Take it or leave it: the intellectual cowardice of white privilege.

“To mute the slave has always been to the best interests of the slave owner, and I think that when a black voice is raised in protest to oppression, those who are comfortable with our oppression are the first to criticize us for daring to speak out against it.” -Harry Belafonte during his interview with Roland Martin.

Colin Kaepernick is no slave, but that hasn’t stopped people from discrediting him to silence his message this week. Those  who are comfortable with things just the way they are have attacked him for challenging the status quo by using baseless talking points, using poor statistical analysis, and telling him he should leave the country.

Donald Trump told Kaepernick he should try another country that works better for him, but he has yet to hold a candle to Tomi Lahren’s  barrage of insults aimed at the quarterback. On Monday, she told Kaepernick, “If this country disgusts you so much, leave.” On Tuesday she called him a “race baiter,” a “whiner,”  and a “damn fool,” and asked him to forfeit his salary. She then offered to pay for anyone’s plane ticket if they want to leave and said she was sick of the “victim card” before showing a photo of an injured soldier that she previously posted on Twitter.

Tomi Lahren uses an injured member of our military to scold Colin Kaepernick.

On Wednesday, she asked “Do you know what oppression is?” and said, “If you think you’re oppressed because resisting arrest and assaulting an officer might result in deadly force, you don’t get what oppression means.” She then cited a statistic that police officers are 18.5 times more likely to be killed by black assailants than black people are to be killed by police, claiming that the police brutality “narrative you’re pushing is bologna.”  That 18.5 number came from Heather Mac Donald who said in a blog post with the Washington Post read:

“An officer’s chance of getting killed by a black person is 0.000033, which is 18.5 times the chance of an unarmed black person getting killed by a cop.”

There are a few problems with this statistic. First, there is no racial data of cop killers from 2015, so Mac Donald based her findings on a 40 average percentage of black police killers from the last decade. Missing a year of data, while relying on the past ten years, is sub par at best. Second, the number of police killings by black people between the years 2005 and 2014 fluctuated by as much as 12 shootings from year-to-year and never rose higher than 39 based on the source Mac Donald cited. Third, 2013 and 2014 were the lowest years for police officers killed by black people. In 2014, 13 officers were killed by black assailants, and 43 were killed by white attackers.  To make an assumption about a missing year based on data that goes up and down that much is insufficient. Lahren’s use of that number without at least waiting for more data is reckless and hypocritical when you consider her calls for the black community to have some “responsi-damn-bility.” 

Those are the flaws in the number itself. Here are the flaws in the context she used. Police deaths from black assailants is different from unarmed black people dying from police violence.  Police who do their jobs honorably(and they deserve all the respect in the world) walk into dangerous situations on a daily basis to protect innocent lives knowing that’s part of the job. Unarmed black people walking down the street didn’t sign up to get shot due to a corrupt cop’s racial bias and should not be subject to comparable levels of risk.  If you are searching for law enforcement racial bias against black people, you must compare the number of justified shootings with unjustified shootings side-by-side, whether the black person was unarmed or not(in open-carry states armed doesn’t have to mean dangerous). If you are looking to see if white people are safer from police, you must compare police interactions with white suspects instead of black.  Lahren did neither, and she has not proven that police brutality is only a negative.  Her lack of context is a symptom of intellectual laziness and bias.

Lahren’s rant does not disprove racial bias in American police departments because unarmed black suspects are still shot and killed at a disproportionate rate compared to white unarmed suspects, five times more to be exact. Studies using data up to the year 2015 have found racial bias in police brutality.  Also, investigators used data up to the year 2015 to find systematic racism in Chicago and Baltimore police departments.  Even Kaepernick himself, and Stephen A. Smith, another successful black man who normally has conservative views, have frightening stories of police encounters. Lahren would call those stories narratives. The evidence proves they’re signs of a crisis.

As for what oppression means, the definition according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is:

  1. a :  unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.

    b :  something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power.

  2. :  a sense of being weighed down in body or mind.

The first prong applies to our country’s history of abusing black people, and it’s ironic that Lahren asked that question when much of our history’s worst race-based violence was inflicted on black soldiers. After World War I, our country endured the Red Summer of 1919. There was a spike in racial tension that summer initiated by white Americans in over 25 cities in response to white resentment toward black veterans and  fear of the NAACP’s push for equal rights led by activists like W.E.B. Du Bois.  Over 52 black people were lynched, many of whom were accused of raping white women.  At least 10 of the black people lynched were veterans, some lynched in uniform.

Police also joined in the abuse of black soldiers. WWII veteran Isaac Woodard was honorably discharged on February 12, 1946 after serving 15 months in the South Pacific with the 429th Port Battalion.  After getting in an argument with Woodard, the bus driver who was supposed to take him home called the police on him, and they beat Woodard all the way to jail. Once Woodard was in jail, police chief Linwood Shull beat his eyes out with a billy club until Woodard went blind.

