Heather Mac Donald joins Seth Barron to discuss YouTube’s restriction of her livestreamed speech on policing, allegations of widespread racial bias in the criminal-justice system, and the ongoing reversal of public-safety gains in New York City.
Seth Barron: Welcome to 10 Blocks, the podcast of City Journal. I'm Seth Barron, associate editor of City Journal and your host for today. I'm joined by Heather MacDonald, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal. Heather's published widely on public disorder, policing, opera, and many other topics. Her most recent book is The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. Heather, welcome back to 10 Blocks.
Heather Mac Donald: Well, thanks for having me on Seth. I appreciate it.
Seth Barron: So there was a minor scandal last week, when a video of you talking about police brutality against black men was removed from YouTube on the grounds that it violated community standards. Now I gather the video was put back up, but what was so controversial about it in the first place?
Heather Mac Donald: Well, it was put back up with age restrictions, the institution that sponsored my speech, The Center for the American Experiment Minneapolis managed to sneak another version back up that has not yet been age restricted, but what was controversial about my speech in the eyes of Silicon Valley's overlords is that I tried to present clear data, federal data, uncontestable facts that demolished the Black Lives Matter narrative that show that policing in this country is not in fact, systemically racist, that law abiding residents of high crime communities beg for more police protection. And that the narrative that law enforcement in this country is on some white supremacist crusade against minorities is not just wrong, but is extraordinarily dangerous because it has resulted in attacks on the very institutions of civilization, whether it's law enforcement officers themselves, or court houses or district attorney's offices, or indeed we're seeing now the founding fathers being torn down that really I think is putting us in a very dangerous position as a country, a danger that really cannot be understated.
Seth Barron: Well hold on, let's back up just a moment. You said that there's data that debunks basically the Black Live Matter narrative that there's disproportionate police violence directed against black people. But I mean, clearly we hear all the time about black people being murdered by police. So how can you say that there's some kind of contradictory evidence?
Heather Mac Donald: I can say it Seth based three types of evidence: the raw numbers about police shootings, the individual cases purporting to make that claim, and a large body of criminological research. The main flaw in what the public is fed all the time, well I would say one of two, as far as the raw numbers go, we hear about the raw numbers of police shootings, and they're measured against a population benchmark rather than a crime benchmark. So listeners may have often heard that blacks are two and a half times more likely to be fatally shot by a police officer. Every year, the police shoot nationwide about a thousand civilians, almost all of them armed and dangerous. Whites make up about 50% of those fatal police shooting victims. So around 500 whites are killed each year and blacks make up around 25%, so around 250 blacks are killed each year.
So if you look at those numbers and you're a Black Lives Matter activist, or you're an academic, or you're a democratic politician, you say, "Well, blacks are 13% of the population, they make up 25% of all fatal victims of police shootings, therefore, the police must be racist." But that is absolutely the wrong benchmark because the police determine tactics, they determine deployment, based on where people are most being victimized, and that sadly is in minority communities. Blacks die of homicide between the ages of 10 and 43 at 13 times the rate of whites of the same ages. The Black Lives Matter movement never talks about that, doesn't give a damn, but the reason that blacks die of homicide at that much, much higher rate is because they commit homicide, drive-by shootings, at an equally disproportionate rate. And so that's what you have to look at, where are police officers more likely to encounter armed violent resisting suspects, and that is in minority communities because that's where crime is happening.
The other strong piece of evidence against the Black Lives Matter narrative, you rightly point out Seth, "Well, gee, we keep hearing about these blacks who were killed by the police." That is exclusively a function of selective coverage. There are lots of whites who have been killed in questionable circumstances that the public has never heard of because they do not fit the narrative. And I would point to just one right now, which is Tony Timpa, a young man in Dallas who was a schizophrenic, off his medication and called 911 for help saying he was scared and needed assistance. The police held him under their knee for 13 minutes, handcuffed on the ground face down while he was pleading for help and saying he was going to die.
During that time, the officers made fun of his mental condition, joked about the mental institution in the area. And when they finally loaded him on the ambulance, one of the officers said, "I hope I didn't kill him." Well, he was dead by then, from the pressure to his body and from a cocaine overdose. This sick 2016 death, obviously directly adumbrated the George Floyd death in June of this year, sorry, in late May of this year in Minneapolis, that has set off international protests, and in this country at least, riots, but the public has never heard of Tony Timpa because it doesn't further the narrative.
