Mike Kueber's Blog

December 17, 2014

Bill Clinton on race relations post-Ferguson and post-Staten Island

Bill Clinton was recently interviewed by the modern Walter Cronkite, Jorge Ramos of Fusion TV (a network directed at millennials and Hispanics). During the interview, Clinton weighed-in on race relations in America in the aftermath of the Ferguson and Staten Island killings.  When asked if race relations in America were getting better, Clinton said “yes and no.”

  • Yes, there are more opportunities for blacks in business and the professions.
  • No, there is an on-going problem with the American majority acting out of fear because of preconceived notions based on race and socio-economic groups that don’t share the majority’s values and lifestyle, which results in arrest rates, with a wild racial disparity.

Clinton suggested that this on-going problem was manifested in the Eric Garner killing in Staten Island. While noting that Garner had six children, was overweight and afflicted by heart and lung problems, and was trying to supplement his income by illegally selling untaxed cigarettes, Clinton declared, “he didn’t deserve to die.”

The injustice to Garner prompted Clinton to comment on the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson. According to Clinton, even if the grand jury was right, with Brown “being super-aggressive and all that,” it is undeniable that Brown was chased down, unarmed, and shot.

Based on these two incidents, Clinton concludes that there is a huge problem because of the divide between the community and police. Further, this divide is caused (a) by preconceptions that are triggered in scared people, and (b) the fear of minorities in these communities that they are disposable and not important.

I find several flaws with Clinton’s position:

  1. As a factual matter, Brown was not chased down and shot. According to Grand Jury evidence, he was a fleeing felon who was pursued, but he wasn’t shot at until he turned and charged Officer Wilson. Are police not supposed to pursue fleeing felons? Are they not to shoot a charging felon who has already tried to take your gun?
  2. Clinton implies that the wide disparity with African-American arrest rate is based on more on racial discrimination than on actual criminal activity. What support is there for that suggestion?
  3. Clinton is using a straw-man argument in declaring that Garner didn’t deserve to die. Who has said that Garner deserved to die? His death was an accident precipitated by a sickly 350-pound guy resisting arrest.
  4. Clinton complains that the majority has a preconception (as well as a pre-wired DNA) to fear minorities from a lower socio-economic level, the same people who are arrested and incarcerated at alarming rates. It seems Pollyannaish for Clinton to think that people should ignore their common sense. He might be more effective if he focused on reducing criminal activity in those communities.

I think Charles Barkley has provided better insights on this issue.   He points out that the police are not the bad guys in these situations. Rather, they are the only people who are preventing these communities from devolving into the Wild West, much like northern Mexico. Instead of focusing on the police, Clinton should be focusing on how to transform these communities so that they share mainstream American values.

Ironically, Clinton ended his interview by lamenting about black parents with good values having to explain to their kids about the death of these two unarmed black men. That explanation doesn’t seem difficult to me. Both deceased men were criminals who resisted arrest. The one who acted in a “super-aggressive” fashion was shot in self-defense by a police officer; the other was a Goliath who was accidentally killed while being subdued.

This sort of explanation is far easier than trying to re-wire people to ignore the obvious.

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