Black Lives Matter, and I Will Never Change My Mind
But, no matter what you believe, neither should you.
In 2014, Mike Brown was shot in Ferguson, and his death pushed Black Lives Matter onto the national stage. After he died, there wasn’t conclusive statistical evidence that police in the United States disproportionately kill black people. There were incomplete records, contextless videos paired with eyewitness testimonies, and scattered statistics.
No matter what your opinion was about Mike Brown’s particular case, that one single event could not prove a trend. And, yet it managed to propel a powerful movement and spark a national conversation. How is this justified? How could some people feel so strongly that police disproportionately shot black people while others felt equally strongly that this wasn’t the case? (Especially when so few people outside of affected communities were even looking closely at police-involved shootings before 2014.)
Well, it’s because no one ever examines the facts of an event in a vacuum, especially when the facts aren’t clear. We view new evidence in the light of our lived experiences and in the light of views we already hold about the world. And this isn’t a bad thing– the events we’ve experienced and the information we’ve learned create a necessary context for understanding the complex issues.
On some level, this is stating that obvious. But when you’re out in the world and people say things that make you feel sick to your stomach or are outright violent, it can be hard to step back and think, “this person is saying something that makes me sad/angry/upset, but the evidence they have encountered over the course of their lifetime has led them to this belief.” And, of course, this goes both ways. People generally believe they are doing good, whether it’s by protesting in the streets or speaking their truth.
So my answer to this seeming gridlock of opinion in United States?
We should all, simply never change our minds.
No, I’m not being snide. Especially when it comes to broad social issues, if you “change your mind,” that is indicative of one of three things:
- You have actively avoided challenging your opinion about a topic.
- This is your first time closely examining a topic.
- You’ve encountered a single piece of evidence that completely blows everything you’ve ever read about an issue out the water.
While #3 might occasionally occur, 1 and 2 are much more likely scenarios. Instead of changing our minds, we should evolve our opinions based on new evidence. This isn’t some game of words There is a fundamental difference between shifting an opinion and changing it. As humans, we are prone to cognitive dissonance, which is when we experience discomfort from holding contradictory opinions. This often leads people to limiting the range of information that they seriously consider. No matter what your opinion is, new information shouldn’t be disregarded. New information should either strengthen a person’s opinion, add nuance to their opinion, or be denounced as false, irrelevant, or questionable.
This activity of incorporating new information doesn’t have to have to happen immediately. It also doesn’t have to happen in the midst of a conversation. Nor does it have to be explained to anyone. If someone is not willing to engage in an argument, that doesn’t mean they are wrong. In our current climate, it most likely just means that they are tired or don’t want to be attacked, which is fine. It is not your job to explain what you believe to other people. It is not your job to engage in conversation with someone who doesn’t respect your mind. In fact, it is not your job to engage in any conversation. It is your job to make sure that your belief is intellectually honest and that you are willing to shift your opinion based on new information. The war of public opinion is important, but not everyone needs to be in that fight. There is other work to do.
I’m going to explain why I support and I believe Black Lives Matter, and one way my opinion has shifted since 2014. I don’t think that my way of interpreting this evidence is the only way of interpreting this evidence, but it is how I understand the situation right now.
1. There is evidence of bias in police departments throughout the United States. I only highlight evidence that cannot by differences in crime levels.
- In the Ferguson Police Department, blacks are more than twice as likely to be searched during traffic stops, even after accounting for non-race-based variables, such as the reason they are stopped. However, they are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than whites. The same investigation finds that there is greater evidence of racial discrimination for traffic citations when citations “are issued not on the basis of radar or laser, but by some other method, such as the officer’s own visual assessment.”
- Earlier this year, members of the San Francisco Police Department used racist slurs in text messages to one another. They are far from the only ones.
- According to a 2015 survey, 70% of young, black men were stopped by the Chicago PD in the past 12 months. Blacks and Latinos were more likely to be shoved or pushed around than whites. However, the majority of people stopped by the Chicago police are not ticketed, arrested, or taken to a police station. As a side note, between 2011 and 2015, 40% of complaints against the Chicago PD went uninvestigated.
