Thursday, March 29, 2012

Smearing Trayvon Martin: The True Lie that Black Men Commit More Crime than Whites


The killing of Trayvon Martin is a Rorschach test for American society. This tragedy reveals a deep divide in our political imaginations and communities. It also is a mirror for the fissures of race, ideology, and party that still vex and befuddle us to the present.

Some folks imagine themselves, their children, and members of their communities as Trayvon Martin. To their eyes, Trayvon is a symbol of how American society all too often devalues the lives of people of color.

Other people imagine themselves as George Zimmerman. To them, he is a "victim," a "good" man who only wanted to protect his neighborhood from crime and "suspicious" people. Moreover, the assertion that George Zimmerman acted out of racial bias in his hunting and killing of Trayvon Martin is personally offensive to them. 

Because Zimmerman is “them,” and “they” are Zimmerman, he is quite simply a "law abiding" citizen who is being made a victim of "reverse racism," "race hustlers," and "the liberal media."

Black men are scary, frightening, and suspicious to George Zimmerman and those people who think like him. These beliefs are part of a matrix of racism, prejudice, and stereotypes which are reproduced and disseminated throughout American culture. Ultimately, many on the Right see George Zimmerman as a hero figure; for voters primed on a toxic mix of conservative rhetoric that bundles together such issues as race, guns, and crime, George Zimmerman is a fetish and totem for their wish fulfillment.

In the post civil rights era, old fashioned racism is out of style. Consequently, supporting George Zimmerman necessarily requires the shaming and smearing of Trayvon Martin. Perhaps I am too generous, but I would like to believe that even for the most strident conservative authoritarians and colorblind racists there would be some level of cognitive dissonance to be overcome in order to justify the killing of an unarmed black teenager who was guilty of no more than holding a bag of Skittles, and walking home wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the rain.

The solution to this puzzle comes in a common sense appeal to black thuggery, hooliganism, and a logic which suggests that people like Trayvon Martin are existential threats to civil order and society: to that end, Zimmerman's defenders marshal "data" and "statistics" which "prove" that black men commit a "disproportionate" amount of crime in American society. This "fact" becomes a casus belli for shooting down innocent black and brown people in the streets either at the hands of police, or corrupt vigilantes such as George Zimmerman.

This logic hangs in the ether, hiding in plain sight, and has gone little discussed in the public conversation about the Trayvon Martin shooting. The claim that black people commit more crime, and thus black men in particular should always be treated as uniquely and singularly capable of violence, is accepted and legitimized even by some liberals and progressives.

When conservatives bring up this point, many defenders of Trayvon Martin stutter, hew, and stammer through the inevitable, "that may be true, but..." moment. Rarely do they attack the premise of what is a centuries-old "true lie" that black people, and black men in particular, are criminal bogeyman and hoodlums--civilized and under control until they decide to lash out and show their true selves like metaphorical savage beasts, a dagger, or a bomb waiting to go off at any moment in the heart of “normal” society. Instead, many accept the terms of this true lie, and give it credence by accepting the premise of the argument.

In reality, matters are much more complicated. A surrender to a basic and fallacy laden argument that black people, and black young people in particular are uniquely and especially prone to violence, oversimplifies the nature of crime in America. As the old saying goes, "numbers lie and liars figure." Or alternatively, the lazy recitation of statistics is a dumb person's idea of how a smart person sounds.

The black people commit more crime canard is a fallacy of both process and outcomes. African Americans are subject to discrimination in the legal system at every level. As documented by The Sentencing Project, and detailed in such works as Race, Crime and the Law, and The New Jim Crow, African Americans are more likely to be stopped by police without cause, to be more aggressively questioned, receive longer and more severe charges for the same crimes as white defendants, and to have fewer resources to defend themselves in court.

As compared to white neighborhoods, black and brown communities are also subject to more severe surveillance and aggressive police tactics. Moreover, the disproportionate number of minorities in the criminal justice system can be largely explained by the War on Drugs. In total, if white communities were subject to the same type of aggressive police tactics as black and brown communities, the number of white people in prison would skyrocket.

The data is very telling here. While people of color are the prime targets of such policies as “stop and frisk” and racial profiling, it is in fact white people who are far more likely to be both drug users and to be in possession of narcotics at a given moment. This reality signals to a larger social phenomenon: black individuals who commit crimes are representative of their whole communities, crime is racialized, and there is no qualifier of individual intent. All black people are deemed suspicious and guilty because of the deeds of the very few.

