Killing Our Own Kids

It’s not easy to say this, but you need to know.

America’s police aren’t just killing black people in disproportionate numbers — in immensely disproportionate numbers. The ugliest truth of the situation, as I see it, is that America’s police are killing America’s young black people — both young adults and kids — at even more frighteningly high rates.

The age distribution of white people killed by police peaks in the 30-34 year-old range:

But the distribution for blacks peaks in the 20-24 year-old range:

America’s police are killing blacks under the age of 25, more than any other age group.

Is this the greatest sorrow of black America — that they not only fear for their lives, they so often have to bury their own children?

We can compare the rates of police killings by age and race, per capita (to allow for the fact that there are so many more whites than non-whites in America), and include hispanics as well (rates for blacks in black, for hispanics in red, for whites in gray):

The five age/race groups most likely to be killed by police are all blacks. Black teenagers are more likely to be killed by police than whites of any age bracket.

Now let me put it on the line.

In 1970, Americans were horrified — truly horrified — at the killings of 4 college students who were peacefully protesting at Kent State University in Ohio by national guard troops. Even the ultra-conservative, most ardent supporters of the Vietnam war, realized that when we started shooting and killing our own children, things had to change.

Today, Americans like me are horrified at the killings of blacks, including so many kids. But not all Americans are horrified. Too many white Americans don’t really understand how bad things are and how long it’s been tolerated, or are fearful of rioters, or are strong supporters of police, so they just can’t be horrified. Being horrified means you have to face the fact that you’ve been wrong about this for a long time. And that things have to change.

If you’re one of those, I’m talking to you. The real reason you’re not horrified by police violence against blacks, is that when you see black kids — teenage boys with black skin — you don’t see our kids. You see their kids, because you don’t include “them” (black folk) with “us” (white folk).

That’s racist. That’s racism. You will forever be part of the problem until you see another news story about another 15-year old black kid killed by police, and instead of thinking “What was he doing wrong?” you think “There but for the grace of God goes my child.”

America’s black kids are our kids. We are killing our own kids. I’m horrified.

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22 responses to “Killing Our Own Kids

  1. Thank you for pulling together those numbers. Our country is not even close to putting these horrible racial divisions behind us. We will not heal until we accept facts and data analyses such as what you present above. However, I do offer a correction.

    You said, “In 1970, Americans were horrified — truly horrified — at the killings of 4 college students who were peacefully protesting at Kent State University…”

    Sadly history records a much sadder immediate reaction to the Kent State Massacre, “…a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of respondents blamed the students for the incident; just 11 percent blamed the guardsmen. In Kent State: What Happened and Why, author James Michener recounts the litany of rage-filled letters to local newspapers. “The National Guard made only one mistake,” one said. “They should have fired sooner and longer.” *

    At Wiki you can find that an incredible 31% actually had no opinion. Our allegiance to law enforcement authorities blinds too many to the facts.


    [Response: Perhaps my memory of the time is colored by the fact that I was a 16-year-old at the time. Among so many of the young, it was a polarizing incident.]

    • The Kent State killings marked an irreparable break between my father, a career soldier and veteran, and myself when he declared that it should have happened sooner. We never reconciled.

    • My memory of the time is clouded by a crystal clear memory of my morning liberal arts requirement poly sci course that met the next day. We were starting to discuss the events of the day when one student raised her hand and said: “I know this all sounds important, but we have coming up and we need to cover that material instead of this.” Sufficient of the class agreed and a review of midterm material was presented by the clearly disappointed prof.

      I think you are correct in essence, probably. The event demonstrated the true and rather extreme dangers inherent in going up against entrenched power. Even in the supposedly “enlightened” West. Entrenched power acts with reptilian-brained responses when confronted. All-up, instant power and nothing much else.

  2. You are getting at the “ALL Lives…” versus “BLACK Lives…” distinction here statistically. Many will _mouth_ the platitude that they believe in “all” but their actions clearly show that their “all” does NOT include certain groups.

    The wider point here that the broader–historically in the USA primarily white–community often doesn’t see the racism in themselves because they apparently believe that racists require overt specific actions like actively putting down other races personally. But supporting, say, “stop and frisk” is, to them, OK as any racialized implementation–and every implementation I am aware of has has always resulted in racialized implementation–isn’t actually their fault.

    Any honest person examining the facts can show that “all” simply does not include “others”, “thugs and animals”, and the like and that those groups tend to be defined along racial and class lines psychologically.

    I wish I could say all this more pithily. It would go something along the lines of actually saying out loud: “ALL lives _specifically_ includes BLACK lives” instead of thinking “Oh that goes without saying” when it clearly, objectively does not.

    We all feel uncomfortable around “thugs and animals”, I do myself. All non-saints do. It is both hardwired and culturally programmed into our psyches. But the _actions_ we take around that uncomfortableness define whether we create an environment and community where “ALL” includes, or excludes, BLACKS. That’s what defines our racism or lack of it. You support “stop and frisk” and don’t _actively_ support stopping and frisking a true random sample of “all”? You’re racist. Pure and simple.

