Can’t Win, Can’t Break Even: If You Need To Apologize For Saying “All Lives Matter,” Why Not Apologize For Resolving To Challenge Racism?

We have a reverse Smith in Pittsburgh.

You will recall that Smith College president Kathleen McCartney attempted to  show support for her students  protesting racism and police brutality by sending a campus-wide email titled, “All Lives Matter, ” and came under fire by campus activists because the protest slogan was “black lives matter.” She quickly apologized,  saying that she didn’t intend for “all lives matter” to be interpreted as rebuttal to “black lives matter.”

Now, in Pittsburgh, the Chief of Police is being attacked by his own officers who say that this photograph, posted on Facebook…

mclaybanner

…accuses them of being racists.

Touchy, touchy….?

The problem is that the Chief is endorsing a slogan of a group called Fight Back Pittsburgh, which has engaged in anti-police rhetoric in the past and carried signs saying “End White Silence” in protest marches.  It describes itself as a Pittsburgh-based collective (I would call it a Marxist group) with the mission of creating a world that is free of destructive white privilege and oppression. OK, Fight Back Pittsburgh sounds like a group of racists to me. But the message of the sign is hard to take offense at. Who isn’t obligated to challenge racism at work?

Nonetheless, many of  Chief Cameron McLay’s force are furious at the photo and what they feel it implies. Fraternity of Police President Howard McQuillan told an interviewer, “The chief is calling us racists. He believes the Pittsburgh Police Department is racist. This has angered a lot of officers.”

Is a pledge to oppose racism in the workplace by a supervisor the equivalent of a statement that there is racism in that workplace? McLay vigorously defends the photo, saying,

“I was hired to restore the legitimacy of the police department. I did not seek these young activists out…Their message is not anti-anybody. It is simply a call for awareness. The photo was a great, spontaneous moment in time. Please join dialogue for community healing.”

Once again, we have to start the ethical analysis with the critical question, “What’s going on here?”

1. From the Chief’s perspective, he views his job as building trust within the community, which has been led, thanks to the national campaign of fear-mongering by civil rights activists, to attribute malign, anti-African American sentiments and motivations to all police forces by pressing the false Ferguson narrative that Michael Brown was executed while surrendering. The way to do that, he concluded, was to eliminate the “us vs.them” mentality and to embrace the ostensible objectives of protesters: fairness, racial justice, and police reforms where needed.

2. The police themselves, as in the ongoing conflict in New York City between Mayor de Blasio and his police, feel that they are being unjustly impugned by the broad-stroke nature of the protests. Any approval or endorsement of the protest rhetoric is seen as a betrayal. A core duty of a leader is to support his or her followers and subordinates, and not side against them. By seeming to adopt the rhetoric of a group that has accused the police of excessive violence and racism, the Chief has, from perspective of the police ranks, sided against them.

The ethics verdicts:

  • There is nothing wrong or unethical about the messages portrayed in the controversial photo, except the implicit message that the Chief has joined the anti-police protest group that prominently displays the “Hands Up!” symbol on its website.
  • Police anger and indignation at their leader’s appearing to side against them was predictable, and McLay was irresponsible and incompetent to court it.
  • For their part, again as in New York City, police should be able to understand the impossible dilemma city leadership, including the Chief, are facing. Denying that any problems exist with police practices and community relations is a strategy guaranteed not only to fail, but to make racial and community tensions worse, if that’s possible. Police need to acknowledge the importance of trying to bring the two sides together, and not be hyper-sensitive to perceived betrayals.
  • The Chief should apologize, because his message was misunderstood, and it is his fault that it was misunderstood (A “I’m sorry that my actions were misconstrued, and apologize to anyone I may have offended” non-apology won’t suffice). I don’t think it will do much good.
  • It is hard to see how the police chief can whole-hardheartedly endorse a group that is blatantly anti-police and remain trusted by the police who have to work for him. Even de Blasio didn’t go that far. Police may understand why their boss acted as he did, but the damage the act does to their ability to trust and respect him, apology or not, cannot be argued away.

I doubt that McLay can continue to be an effective police chief after this. If he leaves, protesters will take it as a statement that the police have hardened their position, and that they are choosing violence, racism, and defiance.

This is a very strong, very dangerous box meticulously constructed, by carelessness, foolishness, hate or incompetence on the part of both municipal governments, national leaders and irresponsible journalists and commentators. I have no idea how to escape it.

