Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Every Tragic Incident, - Such as That in Missouri - Produces Cries That America Is a "Racist" Society, but Overlooks a More Complex Reality
The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who is black, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri led to days of demonstrations, rioting, and looting. There has been criticism of the overwhelming police response, as well as charges that racism was involved in the death of this teenager. Beyond this, many have proclaimed that this incident shows us that America is a "racist" society, and that talk of racial progress and a movement toward a genuinely "color blind" society is false.
Exactly what happened in Ferguson will be determined by a thorough investigation, including participation by the FBI and the Department of Justice. If there was wrongdoing by the police officer involved, this will be documented and appropriate action will be taken. In the meantime, we can only withhold judgment on what actually occurred.
What we can properly lament, however, is the manner in which a chorus of voices is immediately heard after every negative event telling us that racism is alive and well in almost every sector of our society. The reality is far more complex.
Typical of this phenomenon is a column in The New York Times by Charles Blow, who is black. He declares that:
The criminalization of black and brown bodies, particularly male ones, from the moment they are first introduced to the institutions and power structures with which they must interact. . . . Black male dropout rates are more than one and a half times those of white males, the bias of the educational system bleeds easily into the bias of the criminal justice system, from cops to courts to correctional facilities. The school-to-prison pipeline is complete.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released "the first comprehensive look at civil rights from every public school in the country in nearly 15 years." Attorney General Eric Holder said:
The critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well documented among older students but actually begin during pre-school.
The fact that more young black men drop out of school, that they are over-represented in our criminal justice system, and that they are more often subjected to school discipline, is not necessarily an indication of "institutional racism" in our society, as Mr. Blow and so many others rush to proclaim. There are other, much more plausible explanations.
By 2004 federal data showed that black Americans, 13 percent of the population, accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 51 percent for murder. Most of the victims of these violent criminals were also black. If black men are over-represented in our prison population, the reason appears to be that they are guilty of committing an over-represented amount of crime. Commentator Juan Williams, who is black, laments that:
Any mention of black America's responsibility for committing the crimes, big and small, that lead so many people to prison is barely mumbled, if mentioned at all.
In a column titled "Our Selective Outrage," The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, who is black, notes that:
The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown has rightly provoked widespread outrage, drawing international media attention and prompting a comment from President Obama. The same should be true, but tragically is not, of the killing of 3-year-old Knijah Amore Bibb. Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri; Knijah died the following day in Landover, Maryland. Both victims were African American. Both had their whole lives before them. The salient difference is that Brown was shot to death by a white police officer, according to witnesses, while the fugitive suspect in Bibb's killing is a 25-year-old black man with a long criminal record.
Robinson points to statistics showing the dimensions of the problem. According to the FBI, in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, 2,614 whites were killed by white offenders, and 2,412 blacks were killed by black offenders, similar numbers. "But," writes Robinson,
. . . the non-Hispanic white population is almost five times as large as the African American population, meaning the homicide rate in black communities is staggeringly higher. . . . We need to get angry before we have to mourn the next Knijah Bibb.
It is not "white racism" which causes black-on-black crime, and it may be something other than racism that causes disciplinary disparities and the number of school dropouts, The breakdown of the black family is a more likely cause for such disparities.
In 1940, the black rate of out-of-wedlock birth was around 14 percent. Now, it's 75 percent. In 1870, right after slavery, 70 to 80 percent of black families were intact. Today, after segregation came to an end and the enactment of legislation making racial discrimination illegal, and myriad affirmative action programs, 70 percent of black children have single mothers, and estimates are that an even larger percentage will grow up without a father in the home.
Blaming the problems we confront on "racism" misses the point of the real dilemmas we face. Attorney General Holder does black Americans no favor by ignoring the disintegration of the black family in explaining disparities in school dropouts and disciplinary problems. White racism is not, somehow, compelling out-of-wedlock birth in the black community, a far more plausible causative factor in statistical disparities than blaming an amorphous "institutional racism."
What was missing in the response to developments in Missouri, which included rioting and arson, and cries of "No Justice, No Peace," was "the calming voice of a national civil rights leader of the kind that was so impressive during the 1950s and 1960s," writes author Joseph Epstein:
In those days, there were Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, Whitney Young of the National Urban League, Bayard Rustin of the A. Philip Randolph Institute - all solid, serious men, each impressive in different ways, who through dignified forbearance and strategic action, brought down a body of unequivocally immoral laws aimed at America's black population.
The NAACP, the Urban League, and the SCLC still exist, notes Epstein,
. . . . yet few people are likely to know the names of their leaders. That is because no black leader has come forth to set out a program for progress for the substantial part of the black population that has remained for generations in the slough of poverty, crime, and despair. . . . In Chicago, where I live, much of the murder and crime that has captured the interest of the media is black-on-black and cannot be chalked up to racism. Except when Bill Cosby, Thomas Sowell, or Shelby Steele and a few others have dared to speak about the pathologies at work, and for doing so these black figures are castigated.
Soon enough, exactly what happened in Ferguson, Missouri will become clear and the matter will be resolved through our legal system. It will take a much longer time before our society begins to confront the real causes of the racial disparities and pathologies which are all too easily, and falsely, attributed to "white racism." Until we do, the sad story of Ferguson is likely to happen again and again.
Ferguson, Missouri: Making Things Worse with Al Sharpton Fanning the Flames
The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, unleashed by the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, is being made worse by the involvement of the usual racial demagogues such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who wasted no time making their way to Missouri.
Exactly what happened in this case is not yet known. Investigations by local police, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department will, in the end, make all of this clear. If the police officer in this case acted improperly, he will face the criminal justice system, as he should.