In contrast, white people who commit crimes are unique individuals: the criminals who destroyed the global economy, a group of white men, were not taken as representative of the entire white community. There is a long list of crimes such as domestic terrorism, serial murder, child rape, sedition, treason, and financial fraud that are almost exclusively the province of white people. But again, whites as a group are excluded from suspicion or indictment as a “criminal class.”

The supposition that black men (and black folks more generally) are by definition “suspicious” is a channeling of the once in vogue concept known as “rational” or “reasonable” racism. Applying this logic, George Zimmerman is justified in shooting first, profiling, or harassing black people because “statistically” the latter are more likely to commit crime. Again, this is a chain of reasoning that is rife with problems.

Generalized statistics about crime tell you very little about a given person’s likelihood of committing a criminal act. This is especially true in a society where race and class are variables which over-determine how the courts treat suspects and who the police choose to single out for surveillance, harassment, and arrest.

Broad statistics also tell us little about a given population’s capacity or propensity to commit crime. For example, while black men are disproportionately incarcerated, the majority are in jail for drug offenses. African Americans are also more likely to be poor than whites. When a researcher accounts for these variables, the story becomes one of class and not race. Further problematizing the true lie that “black equals criminal,” is that disparities in crime largely disappear when you consider the black middle and upper classes in comparison to their white peers.

As demonstrated by Jody Armour in her book Negrophobia, less than 2 percent of black men are incarcerated for violent crimes. By implication, to generalize from the demographics of a given prison population to a specific person’s likelihood of committing a violent crime is a fool’s errand of the first order. 

This is a counter-intuitive dynamic: just because a given group may constitute a higher percentage of those in jail, it does not in fact mean that a given individual is more likely to commit said type of crime.

A person is more likely to suffer a violent crime at the hands of a family member, friend, or acquaintance than a stranger; and most crime is intraracial.

Ultimately, incarceration is a function of many structural factors in relation to the criminal justice system.

Anecdotes matter. Police often give a pass to those who they know or trust. The white kid with weed just made a mistake; the black or Latino is a hardcore thug to be jailed. The judge may give parole or a lenient sentence to a white defendant in order to “teach them a lesson” about bad behavior. By comparison, a person of color before the same judge is already a “lost cause,” someone to have the book thrown at. We see this same dynamic even in schools: researchers have determined that white and black youth who are accused of the same offenses see wildly different outcomes in terms of punishment. The latter are suspended or expelled, while the former are given warnings or other remediation.

Two points are readily apparent.

The demographics of those in jails, prisons, and hospitals are a means of judging a society, as well as determining which groups of people are valued (and those who are not). By that calculus, the poor, working classes, and people of color are second class citizens in the United States.

If American history's circumstances were reversed along the axis of the color line, then our country's jails and prisons would be filled with millions of white people. In the sum total of this alternate America's history there would likely have been many thousands of white people killed at the hands of black mobs and blood thirsty vigilantes obsessed with maintaining the racial order, and protecting themselves from white “criminals” and “thugs.” In this world, there would likely have been many "Black" George Zimmermans and "white" Trayvon Martins.

Here is the true failure of political imagination and empathy in the present: many white conservatives instinctively defend George Zimmerman because they cannot imagine themselves, their kin, or their children, as victims of unjust violence at the hands of the police.

Sadly, the consequence is an inability to find a sense of shared humanity with Trayvon Martin, because to do so would require a leap of faith in the pursuit of shared humanity and the common good across lines of race and class--a journey that many white conservatives and others are unwilling to entertain even in the twenty-first century.

Once more, our politics are sick.

29 comments:

Drastik said...

Stats are stats and if u wanna claim racism walk the Hill.... a $5 bag of weed is just the same as 110lbs of weed it's ILLEGAL.... just like the mob we know u do it you'll be watched so... again stop making excuses.... wanna be equal... own up.... It's like all black people need counseling from trama or something. They look back at the 50's and 60's and they are stuck there. The ONLY people who really see their own color is them and they forget they may have become very disrespectful to those even their own color who changed the views in America. It's very disrespectful, very shameful the racial tension in the media! Even with the deceased parents and legal reps. we have laws so respect it...there is a system and NOONE is above it nor creed color or religion..... You live in 2012.... be here, we have a blk president for God's sake....

Unknown said...

Starting to change is a struggle.It’s so easy, so temporarily rewarding to go back to old habits. To eat a bagel rather than oatmeal. To sit rather than move.
People ask “why change slowly?” Simply put, it’s the only thing that works for me. Again, some people are different. But I see so many people who want and try to change and fail.

Most people want to change fast. Most people also fail at changing. Perhaps slow change is the answer.

