was in critical condition. The car was being driven by a star football player for a local college. He escaped serious injury but his friend riding shotgun was the one in intensive care. As usual, though there were bullet holes in people, nobody knew nothing.

Don’t go digging through the Internet to find the above story. I wrote it. Don’t forget that truth suffers in service to story in this space. The paragraph is there because several trigger words will set off images of the boys in the car. Ditto the shooting, the road rage and the football players. I haven’t named their ethnicity because I know the phrases I used will build an image in your head of a presumed ethnicity.

Nothing? No back story growing in your mind? Ok, a little more help. On the news that night was a helpful blonde talking head holding a microphone in the face of the football player’s mother. She decried the treatment of her son by the police because they left him there bleeding in the street for a long time. No first aid for the boy. The kicker? The race card. Mom said her boy didn’t get prompt medical attention because he was black and dressed like M.C. Hammer.

The police were asked about this. The Berkeley Fire Department was on-scene within 3 minutes of the first call, which was estimated to be about 20 minutes after the incident occurred. No, kiddies, nobody had smartphones then. Telephones were in houses and had cords. It took a while for the neighbors to call an ambulance. Paramedics got the football player to Alta Bates inside the golden hour. So, he was alive, a good thing.

We can’t help reading a narrative and having images evoked in our imagination by what we read. My craft is joyous because I get to live rent free in your head through the way I tell my stories and write my essays. Our mental picture of the car and its passengers is built out of our own story up to the moment when we read a story. It matters, though, what that picture is and what our own imagination says and how all that influences our behavior. We can change if we change the way we tell the story.

Cops have been accused of high crimes and misdemeanors committed against African Americans since at least the 1980’s. Just on what I’ve found online and posted here it is again a narrative that is resonating for some folks on a deeply emotional level. They feel this to be true so it is. It becomes self-perpetuating. Black folks ‘spose to get shot by cops because, well, they are black folks. It’s what they do. Instead of an examined life and perhaps a different story, the story pushed on black folks is taken on as fate and enough do what they feel they have been told to keep the narrative alive.

I chatted with that doctor’s daughter last night. She’s fully committed to the pop-culture animus toward cops. Her friend list on FB is smaller as a result. It’s sad that she’s heard the drumbeat and started tapping her feet to a rhythm that is a lie. Yes, cops shoot people. Cops shoot black people. Every death is a tragedy. The lie is that cops shoot black people in high enough numbers that the usual tropes are affirmed. I’m surprised the number of deaths of black men by cops isn’t higher. What would the press say if 46,000 black men died at the hands of cops in 2016?

What would Obama say if on his watch more black men died at the hands of cops than died of heart disease? I’ll spare you my usual blather about owning your shit, living an examined life, shedding yourself of the things that keep you from God, loving all, enemies especially. That’s always there to do. This time, before you jump into the street to protest, to punch a cop, to believe the hype, ask yourself, “who wins because I was suckered into believing the propaganda?”

We won’t stop the killing by killing. More riots and violent protest feeds the narrative and makes Charlie Rose get all gushy and happy. There are plenty who have crossed the divide and engaged those they fear. We need more of that instead of more SnapChat video of yet another protest because there is another body.

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4 thoughts on “Let’s Do the Numbers Again

  1. I’m wondering if the “do gooders” your neighbors encounter who go into the ghetto to “help” black folks are like a lot of whites who patronize those they seek to “help?” Catherine did this to some extent. I think she felt somewhat superior when she went to Mississippi to teach blacks art when her understanding of art was from the California Labor School in San Francisco during the ’40’s and 50’s. She never learned to draw or actually “see” what was really there. I get impatient with people who go into ghettos and purport to help without listening to resident’s stories to find out what they might actually need. The “bridge” you’re looking for is listening.

    1. Do gooders in my neighborhood risk getting shot. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses take care when to show up. Once the sun sets most folk stay inside. There are those who are intent on helping in the way they believe is help. So, the line at the church for Ag Dept food remains. My neighbors are quite capable of taking care of themselves. They just need a micro-loan or other assistance converting their illegal businesses to legal ones.

  2. My neighbors acknowledge the bitter history some communities have with the police. But with at least two of them, they don’t like the Black Lives Matter protestors or the reflexive destruction of majority black neighborhoods each time a news story like the recent Charlotte murder hits the airwaves. The issue is with the suggested solutions: to give the neighborhoods back to criminals or to punish whites. Both solutions will not make Blacks safer. I’m still in the same place: we need to bridge the divides created by resentment and lies. We need to be neighbors to each other. We can fix this in ways far more powerful than anything the government can do.

  3. A statistical fact-off doesn’t do justice to the emotional content of the subject. By this logic, the almost 3,000 people who died on 911 were a tiny fraction of the population of the US, therefore what’s all the fuss? The chance of any one US resident being a terror victim like 911 is 0.00009434%.

    Then there’s this from the July 11, 2016 Washington Post:
    “According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population. As The Post noted in a new analysis published last week, that means black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers.” This seems to more closely correspond to the impression of those who are protesting today.

    But your concern seems to be the protests by whatever statistic you choose. I mostly agree, but whatever we believe personally, the right to protest is protected by the Constitution. The rioting that often accompanies protests, however, is not protected. Those rioting are often not even part of the protest. Just criminal opportunists.

    Is the issue then, whether Blacks have legitimate grievances? In some situations, yes. And yet, I see on the TV this afternoon more whites protesting cop violence on blacks that blacks marching.

    How does your proximity to your minority neighbors affect your feelings on this subject?

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