...we imagined a possible survey: Except for the instant way it surfaced in the discourse, it's a fairly tangential point.
The questions at issue were these:
Should the two officers in Atlanta have allowed the late Rayshard Brooks to walk home on the tragic night in question? Under department protocols, would they even have been allowed to exercise such discretion?
Should they have let him walk home? In the end, it's a fairly tangential question, but it quickly provided a standard messaging-point. As we noted yesterday, Paul Butler offered this assessment on Tuesday night to a PBS NewsHour audience:
BUTLER (6/18/20): When the officer who ends up killing Mr. Brooks shows up, Mr. Brooks says, if you're concerned about my driving, my sister lives two blocks away. I can just walk to her house and leave the car there.According to Butler, the officers should have let Brooks walk the two blocks to his sister's home. His car could have stayed on the Wendy's parking lot. They could have warned him about coming back to drive his car away while he was still drunk.
That also is effective policing. The cops don't have to arrest everyone. Public safety is about keeping people safe. But too often, especially with African-American suspects, the resort is always to arrest. And, sometimes, it leads to these tragic consequences.
It's about commonsense judgment. The officer could have said, "If I see you in this car, I'm going to lock you up."
Yesterday, we forgot to tell you—we feel completely sure that Butler is a good, decent person. Does anyone really doubt that?
That said, Butler is a leading cable news legal expert and a Georgetown Law School professor. By Tuesday night, the assessment he offered on the NewsHour was being voiced wherever our liberal tribe's storylines are sold.
Butler plainly suggested, at several points, that the officers' refusal to let Brooks walk home, or perhaps to walk to his sister's house, was based on racial bias. That too was standard official group narrative. This adds interest to what was said on CNN last night.
To the extent that Chris Cuomo's persistent interruptions allowed an interview to occur, Cuomo interviewed two attorneys for Devin Brosnan, the officer who didn't shoot Rayshard Brooks that night.
On the fateful evening in question, should the officers have let Brooks walk to his sister's house? At one point, fighting through interruptions and a battery of absurdly irrelevant questions, one of Brosnan's attorneys offered this:
CUOMO (6/17/20): Amanda, let's look at this idea that the performance that night [by Brosnan] was "exemplary" in the context of several different aspects of this, starting from light to heavy.In our view, Cuomo's performance last night was two steps past abysmal. We'll offer more on that depressing topic this afternoon or tomorrow.
CUOMO: Light is, you see the guy. He's drunk. He says he wants to walk home. You could have let him walk home.
PALMER: ...You know, with regards to the argument, Well, why didn't you call him an Uber? Why didn't you—
CUOMO: Or drive him home.
PALMER: —or drive him home.
Number one, Mr. Brooks provided an Ohio driver's license, and he was driving a rental car.
We also see in the video he is disoriented about where he is. He says that he is in Forest Park, Georgia, when in fact he is in the city of Atlanta. He thinks that his hotel is like just down the street over a bridge. There is no bridge nearby.
So letting him walk home, in Devin's opinion, was not an option, particularly for Mr. Brooks' safety.
For now, should the officers have let Brooks walk home, or to his sister's house? Assuming that Palmer's statements are accurate, we'll guess that the answer is rather clearly no.
For starters, walking home to Ohio would have been quite a stroll. Meanwhile, did he actually have a sister who lived two blocks away?
As storylines have quickly hardened, we've still seen no one ask or answer that obvious question. So too with this:
Under department protocols, were the officers required to make a DUI arrest, as William Bratton seemed to tell Brian Williams on Monday night?
There too, we haven't seen that question directly asked or answered. Our basic point is this:
Within the failing worlds of (1) "cable news" and (2) the upper-end academy, Butler is considered to be a leading expert on matters of this type.
That said, he got way out ahead of himself on Tuesday evening's NewsHour. On its face, the basic script he recited that night made little apparent sense. But it almost completely falls apart based on what Palmer said.
(We're assuming her statements are accurate. If they are, you almost surely won't see them repeated or discussed, except on Fox.)
Beyond that, Butler strongly suggested, at two separate points, that what happened that night was all about race. He strongly suggested that the officers would have let Brooks go without an arrest if Brooks had been white.