After changing, after walking up hills, I learned something else important. Hills must slope downward. So no matter how hard of a hill you climb, not matter how hard your change, it eventually gets easier. Effort is still required, but less and less is needed.

Shady_Grady said...

Chauncey is drinking TNT and smoking dynamite...

Anonymous said...

In the era of Negrophobia ( recall even the governor of AZ claimed she was intimidated by Obama) into this culture we now have 22 states which have 'kill @will statutes)

The license to kill Black males has now extended to non-whites and others to beyond even officers under the color of law.

When the dust clears we will tragically discover a cultural conspiracy not a detailed blueprint but a society that has now internalized the notion that Black People in the post racial era of an Obama white house are now socially accepted and rendered as less than American.

Old allies who have purchased whiteness like many others (Irish, Poles, Italians ,Jews) and now tragically Hispanics will crte a living hell for Black Americans. This is no longer about Trayvon but a threshold cultural swing which places Black America in peril 24/7

The Janitor said...

A long post but spot on and well worth the read. Well said.

Brotha Wolf said...

"...The lazy recitation of statistics is a dumb person's idea of how a smart person sounds."

I love this quote. I'm going to memorize it.

Ken S said...

Hi Chauncey,

I still pretty much agree with you about your assessment of some on the Right. If its not accurate, they aren't doing a great job at proving otherwise. Anyways, here's a possibly glib take for your consideration:

"Consequently, supporting George Zimmerman necessarily requires the shaming and smearing of Trayvon Martin."

Certain character evidence could be admissible in court. Much potential evidence out there is irrelevant by judicial standards, but I don't think all of it is. The court of public opinion probably does have laxer standards, but this does not necessarily make them incorrect for reaching any conclusions.

"Generalized statistics about crime tell you very little about a given person’s likelihood of committing a criminal act."

Putting the issue of the bias in prosecution aside for a second, generalized statistics that are accurate will let you do this in some situations, it is a weak form of character evidence. The issue with the current case is who got physical first and how it escalated. No one credible actually saw this, all we have are generalities and attempts to place the parties within them based on their personal histories. That there is a case that race was potentially a factor in the lack of charges has nothing to do with the trial itself.

"Broad statistics also tell us little about a given population’s capacity or propensity to commit crime. For example, while black men are disproportionately incarcerated, the majority are in jail for drug offenses. "

Well, going back to homicide rates as mentioned in the previous thread:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

Sort the 2010 rates in ascending or descending order, and then look for patterns. I do know that this tells us little about an underlying mechanism. We always have to have humility when thinking that we might have found an actual explanation for our data, too. The idea that our justice system is biased in the case of homicide by a factor of six is made at least moderately implausible when you consider more homogeneous countries (does anyone think those Europeans are just letting a bunch of people get away with murder, does southern Africa just like tossing people in jail for crimes they didn't commit?) This is just Occam's Razor though, far from an explanation for what is actually going on.

"When a researcher accounts for these variables, the story becomes one of class and not race."

Doesn't this statement taken literally sort of defeat the point of some of the content on this blog? Obviously race and class interact somehow, that's what many are basically arguing about.

"As demonstrated by Jody Armour in her book Negrophobia, less than 2 percent of black men are incarcerated for violent crimes."

What percent of overzealous neighborhood watch patrollers are incarcerated/arrested for violent crimes? One accused of domestic violence and who got testy with the cops before? (Of course I don't know the answer... who in the world would, maybe it is higher than some people are thinking, OTOH does this personal history outweigh Martin's?).

"Anecdotes matter. Police often give a pass to those who they know or trust. The white kid with weed just made a mistake; the black or Latino is a hardcore thug to be jailed. "

Anecdote: Henry Louis Gates Jr. was treated rather harshly by a police officer. But he isn't in jail. I have a hard time imagining any amount of police harassment (within boundaries of current law) would have gotten him in there. As an aside, he also has a TV show to debut on PBS tonight, and I think it will be worth checking out.

"This logic hangs in the ether, hiding in plain sight, and has gone little discussed in the public conversation about the Trayvon Martin shooting."

The truth may be out there Scully. Hiding in plain sight. Meanwhile the ectoplasmic detectors of white privilege get more and more sophisticated...

chaunceydevega said...

@Ken. Good sport. You wrote, "Anecdote: Henry Louis Gates Jr. was treated rather harshly by a police officer. But he isn't in jail. I have a hard time imagining any amount of police harassment (within boundaries of current law) would have gotten him in there. As an aside, he also has a TV show to debut on PBS tonight, and I think it will be worth checking out."

