I’ve made these points at greater length in other essays, but I can’t seem to get people who disagree to push back in a meaningful way. So I’m trying a different strategy, for the skeptics who seem to think that “social justice ideology” is a bigger threat than the things SJWs protest against. I’m picking on Rod Dreher because he writes a lot about this and is emblematic of a lot of the problems I see on the Right with these issues, but he’s certainly not alone and he’s certainly not the worst of the bunch. Consider this my way of joining the chorus of others like Alan Jacobs and Leah Libresco (skip to the end, Update 8) who are trying to clarify the issues at hand. 

Many prominent cases of police brutality are not as clear-cut as activists make them out to be. There is hardly ever a perfect victim, and often claims are made in the heat of the moment that are found to be untrue later. Perhaps the most prominent case where this happened was with Michael Brown, who by all forensic evidence available seems to have died in a manner consistent with the testimony of Darren Wilson, the officer who killed him.

Police officers are often found to have lied. If activists are quick to assume the worst about police, it’s because experience can validate them. Oftentimes video contradicts police reports, and accountability for these lies is hard to find.

The most prominent cases of police brutality occupy public interest and energy disproportionate to the numbers of deaths per year. The most shocking cases may garner a lot of public attention because they’re dramatic, but if police did not kill anyone in the next year and nothing else changed, we’d hardly notice because it’s usually a thousand people or less a year in America and the problems that lead to police killings are far more pervasive and widespread.

The most prominent cases of police brutality resonate with people because they are the tip of the iceberg. Many African-Americans can easily think of encounters with police where, if things had escalated slightly, they could have been hurt or killed. More pertinently, they have often experienced what they perceive to be excessive discrimination in ways that didn’t necessarily lead to violence but are part of a broader web of suspicion that heightens anxiety and is simply not right in a free republic like America.

Problems other than unjustified police killings deserve more attention because they are more easily addressed. Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force was little more than a rival gang that robbed and extorted. The no-knock warrants that killed Breonna Taylor or injured Baby Bou Bou happen all the time. People suffering from mental health can be de-escalated. Our treatment of prisoners in America, especially those who suffer from mental health issues, is barbaric. Defenders of the police often focus on individual cases where we cannot be entirely certain that racial animus led to an absolutely unjustified killing than those where it is clear that things ought to be changed (e.g. talking about George Floyd’s blood analysis rather than the fact that Breonna Taylor was shot in her own home while unarmed). They’d also rather than talk about individual cases than discuss the systemic issues with difficult but worthwhile solutions.

There is a real problem with crime, especially homicide, in African-American neighborhoods. Go to any predominantly African-American neighborhood community meeting, and you’ll hear residents gripe about crime. They want crimes to be solved, and they don’t want to see their brothers and sons murdered.

The simplest way to think about crime in African-American neighborhoods is “overpoliced and underserved”. Many of these neighborhoods have too much of the wrong kind of policing and not enough of the right kind of policing. 

The crime problem in African-American neighborhoods is not a matter of “culture”, but of justice and policing. I have yet to hear a decent explanation for why, “culturally”, African-Americans are somehow more likely to commit crime or more deserving of intense police surveillance. The simple truth is this: all around the world from the beginning of time, if a community perceives the authority over them to be untrustworthy or capricious, they’ll respect that authority less and handle matters of justice and retribution on their own more. The United States and police in the United States, from the beginning, have been untrustworthy, capricious, and often downright malevolent towards African-Americans. Thus, there is more violence in predominantly African-American communities. Every person within those communities who gets away with a crime decreases the trust in law enforcement by that much, and every person who gets harassed or injured by the police when they have not committed a crime also decreases the trust in law enforcement by that much.

The crime problem, especially the homicide problem, in African-American neighborhoods will not be solved by aggressively stopping and searching and the crime problem does not justify either these tactics nor less legal means. Giving the police wide surveillance powers in certain communities or on certain individuals is often justified because of the increased crime in those communities. More insidiously, abuses like those of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force are shrugged off because the corrupt officers in those cases were just fighting fire with fire. However, the evidence clearly shows that when police officers stop African-Americans disproportionately more often, they find disproportionately less contraband.

