Category Archives: Race and race relations

A Different Kind of Police-Kill-Unarmed-Black-Youth Story

Brown and Cobb

Paterson Brown Jr. and David L. Cobb. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

Chesterfield County has its own cop-shooting-and-killing-an-unarmed-black-youth story, but it has generated little controversy — presumably because the police officer was himself black, thus side-stepping the racist-white-cop narrative. It is instructive to read the account of court testimony in the policeman’s trial to get a sense of the ambiguous situations in which police find themselves forced to make life-and-death decisions.

Here are the basic facts based on the Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s coverage of the trial: David L. Cobb, an off-duty, 47-year-old Chesterfield police officer, was getting his girlfriend’s car washed at the Better Vision Detail & Car Spa on Midlothian Turnpike when 18-year-old Paterson Brown Jr. inexplicably hopped into the vehicle. Cobb confronted Brown, struggling to open the door as Brown tried to close it. Observing that the teenager was acting strangely and incoherently, apparently from drug use, Cobb announced that he was a police officer and warned him four times to stay still. At one point, Brown leaned back and said, “I don’t f— with cops” but he did not comply. When Brown moved his left hand across his waist, Cobb believed that he was reaching for a gun. He shot the youth in the pelvis, severing a vital artery and killing him. As it turned out the youth was unarmed.

The prosecutor argued that Brown’s act of reaching across the waist “does not give you the right to use deadly force.”

But David Baugh, a black attorney who has represented five other Richmond-area officers in use-of-force killings, countered that every officer (1) is responsible for stopping a crime when he or she sees it, and (2) fears for his or her life when approaching a vehicle.

“He doesn’t have a right to walk away,” Baugh said. “He took an oath. It’s his moral duty to stick his nose in it.” To convict Cobb, he told the jury, prosecutors “have to convince you there’s no reason to be scared.” Brown set the tone with his bizzare behavior, glaring at Cobb after the officer spotted him inside the car. “Is he reasonable to be fearful? Yes. [Officers] all know.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Police officers have every reason to fear that young men acting strangely and actively resisting direct commands might pull out a gun and shoot. Forty-five law enforcement personnel, two of them in Virginia, have been killed in the line of duty so far this year. Cobb had to make a split-second decision. He made the wrong decision. Indeed, Cobb was so remorseful that he broke down sobbing while testifying in court and the judge had to suspend proceedings for ten minutes while he composed himself. But Cobb did not create the situation. Brown did. And, while his death was tragic and out of proportion to anything he did wrong, he brought it upon himself.

After a two-decade decline, violent crime is on the upswing. Ironically, most of it is black-on-black crime — a perverse result of the “Ferguson effect” in which police dial back their interventions and the Black Lives Matter movement which has encouraged black youths to distrust police and resist arrest. To revive a phrase from the 1960s, I’m on the side of “law and order.” If I were on Cobb’s jury, I would not vote to convict. And, if the T-D‘s account is fair summary of the facts presented, I’ll bet his jury won’t either.

McAuliffe’s Dangerous Game

by James A. Bacon

Once upon a time, when he helped run L. Douglas Wilder’s history-making gubernatorial campaign, Paul Goldman was regarded as a progressive voice in Virginia politics. If he writes many more op-eds like the one published Sunday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, he could well become anathema to progressives. Not because he has changed his principles, mind you, but because progressives have come to toss around accusations of racism with such reckless abandon.

Goldman’s topic was Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring full civil and voting rights to 206,000 felons convicted of both violent and non-violent crimes. The Richmond attorney and political activist makes two critical points that dovetail with my critique of contemporary progressivism.

One is that McAuliffe’s defenders make unsupported accusations of racism and discrimination that only “make it harder for those fighting for honest change.” Specifically, Goldman tackles the notion that Article II, Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution — “no person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority” — was intentionally written to disenfranchise African-Americans.