Isaac Woodard(middle) is escorted upstairs by Joe Louis(left).

Of course someone might think these are old cases and that we live in new times where this sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore. Unfortunately that’s not true. The closer we get to present day, the more the gruesome stories persist. Jon Burge became a Chicago police detective in 1972 and was assigned to Area 2 on the South Side. According to the Chicago Police Department’s “Goldston Report” released in 1990, Area 2 practiced “systematic abuse,” and Burge was at the forefront. It is estimated that Burge and his detectives tortured as many as 120 black people into signing coerced confessions between the years 1972 and 1991. Burge’s gruesome torture stories include using electric shock, sometimes by inserting devices up a suspect’s rectum or attaching wires to his testicles. Though he did serve time for perjury, he was never convicted for the torture.

Burge is especially sadistic, but he is not the only case of police brutality against black people in recent history. You can find victims of police violence in Lahren’s current city of Dallas, Texas (Ronald Jones in 2009), St. Paul, Minnesota(Eric Hightower in 2012), Dover, Delaware(Lateef Dickerson in 2013), New York City (Keston Charles in 2013), and Memphis, Tennessee( suspect beaten with a night stick while on the ground in 2016). We also have recent examples of police shooting and killing black people such as: Tamir Rice(2014), Laquan McDonald(2014), and Walter Scott (2015). Contrary to Lahren’s assertion, these incidents did not involve assaulting a police officer, and Scott’s “resistance” amounted to running away before the officer shot him in the back.

While using an unreliable statistic out of context and then failing to disprove the existence of racial bias in policing, Lahren also deflected with the usual conservative talking points.  She implied that black fathers don’t stick around to see their children. Though Kaepernick has no relationship with his father, the CDC already proved this myth false about black fathers as a whole, even showing that black fathers who don’t live with their children spend more time with them than white fathers in the same situation. She mentioned “black-on-black crime,” which is an inherently racist term that would be hypocritical for someone to use while accusing someone else of race baiting. Despite having nearly identical intra-racial murder statistics the phrase “white-on-white crime” is almost nonexistent. Only black people have their crimes assigned to their race as if it is a part of their racial identity.

Calling Kaepernick a “whiner” or a “cocky child” is an offshoot of the “bad attitude” narrative that infantalizes grown black men into babies instead of adults capable of intelligent discussion and protest.  The petition asking for Jesse Williams’ termination used similar language. It’s racist paternalism at its worst, and it shows a lack of respect, in this case regardless of the articulate points made by Kaepernick. In response to this argument, while considering the evidence presented, what attitude should we have about police brutality? What attitude should we have about systematic racism in law enforcement and other sectors of American society?

Surely we should not have a positive outlook on police shooting people without just cause, but unless she has not researched police brutality at all, that’s what Lahren suggests. Assuming Kaepernick is disgusted by our country, when he in fact seems to love his countrymen enough to protest for them, is faulty logic. When the subject of the perceived “disgust” is police brutality that can be stopped with a societal collective effort to hold corrupt police accountable, telling Kaepernick and anyone else to leave the country with a one-way ticket shows a sociopath’s capacity for empathy. Lahren, Trump, and people who think like them are telling Kaepernick that America is racist and they prefer it that way. Why fix a system that isn’t broken when it was never designed to benefit black people in the first place? According to them, trying to make your country a better place to live by raising awareness of an important issue through nonviolent protest makes Kaepernick a troublemaker. The fact that Lahren has made three videos in a row about him shows that he only causes trouble for those who prefer white supremacy over social responsibility and empathy.

When a moral compass is leading a ship astray, you don’t jump out and swim, and you certainly don’t throw overboard the guy who alerted you that the ship is off course. You simply do what is necessary to steer the ship to its proper path. Trump’s unwillingness to do that makes him unfit to lead. Lahren’s unwillingness to see that makes her unfit to discuss the subject. Kaepernick’s efforts to do just that has not only sparked a discussion on a true social crisis but exposed why the crisis persists.  Black people are dying in the streets, that’s just how Lahren and Trump like it, and if we don’t like it, they believe we should find another country.

Fortunately, Kaepernick’s protest and America’s potential to improve does not rest on their approval.  There’s no need to take our country as it is. There’s no need to leave our country when we’ve lived here for generations. All we have to do is improve our country, and everyone can do that together, only leaving behind those who are unwilling to try.  Their intellectual cowardice will only weigh down the ship until it sinks.

Stay the course, my friends.

No apologies,

G. Miller


2 Comments Add yours

  1. john says:

    A wonderful article! Nice lead with Humanitarian Belafonte! We love him. Spread these thoughtful words around and maybe we can challenge the insincere propaganda that is designed to divide. It’s great to add you to my posts and list of reads.

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