The point being if Gates were white, he a Harvard Prof would not have been harassed and unfairly arrested for contempt of cop. You get that right? I hope you see the obvious source of the upset in that case.

Back to ghost chasing, I think I see some green slime on you a la Ghostbusters ;)

sabrinabee said...

Great article. Cleared up my feeble attempts at trying to show that we are no more criminal than any others, better than i ever could. Sta be damned! I aprreciate this.

sabrinabee said...

"The issue with the current case is who got physical first and how it escalated."

Ken S.

That is part of the misinformation campaign, that is not the issue with this current case. The issue with this current case is Trayvon, no matter how you want to define his past character, was not doing any of the acts used to malign him while he was walking from the store that night. He was not smoking weed, he was not selling drugs, he was not assaulting anyone. He should have been free to go about his way until he showed intent of criminality. The issue here is that he looked suspicious because he was black (or I'll allow, any other color) and walking down the street, this we do know based on Zimmerman's 911 call. If that is a legitimate basis for ordinary citizens to chase someone and question them, then there are going to be black men getting shot to an even grester degrees than they do now. The Constitution doesn't just apply to other than black. No matter what happened when George finally caught up to him, even if Trayvon struck out at someone who was chasing him first, (which would have given him the right tonstand his ground), it would not have happened if this kid was allowed to walk down the street unimpeded. George set out after him knowing he had the upper hand because he was armed and appears to have felt invisible, assured in the knowledge that whatever went down he would be able to use his gun.

Dan Boyd said...

2009 FBI CRIME STATS FOR HOMICIDE OFFEDERS
BLACK MURDERERS = 5,890
WHITE MURDERERS = 5,286

Blacks make up 13% of the total population yet still managed to kill more people than the whites!

There is just is no way spin statistics for murder.

So my question is this, if black ghettos are so aggressively policed, why has this not resulted in less violence?


Source:
http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_03.html

Weird Beard said...

@CDV Great post, packed with context, insight, and a keen eye on the current wave of the bs tsunami. I appreciate the time and energy you have invested in this teachable moment. Hopefully some of the gemstones learned in this endeaver help illuminate the path toward a more cooperational humanism.

chaunceydevega said...

@Dan. You are still missing the point. Sad. Reread again please.

Anonymous said...

Dan Boyd understands the stats, what he doesn't understand is the profiling. He doesn't understand why his community doesn't have a pawnshop or package stores. Why the schools in the urban area are "F" schools. Rick Ross and Mr. North's government drugs program. All of these birth crime and are there to produce chaos. Again I gotta say a guy who use's hitler for his profile pic on a black site fully understands.

nomad said...

The stats don't includes whites who get away with crimes a black would be prosecuted for. Like Zim, with a anti-black (New Jim Crow) crim justice system and friends in high places.

http://www.veteranstoday.com/2012/03/29/zimmermannofzinger-fix-now-a-fact/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimmermannofzinger-fix-now-a-fact

CNu said...

CDV ain't live nowhere near to any "pants falling down" element, wouldn't have his hypothetical children enrolled in school with "pants falling down" element, has no personal day-to-day contact with "pants falling down" element

yet,

is perfectly at ease pretending that he is fully and completely racially and culturally identified with these useless, dangerous, oxygen-thieving ninis on the basis of a little melanin.

By the current level of hysteria making the rounds, this elderly gentleman in CDV's own backyard must be classified a violent, racist perpetrator for busting a cap some miscreant "pants falling down" element.

nomad said...

@CNu
Yeah, but check out the institutional racist double standard. Zim kills while illegally possessing firearm. Goes free. Black man, non-fatal incident with illegal gun, goes to jail. In my experience, just living in the same neighborhood as pants falling down element, gets you harassed by police (if skin be black).

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. You forget who I am. I can't stand ign'ts. I don't care what color they are. My problem is that black ign'ts get punished more severely than white ones. And yes, I do live right in the midst of the pants sagging crowd and do have contact with them. You conflate me with some bohemian successful upwardly mobile academic type living in the suburbs of New Hampshire. Ain't me. I ain't that successful.

@Nomad. Cosign. Guilty by geographic proximity.

Dan Boyd said...

@Chancey: I'm willing to bet there are MORE white pant saggers than there are black men in total. We all know the type who try and fail at their attempts at "urban dialect."

I lock my car doors when I see these clowns.

BTW I read somewhere that genome tests of black Americans showed that you posses 28% white lineage!

Welcome to the family!

Anonymous said...