To the contrary, notes Goldman, disenfranchisement of felons dates back to colonial times when only white men were allowed to vote. Moreover, Virginia civil rights legend Oliver Hill reviewed and approved the provision for inclusion in the 1971 Virginia constitution.

A second point is that the people who get so agitated about the injustice done to felons are remarkably quiet about the injustices the felons inflicted upon their victims. While felons in Virginia are disproportionately African-American, so are crime victims.

As Goldman writes, “For the government to suggest a victim or loved one is anti-black because she opposes automatic restoration [of civil rights] without any showing of contrition is unjustified. It demeans the victim.”

A strong case can be made that the process of restoring rights to non-violent felons should be made easier — no individual petition necessary. But blanket restoration for violent felons without giving the victim an opportunity for input or any requirement for the predator to show contrition should be prohibited, Goldman writes. “The petitioning process must not itself be punitive. Yet it can’t be pro forma.”

Lastly, Goldman didn’t make this point but I will: Finding the proper balance for restoring felon rights is not the sole prerogative of the governor. McAuliffe needs to engage in give and take with the legislature. Sadly, the rule of law is regarded among political elites as increasingly optional — something to be enjoined when they can harness it to advance their aims and sidestepped when it cannot. A couple of years back, I said that progressives should be cautious with the precedents they set — just imagine how worried they would be if Sarah Palin were elected president with the power to re-write laws through executive decree. Now they face an even more terrifying prospect — an imperial presidency run by Donald Trump, the man for whom everything is negotiable and “so sue me” is a business best practice. Granting presidents and governors power to re-write laws at will cuts both ways.

Update: General Assembly Republicans are filing suit to halt enforcement of McAuliffe’s executive order.

How Diversity Initiatives Could Increase Black Alienation

VCU student protest. Image credit:

VCU student protest. Image credit:

by James A. Bacon

Jonathan Haidt and Lee Jussim make a scary prediction: The expansion of diversity programs in response to racial protests in American universities will serve to isolate and alienate African-American students and increase racial tensions, the very opposite of their intended result.

Haidt and Jussim, professors at New York University and Rutgers University respectively, advance their argument in an important Wall Street Journal op-ed last week. Their argument is as germane here in Virginia as anywhere in the United States, where African-Americans students at the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University have demanded that the universities enroll more blacks, hire more black professors, implement sensitivity “training” programs, and dedicate more funds to black cultural organizations.

“The existing research literature suggests that such reforms will fail to achieve their stated aims of reducing discrimination and inequality,” write the authors in “Hard Truths about Race on Campus.” “In fact, we think that they are likely to damage race relations and to make campus life more uncomfortable for everyone, particularly black students.”

What follows is essentially a Reader’s Digest summation of the Haidt-Jussim argument. I have done my best to avoid injecting my own perspectives into the narrative until the “bottom line” segment, although I readily concede that I agree whole-heartedly with the conclusions.

It is a trait of humankind to draw distinctions between “us” and “them,” and for people to discriminate in favor of in-group members. That does not mean that drawing distinctions based on race is inevitable, however. When groups face a common threat or challenge, enmity dissolves and a mindset of “one for all and all for one” emerges.

The problem is that the demands of black students on many college campuses would sharpen race-based distinctions.

A common demand is to admit more black students into college. In a world in which the K-12 pipeline of graduating high school students vary widely by race in their academic preparation, meeting that goal would require adopting different admission standards for applicants of different races. Even now, in the absence of such aggressive recruiting, Asian students enter with combined math/verbal SAT scores on the order of 80 points higher than white students and 200 points higher than black students.

If a school commits to doubling the number of black students, it will have to reach deeper into its pool of black applicants, admitting those with weaker qualifications, particularly if most other school are doing the same thing. This is likely to make racial gaps larger, which would strengthen the negative stereotypes that students of color find when they arrive on campus.

