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Inextricable and Mutual Sadness

Measured by % of the overall population, black men in the US are most disproportionately victims of fatal police violence; black women are also disproportionately killed. Whereas police kill Hispanics "equitably", only non-Hispanic white and Asian men, and women, are killed less than their share of the general population. In Asians’ case, much much less. That inequitable pattern is amplified in California. In California, Asians make up 15% of the population and less than 4% of police killings, a proportionality gap 3x more favorable than the gap for non-Hispanic whites. By comparison, black Californians are 6.5% of the state population and 16% of police homicides: an inequality 38% worse than the already inequitable national benchmark.

That data led to basic factual and analytical errors, including among high-profile California officials. Those errors also revealed the best and brightest's basic ignorance of #BlackLivesMatter most important messages. Take future CA governor and current lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom. When Sacramento police shot Stephon Clark eight times (six in the back), handcuffed him, and watched him die 10 minutes later, Lt Governor Newsom said “a suspect that looks like me would be alive”. Newsom's is a popular message. On Twitter, it was shared and liked orders of magnitude more than his other messages from the same time, a period that included his address to the Santa Ana, CA March For Our Lives gun safety event. Newson's definitive conclusion was reprinted in the SF Chronicle (SFC). But Newsom's is a false and dangerous myth. Especially for the probable chief executive officer of the United States' most populous and powerful state.

In recent years, police of his state and mine shot and killed 138 middle-aged (median: 38), white, male Newsom-looking suspects. Less than half were armed with a gun; one-third exhibited mental illness. Over the same time, California police killed 8 white women (median age:38.5); 3 of those allegedly had guns. The same Sacramento PD that shot and killed Clark shot and killed two white guys. Both exhibited mental illness: 42 yo Matt Coates in 2015 was armed with a bb gun (girlfriend: "he was killed for nothing"); 56 yo Wallace Jory in 2017 was armed with a pitchfork when he initiated suicide by cop. One study found 36% of all fatal police shootings could be considered suicide by cop; of those, 93% succeeded.

At the national level, across races, US police encounters turned fatal at the same rate (Injury Prevention). Once an American encountered a US law enforcement officer, the odds of police killing him or her equalized by race. A black economist from Harvard, looking at data from Houston, found black people were almost 30% less likely be shot concluding: "on the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account," (National Bureau of Economic Research). That’s at least part of the reason why, amongst themselves, some white people I know doubt and debate the ethics of calling the police in an emergency. If your goal is to save the life of a 30 yo white Iraq war veteran experiencing a psychotic breakdown from fentanyl withdrawal in the middle of San Francisco’s Market Street, should you call 911 and hope for the best? I know of white people that refuse to make that call, given the effective revocation of white privilege once “a white man” becomes “a suspect” on a police radio dispatch as the lights flash and sirens sound. 

Some might assume that #AllLivesMatter seize cases of young whites killed by police to negate or deny #BlackLivesMatter a racial monopoly on victimization. Yet, #AllLivesMatter rhetoric is consistently empty of white victims. #BlackLivesMatter activists routinely and correctly note their disproportionate share of voice for white male victims. When a 16 yo white kid was shot in a $20 South Carolina drug bust, Jamilah Lemieux (wiki) wrote "#ZacharyHammond isn't going to get the outrage he deserves because it would force folks to admit their consistent defense of police is wrong" (tweet). When Hillary Clinton invoked Hammond's case at a 2016 primary stop in South Carolina (video), Breitbart's headline concluded Clinton "dump(ed) on cops" (Breitbart). In an Arizona case, popular punching bag Shaun King described a bodycam video of a sobbing middle-aged white Texan, Daniel Shaver, "one of the worst I've ever witnessed...a grave injustice," (tweet). The marquee #BlackLivesMatter brand in this policy domain denies notions of proportional outcomes. Campaign Zero's homepage starts from the premise that "we can live in a world where the police don't kill people". Period. Hypothetically, citing the risks white people face once in contact with police doesn't undermine the #BlackLivesMatter imperatives but affirms and fortifies them. 

Equality in terms of homicide rates after police contact carry through postmortem justice.  Neither Shaver’s nor Hammond’s nor Coates' nor Jory's shooter faced discipline. In SoCal, CA's largest newspaper by circulation, the LA Times found accountability "unheard of". From 2004 to 2017, cops in California's Imperial, LA, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties killed 2000 Californians. One officer was prosecuted and later acquitted at trial. In the second case, prosecutors alleged a sheriff deputy murdered a rival in a lover's triangle and justified it by arguing his victim attempted to take his service weapon. California Attorneys General (including Kamala Harris, who still struggles to specify law and policy changes) stayed out of police shooting cases: the LA Times went back to 1998 to find such a case of the California AG charging one. Just as Newsom incorrectly asserts white privilege protects whites in contact with police, white victims enjoy little privilege against decades of case law and cliquish police unions, lawmakers, prosecutors, judges. A 12 year LA DA described "awful but lawful" police killings of Californians simply: "like it or not but the law provides huge cover for the police".  If whites in contact with the police are killed at par with peers, and nobody gets their day in court, the true white privilege is disproportionately avoiding police contact in the first place. 

It makes sense, then, that the privilege to avoid police contact is the first policy prescription of BLM's Campaign Zero: "we can live in a world where the police don't kill people by limiting police interventions". In short, they say, end broken windows policing. And that's the cruelest irony of future governor's Newsom politically correct message. Clark's homicide in his backyard was precipitated by - literally - a 911 call about broken car windows. When Newsom asserts (wrongly) that outcomes in his state hinge on a "suspect's" complexion, he skips right over the problem of who is and who is not "a suspect". A problem that is at the headwaters of downstream inequalities. He's obtuse to the question whether or not broken windows absolutely necessitated a helicopter-led thermal vision pursuit in the night skies of the state's capitol - a city he himself does not live in. Newsom lives 90 miles from 45% white Sacramento in 91% white Kentfield. (About Sacramento, Newsom said in 2011, "it's just so dull. Sadly, I just, ugh, God." SacBee). Newsom's aloofness about basic use of force issues may help explain why San Francisco's African American Community-Police Relations Board quietly faded away during his time as mayor (SF Weekly) and why I can't find a statement from Newsom regarding the firing squad that erupted on a cowering, cornered, knife-wielding Mario Woods.

Nevertheless, he's in categorical denial about California's largest racial category of police killing: people that look like him. Some of whom exhibit mental illness, possess guns, and present potential lethal threats to police officers. Some of whom do not. Some of whom premediate and provoke their own execution. Some of those "suspects" that appear to present "policing problems" are, in fact, symptoms of catastrophic policy failures in other domains such as California's care for men and women unable to care for themselves. Newsom may live in a protective bubble. But it's not the one he thinks. As soon-to-be California's highest ranking executive officer, his incorrect understanding of how his state, in fact, treats suspects who look like him isn't a neutral matter. By skipping over the root causes of preventable police interventions, Newsom protects a political culture that relies on police as first and primary responders to every manner of social disturbance - and thus perpetuates threats to those who look like him and disproportionately to those who do not. 


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