There are other solutions for the crime problem, especially the homicide problem, in African-American neighborhoods. People in these neighborhoods crying out for justice need solutions that work. Focused deterrence and violence interruption are two of the most common strategies, but people on the right who talk a great deal about the crime problem never mention either.

Policing and race in America can and should be considered on its own, but these issues are inseparable from broader issues of race in America, especially poverty. It’s extremely difficult to find race-specific fixes for policing-related problems besides, for example, firing officers who are caught being racist. However, because things like poverty are tied up with crime and its deterrence (or lack thereof) and poverty is unmistakably a problem influenced by race in America, we also have to consider those issues separately, too.

African-Americans are more likely to be poor in America because of racial injustice. There’s a lot of different ways in which this has worked out, but between legacy injustices (e.g. mortgage discrimination decades ago that has made it harder for black families to accumulate wealth), the effects of concentrated poverty (e.g. the effects that children experience growing up in a de facto racially segregated neighborhood experience that disadvantage them even more than if they had grown up poor, but in an economically mixed neighborhood), and the effects of ongoing, active discrimination it has to be acknowledged that injustice and racism are not merely relics of the past, but forces of harm in the present.

Symbolic actions in elite spaces take up a lot of our attention bandwidth despite the fact that their significance to actually remedying racial injustice is debatable. All I’ll say is that I think the question of how we might appropriately remedy the injustices mentioned in the previous statement should be discussed as often or more often than symbolic actions like removing statues or getting people fired for statements they made.

Racism in America has all the characteristics of what the Bible calls “powers and principalities”. Racism draws power from the images, ideas, and actions of people who act with prejudice while also exerting power as people resist calls for equity, circle the wagons to protect their unearned privileges, and make decisions that further entrench the racial divisions and disequities in society, however subtly. We use the language of “white supremacy” or “antiblackness” to describe the power of racism in American society because these terms capture the systemic, pervasive nature of racism in specific ways that aren’t susceptible to charges like “reverse racism.”

Racial injustice in America (or any other social justice topic) is not the sole or most important evil. There are many other powers we face and social evils to deal with. The breakdown of families has had profound, measurable effects on countless children and our elites shrug because the Sexual Revolution still allows them to sleep with who they want. Ever-concentrating wealth and poverty is profoundly deleterious to communities of any color, though it has been going on for much longer and in much more pernicious ways for Black communities. Our disregard for the created order has sown chaos and destruction for our bodies, the land, and the food we eat.

Racism in America requires an antiracist movement. Just as the evil of abortion requires an organized movement with specific tactics, goals, policies, so racism requires the same.

“Whiteness” is unnatural and wicked. While enmity between ethnic groups is a perpetually human phenomenon, “race” as we know it today is a more recent invention. As the European desire to explore and dominate other peoples grew, the philosophical and legal justification for this dominance grew alongside it. In order to justify slavery, the inherent inequality of the enslaved peoples had to be established and the inherent superiority of the enslavers had to be reified. Conceptually, what had long been thought of as distinct nations and people groups were mashed together into broader races and eventually enshrined in law. To think of oneself as “white” is not a natural phenomenon; whiteness is a trans-national identity unrelated to family, country, or heritage and specifically created to oppress other races.

How to resolve the wickedness of whiteness is still an open question. I’m personally looking forward to Dr. Willie Jennings’ book After Whiteness.

Working for social justice is an imperative for Christians. What we think of as “procedural justice” (that is, related to crime and its punishment and deterrence) is extremely important in the Bible, but a Christian vision of justice is one in which people have their basic bodily needs met while also urging us all to live righteously and in peace. Neither the Bible nor the Church Fathers made much effort to distinguish between what we would call “private charity” and “government aid”.

Working for racial equity is imperative for Christians. That Christians in America are divided by race and that Christians in America actively fostered racial injustice for centuries is a disgrace and we must right the wrongs done wherever possible.