    I got no answers to all this, though Camden, NJ where the police actually were defunded with quite favorable longer term results provides clues.

  3. Mike Pence is an “All Lives Matter” Republican, and he could barely get that out. Donald Trump is an “Orange Lives Matter as long as it’s me” Republican.

  4. Susan Anderson

    There’s another piece to this. Consider the school to prison pipeline and the military training of police. “Those people” are being prevented from voting. “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” goes double for other races.

    Consider these murders and imprisonments as a part of voter suppression. They are.

  5. I think it must be comforting, in a strange and perverse way, to have a clear visual marker for just who the “thugs and animals” are. Hence the reluctance to give up that algorithm for threat detection. The world is a lot scarier if the thugs look like “us”–whoever “us” may be in context. (Comedian Roy Wood Jr. jokes that that’s why he doesn’t support bans of the Confederate flag: it lets him efficiently identify many of the dangerous whites.)

    But illusion, however comforting, is never the best guide to behavior. And the reality is that there is no sharp, clear line between “us” and the “animals and thugs.” I’ve worked in a jail, and I can testify that most of the inmates you meet there are ordinary people. Of course there are exceptions–there was a guy somewhere in the facility, according to a CO whom I worked with sometimes, whose stated ambition was to excavate and eat someone’s eye. Obviously, I was never going to meet him, and obviously, I’m glad of it!

    But inmates aren’t animals. Some are weak, some are disturbed–there’s a lot of mental illness inside, because we’ve basically criminalized it–not a few have issues with substance abuse, and there sure are a heck of a lot of black folks. (One told me why he was there: his car broke down on the Stone Mountain freeway as he drove home from work, and he tried hitchhiking. Got busted for doing so in a restricted road and couldn’t pay the fine, so the alternative was 30 days. Goodbye car, goodbye job. Had it been me, of course, I’d have just called the good folks at USAA and had them send a truck around–but that wasn’t an option available to him. Hence the term “criminalizing poverty.”) There’s also a whole lot of religion, which may surprise because we don’t think of “animals and thugs” as being religious. But if you think about it, who needs hope and psychological sustenance more than prisoners?

    Not all inmates are nice people–though to be honest, I liked most of the ones I met. There are a lot of little scams that get run inside; the everyday deprivation is a lot more significant than most people realize, and people grasping after small advantages is certainly a feature of life. Some of the ‘grasping’ can be quite unscrupulous. For instance, my students told me that they protect their inmate PINs at all costs, because if someone else gets hold of yours, they will drain your inmate account and then you will have no further contact with your family, until and unless it is replenished. (That may require explanation: unlike on TV, visitation at the jail is all remote, done with AV hookups. And it isn’t free–in fact, fees similar to what we used to pay for long distance phone calls back in the day apply. No pay, no play.)

    But one thing is for sure, and that is that inmates are fully and three-dimensionally human beings, every one inhabiting a unique subjective world–and every one with something, potentially, to offer our shared world. That may sound naive or weak-minded, but with a few minutes of online search I’m sure any one of us could supply a lengthy list of people who have done time and gone on to do remarkable and beneficial things. (Huddie Leadbetter, for one–he did time for murder. Billie Holliday for another.)

    [Response: It’s only weak-minded, in the minds of the weak.]

    • Greg Schorr

      You said: ‘And the reality is that there is no sharp, clear line between “us” and the “animals and thugs.”’

      The following quote goes through my mind almost daily for many reasons, not least of which is the history of the author.

      “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    • Susan Anderson

      New Yorker current issue (6/22/20) on Mengele:

      All ideas, and ideals, are capable of being twisted into their opposites. Religious doctrines preaching nonviolence and loving thy enemy quickly turn into a search for enemies not to love. The intention and its perversion are usually transparent. We even have a good word for this bad practice: hypocrisy. But scientific theories, which get their credibility from their ability to explain the action of a limited domain of objects, can explode into false models for unrelated subjects without conscious hypocrisy. The Darwinian idea of the struggle for existence, designed to explain the chiselling of birds’ beaks, becomes in a generation the idea that poor people deserve to be poor. Einstein’s idea that the measurement of time is relative can warp into the idea that morality is. The missteps can be hard to track. The perversion of a scientific practice takes a second; its rectification takes a semester.

      Revisiting Mengele’s Malignant “Race Science”: The study of Nazis still offers moral instruction on how evil arises

  6. Do you have time to do the same kind of analysis on who goes to prison and when in terms of age and race? I think the new Jim Crow is the carceral state that terrorizes, kills and criminalizes certain populations. Dead folks, felons and terrorized folks may not vote as reliably as folks who have had any of those experiences, so one important function of the carceral state is voter suppression.

    • Susan Anderson

      It’s not new. School to prison pipeline and private for-profit prisons have capitalized on the desire of the powerful to stay in power and reward their wealthy donors (see Kochtopus, Mercers, etc. etc.) by vote suppression. Since those lives only matter to them in their desire to eliminate them, it makes perfect sense.

