Obsessing about race

By Thomas L. Jipping
web posted April 23, 2001

Though President Clinton said he would bring America together and heal her racial wounds, America is more, not less, separated by and obsessed with race. The riots in Cincinnati are just one example.

Hundreds of people rampaging night after night through one neighborhood after another, burning and looting and demolishing. All sparked, we are told, by a police officer shooting and killing a 19-year-old. Police had tried to arrest Timothy Thomas three times on more than a dozen misdemeanor warrants, and he fled each time. The third time, after yet another chase leading into an alley, Officer Steve Roach says he fired when Mr. Thomas reached for his waistband as if for a gun.

This is certainly tragic. Perhaps it might have been avoided. There are, of course, procedures for evaluating incidents like this one. But why would it result in such monumental destruction and violence? I left out one fact. Officer Roach was white and Mr. Thomas was black.

That fact still does not explain the violence and mayhem. Some blanks still need filling in. So what if the officer was white, or even green, and who cares if the one fleeing was black, or even magenta?

Al Sharpton brings conciliation to Cincinnati
Al Sharpton brings conciliation to Cincinnati

The explanation is that people in Cincinnati think this shooting was the result of race. How could they possibly think that, though, without any sort of inquiry into this specific incident? Because, we are told endlessly by news organizations, Cincinnati police have shot and killed 15 black men and no white men to death since 1995. Letting this factual observation just hang out there is no doubt intentional by some, negligent by others. It suggests that police are doing this on purpose. Because police supposedly did in those other incidents, they must have done so in this one.

Courts typically do not accept evidence of other incidents, situations, or even crimes in order to decide a separate case. Even if they do those other incidents or crimes were committed by the defendant in the case at hand. Even that line of argument does not work in this case. In fact, the fill-in-the-racial-blank observation, the one that is supposed tie it all together and show that Officer Roach shot Mr. Thomas because he was black, is itself shockingly, grotesquely incomplete.

This observation is, I suppose, meant to suggest that these 15 previous situations were exactly like this one - a white officer guns down an unarmed black man. Otherwise, it would be entirely meaningless. It turns out that several of the officers in those previous incidents were themselves black. And it turns out that 12 of those 15 suspects were actually armed with deadly weapons - eight with guns, one with a brick, and another with a two-by-four studded with protruding nails. So it turns out that virtually none of the 15 incidents supposedly proving Officer Roach a deadly bigot were like the incident at hand.

The media also never mention the racial composition of Cincinnati or, more importantly, the racial composition of the neighborhoods in which those shootings occurred. Could it possibly be that, in those areas or in that city, a significant portion of violent crime involves blacks? It turns out that since 1995, 80 per cent of Cincinnati's 238 murders have involved black murderers and black victims.

So a city of more than 330,000 people has been terrorized for what? Incidents like this one should be dealt with directly, honestly, and individually. The police should not cover them up, and political opportunists should not exploit them. Obsessing about race, and especially being so selective and manipulative about it, distorts everything that should be plain and highlights that which should be irrelevant. Police officers should do their job, reacting to situations and using their judgment in accordance with their training, and citizens should obey the law. Rather than immediately accusing an officer of racism, and using that as-yet-unfounded accusation as the spark for racial conflagration, community leaders of all races should be working to solve the problems that produce the crime that police have to confront in the first place.

Thomas L. Jipping is Vice-President for Legal Policy at the Free Congress Foundation.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • America's modern racists by Charles A. Morse (February 5, 2001)
    Charles Morse blasts away at the leftists who called John Ashcroft a racist. They, he says, are responsible for today's racism and bigotry, not conservatism
  • Fanning the flames of racism by Charles A. Morse (March 6, 2000)
    America's Achilles heel is being exploited by those on the left, writes Charles A. Morse, despite the shady past of some of them

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