You’re right, all lives should matter — but they don’t in America

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Considering the sheer amount of information that is literally at our fingertips at a moment’s notice — denying the fact that Black Americans have been disproportionately discriminated against continually and systematically for the last several hundred years is willfully ignorant to a staggering level. 

For that, there is no excuse. 

There shouldn’t be a need to break it all down for the people denying the movement is valid and appropriate, simply because they choose to live with their heads in the sand, surrounded by the information and experiences that have comforted them for their entire lives. 

Only a person living in a bubble or with an agenda would work so hard to become the victim of a crime happening to someone else. 

Because they live suspended in a pool of party-line talking points and are nourished by media outlets that look like them, think like them, pray like them — it shouldn’t validate their narrow, closeted beliefs — but it does. 

Look, I get it. 

They see people setting cars on fire in communities far away from their own and become enraged by the action. They call it unAmerican, they call for a strong reaction from leadership and law enforcement. 

They stand, from afar, demanding justice and swift, cruel action. 

Their perspective is skewed because they are more comfortable ignoring the ugly details that might reflect poorly on their chosen side. But when a person witnesses an unjust action, shouldn’t they be outraged as well? Wrong is wrong, is it not?

I can only guess that they choose not to do the work to dig more deeply into why those human beings felt the need to burn a car to call attention to repeated unjust actions in that community.

They make claims that the country is crumbling because of these protests, burned-out cars, and buildings. They say there’s a “better way.”

But the simple fact is their “better way” is not available to everyone else — and that is the idea behind “White Privilege.” You have the ability to act upon certain issues, confront certain powers that be, challenge instances of injustice — whereas countless others do not. 

Just as the community that you live in is not the same as the ones you see on television, your day-to-day experiences are not the same as those you see being slammed to the concrete by police in riot gear. 

Those with the inability to recognize that their perspective is sheltered by design, their opinion skewed by the limitations of their experiences, speaks volumes about the narcissism and entitlement that’s been ingrained into the fabric of their identity for generations

You’re right, all lives should matter.

But they don’t — not when it comes to the American justice system. 

Did you know that statistically, according to The Sentencing Project, Black Americans are “incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of Whites, and at least 10 times the rate in five states.”

And before the simple argument comes this way, according to a University of Michigan 2017 report on Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States, Blacks constitute “47% of the 1,900 exonerations listed in the National Registry of Exonerations (as of October 2016), and the great majority of more than 1,800 additional innocent defendants who were framed and convicted of crimes in 15 large-scale police scandals and later cleared in ‘group exonerations.’”

Let’s just talk about murder cases, the king of the so-called violent crimes argument. 

According to the same study, based on exoneration statistics, innocent black people are about seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent White people and that is partly due to to the race of the victim. 

The study tells us that Blacks in prison for murder are more likely to be exonerated if they were convicted of killing White victims. While only 15% of Black murder convictions involve White victims, 31% of all exonerations were in cases where Black people were convicted of killing a White person.

Those exonerations were 22% more likely to include misconduct by police officers than those with White defendants. 

Also, the study says, Black murder exonerees spent three years longer in prison before release than White exonerees and Blacks sentenced to death spent four years longer in prison. 

According to the NAACP, “between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million. Today, the United States makes up about 5 percent of the world’s population and has 21 percent of the world’s prisoners.”

They reported that almost three percent of the adult population in America is “under some form of correctional supervision.” And 34 percent of those people under supervision are Black. 

Considering Black Americans represent 13.4 percent of the entire United States population while White Americans consist of 76.5 percent of the population, according to 2019 estimates by census.gov, that should give you pause. 

How about the fact that mass incarceration means the United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with more than 6.8 million people in prisons nationwide? Again, 34 percent of that prison population is Black, while they make up only 13.4 percent of the entire US population. 

For that matter, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, reports that only 35 percent of prisoners are White and 21 percent are Hispanic. 

Oh, there are also 12 states in the country where more than half the population is Black. 

According to the NAACP, if Blacks and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites, prison, and jail populations would decline by almost 40 percent.

The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 17 million Whites and four million Blacks reported using drugs within the past month and while Blacks and Whites use drugs at similar rates, the rate at which Blacks are brought up on drug charges is almost six times that of Whites.

Keep this statistic in mind: Year to year, depending on census data, there are roughly 160 million more Whites than Blacks in America.  

As a nation, we spent almost $81 billion on corrections in 2012. That number is shocking, especially considering we’ve spent three times as much on prisons and jails than we’ve spent on K-12 education over the past 30 years as a country. 

You’re right. All lives should matter. 

But they don’t — not when it comes to being killed by law enforcement. 

On average, according to the Washington Post, law enforcement officers shot and killed roughly 1,000 people every year since 2015. 

Of those people killed by an on-duty cop in 2015, 732 of them were White, 381 were Black, and 382 were of another or unknown race.

That seems to tell us that more White people were shot and killed by law enforcement than Black people over that one year period, right?

Well, when you consider again that more than three-quarters of the US population is White and less than 14 percent of the population is Black, it reinforces — again — that Blacks are killed disproportionately more than Whites. 

How about something simple like driving down the street? 

A Stanford University study took a look at 93 million traffic stops by 21 state patrol and 29 police departments from 2001 to 2017. 

The study found that Black Americans were pulled over 20 percent more often than White Americans and searched more often, though the study found that the searches resulted in a higher hit rate during searches of White Americans. 