Social justice ideology unmoored from Christian foundations is bound to go off the rails. Tim Keller’s recent discussion of competing views of justice is very helpful on this subject.

Social justice ideology grows in popularity mostly because Christian witness to justice is unsatisfactory to people with a God-given hunger for justice. If the Church functioned appropriately in its prophetic role, leading the way with a majority of its devout adherents fostering reconciliation and justice in their communities, secular social justice ideology would hardly be able to get a toehold. People are looking elsewhere because the Church in North America has for the most part gone along with broader cultural values that favor the concentration of wealth and privilege, make token statements about diversity, divorce sex from its natural intention, and allow violence in underprivileged communities to be a political pawn.

Rod Dreher gets a lot right. I like how Alan Jacobs put it: “Jonah was definitely the wrong messenger for Nineveh — he even thought so himself — and yet the Ninevites did well to pay attention to him.”

Rod Dreher often gets these questions of race wrong. The most glaring example of this that I can think of is Rod’s disrespectful response to Jemar Tisby when Jemar gave a reasoned critique of Rod’s rather sub-Christian statements about Section 8 housing. He is not always wrong — he wrote a very appropriate post about Ahmaud Arbery, for example — but he rarely lets his good statements and ideas temper or influence his choice of headlines, images, and words about other cases and issues. Jonah was a bigot, and Rod’s choices of what to write about and how to write about it often reveal bigotry.

Things can be better. If Christians provide a clear and consistent public witness on matters of justice — that is, they speak for the underprivileged while living lives of self-sacrifice that reject the mainstream cultural consensus — there is hope. I would argue that the pro-life movement in America has been as successful as it has been in no small part because countless women throughout our nation have experienced grace, love, and truth while there was still relentless political pressure to change laws and policies. Could we see a similar witness on matters of race and justice? I pray and hope so.

Posted by Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org

26 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this post. I especially like the acknowledgment that Rod has posted decent stuff in the past. In my case, it’s precisely *because* he’s previously written well that I find myself so shocked by what he wrote on George Floyd recently. There are a number of social-media responders who’ve instantly taken to demonizing him as evil, but I’d say the incident reveals a certain blindness on Rod’s part that I’d failed to recognize until now. I am, like many, a bit angry and want him to apologize, but I’m also sad and disturbed to see someone who can gauge many cultural issues accurately fail so miserably when it comes to something so important.

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    1. My thoughts exactly, Sam. And thank you, Matthew.

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  2. Matthew, can you please explain more explicitly your objection to Rod’s post? I’m trying to follow the issue, but I don’t really get it. Alan Jacobs seems to be upset specifically about the statement that “George Floyd is dead today almost entirely because of George Floyd.” along with whatever the previous title was. Leah seems to be upset that Rod doesn’t spend more time writing about acknowledging and changing racist structures. Is your point that racism is badder than excesses of anti-racism?

    I’m still not sure why Rod’s column upset so many people. Alan Jacobs says Rod should apologize. What is the charge exactly? I just don’t get it.

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    1. My thoughts were not so much about this particular post, though I agree with both Leah and Rod. The post upset a lot of people because the original title was “Who Killed George Floyd? George Floyd.” and it still blames Floyd for a death that sure seems like it was the police officer’s fault from the start. As Alan points out, it has two contradictory premises: either Floyd could have obeyed and thus would have not been killed by the police officers restraining him, or he was about to die anyway from the drugs that he was using. Personally, I think that if Christian bakers were losing their jobs at the rate that unarmed black men are killed by police in America, Rod would be calling for a violent revolution.

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      1. Thanks Matthew. I never saw the original title. That does seem pretty inflammatory. I never saw that title though, and I don’t think the post reads as extreme without it. It also doesn’t read like it’s trying to make a definitive argument about how/why George Floyd died, but more a long record of Rod’s thoughts on the situation after the release of the new videos.

        After reading what some of Rod’s commenters have said about his physical condition prior to arrest, I’m not sure that George Floyd actually was killed by the police though. I think I would have a hard time being on that jury.

