To the Editor:
I am deeply disturbed by the article “Bullies, Looters, Mobs: The Anti-American Essence of BLM” in the Winter 2020 issue of TOS. The article is three and a half columns long, followed by one and a half columns of endnotes. Therefore, it is seemingly well sourced, and the indictment, expressed in the article title, and on the issue cover, appears induced from extensively researched facts that warrant a moral condemnation. But do they?
I do not have the resources to check each source, nor to investigate if some or many of the despicable acts of violence against free speech, assembly, or property were perpetrated by true Black Lives Matter supporters or by agent provocateur infiltrators. For the moment, let’s assume they are as factual as they are reprehensible. The article correctly capitalizes BLM when it describes the Black Lives Matter organization. There is easily available documentation that the founders of this organization are self-described Marxists and hold views most Americans eschew. But there is equally widespread coverage of the (lower case) black lives matter movement, which is not controlled by BLM, whose supporters do not subscribe to these views and who are legitimately and peacefully raising awareness of remaining structural racism. The article fails to make this distinction. Why is that crucial?
I am the co-facilitator of the local chapter of a national group called Coming To The Table, the mission of which is to “provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.” Its name derives from the dream expressed in a Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, wherein he said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
I have sat in many meetings of this group in which parents of African American, or of other “Black” children, have been stopped by police while driving, multiple times a year, with no tickets ever being issued. In these meetings, no European American parents have ever reported more than one such incident, if that, in any of their children’s driving history. Without exception, the parents of Black children have painstakingly prepared them, especially the boys, for how to keep their hands in sight, on the steering wheel, and to make no move for their license or registration without explicit permission from the police. No white parent in these meetings has ever reported having this conversation with their children. Why? Because there is virtually no chance that a routine traffic stop will result in their having guns drawn on them or used. As is increasingly documented in video footage, the same cannot be said for Black drivers.
That is the context in which support for the black lives matter movement (not the BLM organization) must be understood and reported. This is a movement seeking to finish extending the promise of the Declaration of Independence to all people, which TOS supports. That is the American essence of the broader black lives matter movement, not bullying and looting! The Objective Standard owes its readers that essential distinction.
Aaron Briley Replies:
I appreciate Mr. Chaleff’s thoughtful letter, and I’d like to address his concerns.
The main thrust of the letter is that I failed to make an important distinction between the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization and the “broader black lives matter movement.” Mr. Chaleff says that this distinction matters because the latter group is “the American essence of the broader black lives matter movement,” and this group seeks to extend “the promise of the Declaration of Independence to all people.”
I agree that we need to distinguish between the organization Black Lives Matter and those who support the idea that black lives matter. This is why I explicitly referred to the organization when I wrote, “Many seem to regard BLM as a humanitarian organization that fights on behalf of the downtrodden. . . . However, this is not true. Founders and leaders of the organization advocate an ideology that calls for violence” (emphasis added). As others have noted, BLM’s founders are trained Marxists, and the organization advocates socialist policies. The collectivist, anti-American views of BLM are distinct from the general idea that black lives matter. Yet, BLM—the organization—blurs this distinction by subsuming both things under the same one phrase and thus presenting them as if they are the same thing.
Ayn Rand called this the fallacy of “package dealing,” which “consists of treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or ‘package,’ elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance or value.”1 Such illegitimate packaging is often used as a tool of manipulation, and the packaging of BLM’s anti-American views and the idea that black lives matter is a case in point. BLM deceives well-intentioned, non-Marxist, moral people into supporting a reprehensible, Marxist organization under the guise of a seemingly benevolent slogan.
Mr. Chaleff raises a legitimate concern about the moral status of nonviolent supporters who are unaware of BLM’s anti-Americanism. This points to why package deals are so insidious. Insofar as these individuals attend events organized by BLM, they are aligning themselves with an organization that encourages violence, looting, property damage, and the repudiation of individual rights. The solution to this problem is not for people who recognize the package deal to refrain from criticizing BLM, but rather for us to criticize BLM and to inform people of the package deal.