_____________

Pointer: Fred

Facts: CBS

Source: Fight Back Pittsburgh

 

24 thoughts on “Can’t Win, Can’t Break Even: If You Need To Apologize For Saying “All Lives Matter,” Why Not Apologize For Resolving To Challenge Racism?

  1. Reminds of the old question with no good answer. “Do you still beat your wife?”

    A better response from the leaders should be – “We stand with those who fight to ensure equal protection under the law.”

    • Or the Chief could have made a simple phrase of his own that focused on a united police & community – “Embrace the Community: We Are You” or some other togetherness bit…

      It neither isolates the people nor his own men.

  2. Chief McLay is the “new kid on the block,” having only been appointed late last year and still trying to get both feet on the ground. He’s not from Pittsburg, was never a cop there previously, and has yet to win the trust of his officers -if that is even possible now. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that his intentions were good, but if he survives this gaffe he had better develop some better instincts to accompany those intentions. Certainly the two sides -if there are only two- need to come together, but carrying the “other side’s” placards was not what his officers needed to see at this point.

  3. “There is nothing wrong or unethical about the messages portrayed in the controversial photo, except the implicit message that the Chief has joined the anti-police protest group that prominently displays the “Hands Up!” symbol on its website.”

    There is more than one implicit message in that photo, and it is wrong. Being a “white” person, I think it is terribly wrong, and it is cruelly accusatory in the bigoted spirit of guilt-by-association, to imply that “white” people are “silent” about racism. That “#end white silence” is defamatory and insulting. I think Chief McLay should resign.

  4. An excerpt of the Chief’s statement:

    “The sign indicated my willingness to challenge racial problems in the workplace. I am so committed. If there are problems in the PBP related to racial injustice, I will take action to fix them.

    To me, the term “white silence” simply means that we must be willing to speak up to address issues of racial injustice, poverty, etc. In my heart, I believe we all must come together as community to address real world problems; and I am willing to be a voice to bring community together.

    I saw no indictment of police or anyone else in this sign, but I do apologize to any of you who felt I was not supporting you; that was not my intent.

    The reality of U.S. policing is that our enforcement efforts have a disparate impact on communities of color. This is a statistical fact. You know, as well as I, the social factors driving this reality. The gross disparity in wealth and opportunity is evident in our city.

    Frustration and disorder are certain to follow. The predominant patterns of our city’s increased violence involves black victims as well as actors. If we are to address this violence, we must work together with our communities of color.”

    As a side note, Fight Back Pittsburgh has stated that they are not the ones who came up with the slogan and sign for the chief, but they do support it. They credit WWHATS UP! Pittsburgh (in which most of the leadership appear white) for the sign and slogan.

    • Would those “social factors driving this reality” include the significantly higher violent crime rate? Because all the stats I see out there compare things like police shootings to the proportion of the total populace, which is not the right comparison to make. The people pushing the disparate impact approach never adjust for offense rates, and generally don’t acknowledge it when someone else does. You, personally, never acknowledged my point when I ran the numbers on that pro-publica study on police shootings and tried to rationalize it away, so I’m not willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on this. I strongly suspect most individuals, including the chief, discussing the statistics involved have not considered the confounding variables.

      I didn’t do it at the time, but take the remaining 2.3 disparity in shooting, multiply it by the 13.2% they make up of the general populace and divide by the 17.8% they make up of the populace in the areas that report police shootings, and the difference drops to 1.7. This is a very rough estimate, because to do it right I would need both offense and shooting data broken down by individual jurisdiction, race, and age and I would need data on violent crime not just homicides. Said data is remarkably hard to come by…

      Disparate input is a proper defense against claims of disparate outcomes, regardless of why that disparate input exists. Some people like to pretend the disparate crime rate doesn’t exist, but facts are stubborn things.

      I don’t have good numbers on violent crimes by race, because they don’t generally report those numbers, only homicides. I’m assuming, barring any data to the contrary, that the relative distribution of homicides is similar to the relative distribution of other violent crimes.

      • As I’ve stated in the previous thread, your stats assume that the people the police are shooting are the ones that are guilty of a crime (that requires one to be shot). Tamir Rice and John Crawford did nothing to deserve to be shot by police, to use two recent examples that have contributed to the recent spate of protests.

