Protesting the Murder of George Floyd


Protests against the institutionalized racist violence against blacks in the United States, most recently exemplified by the recent murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, took place in cities around the country this weekend.

Here are some photos of the events here in Columbia, South Carolina.

Protestors gather on the State House steps in Columbia, SC. Photo by Lacey Musgrave.

 

Protestor in Columbia, SC. Photo by Crush Rush.

 

Police officer points gun at the neck of an unarmed protestor at close range. Photo by Crush Rush.

 

Police cars on fire. Photo by Crush Rush.

 

Protestors in Columbia, SC. Photo by Catherine Hunsinger.

 

Law enforcement sniper atop building near protests in Columbia, SC. Photo by Crush Rush.

 

(See more photos here.)

There were many reports of police responding to the protests across the country with violence (“Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide“, “Facing Protests Over Use of Force, Police Respond With More Force“). There were also reports of some protestors engaging in property damage and theft. Many cities, including Columbia, imposed curfews and enlisted the help of the National Guard.

Here are some observations:

  1. Protestors showed a great deal of courage this weekend, risking not just the ordinary hazards of confronting law enforcement, but also the additional risks posed by COVID-19.
  2. If the goal of law enforcement during protests is to allow the exercise of freedom of expression while minimizing property damage and violence, many strategies they employ are seemingly irrational. I don’t like that this appears to lead to a type of “they’re either evil or stupid” conclusion, but I think the burden of argument is on them.
  3. I think it would be interesting to compare the efforts and expenses cities take to protect property from damage during protests of institutionalized racist violence to the efforts and expenses cities take to prevent institutionalized racist violence in law enforcement. I suspect the former is much greater than the latter.
  4. When protests are known to likely involve property damage and business closures, city officials end up with strong prudential reasons to take steps to make them unnecessary, by, for example, taking steps to reduce unjustified killings by its police officers—in addition to the moral reasons they have to do this.
  5. There are people who have heard of the murder of George Floyd only because they heard about the protests of his murder, and, to a point, more people hear about the murder the more newsworthy the protests are. One thing that makes protests more newsworthy is “bad behavior” on either side.
  6. Points 4 and 5 make it more difficult to believe, as some critics of the protestors do, that the protests would have been more effective if they had not involved property damage.
  7. While the overall picture regarding institutionalized racist violence in the United States is, in its main respects, morally clear, the morality “on the ground” during protests is, in some ways, more complicated. A business owner supportive of the protests may be rightly aggreived by the damage intentionally inflicted on his store. In Columbia, a restaurant owner was beaten by protestors for calling the police to report cars that had been set on fire; he didn’t deserve that.

There’s a lot more one could say here. I’m sure some readers will object to some things I’ve said or how I’ve put things. Discussion welcome.

COMMENTS POLICY

 

140 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Louis
Louis
1 year ago

I agree with some of this. On points 4 to 6, you’ve phrased them carefully but the implication is that protests involving property damage produce or may well produce more in the way of policy changes because city officials will have an incentive to avoid them in the future. First, as a matter of fact and of the historical record, I doubt that’s correct, and second, the implication is in tension with what you say in point 3.Report

Louis
Louis
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Ok, I’ll retract my second point (about 3 being in tension with 4-6).

There have been peaceful protests and less peaceful ones, and while it’s impossible to filter out all the other factors and draw firm conclusions, it should be possible to.look at particular instances of particular city governments and how they have responded in terms of policy change to different kinds of protests. It wouldn’t yield firm conclusions but still might be interesting. No doubt someone has done this, but I don’t know the relevant literature. Another line of research would be to look at cities or other jurisdictions where there has been significant change or improvement in policing practices over time, and ask what role protests played in furthering or speeding up such change (or slowing it down, whichever the case might be).
Report

Nick
Nick
1 year ago

The police are (entirely correctly) criticized for using tactics that fail to discriminate between genuine threats to public safety and peaceful protesters (e.g., when they use tear gas, fire rubber bullets into crowds). Agents of the state enjoy no special status merely in virtue of being employed by the state or wearing a badge. But neither do protesters enjoy special status merely in virtue of being protesters. So protesters act equally wrongly when they destroy or loot local businesses that have nothing to do with George Floyd’s death, police violence more generally, or the general failures of the criminal justice system.

Some on the left say “This is an expression of outrage and mourning. You can’t tell black people how to mourn.” Well I can say that, since black people are full moral agents the same as anyone else, they act wrongly when they fail to discriminate between appropriate targets of their anger. Those who act as if, merely in virtue of their being wronged or being black, that black people get a free pass to express their anger however they feel in the moment, might be revealing their own racism–acting as if black people are less capable of acting appropriately when they are wronged.

If a white man is unjustly fired from his job or mugged on the street, he is wronged. But he is not thereby permitted to beat his wife or slash his neighbors tires when he gets home. Black people are wronged all the time by the police. They are not thereby permitted to destroy local businesses. Black people are people, too. They don’t get a free pass, nor do the police. (Though black people may well be justified in destroying POLICE property, since the police are plausibly an apt target.)

Many on the left say that breaking innocent people’s stuff gets their message heard by those who otherwise wouldn’t hear it. Suppose that ceremonially murdering an innocent man on camera did an even better job. Would it therefore be right, or permissible, or excusable to murder an innocent man? Nope. So the mere fact that violating innocent people’s rights gets their message out better than being peaceful doesn’t justify violating property rights. “But it’s just property!” Cool. Then by all means volunteer your own house to be burned down. Not mine. Not my unwilling neighbor’s.Report

anon grad
anon grad
Reply to  Nick
1 year ago

Black people are getting lynched openly by state actors and instead we’re being asked to focus on property damage. There will come a time to talk about the rights and wrongs of violent uprisings. But when a people have had enough of 400 years of being looted, please get your priorities straight and show some solidarity with them. This isn’t a game, this isn’t a classroom, this isn’t just being wrong by the police. This is centuries of racial domination, subjugation, pillage, rape, and genocide. Honestly, have some perspective.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  anon grad
1 year ago

“[W]e’re being asked to focus on property damage.”

Yes. I don’t apologize. You don’t get to burn down my Chinese immigrant father’s restaurant because white people have oppressed black people for 400 years.

Everyone here agrees that Floyd was killed unjustly and that police regularly kill black people unjustly. (It’s a blog for largely left-leaning philosophers after all.) Justin’s post asks us to reflect on the question: Is stealing or destroying the property of innocent third parties a permissible response to that? Reflecting on the plight of black people is part of the whole question! So I’m not drawing our attention away from injustices done to black people, if that’s what you’re worried about. If anyone is asking us to ignore injustice, it’s you. You want us to turn a blind eye to injustice done to the innocent because you’re pissed at the guilty.

“There will come a time to talk about the rights and wrongs of violent uprisings.”

Apparently we both have time since we’re commenting on a blog about it. Wanna talk now?Report

Wes
Wes
Reply to  Nick
1 year ago

Hey, Protesters.

Listen, guys. You must abide by the social contract when you protest! Imagine a society in which the contract was broken, in which the institutions of justice and those who enforce them did not work for everyone equally. Can you protesters even imagine living in that kind of society?! In that kind of society, the people for whom the contract isn’t working might no longer see any reason to follow the contract and might turn to breaking that contract in order to be heard. We would, then, need to send them messages reminding them to live by the social contract that is not working for them.

C’mon, fellas! Report

Paul L. Franco
Paul L. Franco
Reply to  Wes
1 year ago

Nick says: “Many on the left say that breaking innocent people’s stuff gets their message heard by those who otherwise wouldn’t hear it. Suppose that ceremonially murdering an innocent man on camera did an even better job. Would it therefore be right, or permissible, or excusable to murder an innocent man?”

This thought experiment strikes me as odd for a few reasons. To articulate just one: The protests were sparked by actual murders of actual people caught on camera. So, I think it’s safe to say the protestors taking to the streets in response to the murders of Black people on camera wouldn’t support the ceremonial murders of innocent people on camera, even if it got their message across. Indeed, it seems to me that one source of frustration is that it took actual murders of actual people on camera for the message they’ve been trying to get across for so long to be heard again.Report

Wes
Wes
Reply to  Nick
1 year ago

Less facetiously, I think your comment, Nick, assumes that property rights have a moral justification, so violations of property rights are morally impermissible. I’m not convinced by attempts at justifying private property by morality. Better, I think, are the social justifications of private property (I’m personally a capitalist).

I think Rawls is (roughly) right to ground property rights in a system of justice. If that is the case, though, citizens in a society whose other rights are being systematically violated (especially as seriously as the rights of African Americans have been violated here) have no reason to respect the contact (including the property rights of others), since those rights are only justified by a system of justice. It seems extremely hypocritical to pass judgment on people for violating contract rights (like property rights) when the social contract is not honoring their most basic rights to life and the pursuit of happiness. They are being asked to carry burdens beyond others–viz. respect the contract rights of others, even though their own rights are being violated.

This is the more serious point I was attempting to make facetiously above.Report

Anonymous Postdoc
Anonymous Postdoc
Reply to  Wes
1 year ago

“It seems extremely hypocritical to pass judgment on people for violating contract rights (like property rights) when the social contract is not honoring their most basic rights to life and the pursuit of happiness.”

It might be unfair, but why is it hypocritical, especially when many people making these judgements aren’t Rawlsians and think that there’s something intrinsically wrong about e.g. destroying someone’s business because you’re angry at someone else but the first person’s stuff happens to be in smashing range?Report

Ken Lewchuk
Ken Lewchuk
1 year ago

The link below provides some data regarding police shootings & killings. Although the data is presumably not perfectly accurate, let’s assume it is directionally correct. There were ~1,000 killings and ~40 were unarmed. The most common race of men (they were predominantly men) being killed was white. I don’t know what the race was of the police doing the killing, but let’s assume they were predominantly white.

I don’t think it is within the bounds of rationality to ascribe a white cop shooting and killing a white man to “institutional racism”, therefore there must be other factor(s). Let’s just call it X factor.

So, as I see it, we are faced with two options. First, the X factor is only a property of white males. If a white cop shoots and kills a white man it is due to the X factor but if a white cop shoots and kills a black man it is due to institutional racism.

Alternatively, we could assert that the X factor may be a property of both black and white males. Which would mean that the killing of a black man by a white cop is not necessarily indicative of institutional racism. Are people protesting the wrong problem?

To be clear, this is not suggesting that racism isn’t real. However, flawed arguments based on intersectionality is not a helpful path forward.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2019/national/police-shootings-2019/
Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Ken Lewchuk
1 year ago

Are X and racism mutually exclusive? It could be that X = being poor yet race amplifies the effect at the time of arrest. Of course African Americans are *also* more likely to be poor, which affects their likelihood of being arrested in the first place. But even if white and black people were not more likely to be arrested and/or shot merely by dint of being poor, race could still play a role compounding the effect of poverty.Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

Nicolas,
I was simplifying but agreed that any good social scientist would do a multi-variate analysis. Race could be a contributing factor, even if it isn’t a primary or significant factor. Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Ken
1 year ago

Thanks for the reply. Well, I was suggesting race might be a significant factor, both up to and after arrest, which would explain not why both white and black people get killed by the police but why, rather, black people get disproportionately killed. It’s hard to explain this without appealing to some form and degree of racial discrimination in the story—whether or it’s institutional, systemic.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

*whether or not it’s institutional, systemic and/or something else.Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

Nicolas,
I think there are a number of possible explanations for why black people get disproportionately killed. Let’s assume that poverty is an explanatory factor and that there are higher rates of poverty amongst minority populations. In doing a multivariate analysis, you would need to account for this different level of poverty in determining the explanation attributed to racism. Of course, if you are a neo-Marxist… everything is reducible to racism or some other form of oppression. Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Ken
1 year ago

Ken, I’m not sure throwing the words ‘multivariate analysis’ and ‘neo-Marxist’ is helping here. The suggestion I made is that—setting aside the fact that higher rates of poverty and crime may themselves be the outcome of racial discrimination and/or the legacy of segregation—if you controlled for poverty and crime you may still find an effect of race on likelihood of arrest and/or getting shot in the course of arrest.

I may be wrong, and no disrespect, but you seem to understand neo-Marxism like Jordan Peterson. I don’t think neo-Marxists think “everything is reducible to racism”. Indeed, I’d say they often think racism is explained in large part by other structures of exploitation and oppression, those maintained by capitalism. (Again, I may be wrong)Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

I think we are in agreement that there may be a racial component to some of these events. In some cases, I think it is the primary component.

However, I think it is important to be careful how we use the term “racist” and apply it appropriately.

My “neo-marxist” reference to the arguement where I assert that a class is oppressed, show my identification with that class, conclude that I am oppressed as a member of that class and therefore due special consideration.

Peterson has a “few” good points but not generally a fan 🙂
Report

Mark Bowker
Mark Bowker
Reply to  Ken Lewchuk
1 year ago

This is a strange line of argument. Of course people get shot for reasons other than racism. The allegation of racism comes from the disproportionate killing of people of colour.Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Mark Bowker
1 year ago

Mark,
Let me try to explain this way. Let’s assume the gender make up of the United States is approximately 50/50. The individuals getting killed by police is disproportionately male (see data previously provided). Few women are being killed. One could conclude that this is due to institutionalized misandry and go out to protest and burn down buildings. Of course, this would be nonsense. While it is true that a disproportionate number of men are getting killed, they are not getting killed because they are men. I hope this helps.
Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Ken
1 year ago

“While it is true that a disproportionate number of men are getting killed, they are not getting killed because they are men.”

