Part 1—Hannity, Smiley agree: For our money, Charles Blow’s new column in the New York Times reflects an unhelpful desire within our own tribe—the desire to be fed empty calories concerning great moral issues.
Perhaps for that reason, Blow is being hailed as a moral giant in comments, with Rima Regas leading the way. But first, consider what Tavis Smiley said.
Last Thursday night, Smiley appeared as a guest on Sean Hannity’s cable show. Smiley has often argued that President Obama hasn’t been sufficiently left. Hannity is a well-known, influential talker from the pseudo-right.
Smiley and Hannity come from different points on the political spectrum. Last Thursday night, they discussed the shooting of Walter Scott, concerning which the two men largely agreed.
The pair seemed to disagree, in a largely unexplained way, about the earlier killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Concerning last week’s killing of Scott, they voiced several points of agreement.
It’s rare to hear points of agreement like these in the current political climate:
HANNITY (4/9/15): Let me ask you this—we have these incidents. We have Trayvon Martin, then you have Ferguson, Missouri. Now we've got this one on video. There's big differences, though, between them.The two men seemed to disagree, in some way which wasn’t made clear, about the earlier shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Hannity said there are “big differences” between these earlier cases and the recent case involving Scott. While agreeing that each case is different, Smiley said these killings constitute a “pattern,” a pattern he didn’t define.
I look at Trayvon and you have an eyewitness, Trayvon on top of George Zimmerman, ground and pound, George screaming, we hear the audio.
We've got multiple eyewitnesses, many of them black Americans, saying Darren Wilson's story is 100 percent accurate about Michael Brown's behavior.
In this case you have a video. I look at this video and I want to cry for this man and his family because under no circumstances should any cop that's not under a threat be shooting somebody in the back. And people are trying to sort of conflate the issues. And I see no area of conflating them. Your reaction?
SMILEY: I hear your point about the differences in every case. And obviously you’re right. All these cases are different. There are no two cases that are alike.
I think the point that people are trying to impress upon you, Sean, is that every time one of these cases happens and another young black man is killed and someone then says that this is an isolated incident, what happens first is we hear it's an isolated incident. It doesn't mean that all cops are bad. I agree it doesn't mean that all cops are bad. But the question, I guess, is how many isolated incidents equal a pattern? And I think black folks and others who care about the humanity and dignity of all fellow citizens being respected are tired of hearing that these are isolated incidents when nobody wants to acknowledge a pattern here.
HANNITY: There is violence in society. For example, I'll roll this video that was released, just released of a Boston police officer being shot right in the face. We're going to lose 100-plus officers every single year. Then you and I discussed on this program black-on-black crime. That's an issue where the numbers are extraordinarily high, unnecessarily high I would argue.
And you know, there is a lot of violence and a lot of evil in this world and society. So—
SMILEY: Again, again, we don’t want to conflate these issues. The truth of the matter is that more white folk are killed by cops every year in this country than black folk. And so what we have to consider if we don’t do something about these police shootings, oftentimes police shootings that cannot be justified, in this case police officers or a police officer in South Carolina who apparently lied, if we don't do something about that, Sean, all of us are in danger, maybe your child, maybe your daughter one day.
HANNITY: Tavis, it could be you. It could me. It could be our kids.
SMILEY: I agree. Exactly, it could be me.
That would be a discussion for another day. Regarding the killing of Scott, Hannity and Smiley seemed to agree on several major points.
Along with everyone else on the planet, each man seemed to say that, barring some miraculous new point of evidence, this shooting cannot be justified in any way. Along the way, Smiley introduced a statement which broadened the discussion.
“The truth of the matter is that more white folk are killed by cops every year in this country than black folk,” he said, leading us into the murky realm of statistics on police shootings. On this basis, the two men said that everyone, of every so-called race, has a potential personal stake in the question of good police practice.
The two men agreed that the shooting of Scott seems to have been a crime. Beyond that, the men seemed to agree that questions of improper police practice extend beyond the realm of policing in the black community.
To what extent is improper policing disproportionately directed at blacks? In our view, it’s hard to say, in large part due to the lack of even the most basic statistics in this general area.
That said, we think it makes extremely good sense to stress another point Smiley raised:
“It doesn't mean that all cops are bad. I agree it doesn't mean that all cops are bad.” If we want to produce societal change based on broad-based points of agreement, it makes extremely good sense to keep repeating variants of this obvious point.
This conversation occurred last Thursday night. We were impressed by the points of agreement between these two men, who come from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
This conversation pointed to the rare possibility in our current, highly tribal political climate—the possibility that there are basic judgments on which we can all agree.
Hannity and Smiley agreed—we don’t want police officers behaving the way we see on that videotape from South Carolina. They also agreed that, however prevalent the practice may be, bad policing seems to extend beyond the black community.
We were struck by the points of agreement. That very morning, we’d been struck in a different way by this editorial in the New York Times.
In our view, the editorial betrayed an instinct within our own tribe which makes it harder for the society to reach the most basic agreements. We’d have to say that Blow’s new column drifts in that same direction.
In our view, Blow is playing the hero today on the most obvious points. In that editorial, the editors seemed to do something worse.
“Keep narrative alive,” the editors seemed to be saying. They revived one of our tribe’s favorite examples of police misconduct. They revived this favorite example in a way which doesn’t make a lot of sense, in a way which serves to drive major political wedges where no wedge need appear.
“Long live our favorite examples,” the editors seemed to be saying. This morning, Blow seemed to be heading toward a similar place.
No favorite example left behind! When we bow to unhelpfully partisan instincts, this slogan will often prevail.
Tomorrow: What Blow (and the editors) said