        Do you know the rate of Christian bakers losing their jobs? How does it compare to the rate of unarmed black men being killed by police? I don’t have any idea, but I’d really like to know. Your comment makes it sound like you know that Rod’s concerns about Christian bakers are overstated and that responses to police violence are understated. I’m curious if that’s true. Is there a database somewhere tracking Christian firings? I only know of these things through places like Rod’s blog.

        I read your other article that you linked. You say that people react so strongly to videos of police violence because they are the tip of the iceberg. Is that not the same way that Rod feels about Christian bakers? You say that blacks see police videos and identify with them personally. Isn’t that exactly how Christians (many of Rod’s readers) identify with the stories of Christian bakers?

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        1. Based on the cases that Alliance Defending Freedom has taken up, there’s been perhaps a dozen cases of the state coming after someone in the wedding business for their refusal to participate in a gay wedding in the past decade. About a thousand people are killed by police in America every year, about a quarter of those are black, and a few dozen each year are unarmed. So at least 10 times more in terms of raw numbers, but obviously your base population of Christian bakers is lower than that of black men. But I think the analogy has stuck with you, and that’s my main point: there’s a systemic problem that sffects many of our fellow citizens beyond these headline-grabbing events, and the fact that this particular case isn’t as clear-cut as people would like it to be doesn’t make those any less serious or important.

          I’ve gone on record plenty of times before as saying that I think religious liberty is important. I’m a doctor who support-raises for a living, for goodness sake: if tax status or freedom-of-conscience protections change, I’m in big trouble. So I am one of the people looking at the bakers and everyone else with a little trepidation. I’m just urging all of the other Christians to look at these issues of justice and race and screaming, Rod-style, “Look over here! This is important!”

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          1. Thanks again for your further comments Matthew. Even with the ADF numbers to go on, it’s not clear to me that the Christian baker is more or less subject to injustice than the black man, at least on a percentage basis. Is it clear to you? Maybe Rod should be calling for violent revolution?

            Your “Look over here!” comment reminds me of a post from Alan Jacobs, https://blog.ayjay.org/not-so-much/. I agree. I think it’s ok for Rod to focus on stuff Rod focuses on. Maybe the issue is that Rod’s lanes are broad and he drives across others?

            But I think the real issue is that Rod is pointing out the ways in which George Floyd’s death has been manipulated into supporting a cause that it doesn’t actually support. It’s frustrating because Michael Brown’s death was used the same way and was the genesis for the Black Lives Matter organization. It feels like it’s impossible to bring up these facts without undermining the entire enterprise. I went to school near Laramie WY when Matthew Shepard was murdered. It was a terrible hate crime that spawned a national movement. But then it turned out that the murder wasn’t actually a terrible hate crime, but rather about drugs and money. Now we have a federal hate crime law and foundation and traveling play all based on a false understanding of the event. How can we keep the movement while acknowledging that the foundation is faulty?

            And the bigger question is, should we keep the movement if the foundation is faulty? If the movement isn’t true, why are we still supporting it? That’s why the foci on George Floyd and Michael Brown really matter. Would it be reasonable for Rod to continue to push for Christian baker justice if it turned out that Jack Phillips didn’t just deny a couple a cake, but also wrote them hate mail and vandalized their house? Maybe the other 11 Christian bakers are really standup people acting on their convictions. But if the guy at the center of the argument really is a bigot, it’s not a terribly convincing argument.

            You mentioned that ~300 black men are killed by police each year. Why is George Floyd the spokesman for this group? If this problem is as rampant as you make it sound, shouldn’t there be ~299 other terrible but less complicated stories out there that we could rally around? Are there? They should be the spokesmen. If there aren’t, is this really a solid foundation for this movement? If blacks in America feel a systemic discrimination beyond these headline-grabbing events, can’t we build a movement on that rather than on these complicated police-related deaths?