Mr. Chaleff also mentions black teenagers being unjustly stopped by the police, which he regards as evidence of law enforcement’s anti-black bias. He writes, “I have sat in many meetings of this group in which parents of African American[s], or of other ‘Black’ children, have been stopped by police while driving, multiple times a year with no tickets ever being issued.”
I understand that this happens to some people. However, the evidence suggests reasons other than anti-black bias for the higher number of traffic stops of black drivers. Policing and crime expert Heather Mac Donald addresses this:
Do minorities commit more of the kinds of traffic violations that police target? This is a taboo question among the racial profiling crowd; to ask it is to reveal one's racism. No one has studied it. But some evidence suggests that it may be the case. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that blacks were 10 percent of drivers nationally, 13 percent of drivers in fatal accidents, and 16 percent of drivers in injury accidents. (Lower rates of seat-belt use may contribute to these numbers.) Random national surveys of drivers on weekend nights in 1973, 1986, and 1996 found that blacks were more likely to fail breathalyzer tests than whites. In Illinois, blacks have a higher motorist fatality rate than whites. Blacks in one New Jersey study were 23 percent of all drivers arrested at the scene of an accident for driving drunk, though only 13.5 percent of highway users. In San Diego, blacks have more accidents than their population figures would predict.2
The above suggests that black people are being pulled over by police because, on average, they commit more traffic violations.
However, whether or not a person has committed a traffic violation, he may reasonably be stopped if his physical description matches that of a suspect. Race can be legitimately used as one factor among many when police attempt to identify and apprehend a suspected criminal. All of us are familiar with descriptions of suspects that include height, sex, race, clothing, approximate age, and so on. Given the higher crime rate of blacks, it is no surprise that police stop more innocent blacks than innocent whites in their pursuit of criminal suspects.
Finally, I’d like to comment on “the talk” that black parents give their children to prepare them for life-threatening encounters with racist police officers. The alleged universality of this practice, Mr. Chaleff suggests, points to “structural racism.” Insofar as “the talk” consists of mischaracterizing the entire profession of law enforcement as having an anti-black bias, “the talk” is dangerously wrong. It perpetuates falsehoods, encourages racial bigotry, fosters unwarranted distrust of law enforcement (and by extension the criminal justice system), and stokes a hatred for the United States in the fertile minds of black teenagers.
A healthy relationship between police officers and the communities they serve depends on trust and cooperation. Unfortunately, this trust is deteriorating among black Americans. As a CNN article notes, “Black Americans are much less likely to trust their local police and law enforcement . . . 36% trust the police, while 77% of white people and 69% of Americans overall said the same.”3 Insofar as “the talk” contributes to such distrust, it exacerbates the problem.
We should be careful when making moral evaluations of ideological movements and the people who support them. We should do so only on the basis of facts and by reference to a better ideology. As part of this effort, we should be vigilant in identifying package deals and the organizations that use them to mislead people and garner support for evil ideologies or movements. BLM is not a rights-respecting organization that deserves respect or support. Rather, it is a rights-rejecting, Marxist, anti-American organization. Good people should condemn BLM and refuse to use any language that might condone it.
Good people should advocate universal recognition and protection of individual rights—which apply to all people, regardless of the color of their skin.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
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1. Ayn Rand, “The Metaphysical versus the Man-Made,” in Philosophy: Who Needs It (New York: Signet, 1982), 24.
2. Heather Mac Donald, “The Myth of Racial Profiling,” City Journal, Spring 2001, https://www.city-journal.org/html/myth-racial-profiling-12022.html.
3. Grace Sparks, “Polling Highlights Stark Gap in Trust of Police between Black and White Americans,” CNN, June 6, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/02/politics/polls-police-black-protests/index.html.