Some 40 years ago, I enrolled in a Master of Business Administration degree program at the University of Georgia. At the time, I was working long hours in my assignment as director of the Leadership and Management Division at the Navy Supply School in Athens, Georgia. My work responsibilities simply did not allow time for the graduate program. I remember walking into a macroeconomics class and having absolutely no idea what the professor was talking about. I have come to a similar realization regarding much of what is going on in America today involving how some legitimate issues are addressed. Further, I do not understand how some issues even become issues.
As I share my thinking in what I write and in speaking, it is obvious that I am failing to understand the positions taken by some other Americans; especially a substantial percentage my fellow black Americans. I suppose my life experiences have shaped my thought process in a way that does not allow me to understand most of the arguments presented in contradiction to my thinking.
An example of this is a reader’s comments in response to my October 2017 column titled “National Football League ... goodbye.” Regarding players kneeling during the national anthem to protest oppression of black Americans, I objected. I included a definition of oppression from the Cambridge English Dictionary: “A situation in which people are governed in an unfair and cruel way and prevented from having opportunities and freedom.” Looking at the definition, I contended that there is still racism in our country, but black Americans are not oppressed.
A frequent reader disagreed with my thinking. His rebuttal was to argue that oppression shows in black Americans being racially profiled, beaten or killed in the streets of our country. He contends that when racists with authority – meaning police officers – feel free to kill a black man simply because he is black, that is oppression. The reader went on to give other indicators of the oppression of black Americans: A black woman is stopped for a traffic violation, ends up dead in a jail cell and no one is held accountable; judges and juries do not convict police officers who kill black Americans; a political party repeatedly tries to strip millions of Americans of the health care they have (Obamacare).
Out of my life experiences and examination of facts, focusing on the black male component, here is how I process this reader’s response. Regarding experiences, I am a black man who has never had an unpleasant encounter with a police officer: white, black or other. In a September 2016 column titled “My Interactions with White Police Officers,” I reflected on those interactions all the way back to my teenage years. That would be well over 50 years.
Couple this with my most recent encounter, which has been since I wrote that column. A young, white, Fayetteville police officer stopped me for speeding. As he approached my truck, I let the window down and put my hands on the steering wheel. He politely and respectfully greeted me and explained that I was clocked doing 45 mph in a 35 mph zone. I explained to him that the speed limit in that area had always been 45 mph. There was no speed limit sign between where I turned onto the street and where he checked my speed. The officer acknowledged that the speed limit had recently been changed. When he asked for my driver’s license, I looked at him and said I was going to get my wallet from my hip pocket. He said that was fine, and I gave him my license. He went back to his car and did whatever had to be done. Returning, he gave me a warning, and I went on to the golf course. Not for a moment did I feel threatened or in any danger.
Time and time again, this has been my experience with police officers, no matter their skin color. Consequently, I read the response of this reader, and my personal experiences do not align with the oppression picture he paints.
Then there is the consideration and analysis of facts. The football players who are kneeling during the national anthem claim that black Ameri- cans, as a whole, are oppressed. The reader of my column is making the same claim. Colin Kaepernick – former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was the first athlete who refused to stand during the national anthem – the current kneelers and my reader all point to white police officers killing black men or using excessive force. They see this as indicative of all black Americans being oppressed. The question to be addressed, then, is the extent to which all black men in America are affected by police brutality or killing.
Philippe Lemoine speaks forthrightly to this consideration in an article titled “Police Violence against Black Men Is Rare.” I encourage reading of this article at www.nationalreview.com/article/451466/police-violence-against-black-men-rare-heres-what-data-actually-say. Following are some statements made by Lemoine that show police do not kill or commit brutality toward black males at the terrifying pace portrayed by media and others:
• In reality, a randomly selected black man is overwhelmingly unlikely to be victim of police violence – and though white men experience such violence even less often, the disparity is consistent with the racial gap in violent crime, suggesting that the role of racial bias is small.
• (Referring to 2016) Last year, according to The Washington Post’s tally, just 16 unarmed black men, out of a population of more than 20 million, were killed by the police. The year before, the number was 36.
• Only 0.6 percent of black men experience physical force by the police in any given year, while approximately 0.2 percent of white men do.
• Actual injuries by the police are so rare that one cannot esti- mate them very precisely even in a survey as big as the Police-Public Contact Survey, but the available data suggest that only 0.08 percent of black men are injured by the police each year, approximately the same rate as for white men.
• National Crime Victimization Survey data from 2015, the most recent year available, suggests that black men are three times as likely to commit violent crimes as white men. To the extent that cops are more likely to use force against people who commit violent crimes, which they surely are, this could easily explain the disparities we have observed in the rates at which the police use force.
These facts speak clearly. I hear the reader, but my thinking through brings me to conclude that treatment of black males by police officers does not show oppression of black Americans.
The thought process employed above reflects my approach to every issue. Whether it is illegal immigration, Obamacare, alleviating poverty or a multitude of other issues, the approach is the same. That is, draw on my life experiences while assembling and analyzing the facts. That process leads to conclusions and, where appropriate, action.
I am comfortable with the decision-making approach outlined above. I recognize there is the danger that being comfortable can lead to over- confidence and wrong conclusions. Consequently, I invite readers to give me feedback regarding the thoughts and issue positions I put forth. However, if that feedback is to be productive, it must be supported by facts and orderly analysis of those facts.
Whether I agree or not, I want to understand the arguments of those who see an issue differently than me. Let me hear from you.