            I believe there is a real systemic cultural issue that blacks deal with in America. But after the release of this further video, and knowing about Michael Brown and Matthew Shepard (and others), I don’t believe these headline-grabbing cases are part of the same issue. Frankly, I feel manipulated and lied to every time one of these cases becomes a cause. And it makes me doubt that the real issue exists.

          2. Luke, thanks for your response. You raise good questions, all of which I engaged in the original post and essay. I don’t think these cases should be the “foundation” of the movement. I think they animate a lot of people to action, which I suppose is a good thing. But we should be looking at a lot of other cases, and the foundation of the movement should be the statistics that demonstrate the prevalence of the problem. The problem is far more widespread and illustrated through things like the DOJ report on Ferguson, the statistics that Radley Balko has assembled here, and the consistent testimony of our African-American brothers and sisters.

            If you need a case to help fix the problem in your mind, then I think Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, and Tamir Rice immediately come to mind as cases that illustrate the problem with a lot less ambiguity. But there will never be a perfect victim, and I don’t think we should look for one. I think, instead, that we should advocate that the police work harder at not killing people who are not trying to kill them.

      2. Lancelot Andrewes August 7, 2020 at 11:39 pm

        Floyd died of heart failure. Not asphyxiation, but heart failure that was very probably brought on by all the fentanyl and meth he had taken. It is quite wrong to imply that the police killed Floyd. There is more than reasonable doubt that they did so, and that is all that matters as far as the law is concerned.

        There are nearly 20 million Black men in America. In 2019, the police shot dead nine unarmed ones. And in each case, the circumstances were definitely mitigating. Making Black men the equivalent of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto is absurd.

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        1. Lancelot, by what you have said Floyd was dying of heart failure, thus, it follows that the police did not provide appropriate medical aid to a very ill man. Having treated a few thousand people with heart failure over the past decade, I would say that most people with heart failure usually complain of trouble breathing even thought it may not be immediately evident. The officers in the Floyd case may not have sought his death, but their decision to use force was at the very least negligent.

          I did not say that facts don’t matter, if Chauvin is guilty of manslaughter and not murder he should be charged and convicted accordingly. If it can be proven in court that kneeling on a sick man’s neck for 8 minutes shouldn’t kill them, then he should go free. I think it is good that Darren Wilson did not go to jail for shooting Michael Brown, because it looks like he was entirely justified in doing so. It is unquestionable that there are systemic problems and we need systemic reforms. Your insistence on debating a particular case and eliding those bigger questions proves my point.

          Go read a book about whiteness and then come back when you’re ready to chat. I recommend Willie Jennings’ The Christian Imagination.

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  3. Alastair Roberts August 6, 2020 at 5:38 am

    It seems that the evidence increasingly shows that the prevailing understandings of a case that sparked protests and destructive riots across several countries were quite far from the mark of the actual reality on several counts. And, once again, a movement that constantly speaks about ‘justice’ has manifestly failed when it comes to the ABCs of due process, impartiality, carefully hearing matters out before leaping to judgment, etc., etc. And the need for archetypes and symbolism over actual concrete and particular justice will continue to hamper Floyd’s case, making it very difficult for justice to be carried out unhindered or unprejudiced.

    It would not be a bad thing if we were all to sit with the seriousness of these facts for a while. A bad post on a conservative website is exceedingly small fry by comparison. Rod being wrong on the Internet should not be allowed to deflect attention from the graver societal matter here.

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    1. I don’t follow. What were the “several counts” that were “quite far from the actual reality”? what is the “graver societal matter here”?

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      1. Alastair Roberts August 6, 2020 at 12:50 pm

        The rough narrative that was making the rounds (although it was always clear it wasn’t so straightforward) was that the police wilfully and without real provocation used extreme force against Floyd, that Chauvin killed a (presume healthy) black man in cold blood by his chosen restraint, strangling Floyd, and that all of this ultimately had to do with the fact that Floyd was black.