Not only would such aggressive recruiting of black students perpetuate negative stereotypes, it would perpetuate segregation on campus. Students tend to befriend those who are similar to themselves in academic development. “If a school increases its affirmative action efforts in ways that expand those gaps, it is likely to end up with more self-segregation and fewer cross-race friendships, and therefore with even stronger feelings of alienation among black students.”

As minority students retreat into the ethnic enclaves enabled by increased funding for cultural organizations, the perception will increase that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling that they are victimized by virtue of their ethnicity. “If the goal is to foster a welcoming and inclusive culture on campus, the best current research suggests that the effort will backfire.”

Could such results be offset by diversity “training”? The limited literature on the subject suggests not. Such programs “often induce ironic negative effects (such as reactance or backlash) by implying that participants are at fault for current diversity challenges.”

How about “microaggression” training? That, too, will likely inflame racial tensions. Continue reading

“Coming Apart” — Virginia Edition


Odds are, one out of three of these babies is born out of wedlock.

by James A. Bacon

Three years ago sociologist Charles Murray wrote a book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” in which he described the social disintegration of lower-income and working-class whites in the United States. He documented the decline of marriage, the rise of out-of-wedlock births, the spread of substance abuse, and deterioration of work ethic, respect for the law and religious observance. The range of social pathologies once stereotyped as African-American is increasingly prevalent among whites. Anyone interested in the problem of social and income inequality in America needs to read the book.

Against that backdrop, I now present some numbers from a fascinating data set published by the Virginia Department of Health and passed along by reader Jim Weigand. This table breaks down the rate of “non-marital” births by whites, blacks and “others” by locality and planning district across Virginia.

The overall numbers should be terrifying to anyone worried that the rise of fatherless families contributes to dysfunctional social behaviors such as poor school performance, substance abuse, sub-par employment prospects, descent into criminality, child neglect and abuse, and, of course, more out-of-wedlock births in a downward social spiral. Across the state, one out of three (34%) children is born out of wedlock. That works out to 25.2% for whites, 64.7% for blacks, and 29.2% for others. (“Others” is a meaningless category which conflates Asians with their lower rate of out-of-wedlock-birth and Hispanics with their higher rate.)

In a majority of rural counties, the incidence of white non-marital births runs well over 30%. In Alleghany County the rate is 50%. One might expect as much in communities where a large percentage of the population lives in trailer parks. But in reasonably affluent communities like Henrico and Chesterfield counties, out-of-wedlock birth rates for whites run an astonishingly high 22.9% and 25.0% respectively. Even in super-affluent counties such as Fairfax and Loudoun, the white, non-marital birth rates are 12.2% and 11.3% respectively.

(Not every out-of-wedlock child is “fatherless,” of course. Many are born to unmarried but cohabitating couples in which the father continues to play a role, at least for as long as the couples stay together. Apparently, cohabiting in Europe can lead to stable social arrangements, but in the United States cohabitation tends to be a less stable relationship than marriage, and fathers tend to be less involved in the raising of the child.)

The situation for African-Americans is a social calamity but I can’t talk about that without someone insinuating that I’m a racist. So, for now, let’s focus on what’s happening in white America. That’s bad enough.

What Role School-District Ideology in the Racial Performance Gap?


by James A. Bacon

It is widely acknowledged by every serious (and not-so-serious) student of the racial performance gap between whites and African-Americans that half or more of the difference can be explained by socio-economic status. Whites come from more affluent families on average, and they enjoy the benefits that come from affluence, not the least of which is growing up in an intact family household where the adults themselves are well educated and have more money to lavish on their children.

But roughly half the variation cannot be explained by socio-economics. I have raised the possibility on this blog that different ethnic groups have different cultural attitudes towards education (pretty indisputable when it comes to the superior performance of Asians). But school divisions’ approaches to education might be a factor as well. One could hypothesize that school boards and administrators in more politically conservative localities would have a different approach to education — to pedagogy and student discipline, say — than their counterparts in more ideologically liberal districts.