Seth Barron: Well, that's an interesting case that you bring up, but still clearly people are very angry. There's been now two months of constant rioting and protests. So what do you think is driving all of this?
Heather Mac Donald: Well, I think it's bad ideas. It's an ideology that has come out of the universities that says generally that America is fundamentally racist. And specifically that policing is fundamentally racist and it is impossible to overstate the power of that, the ubiquity of that narrative. The looters are overwhelmingly inner city kids and organized criminals that have already had a modus operandi of stealing cars and using them as missiles to hurdle through store windows and then clean out the contents, leaving the stolen car in place because you can't get it back out again through a completely shattered plate glass window. But the anarchists, the ones who have taken over Seattle who have taken over Portland, who have visibly organized tactics of how to attack police officers, they are, I think, overwhelmingly the product of university environments. And they've been fed a steady diet of hatred towards this country.
So the fact of protest does not necessarily mean that the cause is right. There's protests that go on all the time on college campuses, alleging preposterously that those campuses are hotbeds of racism and sexism. I can promise every listener, Seth, that the opposite is the case. There is never been a more conventionally defined liberal or left wing institution in human history than a college campus. So desperately does it want minority students, far from being racist, that virtually every selective college in the country employs huge racial preferences to admit minority students, against their best interests, into an academic environment for which they're not qualified. They'd be qualified to go to many colleges, but racial preferences catapult them into an environment that is not what their qualifications are ready for, where they'd be perfectly prepared to be in many, many other institutions. So there is not racist faculty.
There is not racist administrators, quite the opposite, and yet there are protests going on all the time. So I would say that those student protesters are as diluted as the people who are now saying that we are going to attack officers, try to kill officers, in some cases, actually kill officers in the name of racial justice, that we're going to defund the cops. And of course the left, when it sees protests against lockdowns, when it saw Tea Party protests, did not say by virtue of the fact that there are people out there protesting that they must be right about their cause. So I have no prior commitment to the truth or justice of a protest movement based either on its size, it's virulence, it's violence. It must be examined on its facts and claims.
Seth Barron: Okay, well, let me just push back on you very briefly on this. You said that, well, the universities, there's no racism there. They want to recruit black students. They want to recruit women to teach there and so forth, but maybe you're dealing with like an outdated vision or definition of what racism is. And I think that scholars such as Robert DeAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi have shown us that racism is a far more nuanced and subtle, almost something that exists, but beneath the consciousness of the racist, that it's not something that's like conscious to mind like I'm going to go out and yell implications at people, but it defines every aspect of society. What do you think about this thesis?
Heather Mac Donald: Well, implicit bias or microaggressions are what one generates when you can't find actual examples of overt racism or explicit racism. I reject the thesis. I look at how institutions behave. And all I know is that if you have a child applying to Harvard or Yale or Cornell, or the University of Virginia, or the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, you want that child to be black. He will have, in the case of Harvard, four times greater chance of admissions than if he's white. That sort of disparity exists everywhere. Same with law schools, same with business schools, same with medical schools, test scores and GPA's that would be automatically disqualifying if presented by a Asian or white student to a law school or a medical school are in many cases automatically admitting if presented by a black student.
And that sort of preference goes on in the professions. Law firms, elite law firms in New York admit black law school graduates with GPA's and bar passing scores that are much lower than whites. And those black lawyers who were admitted based on preferences rather than competitive qualifications struggle. A black student who was admitted based on competitive qualifications is not going to struggle. And there are many that would be in fact qualified, but there's an academic skills gap. That means that these institutions that are desperate to have their quota of black students are going to have to use double standards. So the idea that somehow we're at the same time overtly and aggressively discriminating in favor of blacks through our admissions decisions, through our hiring decisions, through our promotion decisions, and at the same time discriminating against them, I just have a hard time reconciling those two contrary propositions.
