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Posted on Tue. Aug. 19, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

COLUMN

There's more than one stereotype at work in Missouri police-shooting story

Blacks are more likely to be targeted by police and each other -- but why?

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If opportunists in the media, politics and grievance industry are to be believed, there was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between a white police officer's fatal shooting of a black teenager and the looting and violence that has gripped Ferguson, Mo., for the past 10 days.

But Michael Brown's death at Darren Wilson's hands did not cause – or justify – what followed. It was merely a convenient excuse to all-too-common demons that largely go unreported when they cannot be exploited for personal or political advantage.

There is, obviously, ample reason to question and investigate why a police officer would shoot an unarmed man six times. But until the facts are known, attempts to paint the incident as just the latest example of police racism are as baseless and inflammatory as angry demands for "justice" made long before anybody can know what justice demands.

"How often do police shoot young black men?" asked the liberal publication Mother Jones, adding that Brown's death was "just the tip of the iceberg." Quoting USA Today, the story noted that "on average there were 96 cases of a white police officer killing a black person each year between 2006 and 2012, based on justifiable homicides reported to the FBI." But even Mother Jones had to acknowledge that, according to federal statistics, there was no significant racial disparity among the 4,813 people who died while in the process of arrest or police custody between 2003 and 2009.

Nor did the story mention the shooting of white officers such as Perry Renn of Indianapolis, who was gunned down in July by Major Davis, an African American – or that 100 law enforcement officers were killed in 2013, with that number on pace to grow this year.

Nobody rioted or looted to "avenge" Renn's murder. Al Sharpton never traveled to Indianapolis to demand justice. And the fact is that young black makes have much more to fear in each other than they do white cops. In 2008, the homicide rate for blacks was six times higher than for white, at 19.6 murders per 100,000. Between 1980 and 2008, in fact, about 93 percent of black victims were killed by other blacks.

So what is really going on in Missouri? Former professional basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offers an intelligent, thought-provoking but ultimately unsatisfying take on that question in a Time Magazine piece headlined "The Coming Race War Won't Be About Race."

"This fist-shaking of everyone's racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color than on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor," he writes. "In general, white-against-black (racism) economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact." With 50 million Americans poor, he argues -- many of them black -- the growing divide between the haves and have nots will only produce more unrest unless America's economy works for everybody.

It's a valid point, but he immediately undermines it by criticizing the "multitude of millionaires and billionaires who lobby to reduce food stamps, give no relief to the burden of student debt on your young, and kill extensions of unemployment benefits."

The truth is that education, character, stable families and good jobs – not more welfare – provide the most reliable path to lasting prosperity, just as it's also true that largest U.S. job growth since 1999 came during the first six months of this year, when extended unemployment benefits expired. What's more, Brown himself was videotaped not long before he was killed robbing a convenience store of cigars -- hardly something anybody must steal in order to survive.

Wilson reportedly was unaware of the robbery when his confrontation with Brown occurred, and he should pay the price should the shooting prove unjustified. Even Police Chief Magazine recently reported how studies have indicated that officers consider race when deciding to shoot or not shoot. "Officers and community members alike, it seemed, responded more quickly to targets that conform to stereotypes," the story concluded

The Washington Post, however, reports that the manager of the store Brown robbed now fears for his life because some of his customers believe it was he who called the police and released the video of the crime. "They kill us if they think we are responsible," he said.

The tragic irony here is that the people who have incited or participated in violence, supposedly to honor Brown's memory, have only perpetuated the kind of stereotypes that may or may not have contributed to his death -- the stereotypes we should be trying to eliminate, not encourage.


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