        That narrative is really challenged by the evidence. 1. Floyd was resisting beforehand; 2. Floyd couldn’t breathe BEFORE he was placed on the ground or forceful restraint was applied and requested to be placed there; 3. Floyd was pumped full of drugs and had had COVID-19 and was in a very fragile medical condition; 4. The mode of restraint didn’t involve excessive or dangerous amount of force in more absolute terms—it wouldn’t have strangled a healthy person—although it doubtless exacerbated Floyd’s condition, contributing to his death; 5. An ambulance was called early on and other policies were being followed. Most importantly, it really doesn’t seem that this was anything like the ‘premeditated murder’ (the statement from a lawyer for the Floyd family) on the grounds of race that we’ve been told that it was.

        The graver societal matter is that we have a movement fomenting widespread civil unrest and fundamental challenge to the legitimacy of key institutions and agencies of social order by presenting caricatured portrayals of profoundly complicated and tragic cases like this, as supposedly symbolic of the archetypal murderous antagonism the police have towards black people. And then that, in case after case, closer examination reveals that the situations were badly misrepresented or far more complicated than originally supposed. And then the need for symbolism greatly prejudicing the actual necessary process of justice in particular instances.

        Much of the problem is with the fact is that the ‘justice’ being sought is really being sought against vast and vaguely and tendentiously defined realities such as ‘whiteness’, and all that such rather caricatured and greatly variegated realities represent and symbolize for people. It is much less about securing appropriately impartial procedures and process of justice in specific cases, without prejudicing matters, because people are looking for symbolic catharsis.

        But that isn’t justice.

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        1. Thanks for responding, Alastair.
          1. If someone resists beforehand, that doesn’t justify their death, nor does the justify the degree of force used in this case.
          2. If Floyd couldn’t breathe before he was placed on the ground, then the force applied was not only unnecessary, but also negligent because the officers at that point should have rendered appropriate medical aid to a man who is not breathing
          3. True
          4. The only “absolute” that matters is whether the force one uses is proportionate to the person it’s being applied to. The shove that gave Martin Gugino probably would not have not knocked down, you or I, but it gave him a skull fracture and thus was disproportionate to his actions. Eight minutes of neck restraint for someone having breathing problems is clearly disproportionate, as evidenced by the fact that Floyd was dead by the end of it.
          5. Lawyers say all sorts of things.

          Floyd could have waved a gun at police (or himself) and it still would not have been necessary to kneel on his neck for that long once the gun was out of his hands. However, one of my points is that the facts of sensational cases like these is not particularly germane and no one on either side of the debate should allow this case to be the deciding or motivating factor for understanding the entire issue for the very reasons you mentioned. I agree with you that a lot of people are looking for symbolic carthasis, and I say: symbolic catharsis be damned. If George Floyd’s case means that a movement against racism in policing is tendentious, does the case of Ahmaud Arbery mean that a movement against racism in prosecutors’ offices is valid? Of course not. We have to look at the broader set of facts — which I have linked to plenty of times and explicitly said ought to guide our thinking, particularly when it comes to the particulars of justice being sought. I want impartial procedures and process of justice to be followed in all cases, and I have specifically argued that the system’s failure to follow those procedures and processes are what got us into the mess.

          “Whiteness”, by contrast, is a broader historical-social-spiritual power akin to say, “Moral Therapeutic Deism”, both of which are indeed tendentious defined realities. However, if you read, for example, Jennings’ “The Christian Imagination”, you’ll find it’s not just something a few yahoos on the internet are yelling about.

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          1. Lancelot Andrewes August 8, 2020 at 12:04 am

            1. The police did not seek Floyd’s death, and there is no proof that their actions caused it. Your phraseology implies that the police intended to kill him and used Floyd’s resistance as a legitimating reason. This is not true.

            2 and 4. Floyd was quite obviously delirious and high as a kite. Addicts say these sorts of things all the time in such a condition, without its being true in any way. Furthermore, police are more than vaguely accustomed, if not inured, to these protestations. There is no actual evidence that Floyd was having difficulty breathing, and the coroner’s report shows that he did not die of asphyxiation.

