The Corner

Politics & Policy

A Short Critique of the President’s Dallas Speech

‐I think it’s a fair question whether a memorial service for the fallen police officers in Dallas was the appropriate venue to talk at all about the shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, and about bias, bigotry, prejudice, racism, and discrimination in America — “and that includes our police departments.”

‐The scope of the president’s remarks aside, here is what seems to me to be the most problematic paragraph of his speech:

And so when African Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment; when study after study shows that whites and people of color experience the criminal justice system differently, so that if you’re black you’re more likely to be pulled over or searched or arrested, more likely to get longer sentences, more likely to get the death penalty for the same crime; when mothers and fathers raise their kids right and have “the talk” about how to respond if stopped by a police officer — “yes, sir,” “no, sir” — but still fear that something terrible may happen when their child walks out the door, still fear that kids being stupid and not quite doing things right might end in tragedy — when all this takes place more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid.  (Applause.)  We can’t simply dismiss it as a symptom of political correctness or reverse racism.  To have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority, dismissed perhaps even by your white friends and coworkers and fellow church members again and again and again — it hurts.  Surely we can see that, all of us.

Now, the president is saying here that the evidence is in, and it shows that our criminal justice system is biased.  Not only is that not true, but it ignores what is true: that by far the biggest reason African Americans experience the criminal justice system differently is that they are much more likely to commit crimes. I am not happy about that, and it can be changed, but it has to be recognized.

‐Finally, the president ignored another, equally large elephant in the room: He said not a word about the catastrophic out-of-wedlock birthrate among African Americans, especially in our inner cities. I’m not happy about this fact either, but it too has to be faced.  That’s what drives racial disparities in our country, including disparities in crime rates. It drives differences in life outcomes within racial groups as well as among them, by the way, and there is no doubt that the problem is getting worse among non-Hispanic whites and Latinos, too.

More than seven out of ten African Americans are born out of wedlock, more than six out of ten Native Americans, and more than five out of ten Latinos; versus fewer than three out of ten whites, and fewer than two out of ten Asian Americans. That is a huge range, and it is no coincidence that it lines up precisely with how well the different groups are doing in any aspect of American life you want to look at.   

The rise in out-of-wedlock birthrates is the single most important domestic problem our country faces. Will the president ensure that this becomes part of the national conversation we are having on race and crime?


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