I think this depends on the kind of “because” you are considering here. Imagine a toy society, where police only kill people who are engaged in morally vicious criminal activity, and where women are given many non-criminal opportunities to succeed in society while some group of men is raised in a way that makes only vicious criminal activity seem like a plausible way to support oneself. There’s a clear sense in which, in this toy society, the men are getting killed only because they are criminals (many other men avoid crime and don’t get killed) but another clear sense in which the man *are* getting killed because they are men (because something about the opportunities available to women and men makes the conditions for being killed by the police more relevant for men). Something like this is what I’d want to say about many gender-biased types of death, ranging from smoking, to mining, to being killed by a client as a prostitute. I don’t know that I would call it “institutionalized misandry” or actually some form of “institutionalized misogyny” or more generally “institutionalized gendered violence”.Report

FakeItTilYouMakeIt
FakeItTilYouMakeIt
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 year ago

Kenny, how could your “toy society” have any bearing on explaining the actual causal explanation in the actual world? Presumably you think that it is relevant because you think that it mirrors the actual world. But then why are you cheating in various stipulations, instead of just saying that they obtain in the actual world?Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 year ago

I used “because” in the way it is commonly used. For example, a policeman was presented with a man and a woman in the same situation and shot the man and not the women because he was a man. Report

Anon.
Anon.
Reply to  Ken
1 year ago

Of course, if you don’t actually want to engage in social science but in linguistic prescriptivism, it’s easy to exclude examples of structural oppression by fiat.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 year ago

Kenny, can you (or anyone else well-versed in this area) explain something to me. Suppose that some of those men aren’t at all susceptible to the influences “that makes only vicious criminal activity seem like a plausible way to support oneself”, or they are given reasonable opportunities to avoid criminal activity, and furthermore, that some non-negligible number of women are raised in a way that makes only vicious criminal activity seem like a plausible way to support oneself. Your point about being killed because they are men still seems to apply to this case. And yet it also seems like there’s one group that is far far far more disproportionately likely to be killed: the group of people who were raised in that particular way. On what basis do we focus on the men, instead of the people-raised-a-particular-way? People sometimes add in words like ‘systematic’ or ‘social group’ as if these reference classes matters more to our theorising about justice, but I’m yet to hear a good justification that doesn’t simply pull the same move (e.g. because historically it’s men (in this toy case) that have experienced disproportinate impacts xyz). it just really seems to me like if the thing we started looking at was people being killed as a result of living a life of crime as a result of being raised a particular way, it’s the being killed and being raised a certain way that really matters here.

Assuming that ‘being raised to think that a life of crime is the only option’ is a bad thing we should prevent, my worry is that when we focus on disproportionate impacts, we leave out all of the women who learned that a life of crime is the only option, and we include all the men who didn’t learn that a life of crime is the only option, which just seems like a bit of a wrong headed approach particularly when you want to start reducing crime. And if the actual proportion of criminals among the population is relatively small, regardless of gender, then this means we end up including *lots* of male non-life-of-crime-ers in our group-of-people-to-prioritize, and leaving out a very substantial proportion of women who were also raised to follow a life of crime.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 year ago

Edward, Kenny, Mark, and Ken: I think one way of interpreting Kenny’s point is to ask where the locus of the racism or sexism is. If Kenny is right, the problem (in the stipulated scenario) isn’t with the police, it’s with other aspects of society. Having the police wear body cams, undergo sensitivity training, etc. won’t change anything (in that stipulated scenario). If we want to know how to fix the problem, it matters whether we’ve correctly identified the problem.Report

Mark Bowker
Mark Bowker
Reply to  Ken
1 year ago

That would of course be nonsense. But you say that as if people are committed to that nonsense explanation if they think that the disproportionate killing of non-white people is in part explained by racism. They obviously are not. It’s entirely consistent to judge that one is the result of bigotry and the other isn’t. Maybe you’re suggesting that the disproportionate numbers are the only evidence of racism in policing? I’m afraid that’s not right either.

But… I’ve just seen the term ‘Neo-Marxist’ thrown around, so I think I’m done here. Report

Wes
Wes
Reply to  Ken Lewchuk
1 year ago

In 2019, whites were 76.5% of the population. According to the link you reference, they made up just under 37% of those killed by police officers. Almost 40% under-represented by their population.

In the same year, African Americans made up 13.4% of the population. According to your link, they made up 23% of those killed by police officers. Almost 10% higher than their population.

Say that, in a society, the media of that society depicts black men as dangerous. Many (black, brown, and white) buy into that depiction. They get scared any time they are in the presence of black men. Further, some people in that society are given social authority and weapons to enforce laws. When they deal with black men, they too, are in a state of fear. That fear causes them to more readily use force (even deadly) against black men.

This society itself is systematically racist, which leads to the systematic racism of that society’s institutions. This leads to a disproportionate number of people of color being killed by the societies institutions. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Wes
1 year ago

If the idea is that the police are more likely to kill black people in the course of arresting them than they are likely to kill white people in the course of arresting them, then the numbers of people killed need to be compared to the total number of people *arrested* within each particular race. That is not the same as the total number of people of each particular race.

Also — and I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere yet — I hear over and over again that the reason why *George Floyd* in particular was killed was racism. If the evidence for this is that black people have a somewhat higher chance of being killed in the process of being arrested than do white people (and again, that has not yet been established), then the conclusion of racism in this case clearly doesn’t follow. I take it the reason why it doesn’t is obvious to any readers of Daily Nous.

I would have hoped that philosophers, of all people, would help clear away these blatantly fallacious modes of inference. Yes, there should be conversations about police brutality and the possibility of a racial motivation in these things. But the obvious fallacies need to be refuted for those conversations to take place reasonably.Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Justin,
Two points.
First, excellent post.
Second, I am not sure it is obvious to all readers of Daily Nous.Report

Louis
Louis
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Justin Kalef:
No, I think the idea is that racism permeates the society and its history, and more specifically that a substantial number of police officers have for years treated black people (and other people of color) differently than they treat whites, in terms of a whole range of interactions. Certainly the lived experience of black men in particular, as reported in memoirs for instance, indicates this, so the evidence for it comes in more than one form (i.e., it’s not just statistical). If for example you read Coates’s Between the World and Me this comes through, especially the section where he tells the story of his friend (and fellow Howard Univ. graduate, whose name is escaping me now) who was shot by police (without having committed any crime, as I recall).

From this perspective, cases like those of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and George Floyd are part of a larger pattern of police conduct and attitudes w.r.t. black people and communities . That pattern may have more than one source, but racist attitudes clearly play a significant role. That’s not to say those attitudes can’t be changed and police practices can’t change; they can. But the perceived and actual problem is much wider and deeper than just police being more likely to kill black people in the course of arresting them than to kill white people in the course of arresting them. It pertains to the whole set of regular interactions between many (not all) police officers and people of color. I think this is fairly clear to anyone who has even casually been following this subject in recent years. Report

Louis
Louis
Reply to  Louis
1 year ago

Small self-correction: Coates attended Howard but left before finishing his degree, so the phrase “fellow Howard Univ. graduate” in my comment above is slightly inaccurate — not that it matters to the point being made. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Louis
1 year ago

Hi, Louis.

I read _Between the World and Me_ cover to cover, so I know what you’re talking about!

On your interpretation, which I agree is the more abstractly plausible one, the locus of outrage is not that George Floyd in particular was killed because of racism (there doesn’t seem to be any basis yet for thinking that), but because the system is generally racist and the killing of Floyd is just an occasion to protest that general tendency.

However, isn’t the claim ‘The system is racist to the core and police violence is primarily motivated by a hatred of black people’ an empirical claim? Aren’t there observations that would support its being correct or incorrect?

If one of the commitments is that black people are far more likely to be treated violently or even killed when they are arrested, then presumably we should expect the rates of police violence and killing against black people to be higher in relation to the background of total black arrests than the similar rate for white arrests, right? So if that ratio is indeed disproportionately high, it would give some support for the hypothesis; whereas if it isn’t, that would make Coates’ hypothesis difficult to maintain.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Justin:
While you’re right that simply comparing the rates of black people killed by police to their overall proportion of the population doesn’t necessarily show that they’re disproportionately targeted by police, I’m not sure that comparing the numbers of people arrested per race to the numbers of those killed by police will be sufficient either. For suppose that two separate races had the same rate of deaths by police, relative to total arrests, and yet members of one race were much more likely to be arrested if they committed a given crime than those of the other race (eg if 1% of attempted arrests resulted in deaths among each of two races, x and y, but members of y are twice as likely to be arrested if they commit a given crime than members of race x). Then, even though one could claim that the rates of police killings per arrest attempts were comparable between two races, it would seem wrong to suggest one race isn’t being disproportionately killed, owing to a higher likelihood of members of said race being arrested given that they have committed a crime.

Of course, this is all in the abstract, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if something like this—ie, a black person being more likely to be arrested if they commit a crime than if a white person were to commit the same crime—did turn out to be true. I’m guessing there’s empirical studies on that somewhere. All that to say, the “idea” might not just be that black people are more likely to be killed by police while being arrested, but also that black people are disproportionately arrested in the first place, relative to the amount of crimes they commit (though, again, I wouldn’t make the latter claim definitively w/o empirical data).
Report

Matt
Reply to  Grad Student
1 year ago

Of course, this is all in the abstract, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if something like this—ie, a black person being more likely to be arrested if they commit a crime than if a white person were to commit the same crime—did turn out to be true.

In addition to the above (which I suspect is right) you have to consider people stopped (and sometimes but not always arrested) by the police who have not committed a crime – perhaps they are merely suspected of one, or perhaps there is no acceptable reason for stopping them at all. Do we think that these things happen to black and white people at rates equal to their percentages in the population? I hope people don’t believe that. But, if coming into contact with the police always has some degree of risk of being subject to undue violence, the above will feed into the percentage of those abuse. Note that this is compatible with the claim that it’s being poor, rather than race, as such, that leads to these encounters with the police, though we’d then have to step back one step and ask why African Americans are more likely to be poor than white people. (I don’t actually think that class on its own explains this situation, but even if it did explain the likelihood of being subjected to police violence, it wouldn’t be the end of the analysis.) Report

Matt
Reply to  Matt
1 year ago

I should add that I definitely do not reject the hypothesis that racism plays a direct role in police violence in the US. While I can’t be certain, I think that direct racism is a significant contributing factor, and that it is very likely that racism is a significant, perhaps the most important, explanatory variable in many police violence cases. My point above is only that, even if class is an independently explanatory variable in many cases, that doesn’t mean that there is not a significant role played by racism a bit further down in the chain of causes.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Grad Student
1 year ago

Grad Student and Matt, I must say I appreciate your engaging rationally with these questions and not, as others have done in other threads here, resorting to various fallacies of abuse and irrelevance. That might not seem like much to say — shouldn’t we all engage with one another respectfully and rationally? We’re philosophers, after all! — but I’ve been so disappointed by various exchanges of late that I thought that was worth mentioning. Thank you.

I agree with you that there are other issues at play than the surface ones, and that we shouldn’t be afraid of probing into those deeper questions. But if the claim is to be understood that way, I think it’s important to note the shift.

The way most of us are reacting to this has costs. One cost is that we are not doing much about looting and mayhem and violence and breakdown of social order. Another cost is the increase in political polarization. Another is the spread of the coronavirus. Yet another is that, through the way we describing this and other incidents, we are terrifying many black people, who seem to be coming away with the impression that their odds of being beaten up or even killed for doing nothing more than walking out their front doors are far higher than the statistics show them to be.

Are those costs worth it? Maybe: maybe the need for social change is so dire, and the solution we are prepared to put in place so much better than what we have, that we can just brush off all these harms. But I’d like to see a clearer case for that that fits with the claim that’s actually being made. Right now, the claim seems to be nebulous.

_Claim 1: We must condone all this harm because George Floyd was killed by a police officer we know for a fact to have acted on the basis of racism._

It seems we’ve backed away from this now, because we really have no basis for believing it.

_Claim 2: We must condone all this harm because, whatever was the motivation for George Floyd’s death at the hands of the police, we know for a fact that police brutality is much more common when black people are arrested than when white people are arrested._

It seems we’ve also backed away from this one, since it doesn’t seem to be true.

_Claim 3: We must condone all this harm because, even if police brutality may be no more common when black people are arrested than when white people are arrested, black people are arrested (or hassled by the police) more often, and that’s bad because it leads in effect to a greater rate of police brutality against black people even if the overall arrest/brutality ratio is unaffected by race; and furthermore, the only explanation for the higher rate of arrest/hassling of black people is racism on the part of the police._

As Matt admits, even this doesn’t seem so solid: since there are proportionally more black people than white people living in some poorer and crime-ridden neighborhoods, another explanation might just be that more people in high crime neighborhoods are engaged in criminal activity, and so the arrest rates might have nothing directly to do with racism. In fact, as I understand it, other black residents in those same neighborhoods tend to want more policing, since the criminals in their neighborhoods tend to cause more death, violence and mayhem when the police are less involved.

