The brutal death of George Floyd during an arrest by a white police officer in Minneapolis has tripped off widespread protests and race riots around the U.S. There is a general consensus that black/white racism is still pervasive in the U.S. How should we deal with it? First, we have to separate myths from facts.
- Myth #1. There is strong evidence of widespread racial bias among police. In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1004 people, most of whom were armed. African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops (235), even though they commit 53% of homicides and 60% of robberies. Of course, officers who use excessive force should always be held accountable.
- Myth #2. Police departments should be investigated for systemic racism and reformed. When police departments have been investigated following incidents of deadly force that went viral, police activity declined and violent crime spiked. In Chicago there was a 90% drop in police-civilian contacts immediately after the announcement of an investigation.
If more thoroughly monitoring police behavior will do little to decrease racism, then what will work? Consider:
- Fact #1. Blacks have been making big gains in employment in recent years, but unfortunately these gains have not yet begun to close the income gap between black families and white families. The very low unemployment rates for both blacks and whites as recently as February 2020 have now been at least temporarily wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.
- Fact #2. Poor education is a large barrier to Black progress. There is a huge academic achievement gap between middle class kids and kids from lower-income families. Unfortunately the gap gets worse as kids progress through the K-12 grades. It is very difficult to land a good job and hold on to it without a decent education.
Conclusion. Black/white racism is endemic in American society even though much progress has been made. Removal of bad cops is needed but systemic police reform will be counterproductive. What really is needed in more and better economic opportunities for blacks, aided by more effective K-12 education. More on economic progress next week!