        And it isn’t just police shootings, but the disproportionate levels of stop and frisks affecting communities of color that add to the sense of grievance. While I know that many have opined that because of the disproportionate levels of crime, minorities should voluntary agree to accept unconstitutional behavior by government authorities toward themselves, but one hopes that you can see that having your supposedly individual rights controlled by some criminals whom you probably don’t know, can’t control, and are unrelated to would be unappetizing for anyone.

        On another note, it has been asserted that the police are not targeting minorities. That is demonstrably false. While the police are not deliberately targeting minorities to kill (I hope), they are singling out minorities for police interaction, searches, and scrutiny. For organizations like the NYPD, they have those instructions on tape. One officer was reprimanded because he was not stopping enough minorities.

        Every interaction between a private citizen and the police brings with it the spectator of force and arrest. All it takes is a mistimed word or bad body language, and anyone can find themselves cooling their heels in a cell for a while, even if it ultimately pans out to nothing. Sometimes it can even escalate, as allegations of someone selling loose cigarettes (none were ever found) lead to an arrest, and the eventual death of a man. Most people, rightly so, like to limit their interaction with the police. I don’t think minorities feel any differently than anyone else in this matter.

        • No, my stats do NOT assume that ALL people being shot are the ones that deserve it. The only thing they do, being a direct response to stats on disparate outcomes, is assert that difference in behavior explains a portion of the difference in police shootings. I do not pretend all shootings are justified, or that the disparity is completely erased (it don’t think it would be even with the full set of data, although I can’t actually say without having that data), only that the stats presented about disparate outcomes are wildly exaggerated. A purely evenhanded non racist system will still have a disparity in outcomes compared to the total population numbers. That’s true for other interactions as well as police shootings, but I haven’t examined the specific stats on other interactions, so it’s possible that the less of them is explained.

          You are still trying to rationalize away the stats and jump to other topics. Is it really so hard for you to acknowledge that the statistics aren’t nearly as bad as they are generally presented? I’m not saying they are good, but exaggerating by a factor of 10 or so is significant.

          I do not support stop and frisk at all (4th amendment anyone?), abusive or trigger happy cops, or racial profiling.

          I’m going to go on record as stating that numerically speaking, racial profiling MAY make sense for reducing crime. It depends on the actual unpredictable effect of the policy chosen. Such a policy is nonetheless unethical due to it’s effect on social trust among other issues. Similarly, promoting flawed and exaggerated statistics also undermines trust and is unethical for that reason among others.

          • Ok, so we agree that stop and frisk is wrong, racial profiling is wrong, and abusive policing is also wrong.

            You seem to think that I don’t acknowledge that crime is higher in many minority communities. I acknowledge that it is, for various reasons. You posit that the higher crime rate in minority communities (partly) explains the higher incidence of police shootings of minorities. Without much more information, and elimination of various variables, I cannot say, but it may or may not be a plausible explanation, depending on a variety of factors. Keep in mind that all statistics for police shootings are very incomplete, as they are under no obligation to report them as a separate category.

            However, as you’ve alluded to in your last paragraph somewhat, many people have tried to use the higher crime rate to justify racial profiling by government institutions, and have urged minorities to accept lesser treatment by government institutions because of it. I’m glad that we both agree that is unethical.

            • It’s actually yet to be established whether or not there is any remaining disparity after all prior behavioral differences are factored in. I suspect so, but I can’t say. For exactly the same reasons you could question whether increased crime actually explains increased negative outcomes, I can question whether the increased negative outcomes actually indicate a bias. Mathematically, they could be biased the other way in every individual jurisdiction and yet have the overall statistic point to a bias in the other direction. I can construct an artificial example of that if you would like, but the basic idea is that if certain areas have larger black concentrations along with higher overall crime rates and harsher policing in an attempt to crack down, those areas can skew the total results to be biased in one direction even if the each jursidiction taken individually is biased in the other direction.

        • “And it isn’t just police shootings, but the disproportionate levels of stop and frisks affecting communities of color that add to the sense of grievance.”

          “While the police are not deliberately targeting minorities to kill (I hope), they are singling out minorities for police interaction, searches, and scrutiny.”

          Both of these replies are STILL called into question by Phlinn’s demonstration, which you still have yet to respond to. Foul on your part and therefore the comments don’t count for anything until you can address Phlinn’s concerns with your assertions. Try again without diversion.

          “While I know that many have opined that because of the disproportionate levels of crime, minorities should voluntary agree to accept unconstitutional behavior by government authorities toward themselves”

          Strawman.