_Claim 4: Whether or not racism is a significant cause of the harm done to some black people when being arrested, there must be some underlying reason why black people are proportionally more likely to be poor and to live in high-crime neighborhoods than white people. This reason, whatever it is, needs to be addressed; and the fact that we see these statistical differences between blacks and whites in various measures of well-being shows that we have not yet addressed them well_

I find this claim the most plausible of the four. I also strongly doubt that there are innate racial characteristics that account for such things, so I agree that the explanation is very likely to be a social one. But what is that explanation? One hypothesis, favored by the contemporary left, is that it’s all the manifestation of unconscious racism. Another hypothesis, favored more by the contemporary right or libertarian sides (including by many black Americans), is that many of the well-intended measures put in place to help black Americans have had bad inadvertent effects that have worsened over time (it’s interesting, in support of this, that on many measures black Americans were on average more prosperous in the decades before these forms of social assistance, etc. were put in place).

There are also many other explanations to the phenomena central to Claim 4. Which is the correct explanation? I don’t know. It’s not clear to me that it’s the ‘subconscious racism’ hypothesis. But suppose that hypothesis turns out to be correct, or (more likely) a part of the correct explanation. Would it really follow from that that the harms I started off mentioning are justified? I don’t see why! If, as the hypothesis goes, the ills that plague us are partly caused by *subconscious* racism, then how will it help things to applaud groups of people to go out, flouting social distancing rules, telling everyone that George Floyd was killed by a racist and that there are racists running around everywhere doing this sort of thing with impunity, all the while winking at the mayhem and breakdown of social order? How exactly is this meant to help solve the problem? The group behind the protests, Black Lives Matter, wants to stop things like what happened to George Floyd (and that’s great — I think everyone agrees that that was a terrible thing that should never have happened). But what exactly is the BLM plan for solving the problem, and how sure are we that it’s a good solution?

And, most of all, if it’s Claim 4 that we’re going with now, what justifies smashing everything down, burning police cruisers, letting mobs run around beating and even killing poor shop-owners trying to defend their livelihoods, rather than addressing the problem in less violent and risky (to ourselves but mostly others) ways?Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Just an observation: good empirical evidence for the purported underlying explanations to claim 4 is very, very hard–maybe even impossible, practically speaking–to acquire. And even if we could have good evidence of failed welfare policies, or systemic racism, or unconscious racism, it would still be hard to disseminate that evidence such that it has ameliorative effect.

The sad fact is that we don’t really know what’s going on, and people are picking sides on other grounds. This makes us very much beholden to power and chance.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  sahpa
1 year ago

I agree, sahpa.

But there’s no need to engage in mind-reading speculation about motives. We have clear evidence of something: a person, in the course of being arrested, was restrained in a way that led to his death. The officer kneeling on that person had ample evidence that he was putting the person’s life in danger, but didn’t stop. The other three officers didn’t stop him from doing it. Moreover, it’s hard to see how this use of force was needed to restrain him: there were plenty of other people around, and the person, whatever he had done up to that point, seemed pretty powerless at the moment. There didn’t seem to be any need to keep kneeling on the man’s neck. Moreover, we know this has happened to many other people of all races (more white than black, but I’ll bet you most people who can name two or three names of black victims of police violence can’t name a single white one, which goes to show the bias in reporting). This is inexcusable and terrible.

To say that this is inexcusable and terrible, and to demand a solution to police violence, would not require any mind-reading or speculation at all. It would have united everyone in a quest for reform. Instead, the whole thing was presented with all sorts of mind-reading and racially divisive commentary that led to people supporting an organization (BLM) that doesn’t seem to have any clear solutions to lead us out of the trap of racial polarity, but that instead seems to condone tearing down social structures, without any apparent plan of what will replace them.

I just don’t see why that should be supported. It’s not as though we’ll be stuck in endless skepticism and inaction if we focus on what we know rather than pretend we can read minds. Report

Louis
Louis
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Justin K.
Your discussion of the “hypotheses” that might explain claim 4 is inadequate because, among other things, it ignores history and its effects.

Many U.S. cities, indeed I would say all major U.S. cities and other jurisdictions, have a history of housing discrimination (based on race), underfunding and lack.of attention to schools in poorer neighborhoods, plus systems of property taxation that tend to reinforce these inequalities. So the disparities and inequalities at issue are rooted in long histories of discrimination and neglect. It is therefore incorrect to suggest, as you do, that the possible explanations for claim 4 are either “subconscious racism” or the inadvertent and unintended effects of certain welfare programs.

There has been a lot of work by historians and social scientists on the roots of these inequalities. While I’m not in a position to offer a comprehensive list of suggested readings, you might want to take a look at Walter Johnson’s recent book on St. Louis for an example of how these dynamics have played out in one city. Or Richard Rothstein’s (I think have his name right but need to check) work on the history of housing discrimination.Report

Mark Bowker
Mark Bowker
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

Hi Justin. I think we need to be selective about when we get into fallacy diagnosis here. Your intention might be perfectly laudable but the effects might be malicious, diverting discussion by focusing on irrelevant issues. In a discussion about systematic racism, we don’t need to identify any particular case as racism. If I toss a million coins, I can know that loads have come up heads without knowing whether any individual came up heads.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Mark Bowker
1 year ago

Hi, Mark.

Great, let’s not focus on irrelevant issues! But what’s the irrelevant issue here? The issue of whether the officer who killed George Floyd acted out of racism? I didn’t raise that issue: it’s the issue that motivated this thing in the first place. Many of the angry protesters are carrying signs that specifically say that he was killed because of racism. They chant his name so that another victim of racism (not police brutality) will not be forgotten.

I don’t think this is incidental. It sends a message to everyone, and we condone that message when we condone the specifically anti-racism part of the protests and assert (as some philosophers have) that George Floyd was killed because he was black, when we don’t seem to have any reason to believe that that’s true.

The message we are spreading is that it is perfectly acceptable to infer, from the fact that a member of a protected group was treated a certain way, that that person was treated that way *because* of being a member of that group.

I suspect the damage caused by such an idea catching on and seeming entirely legitimate could amount to millions of lives lost. It’s a fallacy with pretty startling consequences. I don’t think this is a minor issue at all.Report

njb
njb
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

“If the idea is that the police are more likely to kill black people in the course of arresting them than they are likely to kill white people in the course of arresting them, then the numbers of people killed need to be compared to the total number of people *arrested* within each particular race. That is not the same as the total number of people of each particular race.”

Here is a very simple model: Imagine that the violent people are more likely to be killed while being arrested than non-violent people. And imagine that a higher proportion of the white people arrested are violent, compared to black people. (Due to the fact that non-violent white people are much less likely to get arrested. don’t get arrested.) Then, it’s likely that a higher proportion of white people arrested will be killed, even if being black increases your probability of being killed.

This is just Simpson’s Paradox.Report

njb
njb
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

“Also — and I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere yet — I hear over and over again that the reason why *George Floyd* in particular was killed was racism. If the evidence for this is that black people have a somewhat higher chance of being killed in the process of being arrested than do white people (and again, that has not yet been established), then the conclusion of racism in this case clearly doesn’t follow. I take it the reason why it doesn’t is obvious to any readers of Daily Nous.”

Whether this is bad reasoning is extremely non-obvious. There is a huge literature on issues of chancy explanation, and on using group level characteristics in individual explanations which you might want to look into. (See, for example, Garfinkel’s “Forms of Explanation’.) Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  njb
1 year ago

Exactly. One (admittedly very imperfect) analogy that might help is climate change and extreme weather events like hurricanes. We can never assert that any particular hurricane is caused by climate change but we’re confident enough that climate change is very likely to increase both the frequency and severity of hurricanes. Complex systems ’cause’ events in ways that are, well, complex, messy. Likewise, society and its various unjust structures of course ’cause’ unjust events in some sense, even if it’s unclear, for any particular unjust even, whether it was caused by society’s racism, socieconomic inequities, random chance, individual animosity, or whatever factors you could appeal to. Perhaps we don’t have the same body of evidence to assert, with the same degree of confidence that we have with climate change, that some form of racial discrimination explains the police killings at hand, but it’s clearly not a fallacy to entertain this hypothesis, if you believe systemic forms of racial discrimination are ingrained in US society. Of course, as has been hammered in this thread already, this doesn’t rule out multiple factors affecting police killings.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

‘as I understand it, other black residents in those same neighborhoods tend to want more policing’

What’s your evidence for this Justin? Throughout the thread, you’ve been demanding a high standard of empirical evidence from everyone else, but you’ve not given a source for this. Seems unfair. Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Wes
1 year ago

Wes,
A bit of a thought experiment for you.
Let’s consider child poverty. Although there are more white children in poverty in the US, there is a disproportionate number of black children. Let’s assume we have a policy that reduces child poverty (i.e. reduces the total number of children living in poverty) but increases the disproportion between the races. Would this be a moral policy in your opinion?

Clearly, if we dispel with categorizations, it increases human well being. However, it fails if our goal is to place one race against another.

Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  Ken
1 year ago

It increases human well-being in some ways (reducing overall child poverty) but there might be long-term costs, e.g. creating a racial underclass, people conflating consequences of black people’s poverty with intrinsic racial features, encouraging white people to think that poverty is “mainly a problem for black people”…Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Ken Lewchuk
1 year ago

Ken, my dude, please google “base rates.”Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Mark,

Understand your point but my argument goes in a different direction.

If I find a phenomenon in two populations, I cannot ascribe the cause to something found only in one as a point of logic. My argument was not that racism doesn’t exist, rather than one cannot rationally conclude that such events are automatically racist. This is important because of how people sometimes are treated. Two people may be killed for the exact same reason, but one is seen as having a character flaw while the other a victim of racial oppression.

With respect to the observation that such events are disproportionate; agreed. This is not the only disproportionate factor between populations. Rates of poverty, crime, and the types of poverty and crime are also disproportionate and may be explanatory rather than a response based on race. Some would assert that this is merely further evidence of racism (i.e. everything reduces to racism). However, such assertions do not resolve the issue. Since poverty is a phenomenon across populations it can’t be automatically concluded that a person was poor due to oppression and thus committed a crime.

One could ask this question: Is it logically possible for two groups of people to make individual choices that result in disproportionate outcomes or are all such situations simply reflective of oppression? If one says yes, then I would propose that good philosophy requires thoughtful consideration of this possibility rather than relying on a formula of “equal outcomes”, “oppression”, and “retribution”.
Report

Mark Alfano
Reply to  Ken
1 year ago

I’m sorry, Ken, but you’re trying to get all fancy when this is a simple logical fallacy. You asked us to consider the fact that “The most common race of men (they were predominantly men) being killed was white.” According to wikipedia, in 2010, 72% of Americans identified as white and 60% identified as non-hispanic white. Yet you treat the fact that a slight majority of people (mostly men) killed by cops in the US are white as evidence that there is no racial disparity in police brutality. That’s quite simply false. Please retract and apologize.Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

You’re conflating racial disparity with racism, it seems to me. Ken didn’t deny that there’s a racial disparity there. He is skeptical that the (sole) explanation of the disparity is structural racism.Report

Ken
Ken
Reply to  Mark Alfano
1 year ago

Mark,

I think I need to correct some inaccuracies and misrepresentations in your post.

The reason I wrote “The most common race of men (they were predominantly men) being killed was white.” Is that of the 1,004 killed in 2019, 371 were white, 236 black, 158 hispanic, 39 other, and 200 unknown, according to the data. You can parse the data for different years but the results are similar. So it is a factually correct statement based on the data (i.e. I don’t generally apologize for factually correct statements).

However, to your point, these figures do not reflect rates. So my statement may be correct but my argument logically flawed since I referred to numbers and not rates… except it is not. My argument is not based on whites being the most common. Take out the reference to “most common” if you’d like, my argument is just as coherent.

With respect to my actual argument, as sapha recognized, I don’t think you grasped it. Let me try again as simply as I can muster.

There is police brutality.
Some police brutality involves individuals of the same race.
Therefore policy brutality involving individuals of different races may not be due to racism.

As previously noted, I think this argument is coherent unless one is willing to accept the existence of the mysterious “X” factor which is only a property of the policeman’s race.

To reflect on Justin’s earlier comments, one might think this would not be a controversial argument on Daily Nous but such is the nature of “social justice” issues in our current environment.

No apologies forthcoming at this time.

Report

Yan
Yan
1 year ago

Herbert Marcuse:
“Within a repressive society, even progressive movements threaten to turn into their opposite to the degree to which they accept the rules of the game. To take a most controversial case: the exercise of political rights (such as voting, letter-writing to the press, to Senators, etc., protest-demonstrations with a priori renunciation of counterviolence) in a society of total administration serves to strengthen this administration by testifying to the existence of democratic liberties which, in reality, have changed their content and lost their effectiveness. In such a case, freedom (of opinion, of assembly, of speech) becomes an instrument for absolving servitude. And yet (and only here the dialectical proposition shows its full intent) the existence. and practice of these liberties remain a precondition for the restoration of their original oppositional function, provided that the effort to transcend their (often self-imposed) limitations is intensified. Generally, the function and value of tolerance depend on the equality prevalent in the society in which tolerance is practiced. Tolerance itself stands subject to overriding criteria: its range and its limits cannot be defined in terms of the respective society. In other words, tolerance is an end in itself only when it is truly universal, practiced by the rulers as well as by the ruled, by the lords as well as by the peasants, by the sheriffs as well as by their victims.