But the Sharpton/Jackson rhetoric makes things worse, encourages violence, and is far from the truth. Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal, who is black, points out that:
There's this false narrative being pushed out there by folks like Michael Eric Dyson and Al Sharpton and the rest of the hustlers that black men live in fear of being shot by cops in these neighborhoods. That too is nonsense. I know something about growing up black and male in the inner city and it's not that hard to avoid getting shot by a cop. They pull you over, you answer their questions and you are on your way.
In Riley's view,
The real difficulty is getting shot by other black people, if you are a young black man in those neighborhoods. That is something we need to talk more about. Cops are not the problem. Cops are not producing these black bodies in the morgues every weekend in Chicago, in New York, and Detroit. That's not cops. That's other black people killing black people.
Al Sharpton, who now has his own show on MSNBC and presents himself to the world as a clergyman, "Rev. Al," has built his career on denigrating the police. He first became famous in 1987, with his biggest lie about police officers.
The facts of the case, which he falsely used to accuse white police officers of racism and brutality, are these: Tawana Brawley, 16, was found November 28, 1987, outside an apartment in Wappingers Falls, New York that had recently been vacated by her family. Her body was smeared with feces and had racial slurs written on it. She claimed she had been held captive for four days and raped by a group of white men, some of who were police officers.
Sheriff's deputies took Brawley to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie. After examining her, a female doctor determined that she had not been raped. A rape kit exam later confirmed this.
Miss Brawley, with the advice and encouragement of a group of advisers, Al Sharpton prominent among them, refused to testify before a grand jury. In October 1988, a grand jury concluded that Brawley had apparently concocted the entire story. The 170-page report said that there was "no evidence that any actual assault had occurred," and suggested that the girl herself was responsible for the condition in which she was found after a four-day disappearance.
During the period between November, 1987, and the grand jury report almost a year later, the Brawley family refused to cooperate in any way with the investigation, accusing authorities of engaging in a racially-motivated "cover-up."
The grand jury declared:
. . . there is nothing in regard to Tawana Brawley's appearance on November 28 that is inconsistent with this condition having been self-inflicted.
The panel also found that there was no evidence whatever of a cover-up by law enforcement officials. Miss Brawley's mother, Glenda, was sentenced to 30 days in jail for defying a subpoena to testify before the grand jury, but she defied arrest by living in a church.
For nearly a year the Brawley case was in the news. The American judicial system and, in particular, law enforcement agencies in New York, were accused of "racism." Without a bit of evidence, the media took such charges seriously and transformed Miss Brawley's "advisors" - Sharpton and lawyers Alton Maddox, Jr. and C. Vernon Mason - into celebrities and, in New York City, almost household names. They appeared on the leading T.V. shows of the day (Phil Donohue's, Morton Downey's, Geraldo's) and were featured in Time and Newsweek, The New York Times and The Washington Post, not to mention the regular banner headlines in such tabloids as The New York Post and The Daily News.
Echoing what we are hearing in Missouri at the present time, radical attorney William Kunstler went so far as to say that it really didn't matter whether the alleged attack on Tawana Brawley ever took place. He declared:
It makes no difference any more whether the attack on Tawana happened. If her story was a concoction to prevent her parents from punishing her for staying out all night, that doesn't disguise the fact that a lot of young black women are treated the way she said she was treated. The advisors now have an issue with which they can grab the headlines.
What Sharpton and his colleagues proceeded to do was raise a great deal of money to achieve "justice" in the Tawana Brawley case, just as they are doing now in Missouri. Investigating this hoax cost the taxpayers of New York approximately $1 million.
The real story, of course, was that there was no story. Perry McKinnon, who broke ranks with the advisors, declared that: "The Tawana Brawley story may be that there is no Tawana Brawley story." He said that he went to Newburgh, fifteen miles from Wappingers Falls, and found youths who claimed that they had seen Brawley in the neighborhood partying at the time of the alleged abduction. Al Sharpton is alleged to have told McKinnon that, almost from the outset, he believed that Tawana Brawley's story "sounded like bull ____."
Yet the media and much of the civil rights establishment eagerly embraced the Brawley hoax. In article entitled "The Brawley Fiasco" (New York Magazine, July 18, 1988), Edwin Diamond writes that "the great paradox" of the entire affair is that it had been "encouraged by the authorities and the media." He declares:
For months, "the white power structure" - as Sharpton calls it - all but propped up the "advisors'" shaky scenarios. The governor and the attorney general, their eyes on electoral politics as well as the case, gave the appearance of trying to avoid offense to any constituency, black or white. The New York television stations and the city's three tabloids, all locked into tight competition, amplified almost every wild utterance from the Brawley camp. Reporters muttered privately about McCarthyite big-lie techniques, but the Brawley family's spokesmen had access to what the media wanted: the story everyone was talking about.
Al Sharpton's Tawana Brawley hoax cannot be considered victimless. There were victims. One, of course, was the truth itself. Others were those who suffer from the real racism which may exist in American society and which will be taken less seriously in the face of false cries of a phony case such as this. Those who embraced the lies of the Brawley case, particularly those in the media who promoted and transmitted them, have trivialized racism in the most extreme manner.
Now, in 2014, we have a 24-hour cable news megaphone. Sadly, Al Sharpton continues to fan the flames of racial division along with his current colleagues. Many younger Americans may not know that Sharpton's career was built on the big lie of the Tawana Brawley case. Before they take seriously what he says today, they should review his record. Heat, not light, is his trademark.
Hopefully, justice will be done in Ferguson, Missouri. The racial demagoguery of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the others make the search for the truth more difficult. They would do well to heed President Obama's words: "Let me call once again for us to seek some understanding, rather than simply holler at one another." Hollering, however, is what they continue to do, and they have found a way to make it pay. It is the rest of us, and truth and justice, who are the losers. *