To the Editor:
Hate-crime hoaxes, as Wilfred Reilly makes clear, are part of a larger movement to portray America as irredeemably bigoted, when, in fact, we are a remarkably open, generous, and welcoming nation (“Hate-Crime Hoaxes,” April). There are two examples of false claims of American bigotry that have become particularly effective and widespread. The first is that proffered by the Black Lives Matter movement. The second is the idea, birthed by academics, of “implicit bias.”
Could Black Lives Matter be the biggest “hate-crime hoax” of our era? Its founding principle is that American police are violent racists who deliberately and disproportionately shoot innocent, unarmed African-American men. But there is no evidence of such a plague.
Roland G. Fryer, Jr. an economics professor at Harvard, conducted a systematic review of police shootings in 10 major police departments in Texas, Florida, and California, specifically to bolster BLM’s point. When he concluded, he called his findings “the most surprising result of my career.” As he wrote: “On the most extreme use of force—officer-involved shootings—we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account.” In fact, Houston police shot at white suspects 24 percent more often than at black ones, although Fryer said that this difference was not statistically significant. Washington State University researcher Lois James found similar results: “We tend to find that officers can be more hesitant to shoot black suspects than white suspects,” he wrote, “even when they implicitly associate black suspects with increased threat.” None of this appears to matter to BLM, which advances false claims of system-wide lethal police bigotry. And the mainstream media amplifies BLM’s message.
According to the paradigm of “implicit bias,” you may think that you are not biased, and that you’ve never discriminated against anyone on the basis of ancestry, gender, or sexual preference, and you can still be a bigot. Advocates of this idea have constructed “Implicit Association Tests” (IATs) that are now administered by computer to police officers, employees of private companies, college freshmen, and public-school students.
But the science behind the tests is poor. Reproducibility of IATs is far below conventional standards in psychology. Moreover, the predictive power of IAT scores for actual acts of bias in the real world is nonexistent and sometimes even inverted. IATs are used to indoctrinate large numbers of people, including children, into falsely believing that they are mean-spirited—and that the people around them are mean-spirited.
These examples work as cultural complements to individual hate-crime hoaxes. Both BLM and “implicit bias” have become institutionalized, despite their false or flawed factual bases. Meanwhile, real issues go unaddressed, such as BLM’s likely role in the recent erosion of progress made by police in preventing murders of African Americans by their fellow civilians.
Kevin Jon Williams
Wilfred Reilly writes:
Kevin Jon Williams makes a critical point: The largely media-created idea of an epidemic of hate crimes is merely one component of a larger, intentionally promoted narrative that argues that the United States of 2019 is a hotbed of racial conflict and strife.
I am not familiar enough with the major “implicit bias tests” to comment at length on their use, although—as a published quantitative scientist—I tend to distrust any scholarly results that cannot be reliably replicated.
The claims of Black Lives Matter certainly are another aspect of this narrative of continuing oppression. The movement’s primary contention—that very large numbers of innocent black people are killed annually by racist police—is simply false. In a typical year, such as 2015 or 2017, fewer than 1,200 people of all races are killed by police officers. In 2015, exactly 258 of these individuals were black, and only about 100 of them were unarmed persons of any race. If my figures are correct, the total number of unarmed black people killed by white cops was 17.
It is true that the percentage of blacks represented among police-shooting victims in my example (22.5 percent) is higher than the percentage of blacks in the American population (13 to 14 percent). This apparent disparity, however, is easily explained by the fact that the black crime rate, violent-crime rate, and arrest rate are all at least twice as high as the equivalent rates for whites. Adjusting for any of these variables completely closes the gap. As Mr. Williams notes, with all relevant variables adjusted for, Harvard scholar Roland Fryer has correctly concluded that police officers are slightly less likely to shoot at black suspects than white ones.
A final point about all of this is rarely made. Even those who believe that the initial overrepresentation of black Americans among victims of police shootings is due partly to racism would logically have to accept that three-fourths or more of these shooting victims are white or Hispanic. Here is a quick challenge: Without Googling, name one of them. Media coverage of police violence is truly, remarkably, slanted. I estimate in my book Hate Crime Hoax that the 75-percent majority of police shooting cases involving whites receives 10 percent or less of all national mass-media coverage devoted to this issue. Michael Brown is a household name, but Dillon Taylor is not.
This same pattern seems to extend to mainstream-media coverage of interracial crime in general. Serious interracial crime is actually quite rare—85 percent of white murder victims and 94 percent of black victims are killed by members of their own race—and is more than 70 percent black-on-white, when violent crimes involving members of those two races do occur. However, national media coverage of cross-racial acts of violence is incessant and focused very heavily on atypical incidents of alleged white-on-minority aggression (Trayvon Martin, Covington Catholic, the recent beating in Dallas, etc.).
When it comes to media claims about facts pertaining to the currently dominant narrative, we should follow a slightly altered version of Ronald Reagan’s famous advice: Before you trust, verify.
The Western Endures
To the Editor:
In Terry Teachout’s excellent article, he cogently describes the formula for the on-going success of the Western genre (“The Code of the Western,” April). Perhaps one of the reasons for the endurance of this genre is its evocation of such a dramatic world. In the Western, heroes and anti-heroes do battle across a landscape that is frightening and awesome. It’s a barren and bleak land inhabited by threatening forces. In such movies, we often see that man’s battle with his environment leads to his alienation and an increased awareness of a fate that awaits us all—our mortality.
One can trace this dynamic back to Beowulf and find it in the lost worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Western has something else in common with certain characterizations found in older literature: The genre’s heroes are outsiders who manage to summon order from chaos. Think of the Lone Ranger riding off, leaving the townspeople to wonder who that masked man was. He seemed to come from the void to set things right. Even Mel Brooks’s parody of the Western, Blazing Saddles, tells the story of an outsider sent to right the wrongs of a beleaguered community. And who can ever forget the plaintive cries of “Shane, come back, Shane.” It’s interesting to note that Beowulf comes from a southern Sweden tribe and is sent by God to comfort the Danes.
In these fictional situations, the hero does not have to stick around and subject himself to local politics. He can depart with his heroism intact. This aspect of the code of the Western seemed to influence other genres as well. Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry operates just outside the political powers that be. He’s a maverick who cuts through the red tape to get the job done. McMurphy of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has something of the western anti-hero about him. code of the west. This western, as eloquently written about by Mr. Teachout, is indeed an enduring and influential genre.