          “All it takes is a mistimed word or bad body language, and anyone can find themselves cooling their heels in a cell for a while, even if it ultimately pans out to nothing.”

          The police aren’t at fault if people don’t know manners, all they can assume is rudeness is just notching up the escalation of force (which on the citizen side, means resisting arrest or ultimately assault). One more reason why manners and politeness are ethical musts. By the way, I’ve never seen a citizen arrested for being rude to an officer *if there wasn’t already something arrestable they were being questioned for*

          “Most people, rightly so, like to limit their interaction with the police. I don’t think minorities feel any differently than anyone else in this matter.”

          Is this meant to justify rudeness or something, because if so, you treading on idiocy.

          • Both of these replies are STILL called into question by Phlinn’s demonstration, which you still have yet to respond to.

            From my understanding, Phlinn’s statistics were addressing police shootings, and do not address stop and frisk at all. As shown in the NYPD stop and frisk cases, ruled unconstitutional, the police were not searching minorities based on articulable criminal suspicion, but for reasons of skin color alone.

            By the way, I’ve never seen a citizen arrested for being rude to an officer *if there wasn’t already something arrestable they were being questioned for*

            You are lucky then, I have. I have seen police arrest people for merely advising other people of their rights in a police encounter, or for filming the police doing something wrong, or for just happening to be in a general area, and the police “don’t like their look.”. I think once you have seen that, it is very difficult to have a lot of faith in the system as it currently stands. Of course, the flip side is, if you haven’t ever seen the ugly side of policing, then it is very simple to advise people to grin and bear it…whatever is happening to them can’t be but so bad.

            Most people, rightly so, like to limit their interaction with the police. I don’t think minorities feel any differently than anyone else in this matter.”

            Is this meant to justify rudeness or something, because if so, you treading on idiocy.

            No, it is meant to explain why minorities protest the use of stop and frisk, even if they have nothing to hide.

            • The existence in a different rate of criminal behavior is a defense against any claim of disparate treatment by the police, not just being shooting. Restricting it to teens and police shootings affects the more detailed numbers, but even before those steps there is a difference in behavior that has to be accounted for. Do you have any actual cites for comparative rates of stop and frisk?

              • The existence in a different rate of criminal behavior is a defense against any claim of disparate treatment by the police, not just being shooting.

                Perhaps it would be a defense, if the NYPD were not on tape, admitting that they stopped minorities just for being a minority, and for no other reason. http://gothamist.com/2013/03/22/nypd_officer_caught_on_tape_orderin.php

                Also, this higher rate of stopping for the “crime” of being a minority becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. If you are stopping minorities at a greater rate, you will also be arresting and convicting minorities at a greater rate as well. Then, you will use that higher rate to justify stopping yet more minorities in the future, and so on. This is especially true when a department like the NYPD uses arrest quotas, to determine whether an officer is doing a good job, or for promotions. It is easier to target a community where people are already marginalized and their stories discounted, then to possibly go out there and risk getting fired for frisking or arresting some bigwigs son.

                • When looking at statistics, sometimes it is useful to understand statistics. The police in NJ and other states have been criticized for ticketing black drivers at a higher rate than white drivers for speeding. The federal government decided this was racial profiling. This assumed however, that similar percentages of black and white drivers speed. When studied, it was found that the foundational assumption was wrong. The study has mostly been buried because it could be used to ‘disprove’ that the NJ police were racially motivated in their ticketing.

          • Does video taping an arrest, which by established law the public is allowed to do in most* places, qualify as being rude to an officer? People have been arrested for taping before. It does NOT qualify as something arrestable, but it still happens.

            * – based on hazy recollections, so it may only be some rather than most. Pretty sure though, and I certainly think local laws against it should be considered unconstitutional.

              • Just the closest instance I can find. The police will arrest people even if they aren’t doing anything they can legitimately arrest them for. I see no reason to assume rudeness is any less likely to cause that than taping.

    • This raises the frightening question of what other Pittsburgh protest groups are competing with those two: “So What? Pittsburgh,” “Get Serious! Pittsburgh,” “Bite Me!Pittsburgh,” “Get Lost! Pittsburgh,” “Go Home! Pittsburgh,” “Fill ‘er Up! Pittsburgh,” and “Mama Mia, Thatsa Some Spicy Meatball!Pittsburgh.”

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