When a magazine prints side by side a negative and a positive report on the FBI, it fulfills honestly the requirements of objectivity: however, the chances are that the positive wins because the image of the institution is deeply engraved in the mind of the people. Or, if a newscaster reports the torture and murder of civil rights workers in the same unemotional tone he uses to describe the stockmarket or the weather, or with the same great emotion with which he says his commercials, then such objectivity is spurious–more, it offends against humanity and truth by being calm where one should be enraged, by refraining from accusation where accusation is in the facts themselves. The tolerance expressed in such impartiality serves to minimize or even absolve prevailing intolerance and suppression. If objectivity has anything to do with truth, and if truth is more than a matter of logic and science, then this kind of objectivity is false, and this kind of tolerance inhuman.”
Report

Ben
Ben
1 year ago

Re. #6: Counterpoint: Nixon ’68

“Omar Wasow, an assistant professor at the department of politics at Princeton, has published a timely new paper studying this very question. And his answer is clear: Riots on the whole provoke a hostile right-wing response. They generate attention, all right, but the wrong kind.”

“Wasow finds that nonviolent civil-rights protests did not trigger a national backlash but that violent protests and looting did. The physical damage inflicted upon poor urban neighborhoods by rioting does not have the compensating virtue of easing the way for more progressive policies; instead, it compounds the damage by promoting a regressive backlash.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/will-todays-riots-spur-electoral-backlash-like-1967s.htmlReport

Todd Marsch
Todd Marsch
Reply to  Ben
1 year ago

Yeah, I’m not sure I’m totally convinced by the arguments in favor of the moral permissibility of destructive protests, but I do think there are some plausible and compelling arguments to make there. I am, however, much less convinced by the arguments in favor of the pragmatic value of destructive protests, especially now that Trump is threatening to deploy the military. I’m far from an MLK scholar, but I think his embrace of non-violence was only partly motivated by moral/spiritual principles. I think he also thought that public sentiment would only shift if they saw the police and white racists as the clear aggressors. Any hint of black destructiveness or violence, even if justified, gives white moderates the excuse they need not to care, even if they still should. Report

FakeItTilYouMakeIt
FakeItTilYouMakeIt
1 year ago

I won’t be surprised when a crowd does not appear in the comments here to claim that the free speech rights of the protesters must be curtailed in order to prevent harms to others. Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  FakeItTilYouMakeIt
1 year ago

If by “free speech rights curtailed” you mean “not allowed to host the events in campus meeting rooms”, then I think the free speech rights of the crowds have been just as curtailed as those of Milo Yiannopoulos.Report

FakeItTilYouMakeIt
FakeItTilYouMakeIt
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
1 year ago

I’m glad to hear the harms have been averted then.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  FakeItTilYouMakeIt
1 year ago

Are people claiming that protesters should not have the right to free *speech*? Who?Report

Elliott
Elliott
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Blum: A stereotype is a cognitive investment that need not be as robust as an actual belief?

Stereotype is derived from the Greek language for “solid” as in well defined; stereotypes are usually obviated by some ascriptive or otherwise physical feature.

It is impossible to understand a cognitive investment as something definitive and therefore a stereotype or worse: ‘stereotyping’. Blum then injects sophistry by contrasting stereotyping behavior or what he seems to think of as pre-belief with the behavior of ‘having been stereotyped’.

The George Floyd killing does not fit with Blums analysis due to the fact that the both George and the officer charged with murder were employed by the same employer at the same time at an earlier period. We may in fact be dealing with something beyond mere stereotyping here or that may be why the officer is being arraigned on murder.

Blum’s argument sort of fits here because he extends his argument for stereotype investment by similarly noting that stereotyping is somehow different from not caring about criminal suspects. I don’t think there ‘s difference but that’s actually a different argument. The idea that not caring for suspects is driving policing in America is non sequitar.

The most basic idea surrounding policing, in the Western world at least, is that violence is the necessary and the sufficient condition for state legitmacy, and via Walter Benjamin (1921), police violence does not arise from natural causes like pre-belief but instead is derived from the positive construction of the law. Implying that police do in fact care about criminal suspects may be in so much as they can be tokenized.Report

Matthew
Matthew
1 year ago

As someone whose white grandfather was killed as a bystander during riots in the late 70’s, I fully support the protestors and recognize that any discussion, like this post, about the moral value of property damage (or similar) serves only to take the focus away from the message and dilute their voices. I will not do so. Telling people how they can and cannot express the anger of generations upon generations of oppression is literally the whitest thing I can think of. That certainly does not imply that everyone who does this is white, rather, it implies that by doing so they are actively supporting the institutions and norms that protect white power and privilege.

Report

moderate
moderate
Reply to  Matthew
1 year ago

Really, the ‘whitest thing you can think of’ is an idea whose most well-known proponents are Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Ghandi? Clearly you’ve never been to Whole Foods.Report

Matthew
Matthew
Reply to  moderate
1 year ago

Moderate,

How absurd is it that you would offer the name of one of those from the very country that is still dealing with the effects of Jim Crow 52 years after his death. Shall we also look closely at the state of racial oppression in the other two countries you hinted at?

If you are naive enough to believe that it was only the nice protests and the nice protestors that led to the end of segregation… I don’t even know what to tell you. Please go read more books. Learn the actual history. Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Matthew
1 year ago

uMkhonto we SizweReport

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
Reply to  Matthew
1 year ago

ukutya epheleleReport

SCM
SCM
Reply to  moderate
1 year ago

I don’t know if there is any such thing as the whitest thing that one can think of, but if I were to have a crack at that I think — entirely offhand — that lumping together three vastly different political leaders as King, Mandela, and Gandhi (please, for the love of all that is good and holy, it’s *Gandhi*), as some kind of holy trinity of now respectable dark people opposed to bad racism-y type of stuff, but more especially opposed to other dark people being opposed to bad racism-y type of stuff In The Wrong Way, hallelujah, praise the Lord, why can’t we all just get along, … well that would sort of take the cake.

But I admit that if you tweeted such an utterly ahistorical conflation while checking the sell-by dates for your almond milk at Whole Foods, why then that might just put you over the top, mpintshi.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  SCM
1 year ago

It can be true both that white people saying ‘why can’t black people protest nicely like Gandhi and Mandela and King’ is a racist move in most contexts (I think it is is, and it’s also ignorant, because Mandela never rejected violence, and in fact engaged in violence) and that the defence of non-violence that two out of the three of them engaged in as a matter of plain historical fact is an obvious counter-example to the idea that there is something distinctly “white” about the idea the racism and oppression are best protested non-violently. It’s just not especially unusual for people in oppressed classes to favour non-violent protest as a tactic for both pragmatic and moral reasons (though probably few are absolute pacifists as Gandhi was.) Report

Jim
Jim
1 year ago

I’m so freaking sick of trying to philosophize this issue. I’ve spent a third of my life training in professional philosophy, and I’ve never been more convinced that it’s pointless, especially in regards to issues like this, where we’re trying to draw out abstract rules and principles from people’s actual suffering, oppression, and death. I’ve never felt more in the ivory tower than I do now; nothing about philosophy has helped anything about this issue. We just sit here and argue about social contracts, positive and negative rights, false consciousness, superstructures; somebody please show me what it’s all for, other than to give us the feeling we’re contributing something when really we’re just trying to justify our career choices to each other. I’m sorry for venting, and I don’t mean to call anyone out. I’m just trying to find the meaning in what I thought was supposed to explain the meaning of life. Report

Matthew
Matthew
Reply to  Jim
1 year ago

You are not alone in this feeling. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Jim
1 year ago

Jim (and Matthew):

I also feel dismayed by many of these conversations, but I think it’s for exactly the opposite reason!

There are issues on which we need to figure out what to believe or what to do, and many of those issues give rise to strong base emotions, violence, threats, irrationality and sophistry. What philosophy can bring to these issues is a way for people to rise above all this and work together to resolve the issues. This, to me, has always been the main purpose of philosophy. The more important the issue is, and the more anger, frustration, and snark that characterizes the dialectic, the more important it is for philosophers to come in and help clear away some of the junk so that the inquiry can proceed along more promising lines.

When I see an issue like this, I don’t see it as an occasion to throw away philosophy. I see it as the very reason why it was worth it to us, and society, to cultivate these skills over all these long years. It’s here that we can pay everyone back for the support they gave us while we studied at their expense (in part).

It doesn’t seem too hard to see how this should proceed. The first question is always the same: what are the non-moral facts? There will always be tribalistic bias, left-leaning bias, right-leaning bias, etc. We need to start by trusting none of it and coming together productively and critically to double-check the reasoning and check to make sure we’re not neglecting evidence on the other side or rushing to conclusions. At the same time, the situation often demands that we form some approach fairly quickly. If we are faced with some uncertainty about the non-moral facts, what should we do? If we work efficiently together, with both sides showing the intellectual integrity to listen to each others’ critical moves and retreating from reasoning that’s shown to be sloppy, it is often possible to do this quite well. I’ve often seen it happen in more limited cases where the degree of tribalistic/political commitment was lower and both sides agreed to think.

What holds us back is people rushing in with preconceived conclusions and predigested thinking that they won’t give up on principle because they can’t bear to give any ground to the Bad People, no matter how objectively ridiculous it makes them look, and become, as they cling to thinking that’s already been exploded.

But hasn’t it been the very essence of true philosophy, starting with Socrates, to fight those rationalizing tendencies in ourselves and others?Report

Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

“Protestors showed a great deal of courage this weekend, risking not just the ordinary hazards of confronting law enforcement, but also the additional risks posed by COVID-19.”

To risk infecting yourself is to risk infecting other people as well, which hardly seems praiseworthy. A few weeks ago, people were lambasting the much smaller right wing anti-shutdown protests — in very harsh terms — for precisely that reason.

I should add: I don’t know what the right policy is here. But our policy shouldn’t be based on whether or not we agree with whatever people are protesting for. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

Just in support of this – these are really serious breaches of social distancing, and will probably have material consequences for the spread of the virus. It is completely legitimate to say (for this or any other protest): “ this is an acceptable price to pay given the importance of the issue”. I might even agree. But the price is real and concrete, and measured in deaths and permanent injuries, and would not apply in normal circumstances. The protests may have driven COVID-19 from the headlines, but no-one has told COVID-19 that.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

But also: it’s somewhat plausible that those earlier criticisms were misguided, since it seems generally rather difficult to transmit outside. I am failing at finding good data but I don’t see a “lockdown protest bump” here: https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98163_98173_99225—,00.html

If anyone has better data on this I’d be interested to see it though.Report

Disappointed
Disappointed
1 year ago

The rioting has involved multiple murders and who-know-how-many assaults, not just property damage:

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/11762428/george-floyd-protests-live/

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/security-guard-killed-in-oakland-riots-identified-as-53-year-old-black-man-report

If you were under the impression that the riots damaged nothing other than property, I hope you’ll take a moment to think a bit more about these victims of the riots. And also how the information ecosystem you belong to failed you on this point.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Disappointed
1 year ago

Deaths caused by the riots have been prominently reported by, e.g., the New York Times and the BBC (that’s how I knew about them). You don’t need to read the Sun or the Washington Examiner to know about them.Report

Disappointed
Disappointed
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

David, I’m not sure if the substantive issues I meant to raise got through. Certainly, I don’t think your reply engages with them.

When an event involved multiple murders, but a discussion of the ethics of it, such as the one in this post/comments section, proceeds as if the damage were overwhelmingly to property, with maybe a person here or there getting roughed up, something’s gone wrong. I assumed it was lack of knowledge of the murders. It certainly could be that the discussants knew of the murders but decided not to mention them. But if they did, it wouldn’t change my conclusions about how their information ecosystems are influencing their engagement with the issue.

I’ve seen a consistent and almost overwhelming pattern of left-wing commentators downplaying the violence of the riots as part of their refusal to condemn them. These commentators, the venues they publish in, and the networks that amplify then, comprise the information ecosystems I was referring to. As someone who has just recently started self-describing as “on the left,” for the first time in years, this is disturbing.

This is my anecdotal experience of how the left has responded. I haven’t seen the NYT or BBC articles you’re referring to and I’d be glad to be convinced that the left’s response to the riots has, on the whole, been characterized by acknowledgment of and thoughtful engagement with the true scale of the violence.Report

Disappointed
Disappointed
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

And for what it’s worth, I consider The Examiner a right-wing rag and know nothing about The Sun. They were the first sources on the murders committed by rioters that a Google search turned up. I didn’t mean to put them, specifically, forward as sources worth regularly reading.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Disappointed
1 year ago

Understood: and no, in that case I hadn’t understood the point you made: the reference to ‘information ecosystems’, together with a US and UK paper both of which are generally very critical of ‘mainstream media’, gave me an impression which apparently was mistaken.Report

Nick S.
Nick S.
1 year ago

Perhaps some find this tragic or paradoxical, but the principle: “protest, but be careful not to violate property rights” could easily have set the human race back 400+ years in terms of moral progress. None of us would have the moral understanding we now do if it were universally followed. Previous moral revolutions that pointed us in the right direction normally involved violence and a disregard for the property and safety of others; anti-colonial and anti-slavery rebellions leap to mind, as does the French Revolution. It is hard to imagine those revolutionary moments being nearly as effective and symbolically powerful in the long run without the violence, without the shock to the system that violence represents. Perhaps there is some ideal world where this is not true, but we plainly do not inhabit that world.

