What is a better word for the more than 6,000 black men shot dead on the streets in 2015?
The media have been clucking their disapproval at the “darkness” of Donald Trump’s inaugural speech. “Uniquely dark vision of the U.S.,” read a New York Times headline on Saturday. The Washington Post reported that “Trump delivered a dark inaugural address” — adding, somewhat contradictorily — “in which he pledged fealty to all Americans.” A New York Times op-ed by a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton decried Trump’s “dark, counterfactual picture of ‘American carnage’: an economy in decline, communities under siege by ‘the crime and the gangs and the drugs.’” A New York Times editorial, “President Trump’s Dystopian America,” scoffed at how President Trump “waxed apocalyptic in imagining the prevalence of crime in the nation’s cities. ‘This American carnage stops right here and stops right now,’ [Mr. Trump] vowed,” the Times wrote incredulously.
The press unleashed an identical outpouring of criticism for Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, which was likewise said to adopt a counterfactually bleak view of the nation.
Are you scratching your head and wondering, Since when did liberals and the Left embrace a sunny, light-filled vision of the United States? If so, you’re not misremembering things. These are the same liberal elites who have been telling us for decades that America is shot through with an ever-expanding array of hatreds and injustice that disenfranchise large portions of the population and force them to live in fear.
While the conceit of an endemically bigoted and unjust America is longstanding, you need look no further than Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, D.C., to refresh your memory. One sign bobbing in the crowd read: Men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them. Ashley Judd unceremoniously pushed Michael Moore off the stage to declare at high volume: “I am not as nasty as racism, misogyny, white privilege, Islamophobia, transphobia, homophobia, and white privilege.” (The “nasty woman” theme pervaded the march.) Judd yelled that “blacks are still in shackles and graves just for being black.” Representative Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) announced that “black women are struggling every day for justice and equality.” Kamala Harris, a U.S. senator from California, said that “if you are a black mother trying to raise a son, you know black lives is a women’s issue.” Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood was “standing up for the rights of immigrants to live without fear.” A rapper called for an end to “white supremacy, white privilege, and white wealth” and “thanked God for Michelle Alexander” (who argues that white Americans have manipulated the criminal-justice system in order to reinstate slavery and segregation).
These thoroughly representative members — and products — of the cultural elite are the same people who have given us “safe spaces” and “allyship” on college campuses, under the preposterous notion that any American college student who is not white, male, and heterosexual is “unsafe.” The Left has developed a typology of American students as victims, their allies, and their presumed oppressors. When black students at Bard College in 2015 called for an end to “systemic and structural racism on campus . . . so that Black students can go to class without fear,” they were not making a joke. Of course they were treated as truthsayers by Bard president Leon Botstein and Bard’s bureaucrats. When black Princeton students announced that they were “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” adopting the words of civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who had been beaten in the 1950s for trying to vote, no one laughed in the face of these fantastically privileged Princetonians. The press, the campus-rape bureaucracy, and an army of federal regulators proclaim that terrified college co-eds are living through a rape tsunami, which can be eradicated only by campus kangaroo courts.
So rapidly does American oppression metastasize into new forms, in the eyes of the Left, that the Left is constantly forced to coin a new vocabulary for it: microaggression, intersectionality, institutional racism, white privilege, cis privilege, implicit bias, etc.
The media’s contempt for Trump’s use of the phrase “carnage” to describe the rising violence in the inner city is particularly ludicrous. The press has slavishly amplified the Black Lives Matter claim that we are living through an epidemic of racist police shootings of black men. A New York Times editorial from July 2016 was titled “When Will the Killing Stop?” That same month, President Barack Obama asserted that black mothers and fathers were right to fear that their child will be killed by a cop — remarkably, he made this claim during the memorial service for five Dallas police officers gunned down by a Black Lives Matter–inspired assassin.
“Stop killing us” is one of the less profanity-saturated slogans aimed at cops during Black Lives Matter marches. A Black Lives Matter manifesto released last summer called for an end to the “war on black people.” A New York Times op-ed contributor, Roxanne Gay, writes: “As a black woman in America, I do not feel alive. I feel like I am not yet dead. . . . I don’t know how to feel like my life matters when there is so much evidence to the contrary.”
So if Trump is so contemptibly misguided in his description of the rising street violence over the last two years as “carnage,” how does that criminal violence compare with the supposed epidemic of cop killings of black men? In 2015, the last year for which we have official national data, more than 6,000 black males, according to the FBI, were killed by criminals, themselves overwhelmingly black. That is 900 more black males killed in 2015 than in the year before, but the number of black victims was undoubtedly higher even than that, since an additional 2,000 homicide victims were reported to the FBI without a racial identity. Black males make up about half of the nation’s homicide victims, so they presumably make up a similar share of racially unclassified homicide victims.
According to several uncontradicted non-governmental estimates, homicides continued rising throughout 2016, thanks to what I have called the “Ferguson effect”: officers backing off proactive policing in minority neighborhoods, under the relentless charge of racism, and the resulting increase in violent crime.
The year 2016, therefore, probably also saw well over 6,000 black males murdered on the streets. By contrast, the nation’s police fatally shot 16 “unarmed” black males and 20 “unarmed” white males in 2016, according to the Washington Post’s database of police killings. I have put “unarmed” in quotes because the Post’s classification of “unarmed” victims rarely conveys the violence that the suspect directed at the shooting officer. But even when we take the “unarmed” classification at face value, those 16 fatal police shootings of unarmed black men represent no more than 0.2 percent of all black male lives lost to homicide in 2016. If police shootings of allegedly unarmed black males represent a national epidemic of bloodshed, then what should we call the gunning down of over 375 times that number of black men by criminals? “Carnage” seems like a pretty good descriptor. In Chicago alone in 2016, 24 children under the age of twelve, overwhelmingly black, were shot.
Trump has regularly denounced inner-city violence; he promised in his inaugural that that violence “stops right here and stops right now.” He invoked the “child . . . born in the urban sprawl of Detroit” or in the “windswept plains of Nebraska” as both looking up “at the same night sky” and deserving of the same public safety. President Obama scoffed at Trump’s concern over rising urban violence even as he regularly accused the cops of lethally discriminating against blacks. For truth-telling when it comes to the actual dangers in American society, I’ll take the current president over the former one and the cultural milieu from which he emerged.
— Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of The War on Cops.