I came to this question by way of a blog post on Taki’s Magazine, “Crevasses in the Classroom,” (hat tip: Andrew Roesell), which took a look at data published by the Stanford Education Data Archive. The Stanford scholars use the data to document and explain the gaps in white-black and white-Hispanic academic performance (though curiously, not the Asian-white gap), and, as expected, found that socio-economic differences explain much but not all of the difference.

In Taki’s Magazine, Steve Sailer rummaged through the database and found that school districts with the most extreme disparities in performance tend to skew heavily to the left side of the ideological spectrum. The greatest gap in the country occurs in none other than the People’s Republic of Berkeley, California, where the median black student would score at only the 5th percentile if he were white. How could that be? Sailer’s explanation:

One exacerbating factor might be that Berkeley’s schools have traditionally been run according to progressive education fads insisted upon by white leftists. For example, the Gates Foundation gave a million dollars to Bill Ayers’ brother Rick Ayers, another ’60s radical ex-fugitive, to work his “small learning communities” voodoo upon Berkeley High School, with an unsurprisingly disastrous impact on math test scores.

Frustrated black parents in Berkeley have at times organized protests in favor of “back to basics” education for their children.

The second worst disparity, says Sailer, is in Chapel-Hill Carrboro, home of the University of North Carolina; the third is in Shaker Heights, the “famously liberal” suburb of Cleveland”; the fourth in Asheville, N.C., “the arts and crafts capital of America, which attracts gays and polite white-flight types”; and the fifth in Evanston, Ill., home to Northwestern University.

The theory sounded plausible, but anecdotal. So I decided it to test it with some Virginia data taken from the Stanford Education Data Archive. (My apologies to Stanford for any abuses that I may have subjected the data to.) Since my goal was to do a quick-and-dirty analysis for purposes of a blog post, not an academic treatise, I looked only at Stanford’s 4th grade English language disparity. A more comprehensive look would entail running correlations for other grades and doing math scores as well. Also, readers should note that the data set I drew from encompassed only 78 of the state’s school districts, so it is not complete.

I could think of no readily available metric that measures the ideological proclivities of school boards and school administrations. As a proxy, I took the percentage of voters who voted for Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, reasoning that the priorities and sentiments of a more liberal-Democratic leaning electorate would be reflected in the election of local school board officials, the appointment of school administrators and the approach to education generally.

The findings from this one admittedly superficial analysis, seen in the chart above) seem to confirm Sailer’s reasoning. Approximately 15% of the variability in white-black academic performance in the 4th grade can be explained by the political inclination of the electorate and, by implication, the ideological proclivities of the school districts.

Now, I’m not prepared to draw hard-and-fast conclusions from just that one data sample. I’d like to take a much more comprehensive look. But the preliminary findings suggest that such an effort would be worthwhile.

From the Frying Pan into the Fire?

byrd_midde_schoolSo, the Henrico County School Board has done the politically correct thing and re-named Harry F. Byrd Middle School to Quioccasin Middle School. Quioccasin, a Native American word meaning “the gathering spot,” is a local place name used for the road on which the school is located.

I’m OK with re-naming the school, which is located in western Henrico County near where I live. Virginians should re-think they way they honor former segregationist governors (even one who enacted the first law in the United States banning lynching). But given the tenor of our times, I wonder how long the new name will remain politically correct. Can’t the use of Native American names be condemned as “cultural appropriation?”

If calling a football team “the Redskins” is outre, how long until people begin calling for re-naming of all the places names stolen from displaced and exterminated native peoples? Where is the logical point at which enough is enough?


Remember the Past with More Viewpoints, Not Fewer

lee_statueby Randy Salzman

There is a move afoot in Charlottesville to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee. Rather than spend tax dollars to remove the statue and rename the park, perhaps Charlottesville City Council should consider a higher-order solution pioneered by the people of Australia.