So criticize the individual moral conscience of the looters if it makes you feel better, but as a corrective to this tendency, recognize that at the collective social-epistemological level, the system is functioning as it is supposed to. Contra the dominant rationalist fantasies that enjoy such prominence in moral philosophy, what normally happens is that there is a profound, symbolic overreach of power, and people fuck shit up until things change and new moral understanding is produced. Violent people are not necessarily *aiming* at this but it is what they often achieve. These two separate thoughts are hard to think at the same time, but we should try. Perhaps, at the very least, this can help us to stop doing this profoundly unhelpful thing, which is to focus so firmly on the question of individual moral justification for looting/arson/etc.Report

Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
Reply to  Nick S.
1 year ago

It’s at least far from obvious that the French Revolution represented an advance for humanity. I’d be interested to hear if you can recommend any books or articles that argue for the importance of slave rebellions to the eventual abolition of slavery. There were after all massive slave rebellions centuries before any movement arose against slavery. But perhaps it did play some supporting role. The widespread fear of slave rebellions certainly did raise the costs of that system. Report

Suggestion
Suggestion
1 year ago

There’s a recent piece in Philosophy & Public Affairs that anticipates many of the issues being discussed in this comment thread — Avia Pasternak, “Political Rioting: A Moral Assessment”, Philosophy & Public Affairs 46/4 (2018), pp. 384-418

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/papa.12132

An extract from the intro: “I will suggest that, under circumstances that are not far from those we find in some real-world democracies, the resort to political rioting can comply with the criteria of permissible defensive harm. As we shall see, even in democratic societies spontaneous violent protest can become the only means available for oppressed citizens to secure a range of valuable political goals, the importance of which critics of rioters have perhaps underestimated. It can sometimes have a reasonable chance of success of achieving these goals; and when properly constrained, the harm it inflicts on the state and on fellow citizens can be proportionate. My analysis seeks to present, then, a form of rioting that is permissible even in democratic states.”Report

Excited to be Unemployed Soon
Excited to be Unemployed Soon
1 year ago

Thanks for this discussion folks. I needed a reminder why I’ll be better off outside of academic philosophy in the long run.Report

Jim
Jim
Reply to  Excited to be Unemployed Soon
1 year ago

Same here. I hope you have better luck in the non academic job market than I’m having.Report

whatever
whatever
Reply to  Jim
1 year ago

Yep. I used to specialise in analytic political philosophy and I can’t believe I wasted so much of my life on that irrelevant drivel. The world is changing fast and several major crises are coming to a head, and still the profession insists on haggling over definitions and playing with toy examples. Fucking useless. I’m so much happier working in a kitchen now. It was the most un-ivory thing I could think of, and I finally feel like a productive human being instead of a goddamned brain in a vat. Report

Excited
Excited
Reply to  Jim
1 year ago

Godspeed. Report

NJB
NJB
Reply to  Excited to be Unemployed Soon
1 year ago

Yeah, I sympathize. It’s easy to think that philosophers are special and will find their way to the correct moral views. But philosophers are just people, and mainly, middle-aged and older white people. So, of course such people will care about black people, but just not enough to get angry about 400 years of oppression instead of getting angry at 5 days of property damage.Report

Excited
Excited
Reply to  NJB
1 year ago

I think this entirely right. Philosophers are as subject to sociological forces as any other old human. Still, sometimes I have days, like today, where I wonder if, under certain circumstances, philosophy makes people worse human beings. The Athenians were both right and wrong in persecuting Socrates (which Plato more or less concedes!). Philosophy probably made Alcibiades worse. That’s Alcibiades’s fault but also Socrates’s for being a Philosophy über alles fundamentalist in a non-ideal society. Sometimes there’s better things to be doing. Report

Jay
Jay
1 year ago

Derek Chauvin was the subject of at least 18 formal citizen complaints during his time on the Minneapolis police force before he killed George Floyd. This is a very, very large number.
Only two of these 18 resulted in action taken. In these two cases the action was, um, a letter of reprimand placed in his file.
Possibly other citizen complaints were never even lodged, given the known futility of the process.
Many public sector employees have become immune to consequences for poor performance and misconduct. This includes police, but not only police. Those who ostensibly “manage” the relevant departments long ago negotiated away their ability to effectively discipline let alone terminate bad apples. Protecting the employee against the theoretical possibility of unjust punishment became a deeper goal than protecting citizens.
This was a very preventable tragedy.
Report

Patrick
Patrick
1 year ago

I spent the morning driving the streets trying to find folks who needed help cleaning up or repairing their store fronts or homes. Many of the local businesses owners affected were grief stricken over another huge loss on top of lost business due to the pandemic. Some will undoubtedly close. I hope judgments about the moral permissibility of looting and rioting will be sensitive to the actual impact on people’s lives. If people are morally permitted to loot and riot, then these people have not been morally wronged. I am reluctant to make that claim, especially to folks that I met today.

I would also note that the protestors and rioters/looters were not always the same people. At least in my area it appears that those looting took advantage of the cover provided by the protests rather than sincerely taking part in them. I am suspicious about general claims about whether or not “the protests” are justified, or whether claims about the protester’s courage are meaningful. Such high level discussion passes over the large differences in individual events that constitute the protest. Report

Tom
Tom
1 year ago

“Protestors showed a great deal of courage this weekend, risking not just the ordinary hazards of confronting law enforcement, but also the additional risks posed by COVID-19” –

This comment is unbelievalbe. For the last 3 months, we have endured draconian measures and practically living in a police state in order to stop the spread of this virus. People have been vilified and condemned for either protesting lockdown orders or ignoring them. ALL for the sake of protecting the vulnerable. But now, if someone violates health orders for these protests, they are suddenly courageous?? How is it courageous to protest all the while spreading a deadly virus??? All the people at these protests are young. If they get it, they’ll be fine. But they will spread it to the elderly.

Here’s how it goes. If you care about the political implications these lockdowns have for civilian freedom and protest about it, you’re an idiot (a covidiot) and a right-wing nut job. But if you care about institutional racism and decide to loot Target you’re a hero.

The double standard here is amazing to me. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Tom
1 year ago

Here and elsewhere, I run into many people who hold views I disagree with. Sometimes, I find those views thought-provoking; at other times, I find them poorly-thought-through. But I try not to judge the moral character of those who hold the views. I think the world is a better place when we accept that there are different, self-consistent ways to be a good person.

A blatant disregard for principles and consistency, however, prompts a different reaction. Somehow, few things seem worse indicators of character or maturity than the practice of doing whatever one likes and opportunistically taking up or discarding whatever principles help justify whatever you happen to do at the moment, or (even worse, perhaps) whatever one feels the social pressure to want to promote at the moment.Report

Louis
Louis
Reply to  Tom
1 year ago

Tom,
Relatively few commenters in this thread have defended looting (some comments have, but not very many). Several commenters have pointed out that, as news reports indicate, the peaceful protesters and the looters are two separate groups of people. It is not even clear whether all (or most) of the looting and burning has been perpetrated by people sympathetic to the underlying cause of the protests. (I won’t get more specific than that because I don’t want to get into a side discussion.)Report

TK
TK
Reply to  Tom
1 year ago

A few weeks ago, many of the same people stressing the importance of lockdowns in light of coronavirus may have considered the pestilence of the inhumane US police even more serious. But meaningfully contributing to fighting police brutality wasn’t an option. Now that is an option they might think it’s worth the risk. There need be no hypocrisy here.Report

William Peden
William Peden
Reply to  TK
1 year ago

Hypocrisy and double-standards are not the same thing.

If I’m ok with police brutality against black people, but not white people, then I have double-standards, but I’m not necessarily a hypocrite. Being a hypocrite would involve e.g. pretending to care about police brutality against black people, but encouraging or condoning it when it’s in my self-interest.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  TK
1 year ago

Hi, TK.

Good point. There’s no inconsistency in holding that a) barring very strong moral reasons, it would be deeply wrong to violate the measures imposed against the coronavirus; and b) the moral imperative to protest police brutality is a very strong moral reason. It would be charitable to imagine that those who have morally condemned lockdown-violators, etc., but now seem entirely undisturbed by the mass protests across the country that aren’t respecting social distancing rules, simply hold both those views.

But is that really a plausible reading of their thinking? Here’s what serious, consistent people who hold both those views would have to think to get to where we need them to get to.

First, they would have to reasonably evaluate the harm from a widespread violation of lockdown/social distancing rules. We all know that the lockdown brings great harms with it: failures of local economies, massive debt and unemployment, the shattering of the life plans of millions, especially the poorest; the breakdown of normal human relations for a period of at least several months, depriving people even of the ability to comfort their dying loved ones; and on and on. We have borne these things and imposed them on others because this cost, terrible as it is, is at least not as bad as doing nothing, which we calculate would be much, much worse: an even more drastic destruction of local and global economies, deaths in the millions, etc.

Then, they would have to weigh this great evil carefully against the good they see arising from permitting, promoting, and engaging in non-socially distant protests. We’d have to imagine that such people, to be consistent, would have soberly weighed up the costs. We have here a case of a single person killed by reckless police brutality. It does no good to say that that person is not the issue and that the real issue is a long-standing system of (possibly racist) brutal policing that has gone on for years. If *that* were the justification for the protest, then why would it be so incredibly important to have the protest now? Why not a couple of months ago? Why not after a coronavirus vaccine has been found? The calculation would have to involve the moral imperative of mass protests *right now*.

What are the costs of waiting? Is it that the police involved in the killing would escape justice? They are already being charged. There is no indication that anything in the hearing will be unjust.

What about the massive economic damage these protests are causing to people everywhere, especially the poorest, who have struggled through the last two months as best they could and are now desperately clinging (if they’re so lucky) to financial autonomy? Those are an additional cost, and a very big one. That has to get thrown into the calculation, too.

Then we have the tricky matter that reductions in policing in mean higher crime, and a higher chance that people in high-crime communities will be harmed or even killed. This is the reason why most black residents in these neighborhoods tend to be in support of stronger policing there. This, too, has to be weighed against the good of having these sorts of protests right now.

Could these protests have been carried out in ways that didn’t violate social distancing rules? Yes, but perhaps not quite as effectively. How much less of an effect would the alternative protests have had, though? That, too, would be weighed up by someone honestly reasoning it all through consistently.

When you weigh all those things (and more) up, what do you get? Is the overall good being done by having these protests in just this way, right now, so great that it outweighs all the bad, including the bad of spreading the coronavirus far and wide for however many more months it will take to contain it now? I really don’t see it.

But you know what I find interesting? I have not seen a single instance, anywhere, of anyone deliberating this way. I have not seen a single person, here or elsewhere, showing any sign of having judiciously thought about this and weighed up the costs and benefits. All I’ve seen is a very sudden abandonment of the principles that were so important that we insisted that everyone follow them for two months, however much they suffered (and those whose livelihood depends on work that can’t be done from home, unlike us, are the ones who have had to suffer the most).

I don’t see how that can count as serious moral deliberation at all.Report

Candlesticks
Candlesticks
Reply to  Tom
1 year ago

Approximately 1000 people (of all races) are killed each year in the US by the police. Let’s assume all of those deaths are because of unnecessary force. Meanwhile, approximately 100,000 people have died of Covid-19 in the US in the past few months. When a protester risks contracting Covid-19, they risk more than just themselves. There is a risk that they will transmit the virus to their friends and family and any other person they come into contact with, some of whom might be at higher risk of death/complications. Based on what we know about the transmissibility of the disease, it’s case fatality rate, and the number of people participating in the protests, it is entirely possible that more innocent people will die as a result of the protests themselves than from all police violence over the past decade. I’m having a hard time seeing how “courage” is the best word to use here.Report

Madras
Madras
Reply to  Candlesticks
1 year ago

People aren’t just protesting police deaths, but police violence and arbitrary oppression across the board—oppression of the sort that colors many aspects of one’s life, not to mention racism. Living in America as a low income person sucks largely because of the constant threat of the police. The harm done by a corrupt police force in a corrupt country is much bigger than the physical injuries caused.
You might be correct in the end, that these protests will do more harm than good. But I think you are looking at their object far too narrowly if you are comparing deaths to deaths.
It is also plausible that one can justifiably protest an injustice even when by doing so one does more harm than good on the balance. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Madras
1 year ago

This is an entirely reasonable point, but the harm of COVID-19 is also not exhausted by its deaths. The data on long-term morbidity in survivors is unclear but quite alarming. And there are the indirect effects due to potentially increasing the time spent in lockdown or other restrictions.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Madras
1 year ago

“Living in America as a low income person sucks largely because of the constant threat of the police.”