Everything is always possible, of course. But on what basis was the underinformed Professor Butler willing to float that claim?
In these matters, the expert was peddling narrative and not a whole lot else. Appallingly, this is the way our discourse has worked for many decades now.
These sub-rational acts of group behavior have been performed by the upper-end press corps on a wide array of topics. The conduct extends all the way from "the Social Security trust find is just a pile of worthless IOUs" and "Al Gore said he invented the Internet" all the way to this week's acts of group declamation.
This is the way these peculiar elites actually tend to function. No, this isn't "rational" conduct—but it definitely is our floundering culture and our deeply flawed species in action.
We had somewhat similar thoughts and reactions when we read Wesley Lowery's new essay for The Atlantic, "Why Minneapolis Was the Breaking Point."
In his lengthy essay, Lowery discusses police killings in Minnesota. The essay starts like this:
LOWERY (6/10/20): Miski Noor watched just the first minute of the video of George Floyd’s killing before closing the tab and walking the two blocks to join the protests already forming at the scene. The days since have been filled with a maddening sense of déjà vu.In paragraph 4, Lowery named three people who have been killed by police officers in Minnesota. In a departure from current norms, he included one person who was white.
Noor had joined the Movement for Black Lives in 2014, after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The 34-year-old activist’s first protest was that December, a demonstration that shut down the Mall of America during the peak of the holiday shopping season.
Noor soon became intimately familiar with the gruesome cycle: The police killed someone. Activists protested. Small reforms were won. The police killed someone else.
In Minnesota, St. Paul police killed Philip Quinn, a Native American man in the midst of a mental-health crisis, in September 2015. One week later, a Kanabec County Sheriff’s deputy killed Robert Christen, a white former fullback for the Wisconsin Badgers who was enduring a mental-health crisis of his own. Two months after that, in November 2015, Minneapolis police killed Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old unarmed black man. Hundreds poured into the streets.
Overall, we thought Lowery had various thumbs on various scales in the course of his lengthy essay. Out of curiosity, we googled reports of Philip Quinn's death. We were already generally familiar with the events which led to the death of Jamar Clark.
We'll link you through to such accounts at some future point. That said, we're trying to proceed extremely slowly on this.
Dating at least to Plato's Apology, history teaches that we the people are reluctant to process encounters with the various facts which may be taken to help define "the whole truth" concerning some given subject. We may tend to prefer pre-existing beliefs.
We're trying to be respectful of that basic fact about our human nature. For today, we'll only mention a possible survey—a possible survey we sometimes wonder about:
After reading Lowery's essay, we wondered how many black men and women have been killed by police officers in Minnesota in recent years. Acting on that curiosity, we went to the Washington Post's Fatal Force site, which documents fatal shootings by police.
(Don't let the site's title page confuse you, as we recently did. The invaluable site is still active, though you'll have to fumble about to access its data, which the Post almost seems to be hiding at this point.)
How many black men and women have been shot and killed by Minnesota police officers? The number for the past six years struck us as perhaps surprisingly low. We also wondered about something else, and about that possible survey:
In recent years, we've often wondered what would happen if you conducted a survey about police killings. Respondents would be told how many black people had been killed by police in some given place during some given period.
They'd then be asked to estimate how many white people had been killed. The question could be asked in various ways. In some versions of the survey, respondents would be given "None" as one possible answer.
How many people would guess that no white people ever get killed by police? How many would have a reasonably good idea about the way the numbers work nationwide?
Just last week, Jelani Cobb somewhat surprisingly said that lots of white people get killed by police. Given the way such matters have been reported in recent years, we'd be curious to see how many people are aware of that general fact.
We'd be curious to see that point explored. We would say, as Cobb seemed to say, that such information is a fairly basic part of what might be called "the whole truth" about this important topic.
Cobb said many people get killed, that it isn't just black and brown. Tomorrow, we'll provide at least one number from Minnesota, and we'll discuss a double killing you've never heard about.
In our view, Butler's presentation on the NewsHour made no sense at all. How much that we hear on our favorite shows fit that unfortunate mold?
Tomorrow: Two previous no-knock deaths