Another interesting aspect of the study looked at the rates at which Black Americans were pulled over after dark when it’s more difficult to determine the ethnicity of the driver. You may have already guessed, stop rates decreased for Black drivers at night. 

Now, it should not be difficult to argue that being pulled over, incarcerated and dying at the hands of law enforcement — deserved or not — disproportionately shows a bias aimed against the Black community. 

But how does that happen?

You’re right. All lives matter. 

But they don’t — not when it comes to employment and economics. 

There’s a great quote that I heard regarding this topic, shared by Jon Stewart, but attributed to someone else, and to summarize it reads, “While Black people were fighting for equality, White people were building equity.”

Black Americans have been employed at a rate between 11 and 15 percentage points lower than that of White Americans every month since 2000, according to Stanford University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality’s annual “State of the Union” report in 2017. 

According to the Stanford report, in 2010, Black Americans averaged earnings 32 percent less in median income than their White counterparts. 

In the same report, a White family’s median wealth was $141,900 in 2013 and the study said that “for every dollar of wealth held by the median White family, the median Black American family had less than 8 cents in wealth, and the median Hispanic family had less than 10 cents.”

Citing data from the historical Survey of Consumer Finances, The Post reported that in 1968, “a typical middle-class Black household had $6,674 in wealth compared with $70,786 for the typical middle-class White household,” 

Fast forward to 2016 and you will find that a typical middle-class black household had $13,024 in wealth while the median household wealth for a White household was $149,703.

That means the gap has increased. But how?

You’re right. All lives matter. 

But they don’t — not when it comes to education. 

In a report by The Hechinger Report, using data provided by the U.S. Department of Education, 33 percent of White Americans ages 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, “compared to 19 percent of Blacks and 16 percent of Hispanics.”

How Black Americans obtained those degrees can be crippling as well. The report indicated that 72 percent of Black students go into debt to pay for their education. Just 56 percent of White students do the same. 

That indicates a different starting point between the two groups — and to understand it — repeat the paragraph above. 

According to the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, Since 1995, 82 percent of new White enrollments have gone to the 468 most selective colleges, while 68 percent of new Black students went to two-year and four-year open-access schools. The percentage gap between 1995 and 2009 increased by four percent. 

That means it’s not getting better, it was getting worse. 

Remember, it was only a little more than 50 years ago that many schools across the country were segregated. And funding for schools dedicated to educating Black and minority students was disproportionately skewed toward White schools. 

That means that many Black Americans between the ages of 55 and older started their educational lives hampered by the limitations of what their schools could offer. Their parents before them were provided even less in terms of education, considering the Civil Rights act wasn’t enacted until 1964. 

And then there’s “redlining,” in the late 1930s where the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), created “Residential Security” maps of major American cities.

In the era just before the surge in suburban development, the map dictated to loan officers, appraisers and real estate professionals evaluated mortgage lending risk denying “redlined” areas access to capital investment. Not surprisingly, and likely purposefully, those “redlined” areas were disproportionately in Black communities. 

That means those “redlined” areas could not improve the community in which they live, which kept housing prices and subsequent taxes down, thus underfunding schools in the area. 

If you just focus on those two generations, one would have to admit that the starting point for Black students and White students was not anywhere close to the same, not by a long shot. Would it then be fair to translate that late and minimal start in life into the generations that follow?

To understand just how important funding and the quality of education one receives can change results and ultimately opportunities, The Brookings Institution reported that “On every major national test, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gap in minority and white students’ test scores narrowed substantially between 1970 and 1990, especially for elementary school students.”

Brookings said that between 1976 when efforts were made to even the funding spent on schools, and 1994, the scores of Black students climbed 54 points on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), while White student scores remained stable.

And yet, in many inner-city and rural communities inhabited by Black and minority students, funding for those schools remains abysmal, because capital creates capital and when you start with zero capital … you get the picture. 

 

You’re right. All lives matter. 

But they can’t — until Black lives matter just as much. 

That is the essence of what the movement is about. 

I know, it’s very difficult to see people enraged by the treatment and bias they’ve been on the receiving end for generations. To see people marching for miles, putting their lives at risk to stand up to power for people they don’t even know … that’s emotional. 

But let’s be realistic here. 

Those insults that critics throw at protestors on social media, they don’t matter. They are empty and vapid. 

Those “fears” you share about the fabric of our nation — they aren’t real. The fabric of our nation has been tattered and only slightly mended since the original sin of slavery was banished (and redirected to the prison system) from our country. 

These opinions that you share expressing frustration caused by alleged attacks on White culture — yeah, those are fake too. 

Why? Because this movement isn’t about White people — it is a movement for all people to rise up and elevate the standards of behavior in our society, government and systems. 

Nobody is saying that Black lives are more important, quite the contrary, they are saying that due to the systematic obstacles put in front of the Black community, they don’t matter as much. 

That needs to change. 

When the issue of “White Privilege” is brought up in this context, it is made more as a request for White Americans to stand up for their brethren and push back against the policies that show bias against Black Americans. 

Why? Because White Americans can, where Black Americans can not. 

That is the ask. 

It’s not an insult, there’s no need to feel guilty about it, just do what you can for your fellow human being to advance their community as a whole to a level equal to yours. 

Jeff Pack is a staff writer for Valley News and Village News.