Huemer on Police Brutality Versus Police Racism

Philosopher Michael Huemer argues, “The main problem with the police is not racism. The main problem is brutality.” He points out that racism is not “the main explanation for police shootings,” and he offers the usual sort of evidence for this.

Huemer warns: “Why are we constantly on about racism? Because hard core ideologues can’t talk about or care about any problem that isn’t ideologically slanted. They can’t just protest some non-ideological, non-partisan injustice.” I get what he’s saying here, but I would say that a concern with injustice per se is a manifestation of some ideology; I would distinguish having an ideology from being an ideologue.

Huemer also warns against media bias: “The media gives drastically disproportionate attention to police abuse of black people, as compared to police abuse of white people. One reason for this is that the media is full of left-wing people. Another reason, maybe the main reason, is the media bias toward click-bait. ‘Racism’ pushes people’s buttons. It stimulates outrage, it makes people click, and it makes people share. Just telling a story about how an innocent person was murdered doesn’t do those things. Telling a story that feeds into someone’s preferred narrative about what’s wrong with America — that gets people to click and share. That is what the media cares about. They are not in the business of trying to provide an accurate picture of our society. They’re in the business of capturing attention so they can sell it. Sowing outrage and division is just a side effect of that.” I think that’s an overly cynical view. Media often works that way, but it’s also true that many individual journalists try hard to properly contextualize their stories and to avoid sensationalism.

Huemer also has a great discussion about confirmation bias.

Finally, Huemer warns against keeping racism alive under the banner of “anti-racism.” Huemer explains, “Races are just arbitrary groupings, no more morally meaningful than groupings by what day of the week one was born on. ‘The white race’ isn’t a person and cannot owe anyone anything or be blameworthy or praiseworthy for anything. Every person is a separate individual, every one has to be evaluated based on that individual’s own actions and no one else’s. The problem with traditional racism was not that it misidentified which races are good and which are bad. The problem was the whole bullshit of treating individuals as representatives of a ‘race.'”

Like Huemer (and like Sam Harris and like Martin Luther King Jr. and like many others), I look forward to a post-racial world. As Harris says, the color of your skin should matter no more than the color of your hair. It should be something that we simply do not pay any attention to. But there is a “here-to-there” problem. Today, many “white” people clearly are still racist against “black” people—observe the alt-right or the president of the United States. Many American laws really are racist in origin and racist in effect, and this really does have a large downstream “racial” impact. So I think there is a way in which we need to be cognizant of “race” today as we work toward a future in which people no longer are cognizant of it.

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