Facts Matter ! Part 2


The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) has found its lyricist in the person of Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of a just-out 42000-word remonstrance, Between the World and Me.  Its thesis is simple:  white America is out to destroy the black body;  what happened in Ferguson and on Staten Island is no more and no less than the same murderous path taken by white America since slavery, against the black body. “In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage.” (Emphasis in original.)  Moreover, the dust jacket of  Coates’ pamphlet, both in front and in back, contains an urgent recommendation by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison:  “This is required reading.”

As I have shown in my previous posting, there are roughly 1100 black-on-black murders, annually, for each case of police brutality alleged by BLM.  This is not a circumstance that Coates will acknowledge explicitly.  But he is enough of an honest autobiographer to describe the cultural factors surrounding what he describes as  his chronic fears as a young man:  the violence in the streets, the beatings he received from his father, the violence of black neighborhoods.  But he rejects any sort of agency on the part of the black community:  “To yell ‘black-on-black crime’ is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding.”

Let’s see now.  Black men kill other black men, and that’s the fault of white America.  I am sure that there are Nobel laureates (in literature) who will be persuaded by this argument, but is it  coherent ?

In stark contrast to the Coates volume we have have another recent publication, The Cultural Matrix, by the distinguished Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson and his associates.  No Nobel prize winners, to my knowledge, have endorsed this one.  And while the Coates volume is a current Amazon best-seller, ranking #25 for all books and #1 for books on African Americans, the Patterson work ranks but #207,816 for all books and #810 for books on African Americans.  Not much worldly acclaim for this outstanding, comprehensive piece of scholarship.

Patterson and his team do not hesitate to examine all the “structural” constraints on the black population, the persisting racism, poverty, residential segregation, over-incarceration.  But neither do they shrink from exploring the “cultural” factors, the violence of a minority that endangers all in black neighborhoods, the unstable family structure that damages so much of black youth.  In short, the black population is not only victim but is also an agent of its own plight.

As it happens, the Patterson volume is also a bargain.  At a list price of $45 and with its hefty 555,000 words, the cost comes to 8¢ per 1000 words.  Compare this to the little Coates volume, at $24 for 4200 words, or fully 57¢ per 1000.

UPDATE, Sept. 30, 2015

The New Yorker of Sept.14 has an absolutely brilliant article on this subject by Kelefa Sanneh, Body Count.

UPDATE, October 3, 2015

Here is another brilliant piece by Kelefa Sanneh, viz. a review of Patterson volume that I mention above.  See “Don’t Be Like That,” in the New Yorker of Feb. 9, 2005.

UPDATE October 25, 2015

Here is a New York Times analysis, dated October 16, Police Killings of Blacks: Here Is What the Data Say

Facts Matter !


The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), as propagated by many Black leaders but also by such mainstream publications as the New York Times, is grossly misleading.  For each case that BLM protests there are, as I shall show, 1127 cases that it will have us ignore.

BLM protests the death of 25 black people between June 16, 2010 and July 15, 2015, or about five per year.  The cases all involve fatalities of black individuals, mostly at the hands of white police officers.  In at least one case, that of Eric Garner on Staten Island on July 17, 2014, some of the police officers were black.  More to the point,  several hundred black and white people die every year during interaction with the police, a fact not mentioned by the BLM movement.

The 25 cases urged upon us by BLM all involve some ambiguity concerning culpability of officers and victims.  I do not doubt that in many of these cases there was substantial negligence and perhaps racial bias on the part of the police.  But in no instance is there a convincing case for premeditated murder.

On the other hand, there is no doubt whatever that black people are much more frequently the victims of murder than white people.  In 2013, 6261 black people were murdered in the US, compared to 5537 white people.  These raw figures are more bleak than they appear  when you consider  that only 13% of the total population is black and 78% white.  In other words, the white victimization rate for murder is 22.5 per million,  that of the black population is 149 per million.  Black people are almost seven times more often victims, proportionately, than white people.  But BLM, wholly preoccupied with 25 cases in five years, does not seem to concern itself, at all, with the over 6000 black people killed annually. (All my figures are derived from the FBI’s Crime in the United States.)

But while black people are much more frequently the victims of homicide, they are also much more often perpetrators.  In 2013, again, we had 4396 white murderers, or 17.9 per million of the white population, compared to 5375 black murderers, or a rate of 128 per million of the black population.  The black/white murder ratio, viz. 7.15, has been stable for many decades.

When it comes to the question of which race kills which, our data are restricted to cases in which there was but a single victim and a single offender.  In these cases there were 3005 white victims, whose killers were white 83% of the time and black 14%.  These data also show 2491 black victims of these one-on-one crimes, with white offenders accounting for 7.5%  and black offenders for 90%. So, if the one-on-one incidents are typical of homicide, we can conclude that fully 90% of black victims are victims of black-on-black crime.  In other words, there would seem to be, roughly, 5600 black-on-black victims, annually.  That is a figure one thousand one hundred and twenty-seven times higher than that of the five cases, annually, that BLM has us grieve.

Do facts matter ?  No, apparently not to Black Lives Matter.

In a future blog I will discuss two recent books on the BLM topic, “Between The World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and “The Cultural Matrix,” by Orlando Patterson, et al.