The emotional core of Black Lives Matter rests on a provably false assertion, that America’s police have somehow declared “open season” on black men. In previous pieces I’ve discussed how the real-world numbers show that police tend to use force responsibly, and that the proportion of black victims of police shootings is roughly comparable to their share of the violent crime rate. Today, in an invaluable piece over at the Marshall Project, Heather Mac Donald takes a close look at the most controversial police shootings — when officers shoot unarmed black men. Unsurprisingly, the individual stories simply don’t match the narrative. Police are not behaving irresponsibly:
The “unarmed” label is literally accurate, but it frequently fails to convey highly-charged policing situations. In a number of cases, if the victim ended up being unarmed, it was certainly not for lack of trying. At least five black victims had reportedly tried to grab the officer’s gun, or had been beating the cop with his own equipment. Some were shot from an accidental discharge triggered by their own assault on the officer. And two individuals included in the Post’s “unarmed black victims” category were struck by stray bullets aimed at someone else in justified cop shootings. If the victims were not the intended targets, then racism could have played no role in their deaths.
Indeed, some of the victims were in fact “armed” — with the officer’s own equipment:
In several cases in the Post’s “unarmed black man” category, the suspect had gained control of other pieces of an officer’s equipment and was putting it to potentially lethal use. In New York City, a robbery suspect apprehended in a narrow stairwell beat two detectives’ faces bloody with a police radio. In Memphis, Tennessee, a 19-year-old wanted on two out-of-state warrants, including a sex offense in Iowa, kicked open a car door during a car stop, grabbed the officer’s handcuffs, and hit him in the face with them.
The “unarmed” label is simply inadequate to describe people who can do serious damage with their fists and teeth:
A trespasser at a motel in Barstow, California, brought a sheriff’s deputy to the ground and beat him in the face so viciously that he broke numerous bones and caused other injuries. The suspect refused repeated orders to desist and move away. An officer in such a situation can’t know whether he will lose consciousness under the blows to his head; if he does, he is at even greater risk that his gun will be used against him . . . In Miami, a man crashed a taxi cab in the early morning hours and took off running onto a highway. During the fight, the driver bit the officer’s finger so hard that he nearly severed it; surgery was required to reattach it to the left hand. One can debate the tactics used and the moment when an officer would have been justified in opening fire, but these cases are more complicated and morally ambiguous than a simple “unarmed” classification would lead a reader to believe.
There are of course examples of outrageous police conduct, but they represent the tiny minority of police shootings. Indeed, the victims of unjustified police shootings are often household names not because they’re representatives of a much larger whole but because the incidents are so rare that we can remember the individuals involved. For Americans concerned about police abuse, the truth should be encouraging. The activists, however, will proceed as if the crisis real. When there’s a narrative to advance, who cares about the truth?