I’m curious: what do you think is more likely — that a given low income person will be violently attacked by the police, or that he or she will be violently attacked by criminals? You seem to be saying that it’s the former.Report

WonderingPhilosopher
WonderingPhilosopher
1 year ago

Most of the commentators seem to assume that there is no connection between racism (expressed in the murder of George Floyd) and the socioeconomic organisation of the US society (private property as pillar and stark inequality as result, both very well expressed by the luxury shopping streets in Manhattan and LA). This strikes me a little odd. There is even evidence for a causal connection between these two in the particular case we are discussing: George Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit bill by a show owner. This is why the police was called in the first place. Was this is an accident? If you look at the statistics on police violence, it is probably not. Lethal police violence takes predominantly place in poor neighborhoods and poor people are the victims of lethal police violence. This feature connects most, maybe all of the victims of lethal police violence (see https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304851). It gives us also a first clue about what systemic racism is about. Look at these statistics: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/03/politics/black-white-us-financial-inequality/index.html
I do not know whether the higher probability of being poor, explains why black men are killed disproportionately. I personally do not believe that this is the case. I believe that racist stereotypes do play a role. But this is, in my opinion, no question of either/or. You always need more than one variable to explain concrete situations. There is a lot of talk about root causes of racism right now. I hope that the socioeconomic perspective will be considered too. Without fighting socioeconomic inequality you won’t get rid of racism. And here the looting becomes significant, and I say significant not legitimate. Part of the significance is that it is NOT legitimate. That is what protesting against a social condition is about. You want to change the framework of legitimacy…Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  WonderingPhilosopher
1 year ago

“And here the looting becomes significant, and I say significant not legitimate. Part of the significance is that it is NOT legitimate. That is what protesting against a social condition is about. You want to change the framework of legitimacy…”

So it’s morally right to do random morally illegitimate things (including smashing up the stores of random people, destroying police cars, violently assaulting people for no specific reason, etc.) that will help destabilize society so that, in the end, things will collapse (after waves of responses by the law-and-order people are overcome by, presumably, more violence, destruction and mayhem), bringing us ever-closer to a state of nature in the hopes that somehow, after who knows how many iterations of brutalizing social transformations that follow the chaos, we’ll maybe be fortunate enough to put the pieces back together after the widespread death, mayhem, and disease, and end up with something a lot like what we have today, but better in just the ways you hope? That’s the gamble?Report

WonderingPhilosopher
WonderingPhilosopher
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

To which comment to you respond, Justin Kalef? It cannot be mine, since I do not refer to moral legitimacy at all and I only speak about looting (going into stores and robbing things; for me there is a difference between things and people), not about violence against other people. I also do not advocate a civil war. I do not see the rational ground for believing that the scenario you are depicting is a necessary outcome of the protests, even if they include some looting and social disobedience. I would call your argument fear mongering: there were many riots in the US in the last decades and there is still a US. My point is quite simple: social change only comes about, if you challenge social conventions. And yes, for me, private property and the acceptance of deep inequality are social conventions. They have social legitimacy. I see a causal connection between the murdering of black men by the police and the social organization of the US. Hence, challenging these social conventions in particular is significant. If you believe that private property and the acceptance of deep inequality are moral institutions, please argue for it. The burden of proof is on your side…Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  WonderingPhilosopher
1 year ago

Thanks for your reply, Wondering Philosopher. I apologize for assuming the scope of what you were endorsing was broader than what you strictly said, and I’m glad you at least draw the line somewhere.

I don’t think the private property line you raise works well, though. The burden of proof is on my side? Okay, here goes.

I’ve hardly seen the majority of the videos of private property being destroyed or stolen, but so far I’ve seen some looting from larger corporations and some destruction of smaller businesses. Let’s consider these one at a time.

1) _Larger corporations like Target_ I don’t know whether Target is meant to be somehow responsible for the racism alleged to be behind the George Floyd killing, or the brutality to the police. But suppose there’s some explanation for that. Okay, how will Target be affected? They lost a bunch of merchandise and some stores. Target is very unlikely to go out of business over it. If insurance can’t cover what happened, they’ll probably get bailed out in the hopes that they’ll open up again and employ some of the people left jobless after all this, as another round of better-off people fleeing the city centers. With fewer people wanting to spend time in the middle of Minneapolis (which was an attractive destination until a week or so ago), my guess is that Target will just move more operations online and that those who can afford to move to safer places with fewer poor people might still have a chance to shop at new locations Target might open up there. But the poorer residents of Minneapolis, or any of these other cities, won’t be able to afford to move. They’ll be stuck in a downtown core with fewer places to work, and less overall business. It seems to me that the poor will be the ones bearing the cost of something that has at best a dubious chance of improving anything.

2) _Small businesses_ I don’t know what you do for a living, but I teach philosophy. I’ve found that work under lockdown is not that much different. I can move my courses online, and most of the work I do doesn’t really require my leaving the house. Quite possibly, you’re in a similar position.

It’s easy for us to forget that the lives of some of the poorest Americans are not at all like ours in that respect. To the owner of a small bodega, a liquor store, or a nail salon in a poor neighborhood, that property is a major investment. Imagine how you would feel if all your university degrees, all record of everything you had ever earned or done, all your publications, went up in smoke overnight, with no hope of recovery, just as an already practically impossible job market got even worse. It would be devastating. Even if a small business owner is lucky enough to be insured, the rebuilding will take a long time, and the lost time means more lost income. And will that income ever come back, with an economic depression falling upon the city just as happened 50 years ago after the similar riots we had then? Even after half a century, many of those places never recovered. And the worst-hit were the very people all this is meant to help.

I just don’t see how this can be good on balance.Report

WonderingPhilosopher
WonderingPhilosopher
1 year ago

And only as a footnote: We do not know much about what happened in the store. Maybe somebody knows better than be, but my last information is that it is even unclear whether George Floyd used a counterfeit bill. I do not want to speculate anymore, but there could have been racism involved in the build-up of the situation. Think about what happened in Central Park last week…This was my starting point: If there is systemic racism, it is quite unlikely that the core of the system (private property and economic inequality) does not play role…Report

wow
wow
1 year ago

I’m not sure if anyone still reads this blog, hijacked as it has long since been, by a few disgruntled folks on the far-right.

But in case some discouraged or horrified philosophers of color or reading this, here is something for them (not intended for others on this thread): The people on this thread do not represent our discipline, at least, not all of it. I know and many of my colleagues know that Black lives matter. We know that Floyd’s death was racist. We know that Amy Cooper’s call to the police was racist. We know that Arbery’s death was racist. Philosophy has really severe racism problems, and I don’t want to minimize that. But, the philosophers I know don’t attempt to sow doubt about what should be obvious to anyone who has Youtube.

I’m headed to a protest and hope y’all are too. Report

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
Reply to  wow
1 year ago

I was quite shocked when I saw this post and looked up through the comments…

But unless you refer to posts which have been deleted, I cannot see anything above that could sensibly be classified as ‘far right’.

Ps I’m not by any stretch saying that I, personally, agree with everything everyone has written.Report

ehz
ehz
Reply to  wow
1 year ago

Many of the comments above did not deny the racism claim but objected to the violent aspect of the protests. If you classify those as far-right sentiments then you should reassess your view of the political spectrum.Report

Alexander Guerrero
1 year ago

Yes, just want to publicly echo “wow” above.

Many of the comments above are an embarrassing parody of “being serious about philosophy,” as well as an embarrassing display of using 5 minutes of internet research to suggest that not-X, when there is what can only be described as a completely overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that X.

Someone actually refers to “condon[ing] the anti-racism part of the protests,” and suggests that to “condone” this part is a serious moral mistake. As if they have never spent a minute in the United States. Does anti-racism trouble you? Or is this somehow an overly opportunistic time to protest racism?

That same person suggests that we should not assert “that George Floyd was killed because he was black” on the grounds that “we don’t seem to have any reason to believe that that’s true.”

My jaw actually dropped when reading that. Oh we don’t, do we? As if they have never spent a minute in the United States. As if he really thinks that the fact that George Floyd was a black man played no part in the casualness with which a police officer kept his knee on his neck. As if anything like that is nearly as likely to ever happen, in that way, in response to that same kind of $20 offense, to a white person like me or him.

Does that person think that MLK Jr. and Malcolm X were killed because they were black? Or that Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair were killed because they were black?

Oh, my goodness, what is our *evidence* for such a claim? I am such a rigorous thinker, I always scrutinize my evidence so extensively, just like Descartes! How do I really know that?, I always ask myself. I forget everything that I know; I ignore everything others tell me! Where are the studies? Do you have the studies? This is not a way of making myself stupid; it is a way of being very very very careful!

Many people were killed in the 1960s! JFK and RFK were killed, and they were not black! They were killed not because they were black, but because they were *political* in various ways. Or maybe it was because they were all *religious*! Their blackness was just *incidental*. We mustn’t ever make the illegitimate inference from the fact that a member of a group is treated a certain way to the conclusion that they were treated that way *because* they are a member of that group! Because that is *surely* all people have to go on here. What a fallacy! These people are all so bad at thinking! I am such a good critical thinker!

If you disagree, you should spend hours writing long comments engaging with me, and explaining to me exactly where I am going wrong! I’m sure you have nothing better to do. I’m sure you, like me, can just be completely rationally detached from all of this, and not emotional or angry or abusive or impatient (because serious philosophy should involve none of that), and we can talk about this just like we talk about whether the causal theory of reference is true. Or, I win? (Or, at least, only then will my views be at all affected.).

The differential policing and treatment within the criminal justice system of black people and black men in particular in the United States is one of the most obvious and well-documented empirical realities that exists. Just for the millionth easily available piece of evidence on this (not to mention the nearly inexhaustible supply of personal testimony, which I take it this person thinks should be almost entirely discounted): https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/06/03/us/minneapolis-police-use-of-force.html

We can be better than this, but I’m not sure that we are. Report

whatever
whatever
Reply to  Alexander Guerrero
1 year ago

People: Black lives matter! 400 years of oppression is long enough!

Philosophers: ok, but not if you can’t ask nicely.

More Ps: What even is racist? Also, was the French revolution even a good thing?

Ben & Jerry’s: WE MUST DISMANTLE WHITE SUPREMACY

You know it’s fucked when the professional blog of wisdom lovers are out classed by a brand of ice cream.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Alexander Guerrero
1 year ago

Hello, Alex.

I’m confused here: are you denying that there’s legitimate room for doubt about what motivated the killing of Floyd? Are you denying that there are two sides to the question of whether police brutality in general is caused by racism? Yes, while there are overall more white victims of police brutality, the proportional number of victims by race is higher for blacks than for whites. But the rate of arrests and criminality is not identical across all races, and the ratio of police brutality to arrests is not (as I understand it) greater for blacks than it is for whites. Do you disagree? Perhaps I’ve been misled about this, but I don’t yet see why you think so if you do.

You mock those of us who hesitate before inferring causation from correlation. But look — don’t you have the same hesitation? To take an obvious example, there are far more male victims of police violence than female ones. Do you think it follows that any police officer who kills a male while arresting him is acting out of sexism? Of course not. Perhaps you have some reason for this, pertaining to beliefs about male dominance and white supremacy. Those things would be good to discuss; but my point here is that this is *not*, as it seems you are saying, the sort of matter where one can read the motivations from the facts without the interpolation of theory and is stupid or evil for not immediately forming the judgment you have.

The way you portray it, those of us who are not yet ready to rush to judgment and conclude that this was an act of racism (even though, as it seems everyone agrees, it was an act of horrible and unjustifiable police brutality) are again to be mocked as silly Cartesian skeptics who will never find any possible evidence convincing.

That’s not it at all. There are plenty of cases in which we would clearly have good reason to believe that an act of violence was motivated by racism. If the aggressor shouted racist slurs while pursuing or killing the person, or threatened the person in advance for being a member of a racial minority, or was known to belong to a racist group, or had told other people of a desire to kill people of a certain race, or even of a belief that white people are superior, we would have some good grounds for thinking that. But nothing like that has come to light here, as far as I have heard.

What about evidence of a strong racist motive behind police brutality in general? Well, if it turned out that violence was used significantly more often on black people being arrested or questioned than on white people being arrested or question when other factors were identical (e.g. suspects of both races just as likely to resist arrest), then, yeah, the best explanation for the general phenomenon would presumably be racial discrimination. And maybe that’s what the evidence shows, but I haven’t seen anything like it. Present it, and you’ll see that I’m not being a Cartesian skeptic or anything like that.

Personally, I got into philosophy because I want to stand back and think things through before rushing to judgment. I see it as the most important thing we do as philosophers: to ask for reasons and counsel patience before the facts. Sure, we have to make inferences to the best explanation sometimes. But I haven’t seen anything remotely like that reasoning here.

I just got an email yesterday from a black student of mine from last year about this. She says she resents the drumbeat of fear-mongering (her word) stories and editorials that make black people feel that the entire nation, and white people especially, hate them and are out to hurt them. I see her point on this, and had a similar experience growing up Jewish, constantly being told that the greater culture is deeply anti-Semitic and to treat any non-Jew as a fairweather friend who would turn on me the next time genocide against Jews would be attempted, which was portrayed as likely to come up soon. Perhaps some people think there’s no cost to an over-reporting of anti-black racist tendencies; but I don’t agree. I think black people deserve to be given a fair basis for assessing the extent of anti-black hatred and violence, but that it doesn’t do anything but create racial polarization and bad dynamics to jump to conclusions like this.

I know you read the situation differently, Alex. Perhaps you have good reasons for believing that this is definitely a case of racism. I might be persuaded by those reasons, or I might think in the end that you’ve judged too hastily. But isn’t there room in philosophy for respectful disagreement about questions like this? I hope your sarcasm doesn’t entail that you think those who don’t share your convictions on this topic are thereby morally defective.Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

I think you are *maybe* working with an overly narrow understanding of racism if it requires that the person be actually yelling the N-word at someone while killing them.

And when someone says that George Floyd was killed because he was black, what they mean is that if he were white, he would not have been treated the way he was. They don’t mean that the person who killed him woke up in the morning and decided to go find a black person to kill. I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain this, that these things can work in more subtle ways than that.

