Monday, 15 June 2020

McWhorter on police violence. Of empathisers and synthesisers

John McWhorter’s article In Quillette, prompts many comments at the blog of Jerry Coyne, professor of evolutionary biology at Chicago University. I met Jerry a few years back when he visited Hong Kong, and got his book signed: Faith v Fact.
I’m posting this because of the long commentary thread that is educated and mostly civil. There’s much to learn about the two main sides of the big issue of the moment: police brutality, racism, protests and riots, an issue that is fraught, to say the least. Whatever one’s view of it, it’s almost certain one doesn’t have the full picture. This article and its comments helps understand the complexities. 
I summarise them into two camps:
The empathisers. The vast bulk of folks. Empathising with victims of racism and police killings. Protesting. Support Black Lives Matter. Their narrative is America is deeply, irredeemably, systemically racist and the police are racists who kill black people in what amounts to a genocide. So… abolish police. 
I hope I’m not constructing a straw man here; but I don’t think so. Many have said as much: Examples: pretty much all the MSM: New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, BBC, etc… And Dave Chappelle
The synthesisers: agree with much of the empathisers, but point out: America has come a long way since slavery and Jim Crow. Always more to improve. It must be based - synthesised - on reality and data, which do not support narrative of police genocide of black people. (On the basis of police contact, more whites than blacks are killed by police. In 2019 the number of unarmed blacks killed was 9 — source WaPo). Only on the basis of proper understanding of the situation, can improvement be made. The synthesisers agree there’s still too much racism in the US and too much police killing. But it’s not random, indiscriminate police killing targeting blacks. That’s a myth.
So… reform police. [ADDED: Like the proposed “Justice in Policing Act”, which seems to me to have some good proposals].
Examples: John McWhorter: ‘Racist Police Violence Reconsidered’ and Sam Harris: ‘Can we come back from the brink?

Fact is: it’s already too late for the synthesisers. You can read the McWhorter article and listen to Sam Harris’ podcast all you want. Then turn on TV and see the empathisers chanting about random, racist, rampant police brutality. Not helped by yet another senseless police shooting yesterday. That even this latest shooting does nothing to change the grand picture, doesn’t matter. People are moved by emotion not data. 
Overriding fact: US has highest rates of police killings in developed world. There is a lot that can and should be done to reduce it. Commenters at WEIT touch on some of these changes. But one thing: reducing hand guns is not one of them. There is bipartisan agreement that control of handguns is just not on the agenda. Any proposal that includes control of handguns is simply unrealistic. Sad but true.