William K. Black, July 28, 2016 Kansas City, MO
The best way to lose friends and be vilified in America is to talk frankly about race, racism, violent crime, politics, gender, Black Lives Matter (BLM) and prosecuting police officers. I am writing a series of articles on these subjects. In the course of this series I employ my “hats” as criminologist and a professor who teaches economics, law, and regulation plus my spousal hat where I draw on my wife and her co-author’s work on employment and marriage. As criminologists, we are used to upsetting people from all parts of the political spectrum. The one-sided stories that dominate the discussion of these difficult issues virtually always deliberately exclude unpleasant and analytically critical truths long documented by criminologists. I hope to show you how my field has found the answers to the challenges of policing in the United States to be complex and often paradoxical.
If you are able to read my entire series of columns on this topic you will find that there is a great deal of good news that criminologists, community leaders, and the police have worked together to produce. We know how to reduce crime and reduce the unjust and discriminatory use of police actions. We have proven that ability in many communities that work cooperatively with police leaders committed to achieving both goals. Better yet, these successes generally make policing less expensive and they produce collateral benefits that go beyond policing. Many communities are achieving a win-win-win-win. In later columns I’ll use my other hats to show how non-policing policies such as a federal jobs guarantee program could be added to these policing reforms to produce even bigger wins.
This first column introduces three vile blood libels being spread about policing. These blood libels are immensely dangerous and damaging to our Nation. They pose a grave threat that we will not implement the win-win-win-win strategy and instead will move back towards more expensive policing methods and community responses that would increase crime, the abuse of minorities, and other collateral harm. The people spreading these blood libels seek to produce a “moral panic” that would push policing changes in a lose-lose-lose-lose direction.
Three Blood Libels About Policing, Race, and Crime
War metaphors are the bane of criminology and policing. The police are not a military force. They must work with each community to produce a higher quality of life. “Protect and serve” is the right concept. Each of the blood libels relies on war metaphors. BLM leaders propagate two intertwined blood libels about the police and whites as a race. They claim that the police, regardless of the officer’s race, ethnicity, or gender, are the shock troops of the white race in a war to intentionally murder vast numbers of young black males because whites do not believe that black lives matter. In my next several columns in this series I will explain why criminologists and sociologists know that these claims are false and explain and analyze BLM’s leaders’ extraordinary positions on police and policing.
Important police officials are spreading the blood libel that BLM is a “terrorist” organization engaged in a “war against the police.” Later columns in this series explain why these related claims are false.
Some whites have embraced a blood libel that apparently originated with a law enforcement officer (LEO).
Derek Hale, a sergeant for Louisville Metro Corrections was suspended after sharing an abhorrent meme on Facebook featuring a white police officer and the words, “If we really wanted you dead all we’d have to do is stop patrolling your neighborhoods…and wait.”
This blood libel’s only advantage is that it provides an opportunity to discuss what criminologists have learned about the essential role of community in policing. More broadly, however, the goal of policing is not simply to reduce crime. If we reduce crime by harming our communities our policing has failed. The goal of policing is to help produce the freest and most vibrant communities. Safety is a wonderful thing if it frees people to live better. Officer Hale’s blood libel is that left to their own devices without the police, predominately-black communities would collapse into a Götterdämmerung in which blacks would slaughter each other to the point of extinction. I explain in a later column why Officer Hale’s blood libel is not simply false and racist, but also betrays his failure to understand community, policing, and their interaction.