Have you read anything any philosopher has ever written about racism? JLA Garcia, McGary, Blum, Boxill, Shelby, Fanon. I can only think the answer is no. This is like Philosophy of Race 101 stuff.

So, no, it’s not a respectful disagreement we are having. You are being disrespectful: taking up a ton of discursive space, acting like you are what a real philosopher is like (oh, my heart aches for the field I thought I knew…), and saying highly inflammatory things (the protests shouldn’t be about anti-racism, all those thousands of people are making a mistake) that you assert in the mode of the overconfident analytic philosopher only because you are profoundly ignorant regarding the topic that you are pronouncing on. I apologize for my tone, but I don’t want to pretend that your way of engaging is the way philosophy should be done. Report

Vincent
Vincent
Reply to  Alexander Guerrero
1 year ago

‘I think you are *maybe* working with an overly narrow understanding of racism if it requires that the person be actually yelling the N-word at someone while killing them.’

Justin clearly stated that it would be a sufficient condition on knowing that a police officer was racist if they shouted racial slurs while killing (or pursuing) their victim. He proceeded to list several other sufficient conditions. To represent him as claiming that shouting the N-word while killing one’s victim is necessary for racism strikes me as wilfully uncharitable. Report

Seriously?
Seriously?
Reply to  Vincent
1 year ago

Kalef did list other sufficient conditions, but they were all of the same kind (ALL implied a narrow understanding of what racism is and what might count as evidence of a racist disposition). Guerrero chose one as an exemplum and then argued that there is an entirely different *way* to think about racism and racially motivated killings, revealed to us by a counterfactual analysis of how the officer would have treated a white male, and that this is the broader notion of racism that is assumed when people claim that the killing of Floyd was racially motivated.

If Guerrero had listed all of Kalef’s conditions before making his argument would you have been satisfied? Would it have made any difference to the value of Guerrero’s identification of a broader way to understand racism? What do you think the requirement to be charitable requires? That one must always quote verbatim, even if it makes no difference to the point one is making, and when one can still read the relevant post immediately above it?

As Guerrero says, “We can be better than this”.Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Vincent
1 year ago

Vincent, I don’t know you, so I don’t know if you are trolling or not.

Just to go slowly and earnestly, in case you are an undergrad… Yes, I was highlighting one of the sufficient conditions Justin K. identified (in a list of other awfully similar sufficient conditions) as comically narrow, suggesting that the necessary conditions or jointly necessary and sufficient conditions that he accepts (none of which are specified by him) are almost certainly comically narrow too. (Why would you give a list of sufficient conditions A, B, and C, if you also accept that Q and R are sufficient, too?). These examples strongly suggest that he is working with something like a very, very old school view of racism, on which an act is racist only if (a) the person harbors explicit racist beliefs and attitudes, beliefs that they are aware of and which they affirm and endorse; and (b) attending to and intentionally acting on those explicit racist beliefs and attitudes is what motivates or causes the person to act. We could call this KKK-racism. People have since argued, quite persuasively, that KKK-racism is not the only kind of racism.

I didn’t go through all of that in the previous post, because my point was that it isn’t even worth going through all that given that he doesn’t seem to have read even the first thing about theories of racism, nor thought very much about it, or, if he has, he has for some reason endorsed a view that is even much narrower than, say, Garcia’s, which is absurd, and not worth my time as a professional, just like it’s not worth arguing with everyone about everything on Reddit or Twitter.

My point was more about the humility we should have when we are engaging on topics that we have thought less about, read less about, have less relevant life experience about, and so on. There are different ways of participating and chiming in, asking genuine questions, taking seriously the fact that evidently many tens of thousands of people disagree with what you are saying, and so on.

(One thing I do know about Justin K. is that he is definitely not just trying to troll. I think he’s sometimes getting things wrong about how he’s proceeding in these discussions, but I am confident that his intentions are good. That matters, but it’s not all that matters.)Report

Disagreement
Disagreement
Reply to  Alexander Guerrero
1 year ago

I disagree with the view Justin Kalef has been defending here, but surely, those of us who want to argue against this view should do so by actually engaging with the evidence he has been marshaling.

Even if you don’t believe that it is our obligation as philosophers to deal in this way with opposing viewpoints, it makes sense just from a purely pragmatic standpoint. Some of the people reading these conversations haven’t yet made up their minds about the issue. If they see that one side is calmly discussing the empirical evidence while the other side is being openly disrespectful and trying to shut down further discussion, what are they likely to conclude about which side is right?Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Disagreement
1 year ago

Here’s one problem with that: he hasn’t presented any evidence relevant to the claim of whether racism was involved in Floyd’s death.

He asserted that we don’t have evidence of that. He said “if the evidence for this is that black people have a somewhat higher chance of being killed in the process of being arrested than do white people (and again, that has not yet been established), then the conclusion of racism in this case clearly doesn’t follow.” But that is not the relevant evidence. He appears to think the relevant evidence that could support that claim would be something like the police officer’s personal diary.

Here’s a second problem with that: demands for evidence for certain claims themselves are dialectical moves, and it is fair to consider what claims need evidential support, of what kind, what level of evidence will “establish” certain claims, in what contexts, and who has the burden of supplying that evidence.

A person can quite easily go around demanding evidence for all manner of claims, and basically derailing discussion until he (always he) has been provided that evidence, and acting as if until he has the evidence he has demanded, the claim has to be treated as completely unsubstantiated. But that’s bullshit, and it derails discussions, and it allows people to shift the debate into their ignorant or biased world, rather than allowing others to have a conversation.

Why don’t we “calmly discuss the empirical evidence” that we have to support the claim that academic analytic philosophy is not actually just an intellectual front for the KKK? Here, let me show you the data on demographics in the profession. What evidence do you have? Let’s talk about that now for 30 comments as everyone not interested in that leaves the room.

Why don’t we “calmly discuss the empirical evidence” that we have to support the claim that these comment threads have not actually just been overrun by Reddit trolls, lead by a few people with some connection to academic philosophy, as a way of “owning the libs” or just for kicks? Here’s some evidence (gestures at comment threads).

Why don’t we “calmly discuss the empirical evidence” that suggests that white men in analytic philosophy use talk of rationality and rigor and “everyone else but me is always engaging in fallacious thinking” talk to cover up deep-seated anxiety about unearned privilege, loneliness, bitterness at being called nerds and bullied as children, and implicit racism and sexism? Here’s some evidence (gestures at some survey data and psych studies).

Some of the people reading these conversations haven’t yet made up their minds about these issues. If they see that one side is calmly discussing the empirical evidence…

It’s an easy game to play. But no one wins. Let’s ask: what claims here are the ones that under discussion. What claims are the ones that need evidential support in this context? Why are we focusing on those claims in particular? Do I lack the evidence, or is someone just asserting that “we don’t have the evidence” and then demanding that evidence take some very particular (impossible to provide) form?

Report

Disagreement
Disagreement
Reply to  Disagreement
1 year ago

Hi Alexander,

Thanks for your response. My sense is that the two of us have very similar views about these issues, and I’m glad we are getting a chance to discuss this.

Justin K. argues that the way to know whether police brutality is driven in part by racism is to look at the ratio of police killings to arrests. The empirical evidence seems to suggest that this ratio is not lower for White people than for Black people:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/upshot/police-killings-of-blacks-what-the-data-says.html

So if you go with the framework Justin K. suggests, this means we have evidence that police brutality is not driven by racism but by something else that applies equally to people of different races.

I disagree. I think that there is a serious problem of racism in policing. All I am saying is that if we want to argue for this view – which the two of us completely share – we should do it by providing empirical evidence.

Just as a start, here is a rigorous study that provides strong evidence for racism in policing:

https://5harad.com/papers/100M-stops.pdfReport

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Alexander Guerrero
1 year ago

To be fair to Justin Kalef, he wasn’t talking about what *constituted* racism, but giving examples of what would count as *sufficient evidence* to infer that racism was involved causally *in an individual case*. I am pretty sceptical of the purity of motivation of anyone who brings it up in the current context, (including myself I guess!) but the following is not an obviously wrong view: there’s abundant reason to think that racial bias of a non-explicitly racist, KKK, openly hateful kind is responsible for the overall disparity to blacks versus whites, but since the police do sometimes brutalize whites for stupid reasons too, in any individual case where a policeman brutalizes a black guy, we can’t infer with that much confidence that he wouldn’t have brutalized a white guy in the same situation: we can say that he might well not of, but it’s hard to be sure. How reasonable this position is depends on *exactly* how big the disparity between whites and blacks is in terms of victimization by the police. If it is very large, then you can be pretty damn sure they wouldn’t have brutalized a white guy (even if theoretically not 100%) certain. If, on the other hand, it’s only half as much again, then Justin’s attitude seems less unreasonable. (I suspect it is very large, and we can be pretty sure a white George Floyd would still be alive, but I’m relying on British stereotypes about the US and haven’t seen hard data.)Report

Louis
Louis
1 year ago

The NYT article to which Alex Guerrero linked refers to a study showing that the Minneapolis police in recent years are seven times more likely to use force in encounters with black people than in encounters with whites (and blacks make up about 20 percent of the city’s population).

Justin Kalef says he hasn’t seen evidence that police use violence or force “significantly more often” on blacks than whites when arresting, questioning or (one might add) otherwise encountering them, but the Minneapolis study reported in the NYT article is prima facie evidence of exactly that.

P.s. I’m not a philosopher and I don’t know anything first-hand about how academic philosophers are trained in graduate schools, but aspects of this thread suggest to me that at least some philosophers might benefit from closer and more regular interaction with social scientists and historians. (This is not intended btw as a disrespectful observation and I hope it will not be taken as such.)Report

Ben
Ben
Reply to  Louis
1 year ago

Louis,

You are conflating:
(1) The article’s finding that Minneapolis police are seven times more likely to use force against black people per their proportion of the population.

with

(2) “Seven times more likely to use force in encounters with black people than in encounters with whites.”

“[Your comment] suggests to me that [you] might benefit from closer and more regular interaction with [statisticians]. (This is not intended btw as a disrespectful observation and I hope it will not be taken as such.)”
😉

-BenReport

Louis
Louis
Reply to  Ben
1 year ago

Ben,
As I read the NYT summary, the study counted the number of times police used particular forceful tactics (choke holds etc etc ) against blacks and whites in Minneapolis in the given time period. The article reports the absolute numbers of instances of use of force as well as the population figures.

You’re right that the 7x figure is proportional to population, but if you just look at the absolute numbers (roughly 11,500 to roughly 6500 instances of use of force, as I recall), the study still shows more use of force against blacks in Minneapolis, roughly 1.7 times (almost twice as often) against blacks as against whites. (Maybe my math is wrong here, but in any case it’s a significant difference in terms of absolute numbers of instances of use of force.)

So you’re right on the statistical point and I shouldn’t have conflated those two points, but properly interpreted the study still shows significantly more use of police force against blacks in Minneapolis than whites.Report

Details Matter
Details Matter
1 year ago

I want to stick up for a position that looks to me somewhere between Justin Kalef’s and Alex’s.

The fact that black people are overwhelmingly more likely than white people to be the victims of police violence is well documented—that shouldn’t be in dispute, and I don’t think it was upthread. But teasing out just why that’s the case is a complicated and important social scientific question, and it’s not easy. Even if you think, as I do, that at a certain level of abstraction we can be sure racism is part of the story, the question of just how and where that racism is manifesting itself matters for policy. If police are more violent when they interact with black people than with white people, that suggests one set of remedies relating to police use of force, training, stuff like that. But if it’s mostly just that police are much more likely to interact with black people—this is indisputably true, but the question is how much of the effect it explains—that suggests a different set or responses aimed not at police conduct during interactions, but instead at reducing the number of interactions with police; maybe more emergency calls should be routed to non-police actors, and we should generally be looking for ways to avoid police in low-level issues (e.g., cameras/videos for speeding tickets instead of traffic stops). Of course, both could be the case, and both sets of remedies could be called for. That’s what I suspect. But this isn’t obvious. See Roland Fryer’s study which used a very large dataset of police uses of force, and found quite puzzling results.

There are a lot of calls for defunding police departments going around. I have no idea if that will be effective in reducing police brutality. I hope it’s tried in a number of places, but I also hope that other policies are tried in other places, and that in the coming years we’ll be able to look at the various policies that are enacted in the wake of these protests with an open mind about what works and what doesn’t, and a correspondingly open mind about just how racism operates. If we are too confident about the explanations for racial disparities in policing, we may be too close-minded concerning how to address them.
Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Details Matter
1 year ago

I don’t see how the position you occupy isn’t perfectly compatible with my position. I don’t assert that I know exactly how racism is operating, what reforms are needed, or exactly how we should respond.

I do suggest that spending a lot of time arguing that racism is any kind of factor at all is a waste of our time, particularly given that the only reason we are spending time on that is because someone who knows nothing about the relevant issues is spending a lot of time trying to get us to talk about that.

Obviously, we should keep an open mind when thinking about some questions and issues. Which ones matter. As you suggest, details matter. Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
1 year ago
Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

Alex G. writes in response to Justin K.:

“Have you read anything any philosopher has ever written about racism? JLA Garcia, McGary, Blum, Boxill, Shelby, Fanon. I can only think the answer is no. This is like Philosophy of Race 101 stuff.”