And it's a lot easier to believe the former where you have actual evidence for it. The other is based on a sort of a miasma, some kind of invisible effusion throughout our world that we're supposed to believe is holding people back. And the other thing I would argue, Seth, is on average, I'm talking about averages here, I'm not talking about individuals, cultural differences, choices that people make that have an effect on life outcomes. So whatever your race, if you have children out of wedlock, you're four to five times more likely to be poor, that's a behavioral difference. Those are much more important in determining group outcomes then the implicit bias. I've argued that we should have a thought experiment. If blacks adopted the behaviors of Asians for 10 years in all things related to success, with the low crime rates, and we still saw racial disparities in prison, we still saw economic gaps, then I'm going to be willing to look for the miasmas of implicit bias and white fragility and white privilege and microaggressions. But right now the overt and obvious behavioral differences are too great to be much persuaded by micro-aggression type analysis.
Seth Barron: That's an interesting analysis and an interesting thought experiment. Let me just shift gears quickly. You've written a lot about New York City crime and the policing revolution, the CompStat era, broken windows policing. Now we seem to be seeing a rapid reversal in the direction of crime in New York City. Shootings in particular are way up. The number of shootings so far this year has already surpassed last year's total. Why is this happening?
Heather Mac Donald: It's happening because of the Black Lives Matter narrative, cops are backing off. The level of hostility that's directed at them now when they try to make an arrest is absolutely horrifying. The cops are the symbol of law and order. They are the symbol of civilization. And when people feel like they can attack them with impunity, they're acting not just out of a reactive hatred, they are deliberately trying to bring us to a condition of anarchy. And cops have been told that they are racist for engaging in the type of proactive policing that protects people, whether it's stop, question, and frisk, whether it's enforcing low level quality of life laws, the disorder on the streets out of which drive-by shootings emerge. You have a district attorney in Manhattan now who has announced that he's not going to enforce the laws against turnstile jumping in the subways.
You have a mayor who said he's no longer going to a business owners in cleaning up gang graffiti on their businesses. We are unlearning the lessons of the 1990s at an astounding rate, and it shows that those lessons were never widely understood. I think people at the Manhattan Institute and moderates in New York who think it's so obvious that policing and respect for public order was essential to the economic Renaissance that New York began experiencing in the '90s. That seems so obvious, but we didn't realize that there's people like Mayor Bill de Blasio and the growing cadre of evermore left wing city council members and public advocates, and you name it, that never bought into that.
So I don't know how much further the city is going to have to sink back towards that level of squalor and mayhem and chaos that finally gave birth to a leader like Rudolph Giuliani in 1994. But the root of it, what we're seeing right now, really is this false narrative about endemic criminal justice racism that has resulted in a working environment for cops that is awful and has sent them a message that they should not engage in discretionary but essential law enforcement activities.
Seth Barron: Well, one final question, and then I'll let you go. A representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a few weeks ago commented that perhaps the rise in crime and shootings is driven by hunger. Like people are scared, people have no money, they can't afford their rent. They need bread to feed their children. And that essentially there's a kind of a root causes explanation. What do you think about that argument?
Heather Mac Donald: It's hilarious. It is absurd. It is completely false. My God, the lowest crime rate in US history was during the Great Depression. The economic recession of 2008, crime dropped. These drive-by shootings have nothing to do with people hungry. It is gang warfare. It is the absolute idiocy of inner city culture that says it's perfectly appropriate, and in fact, it's a way to gain street cred, to drive-by a group of a hundred teens hanging out on a corner and spray them with gunfire. You're not getting bread to eat, and it's not as if these people are lacking in bread to eat. The biggest friend of a police department anywhere is the smartphone and social media. Because these senseless just savage drive-by shooters who are killing young children, they all have expensive smart phones, and they can't resist flashing gang signs and showing off their arsenal of guns on Instagram and Facebook and whatever social media platform they're using at the moment, which helps the police track them down because God knows nobody else in the community, in their set, is helping and people that are shot refuse to cooperate with the police because of the anti-snitching ethic.
So these are people who are not starving for food or are lacking basic necessities. What they're lacking is a family structure, fathers, and a culture of personal responsibility.
Seth Barron: Heather, thank you so much for coming on the show. It's always enlightening and fascinating to hear you.
If you liked what you heard on 10 Blocks today, please leave a rating on iTunes and we'd love to hear your comments or follow us on Twitter at @CityJournal. Heather MacDonald, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Heather Mac Donald: Well thank you for having me on Seth, it's always fun talking with you.