So, the problem isn't that black kids are comitting crimes, it's that we aren't letting them get away with it? We should just let all those hoodie-wearin' thugs do as they please in the interest of fairness? No, don't reply and as me what crime Trevor Martin committed, because nothing I say could ever convince you he was anything other than a ten year old kid with skittles, even if he was a 17 year old young adult who decided to teach a middle aged Hispanic man a lesson for racially profiling him and following him as he cut between buildings and townhomes while wearing a hoodie and acting suspicious in a neighborhood known for recent break-ins.

Anonymous said...

And his gun was not illegal, nor was the fact that it was concealed. If a black man with a firearm in a place where such is illegal, is illegally carrying (w/o a permit) said illegal firearm, an has an accidental discharge with this firearm he has committed a crime. It doesn't matter what your skin color is, it's still a crime. A white man would be prosecuted just the same. Zimmerman was not breaking the law having the gun, it remains to be seen if the shooting was justifiable or not.

nomad said...

"No, don't reply and as me what crime Trevor Martin committed, because nothing I say could ever convince you"

Then why bother? Go to a site where erbody thinks like you. There are plenty.

'It doesn't matter what your skin color is, it's still a crime. A white man would be prosecuted just the same.'


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

nomad said...

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Bunny Easter said...

The theme of the fiendish, violent, black male has been around since Reconstruction. Black men have had no reprieve from this assault on their humanity. It has only grown more profound and terrifying. The 6 o'clock evening news, the 24 hour cable networks, right-wing radio , cop shows, prison shows, videos and movies, have propagated the brutish out of control black man- as Public Enemy#1. For black men, it's a nightmare. It has caused them to be sequestered, repressed and oppressed throughout their entire lives.

A great deal of money is being made from the scary black man trope. Let's not forget that. The image creates a lot of revenue for television, movies and music. It is also a useful, but despicable tactic of politics. The Republican Party has been using it since the 1960's.

Ten years ago, Michael Moore, in his 2002 movie "Bowling For Columbine", did an excellent job in exposing America's scandalizing representation of black men. Obviously nothing has changed. But he really nailed it.

Here is the clip:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFzkV9D9Dt0

MrPapaya said...

Wow, you're stupid as fuck. Did you even read the article? It's blatantly obvious that police, conservatives, and others see people's colors.

MrPapaya said...

Wow, you're another person who's dumb as fuck and can't read. The point is that black people get arrested far more and go to jail longer for the same offenses. And Trayvon didn't commit any crime, nor was he "acting suspicious", you moron.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunetly this is a case of two dumb ass's both acting stupidly.simple as that.

Anonymous said...

Facts are facts. Only the dim witted and those with agendas to push will tell you that they don't matter. Since they've been keeping records , blacks have committed more crime than whites. We can count arrests , not convictions, and still come up with a higher number. This is fact. Now the social mechanism that causes this can be debated. Poorly run schools, not enough funding, etc.. You pick.
This is not however the justification for the killing of treyvon martin.Let's not forget the facts of the case. First Zimmerman chose to exercise his second amendment rights and carry a gun while he was on his neighborhood watch. And I know how the liberal left hates the second amendment. Second, treyvon chose to assault zimmerman. This is confirmed by an eye witness. Treyvon was ontop of Zimmerman , attacking him , when he was shot. And lastly, Zimmerman was in his LEGAL RIGHT to defend himself. If he had not, he may have just ended up as another victim of crime. This isn't a race issue, this is a political issue. Big Nanny state government vs. take care of yourself.

Debbie said...

Anonymous

“First Zimmerman chose to exercise his second amendment rights and carry a gun while he was on his neighborhood watch.”

Zimmerman had a restraining order against him so if I’m not mistaken, it may have not been within his rights to carry a gun.


“Second, treyvon chose to assault zimmerman. This is confirmed by an eye witness. Treyvon was ontop of Zimmerman , attacking him , when he was shot.”

LOL! One eye witness account who only saw the altercation as it already unfolded, not what lead to the altercation. Did it occur to you that Zimmerman could have attacked Trayvon and Trayvon defended himself? Also it was Trayvon pleading for help, not Zimmerman. Let’s see what the autopsy report will reveal about Trayvon (bruising/ angle of gun shot wound, etc.)

“And lastly, Zimmerman was in his LEGAL RIGHT to defend himself.”

And if Zimmerman attacked Trayvon, Trayvon was in his LEGAL RIGHT to defend himself. In which case, it should be Zimmerman dead, not Trayvon.

Last, blacks don't commit more crime than whites, the state/ elite establisment commits much more crimes- wars,genocide, etc... and we know who largely runs the state.