And “philosophy of race 101 stuff” is just *obviously* true? Questioning it, along with the “broad” account of racism, is beyond the pale? That would be news to black scholars like John McWhorter, Glenn Loury, Thomas Sowell, and to many others of all races, including me, who are critical of it.

Alex continues:

“So, no, it’s not a respectful disagreement we are having. You are being disrespectful: taking up a ton of discursive space, acting like you are what a real philosopher is like (oh, my heart aches for the field I thought I knew…), and saying highly inflammatory things (the protests shouldn’t be about anti-racism, all those thousands of people are making a mistake) that you assert in the mode of the overconfident analytic philosopher only because you are profoundly ignorant regarding the topic that you are pronouncing on. I apologize for my tone, but I don’t want to pretend that your way of engaging is the way philosophy should be done.”

I don’t see anything Justin K. has said that is ad hominem or otherwise rude, so it appears that it’s inherently “disrespectful” to question certain views, regardless of the manner in which one does it. But if that’s right, I’d like to know what other philosophical and political views are inherently disrespectful to defend, and why. Seems like maybe moral error theory should go in that category, since it disrespectfully entails that there’s nothing wrong with racist police officers murdering people for mere amusement.

Moreover, why is it “inflammatory” to say that the protests shouldn’t be about racism — as opposed to, say, police abuse generally — or that thousands of people are making a mistake? We routinely argue for positions that entail that nearly all people are making serious epistemic and moral mistakes.

Nor is Justin K. being overconfident as far as I can tell, since he at multiple points concedes his lack of knowledge about causation and is even open to Alex G. being right in the end. He’s just not presently convinced, and neither am I.

Report

Ed
Ed
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

“I don’t see anything Justin K. has said that is ad hominem or otherwise rude”

You pay close enough attention to this blog to know that Justin Kalef participants in all and only threads on specific topics of socio-political interest about which he seems to have read and published very little, with comments that easily average 1500 words a pop, to argue-by-exhaustion for the unrelated meta-philosophical view that Philosophy with a capital ‘P’ is as Justin Kalef takes it to be. His persistent pattern of needling would certainly be rude in ordinary conversation. The amount of space he takes and the demands he levies would even be rude in the seminar room. I didn’t think it was even possible to objectionably dominate an online comments section. But here we are, with people in various threads even reporting that they’ve stopped reading Daily Nous because of this kind of behavior. Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

Spencer, it seems as if you also have not read any of the Philosophy of Race 101. The views of those philosophers can’t all be true, because they are in many cases diametrically opposed to each other.

McWhorter, Sowell, and Loury do not offer theories or definitions of what racism is–they offer views about the role that racism plays in explaining various socioeconomic and sociopolitical phenomena. They never offer anything like a definition of racism that would pass even philosophy 101 muster. Some people in these debates assume, as Justin K. appears to, that racism is only KKK-racism. But then they are owed no more of a response than Justin K., which is: read, then come back with an argument. (An initial hurdle: however we want to use the word “racism,” it appears there is clearly harm that happens along racial lines, because of race, that is not covered by KKK-racist acts–don’t make me belabor this point as if I were speaking to a child waking up for the first time in America–and we can see people as objecting to that, whatever name we want to give it. But it also seems obvious that “racism” includes much beyond just KKK-racism, even in ordinary use.)

Justin K. routinely asserts that people are making obvious logical mistakes, rather than thinking about whether he might be missing something in their thinking. He routinely acts like he is disappointed in everyone for how little they are scrutinizing the available evidence, in contrast to him. He routinely strawmans positions he disagrees with. (As do you above, trying to slot me into some view on which some ideas are “inherently disrespectful” and verboten to discuss; my point is clearly that some ideas are really stupid, emerging out of culpable ignorance, and not worth anyone’s time–I hope you can appreciate the difference.) These are all ways of being rude and disrespectful when engaging with others, particularly when it is you who are doing those things, not them. You are right, he doesn’t get emotional, and he doesn’t call names. Like many white men in analytic philosophy, he maintains at all times the veneer of pure unblinkered rationality, just “following arguments where they lead” (nevermind that where they lead him is dramatically shaped by his own experiences, biases, and ignorance, a fact that never seems to give him pause).

It is inflammatory to say that people (many of whom are black) shouldn’t be protesting racism because it suggests that racism is not any kind of problem in the US. A person might assert that, but it is clearly inflammatory, and unbelievably stupid, even if you go in for the view that KKK-racism is the only kind of racism, as Ahmaud Arbery’s killers actually were yelling the N-word while killing him. That seems protestable, right? Are we OK protesting that? I mean, not the first time, of course, but after the 50th time that has been caught on video in the last few years? That seems OK, right?

Furthermore, who are you (or Justin K.) to say what the protests should be about? How many years have you lived as a black person in this country?

Maybe actually listen for a while (as I was hoping to do, until this thread got derailed at the beginning), rather than just falling into your ‘oh the libs are suppressing uncomfortable ideas they don’t like and the lefty philosophers are insisting that everyone has to agree about this topic’ tropes.

Report

Spencer Jay Case
Spencer Jay Case
1 year ago

This will be my last comment on this thread and you can have the last word.

Neither Justin K. nor I have made any assumptions about what you have or haven’t read as far as I’ve seen, and I’d appreciate the same courtesy.

I don’t see the relevance of whether McWhorter and the others I named offer definitions of racism. They clearly reject the notion that all white-black racial disparities, including disparities in police slayings, are entirely a matter of race-based injustice. They also question whether particular incidents, like the George Floyd incident, is a matter of racial injustice. Loury and McWhorter did exactly this on their video podcast just recently. Does this mean they fail philosophy of race 101? If not, then I’m not sure why I would fail. If so, then I fail in good company.

You write:

“It is inflammatory to say that people (many of whom are black) shouldn’t be protesting racism because it suggests that racism is not any kind of problem in the US. A person might assert that, but it is clearly inflammatory, and unbelievably stupid…”

Is it “unbelievably stupid” to think that a protest about police abuse in general might be more effective? Also is it “unbelievably stupid” to think that protests during a pandemic might be a bad idea, even if the cause is good? I don’t see what’s “unbelievably stupid” here. Nor does any of that suggest “racism is not a problem in the U.S.”

Are you familiar with some of the videos of police violence against white people? The one showing the death of Daniel Shaver is as bad as anything I’ve seen. It’s at least not obvious that this represents an entirely different phenomenon than what we saw in the George Lloyd video. Certainly we can explain evil abuses of police power independently of racism.

I don’t see how Justin K. straw man’s you by asking questions — questions that seem entirely fair to me — but you think I’m guilty of that as well:

“As do you above, trying to slot me into some view on which some ideas are “inherently disrespectful” and verboten to discuss; my point is clearly that some ideas are really stupid, emerging out of culpable ignorance, and not worth anyone’s time–I hope you can appreciate the difference.”

Culpable ignorance? Why *culpable*? It’s one thing to say people are wrong on some political or philosophical question and another to assert that in being wrong they must also be guilty. Now I am surmising based on comments you’ve made which I don’t find entirely transparent, but the insistence that you “disrespectfully disagree” and the insistence that Justin K.’s position isn’t just wrong, but culpably wrong and “inflammatory” to boot, suggest that you find defending these ideas inherently disrespectful. As does the umbrage you took at the idea of telling the protestors that their protest was misconceived. You seemed to think this was insulting, and being insulting is one way of disrespecting people. If I’m misreading things, then please tell me how the following ideas can be respectfully defended:

– racial disparities (to the disadvantage of minorities, e.g., police shooting disparities) aren’t necessarily the products of institutionalized racism, though they may be.

-the death of George Floyd, or other similar cases, might not be due to racism, but to things like adverse selection of sadistic police officers, or to racism and a combination of other factors that cannot be subsumed under “institutional racism.”

-the protestors, I mean even the peaceful ones, might be motivated in part by some mistaken beliefs.

If there’s no way of respectfully defending these ideas, then I don’t see what’s wrong with labeling them “inherently disrespectful.” (Or maybe we should say it’s the assertions, not the ideas that are inherently disrespectful — fine). If they aren’t disrespectful, then I see no occasion for explicitly “disrespectful” disagreement.

Respectfully,

Spencer

Report

Disagreement
Disagreement
1 year ago

Something is going seriously wrong in this conversation. Justin, Spencer and others have every right to express skepticism and demand evidence. Then those of us who disagree with their views should argue back by actually providing that evidence.

For a case where things worked the way they are supposed to, take the debate about Fryer’s work on racial differences in police use of lethal force. Fryer put together an NBER paper which he claimed provided evidence that Black people are 23.8 percent LESS likely to be shot at by police.

https://www.nber.org/papers/w22399

Simonson then looked more carefully at the data and showed that the data are actually consistent with police shootings being biased against Blacks people.

http://datacolada.org/50

I completely agree with Simonson, and I think his objections are decisive. The point is just that the only way to refute claims like these is to engage with the evidence. If we are right in saying that there is a very serious problem of racism in policing, we should be able to show that by providing the relevant empirical evidence and explaining precisely what is wrong with the evidence that might at first seem to point in the opposite direction.Report

Details Matters
Details Matters
Reply to  Disagreement
1 year ago

I just want to drop a note of thanks to “Disagreement” for pointing me (and others) to the Simonson post. Also, thanks to njb above, who offers a nice explanation of it. Having done a bit more reading, I see similar points have made their way into the published literature, e.g., <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-018-0110-z?fbclid=IwAR0I0ToLvNWxs8Cw9LAQ-GRRvU4EgcicSmw4Smrnwa0V__PszIc6hmMWu4A&quot; here .

So, for what little it’s worth, I’ve found this thread illuminating; I’ve gone from being puzzled in light of Fryer’s work (which I’d thought of as the biggest and best attempt to tease apart correlation from causation on use of force in policing), back to my priors. Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Hello, all. Justin W. has agreed to allow this last comment of mine.

I feel I have been deeply mischaracterized in this discussion. As Justin W. has just said, he blocked some posts I tried to make today to try to respond to some interlocutors. I found that frustrating.

I have come to feel that, much as I would like to reply to various people who have commented here, in ways that would include the presentation of evidence now being asked for, this is definitely not the right forum for it.

At present, I do not plan to post anything further on this blog. Take care, allReport

Disagreement
Disagreement
1 year ago

I am growing increasingly distressed with the direction in which this conversation is going. I wonder if we can return now to just discussing the issue about racism and police brutality.

Some people in this thread are demanding evidence for the claim that there is a serious problem of racism in American policing. It is entirely fair for them to demand this evidence, and we should respond by providing it.

Above, I mentioned the recent study by Emma Pierson and colleagues. They looked at data regarding 100 million traffic stops. Controlling for numerous other factors, they find that Black people are less likely to be stopped when lighting conditions make it too dark for police to determine the race of a driver. This result provides strong evidence for the claim that police behavior is driven in part by racism.

Like many other philosophers, I am outraged by the racism in contemporary policing, and I fully support the protests. But the only good reason to be outraged is that there is evidence that policing is racist. When we talk in this detailed way about the evidence, we are not distracting ourselves with some minor side topic; we are talking about the very thing that justifies our outrage.Report

Alexander Guerrero
Reply to  Disagreement
1 year ago

My last comment on any of this. Thanks for posting these various studies and bits of evidence.

That policing is highly racialized (beyond whatever plausible base-rate expectation you like) is so well documented to anyone who has looked into it at all that for most of us, this particular posted evidence isn’t necessary, but sure, let’s also bring along those who have somehow remained ignorant of that fact.

What I want to insist on, though, is that this needn’t be all that the protests are about. They have clearly moved beyond just that focus. Arbery wasn’t killed by racist policing. Nor was Trayvon Martin. Nor were the African-Americans who have died from COVID-19 at three times the rate of white Americans. Nor [insert the other hundred instances of racial injustice that continue to plague our society].

You are not the arbiter of “what justifies our outrage.” (Nor am I.) Who is the “our” in your sentence? Who are you speaking for? Why are you so focused just on that? Why would you say “the only good reason to be outraged is that there is evidence that policing is racist”?

OK, as with the others, I will now bow out. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
1 year ago

Just a coda on this from the perspective of having grown up in Europe. I find it entirely plausible that racism explains, at least in part, the higher rates of police killings of African-Americans; still, from a European perspective, what stands out from the data on US police killings isn’t their racial mix but how astonishingly many there are. The police in the US apparently shot dead about a thousand people in 2019. The equivalent figure in England and Wales is three: not three thousand people, three people. I shan’t try to analyze what the causes are; still, Europe is a direct demonstration that modern liberal democracies can keep the peace without the state racking up these incredible body counts.Report

Robert A Gressis
Robert A Gressis
Reply to  David Wallace
1 year ago

I would suspect the way police are trained and the fact that we have more guns per capita than any other county in the world (120.5 civilian firearms per 100 civilians, as compared to 4.6 civilian firearms for England and Wales). I would guess, but don’t know, that, to a great extent, the number of guns has something to do with the training the police receive, and the training the police receive has, to a smaller extent, something to do with the number of guns civilians own. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Robert A Gressis
1 year ago

I’m sure that’s a lot of it. (The British police don’t even carry guns routinely – though In other European countries they do.) It’s also true that the homicide rate in the US is way higher (5x?) the rate in the UK, and iirc that remains true even if you put aside firearm deaths, I.e it’s not just access to guns.Report