- In similar situations (as reported by police, including compliance/non-compliance), the Houston police and the New York police are more likely to use force on blacks than whites. Houston’ Acting Police Chief, Martha Montalvo, did not denounce the study, but rather admitted that officers come to the police department with bias and that they use training to combat this bias. She cited the study as an example of her department’s efforts for more transparency and will hopefully use the results to continue to improve
2. Whether or not you believe that racial profiling by police is justified, the practice breeds mistrust of cops in profiled communities and will inevitably unfairly target innocent people based on their skin color. I’m not saying you can’t believe the police departments should engage in racial profiling; I’m saying that if you accept racial profiling as a necessary evil, you need to realize there will absolutely be increased mistrust.
3. Blacks are more heavily policed overall than whites. This is due to a combination of poverty, crime levels, bias (see #1), and a higher percentage of blacks living in urban areas.
4. It’s not just about police shootings, and police may not even shoot blacks more than whites in similar situations.
In July, Roland Fryer released a study about how police treatment of civilians differs by race. His study ran in the New York Times under the headline, “Surprising New Evidence Shows Bias in Police Use of Force, But Not in Shootings.” Part of me was really happy to see his methodology, which looked at almost 300 variables for police-involved (fatal and non-fatal) shootings in Houston (he also looked at other data sources, but this was by far the most detailed). I was happy, but my heart also sank. I took some time to consider what his study meant. First of all, as I mentioned earlier, he showed that the Houston police disproportionately use force with black people. He also found no evidence of bias with actual shootings.
His study made me consider that perhaps, because the cost of shooting a civilian is perceived to be high (especially in the post-Black Lives Matter world), there is less likely to be race-related bias in police shootings.
However, other studies have shown that police disproportionately stop black people, which would mean they have more encounter cops, which could then turn fatal, especially when police are exhibiting racial bias. This would not be captured in Mr.Fryer’s study. His sample, as he mentioned, was also not representative, because he could only look at police departments who were willing to provide information.
I applaud Mr. Fryer’s exemplary study and similar undertakings.
5. Like I said, it’s not just about police shootings. By the time someone is found dead on the street, they and their family members have been exposed to and affected by years and years of life under a system that was never built to protect them. In addition to unequal treatment by police, blacks in the United States faces a different country than whites. How?
The wealth gap between white and black families has nearly tripled between 1984 and 2009. Years of home ownership accounts for more than 25% of the difference. The mortgage industry is one industry with a long and egregious history of racial discrimination. What’s worse is that strong evidence of bias still exists. In 2014, Hudson City Savings Bank, which operated in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, approved 1,886 mortgages; 25 of those mortgages were to black borrowers. Probably the most damning piece of evidence that Hudson was actively avoiding black and Hispanic neighborhoods is that the bank’s competitors generated three times as many loan applications in black and Latinx neighborhoods as Hudson. Hudson isn’t an anomaly. As of October of last year, the Justice Department had more active redlining investigations than at any other time in the past seven years.
But, of course, the discrimination doesn’t end there. Resumes with white-sounding names receive fifty percent more callbacks than resumes with black-sounding names. Teachers are more likely to label black students as “troublemakers” when white and black students have engaged in the same disruptive behaviors (in this study, teachers were asked to evaluate the written records of students, so they are exclusively responding to the children’s names and descriptions of their infractions).
This situation is complex, and human interactions are messy. In every police-civilian encounter, many factors are at play. I believe that bias is one of those factors. Whatever your opinion, it is important to keep considering new information. It is possible to be pro-Black Lives Matter and pro-cop. It is possible to see validity in some of the issues that the Black Lives Matter organization has addressed (or that people who use the Black Lives Matter slogan have addressed) and to disagree with the validity of other issues. It is possible, but it is not okay to have formed your opinion in 2013 (or earlier) and not to have truly considered any new information since then.
I will never change my mind. I will read new information, and I will try to understand it. I will not be afraid to shift my opinion. I encourage you to do the same.