      • Hey Susan, I am so old that I remember the poll tax in the South and separate drinking fountains, bathrooms etc. I always heard there were towns where blacks were in trouble if they were still out in public after the sun set, but I lived in a more enlightened community in the South where folks were pretty safe as long as they knew their place and stayed in it. So, to me, that was Jim Crow.

        The South doesn’t have too much of that anymore. Generally speaking, the white right to vote is pretty well protected and the black right to vote is suppressed in a number of ways, but not poll tax. You can’t do that anymore. To me, these new tricks that is the new Jim Crow. Can’t do poll taxes anymore. Vote suppression and voter disenfranchisement? Vote caging? Gerrymandering to dilute representation, Yes, you can do that in the South and anywhere in this country generally. When I say the new Jim Crow, this is what I am thinking about.

      • smallbluemike: No poll taxes? Would that that were true. Florida is trying to make an ex-prisoner’s right to vote contingent on having paid all fines that were imposed–effectively a poll tax. Voter ID laws often require citizens to pay for a drivers’ license or other form of ID–or at the very least pay to get a birth certificate. The entire point of politics in the deep south is to preserve as much of slavery as they can and avoid having troops sent in. Prisoners in the South are overwhelmingly black and labor in many cases effectively as slaves.

      • at snark: you are right about the voter suppression issue of fines. It is a new iteration of the poll tax. This is the new Jim Crow. The vote suppression tactics are slightly more sophisticated than the bluntly racist vote suppression mechanics that were employed from 1870 to 1964. The 24th amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forced white supremacists to become more sophisticated and devious with the mechanics of racist vote suppression and fixing elections. Gerrymandering which concentrates black votes allows for some safe elections of black representatives, but it also serves to dilute the influence of the black vote generally. To me, this is new Jim Crow.

        To a large degree, arguing over what is old school, overt racism and what is new school, subtle racism is academic imho, but the differences are real and they are determined by events like the 24th amendment and the civil right act of 1964. The driver of all the various iterations of these mechanics are the same: racism/white supremacy. Racism is like the noose that is reported to have been left for Bubba Wallace recently, it just keeps coming back.

        The ultimate noose of the new Jim Crow is police forces that can and do kill black folks and certain other populations with very little accountability. Who needs men in white robes and hats when you have a police force that can accomplish white supremacist goals and get paid for the work? Police forces? I think those are a tool of old and new Jim Crow systems. One of the few racist institutions that escaped change from the 24th amendment and the Civil Rights Act.

        I could be wrong about some or all of that.

  7. and maybe just take it one step further and suggest that we stop killing folks generally. Defund police, defund military, defund all the occupations and endeavors where a success story might include the intentional death of another person or being. Stop the killing. Killing, what is it good for?

    • Edwin Starr already addressed this issue right around the same time…

    • Well, here is something I’ve wondered about–if you took the lives lost in wars and stacked them up against the lives saved by trauma and surgical techniques developed to save lives on the battle field, would the net be a gain or a loss?

      One almost hesitates to think in such terms, but it is an interesting question, and as long as people are people, war ain’t gonna go away.

      • well, one should hesitate to think in such terms because the same logic would have applied to the abolition of slavery in the US of 1860: as in “slavery ain’t gonna go away.”

        As to the question of advancing medical science through the application of trauma, that is a non-starter for me. I think we have plenty of auto accidents, gunshot wounds, etc. to allow for trauma medicine to develop and be effective. If you are wondering about the medical advancement benefits of war, how about the medical advancement benefits of setting off a dirty bomb in a metropolis? Why stop there? What could we learn and how many lives would be saved in the long run through medical advances if we introduced ebola in an unsuspecting population?

        so, cops are always going to kill people of color with a lot of impunity, right? What is the silver lining that you imagine accompanies that “hard truth?”

        Come on. Get real. Think this through a bit, please.

        If you are trolling with that response, ok, fine. I won’t bother with another response on this line of thinking if you are trolling. This response only makes sense if you are sincere and have not thought through what you are suggesting.



      • “…as long as people are people, war ain’t gonna go away.”

        Well, that’s a postulate as much as a conclusion. smb’s point about slavery is well-taken, even if the reality is not so much that slavery has gone away comprehensively so much as it has been pretty comprehensively criminalized.

        I grant you that there’s no immediate indication that war is about to go away, and I wouldn’t be in favor of defunding the US military unilaterally, not while many foreign leaders and institutions are what they are–anyone can fill in some fitting names. But ‘human nature’ is a lot older than what we think of as ‘war’. And maybe it is capacious enough to enable comprehensive criminalization of war-making, someday.

        Certainly, if our organizational skills were to be directed toward a ‘war on climate change’, that could be a very good thing indeed–though it would have to be much better done than the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ of course. Opposition can diminish, but stupid opposition can also often reinforce.