Backgrounder: Whose Lives Matter?

January 12, 2017

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

“Truth hurts no cause that is just.”—Mohatma Gandhi

During the holidays, a headline in Minnesota’s largest newspaper, the Star Tribune, read: “‘All Lives Matter’ Ornament at Minnesota Store Sparks Online Backlash.” The newspaper reported that a shopper took a picture of the ornament, available at Gertens Garden Center, and posted it on Facebook.

As a consequence, many negative reviews appeared on the Gertens Facebook page. For example, one person remarked that carrying the ornament is “insulting and offensive.” The Star Tribune reported that a former president of the Minneapolis NAACP suggested that the local company took “a swipe at the Black Lives Matter movement during the Christmas season.” She went on to say that “This time of year is very painful and challenging for family members and loved ones mourning those who have died as a result of police violence. Beyond that, it is clear that all lives will not matter until black lives matter in this country.”

She could have added that this time of year is also painful to the family of Dylan Noble, a white man. The Fresno police chief who saw the video of the shooting of Dylan Noble called it “extremely disturbing.”

The death of an unarmed white man, though disturbing, is not front page news. The current narrative in the media, from governors, and even from President Barack Obama, is that police officers kill people of color and few others. The reality is quite different: the November 2011 “Arrest- Related Deaths, 2003- 2009 — Statistical Tables,” (NCJ 235385) from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, shows that 42.1 percent of arrest-related deaths are white, 31.8 percent are black, and around 20 percent are Hispanic.

Perhaps all lives should matter. Certainly the traditional religions would suggest as much:

The most appropriate response, therefore, to people who are “different” may be a loving acceptance of another creature of God. The temporal differences are less important than the eternal and shared spiritual identity of being human. The recommendation that follows from such a thought is indeed that all lives matter.

Furthermore, a person need not invoke religion to recommend that each individual has value. That is likely what Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the United Nations, had in mind when a decade ago he referred to “the dignity and sanctity of every individual.”

The preceding reasoning is my preferred argument that all lives matter. However, the popular narrative, despite the data above that arrest-related deaths fall mostly on blacks, prevails. Hence, it might be worth looking at empirical evidence more thoroughly. For instance, anyone with a lick of sense can see that since the population is approximately 75 percent white and 13 percent black, of course a higher percentage of arrest-related deaths will be white. In other words, blacks are disproportionately represented in the data on arrest-related deaths.

The disproportionate representation of blacks, however, invites an examination of data on violence. Here is an excerpt from the abstract for a 2005 Department of Justice report, NCJ 207236, entitled “Color of Crime: Race, Crime and Violence in America”:

“The data show there was more black-on-white violent crime than black-on-black violent crime in the years examined. Of the 1,700,000 interracial crimes of violence that involved blacks and whites, 90 percent were committed by blacks against whites; blacks were thus 250 times more likely to commit violence against whites than whites against blacks. Blacks committed violent crimes at four to eight times the rate of whites, and Hispanics committed violent crimes at approximately three times the rate of whites. Violent crimes by Asians were one-half to three-quarters the rate of whites. Regarding hate crimes, blacks were twice as likely as whites to commit them. Although the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports distinguished Hispanics as hate-crime victims, Hispanics were not distinguished as perpetrators of hate crimes, as they were included under the racial category of ‘white.’ As a means of emphasizing the importance of examining race as a factor in the analysis of violent crime, the report notes that blacks are much more violent than whites as men are more violent than women.”

More recent data from a 2013 FBI uniform crime report suggests that the pattern has not changed significantly. Of the 2,491 black homicide victims, 189 were killed by a white offender, or 7.7 percent. Over 90 percent of black victims were slain by a black offender. Of the 3,005 white homicide victims, 409 were killed by a black offender, or 13.6 percent. As is apparent, most homicide victims are killed by people of their own race.

Of the 5,723 homicides, 2,654 were committed by a black offender. Therefore, if blacks represent 13 percent of the population then that 13 percent disproportionately committed 46 percent of the homicides. It’s worth noting that 3,976 homicides victims were male. And as the 2005 report also stated, men were the more violent sex: 5,058 of the 5,723 homicides were committed by men, or 88.4 percent.

The data on violence does not lead easily into reconciliation and harmonious race relations. Nonetheless, empirical evidence suggests that our society might find more peace were we to think and act as though all lives matter, “for there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female,” there is neither white nor black when it comes to victims of violence — by police or by others.

And there is no male nor female, black nor white when it comes to concern for justice. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Broder remarked on the 40th anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that he was surprised at how many whites were present. Maybe Mr. Broder was surprised that whites have a concern for justice, but Dr. King. would not have been.

He warned against “the marvelous new militancy in the Negro community,” that it “must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.”

I humbly conclude that Martin Luther King, Jr., was correct. All lives matter. We are not alone. We are in this world together.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, teaches ethics at Butler University’s Lacy School of Business.


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