White Australians in the 1800s were as brutal than the worst American slave owner, perhaps more so; they treated Aboriginals with a viciousness few can imagine today. Often, when a European settler, or his cow or sheep, disappeared, white Western Australians gathered guns and horses and went out and murdered members of the nearest Aboriginal tribe. Punishing every Aboriginal they could — even if no tribe member had committed any crime and often unsure that any actual crimes had been committed — the theory of these so-called “punitive expeditions” was that any remaining Aboriginals would never harm whites’ livestock in the future.

Lasting over 100 years, the final “battle” between spears and rifles took place in 1934. By then, white Australians had built statues and monuments honoring the “brave” members of earlier punitive expeditions and, after one, a particularly horrendous massacre of about 70 mostly women and children, a popular song was written to honor the leader.

By the turn of this century, with the publication of such books as “Why Weren’t We Told,” by Henry Reynolds, even the most strident white Australian began realizing that, as one historian put it, the celebrated “punitive expedition is most likely a euphemism for massacre.”

But rather than tear down the monuments and statues, the Aussies hit upon what I think Charlottesville should do with Lee and Jackson statues. They added another version, the Aboriginal version, to the monument’s story. Today, in places like Fremantle, Western Australia, the old statutes have bronze plagues explaining that there at least two versions of what happened, and why. In some cases, there’s a competing monument.

The history, good and bad, isn’t eradicated. Instead, it’s expanded in a manner which illustrates that all versions of life are seen through flawed human eyes. William Faulkner’s truism that “The past isn’t dead: It isn’t even past” is obvious to anyone reading the monuments.

Humans simply don’t know how our present actions will be perceived in future times; nor apparently do we know if what we do today is actually a plus or minus for society. We regularly forget what our grandmothers used to tell us, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are especially noteworthy for their “good intentions.” Neither was a proponent of slavery at a time when virtually all their peers were advocates for, as Lee put it, “a moral and political evil.” The most honored man in their youth, Thomas Jefferson, wrote eloquently about freedom but kept dozens of slaves at his plantation, Monticello — today a World Heritage site.

“In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery,” the father of American literature, Mark Twain, wrote three decades after Lee’s death. ”I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it. No one arraigned it in my hearing; the local papers said nothing against it; the local pulpit taught us that God approved it, that it was a holy thing, and that the doubter need only look in the Bible if he wished to settle his mind — and then the texts were read aloud to us to make the matter sure; if the slaves themselves had an aversion to slavery they were wise and said nothing.”

In that climate, both Lee and Jackson decided that loyalty to their home state, Virginia, was the greater good and, of course, fought for the Confederacy. No one doubts that they fought honorably while few, if any, historians claim they ever treated a black man, woman or child with anything but kindness. The record of neither man contains anything like that of General Nathan Bedford Forrest whose troops apparently massacred black Union prisoners at Fort Pillow.

Highly religious, Stonewall Jackson, became a slave holder, history tells us, only because several members of his illegal school for blacks begged him to buy them. He had started the Sunday school on principle, and indeed in direct violation of Virginia law, because he believed, as Lee did, that the true road to emancipation came through education. Lee’s anguish at deciding whether to back Virginia or take command of all Union forces is famous.

Today, it’s obvious Lee made the wrong decision. But it wasn’t clear to anyone in 1861. Even the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, thought blacks were genetically inferior to whites; the brilliance of escaped slave Frederick Douglass being the “exception that proved the rule.”

Blacks today have solid grounds for despising the 1960s myth that “the South shall rise again” and have even stronger grounds for hating the symbols of racism, like the so-called Confederate flag. The reality of what happened all those generations ago was buried by the purveyors of pre-civil-rights hate but, like humans of all generations and cultures, this post-civil-rights generation should be cautious about “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

Lee and Jackson were wrong to fight connected with any concept of slavery. But right or wrong, how ironic that today when the whole world bemoans the intentional destruction of the Giant Buddha Statues of Afghanistan and the dynamiting of a half-dozen World Heritage sites in Palmyra, Syria we – in tiny Charlottesville, Va. — are considering eradicating “history” because the past’s version of it might be flawed.