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Beckman: Time to address rampant fear of law enforcement

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By Hank Beckman - 

Last week I wrote about a young black girl who spoke at a protest in La Grange about the killing of George Floyd.

She told the crowd she lived in constant fear that any day would be her last, because any day she might be killed because of the color of her skin.

I cited some statistics to show how unlikely this really was, and wrote about why she might be so fearful. I noted that several celebrities made the most outrageous and unreal statements about the nature of police interactions with black citizens in the modern era.

And I stand by what I wrote. People like Benjamin Crump, Oprah Winfrey and Beto O’Rourke do a great disservice to this country and its struggle with race relations by exaggerating the threat police pose to blacks, especially black males.

Apparently it’s not only impressionable young black kids that are petrified at the mere thought of an encounter with the police.

A recent post on my FaceBook page was by Steve Locke, a Massachusetts art professor that described his experience being a victim of racial profiling near the campus where he taught. 

He’s on his way to get a burrito for lunch when he was stopped by the police. He fit the description of someone involved in an attempted home burglary, was in the vicinity and the cops proceeded to do what cops do—they investigated and stopped someone who fit the description of the alleged offender.

The man explained to the officers that he was a professor at a nearby college, showed them his identification. Eventually the officers, aided by a witness who cleared the man of any involvement in the offense, let him go on his way.

But before being cleared of any wrongdoing, when he heard that the witness was a white woman, he thought “It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die.”

He explained that his fear of being wrongly charged was so great that there was no way he would get in the squad car; he would resist arrest.

Another grown man who was convinced he might die at the hands of a racist cop was Indianapolis Colt linebacker Darius Leonard.

He was dining with friends at a Chipotle when he was asked to leave because another customer had claimed that he and his friends were harassing him. Leonard denied the claim of harassment.

The manager also said he would call the police, and that apparently terrified Leonard. “The first thing that went in my mind was that I have wife and kid,” he was quoted as saying in ESPN Online. “If the police are involved, you think you’re not making it home.”

We only have the word of these two gentleman to go by. In the case of Darius Leonard, the manager of the restaurant was suspended pending an investigation. A witness reportedly confirmed Leonard’s account, but he remained anonymous. I’ve seen no news reports reporting on any resolution to the incident, other than to confirm the investigation was ongoing.

As for the hungry Mr. Locke, no news reports indicate that there was anything more to the story than his blog post related.

But the fact is that in 2020, more than 50 years after Dr. King’s era, in a time when there has been so much progress in the black community, and race relations in general, when we’ve even elected a black president, these two adults still fear for their lives at the prospect of any encounter with a police officer, no matter how innocent they might be or how easy it is to prove that innocence.

Whatever the reason for their fears, it is sad that educated, grown men still have that visceral fear of police. It is, to say the least, not the sign of a healthy society.

And yet…and yet, anyone remotely paying attention to these matters in recent years can’t help but being a little skeptical of any report of racial bias. Unfounded reports of hate crimes or hate speech or outright hate crime hoaxes are not exactly unheard of in modern America.

Jussie Smollett and Bubba Wallace are only the most recent, famous examples. Any regular consumer of news, especially someone that reads conservative publications, news aggregate publications, and local news from around the nation has seen the news reports that alert the public to the latest outrage against blacks, only to later report that the incident was a mistake, or an outright hoax.

Indeed, since the notorious Tawana Brawley hoax in the 1980s, when Al Sharpton led a pack of race hustlers claiming that the teenage Brawley had been raped by racist whites—even naming an innocent man as the rapist—hate crime hoaxes have become a regular feature of race relations in America. Last decade’s Duke “rape” hoax perpetrated against the school’s white La Crosse players is another well-publicized example. No doubt the careful reader has come across many other lesser publicized hoaxes.

How many actual hate crimes or incidents of hate speech are legitimate and how many false is the subject of another, more detailed article. But some research suggests that they are more widespread than some would have us believe.

One scholar recently published a volume on reports of hate crimes. Wilfred Reilly, tenure-track professor at Kentucky State University, a historically black college, found that of 346 reported cases of hate crimes, less than a third turned out to be justified. Between 2010 and 2017, Reilly found a shocking total of 400 confirmed hate crime hoaxes. (Hat tip—Jason L. Riley of the Wall Street Journal)

While the two incidents I cited are obviously not the same as known hoaxes, they share a similarity in being part of narratives that seem to confirm a regular pattern of bias acts blacks claimed they’ve suffered. 

Nooses are a regular feature of recent hoaxes, the most recent being Bubba Wallace finding what turned out to be a rope to pull down his garage door. So are racist messages scrawled on people’s doors, especially black college students. And there is a groundswell of outrage on social media about police being called on blacks. Some of the examples cited are indeed frivolous; others are questionable as evidence of racial bias.

And since George Floyd’s murder, we’ve been subjected to a regular barrage of claims, against all available empirical evidence, that an encounter with the police is a certain death sentence for a black person.

As yet, I have no solid evidence either proving or disproving racial bias in either of the two incidents cited, or whether or not they took place as described. We have only the claims of the aggrieved parties. But any regular consumer of news can’t be faulted for taking them with at least a little skepticism.

All those years ago, when I first heard the story of Tawana Brawley being raped and smeared with feces by racist whites, my first reaction was to be horrified. How could that happen in the United States in the 1980s? This was New York City in the modern age, not the Jim Crow South of the 1930s.

But now when I hear about the latest claim of a hate crime I’m inclined to think…here we go again.

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