            You follow by making an assertion which means, in effect, that facts don’t matter; all must be interpreted in the light of the ‘unquestionable’ wickedness of the American police. It doesn’t matter what actually happened because Chauvin must be guilty within the wider narrative. Right. Wonderful.

            Incidentally, if you detest the term “White” and want it to disappear, then surely other racial categories should equally be redundant? By that definition, George Floyd wasn’t “Black” at all. Unless of course, “White” is the only invalid racial category, and all others are perfectly acceptable. In which case, you clearly hold some people to a lower standard than others.

          2. I think what Matthew is saying (and Matthew, please correct me if I am wrong) is that even though you may explain away an instance you really cannot deny the pattern… There is a pattern in this country… and that is what is being protested…

            Also, before we dismiss what happened to George Floyd as an “explainable instance,” let’s consider the words of Dostoevsky, “The degree of civilization in a society is revealed by entering its prisons.” George Floyd had been apprehended, he was restrained in police custody– essentially, his welfare was in their hands– and they proceeded to kneel upon him for nearly nine minutes while he audibly begged for air. Is this an act of justice? Is this representative of the society we want to be? But I digress…

            While I resonate with Alastair’s concerns regarding the tendency to treat as certain perspectives on events that are not yet fully in focus, that does not negate the reality that one of the reasons for this tendency is because there is a disturbing pattern at work– a patter than often goes unseen by those of us who do not experience firsthand. So yes, perhaps we can explain away the circumstances around the killing of George Floyd, Michael Brown, and others, but we cannot explain away the pattern of violence to which generations of African Americans have been and still are subjected. This why we must talk in systemic or structural terms, because these instances are not isolated events, but are part of a larger whole. In fact, when we focus so closely on the instances, then we can– all too easily– end up missing the forest for the trees.

            Matthew thanks for the thought provoking article!

    2. Alastair, thank you for stating so succinctly the problem: “once again, a movement that constantly speaks about ‘justice’ has manifestly failed…” It’s so unbelievably heartbreaking to watch: a movement that, charity demands us to believe, has the best motives yet reveals once again how its methods are all too often making matters worse for the very oppressed group they’re seeking to protect. Since George Floyd’s passing, I’ve been so worried that further evidence will come to light (via the press or via due process) that will call into question the “assured” conclusions to which so many of us have come–with such a truly awesome self-confidence and arm-chair expertise: “Why do we need any more witnesses?” What better way to unjustly and unnecessarily aggravate and fracture the already tenuous and fragile relations between our surely-far-from-perfect criminal justice system and the Afro-American community? Yes, if only “we were all to sit with the seriousness [and incompleteness!] of these facts for while.”

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  4. Thank you for this article. You have said a lot things very clearly that I wish I could say. I would quibble with a couple things (the complete rejection of “culture” when it comes to crime in African-American neighborhoods, and the description of “whiteness” as inherently wicked), but I think most of these points are very strong and need to be acknowledged and moved to the front of the conversation, particularly among conservative Christians.

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  5. To those who say Floyd’s heart failure was caused by the drugs he’d taken, imagine the heart-racing anxiety caused by a cop kneeling on your neck for eight minutes. Floyd’s behavior doesn’t excuse Chauvin’s negligence, and without his negligence Floyd would probably still be alive.

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    1. Ken, both of Chauvin’s knees were on Floyd’s body. How familiar are you with the maneuver? Have you done it yourself? Do you know the distribution of Chauvin’s weight between his two knees? Maybe it was all resting on the knee above Floyd’s neck, so that it was overwhelmingly responsible for Floyd’s death. But maybe it was primarily on the other knee, leaving Floyd’s airway open. We don’t know. And that–the fact that we don’t know–is the weightiest point of all.

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      1. That’s worth considering, Brandon, thank you. But why 8 long minutes? To me that indicates callousness at least.

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  6. Thank you for writing these sober, carefully thought through reflections. It’s unfortunate that the online dynamic so often encourages us to be intemperate and to let our tongues be a fiery world of unrighteousness, a deadly poison, as James writes.

    I think the problem of abuse of police power should be treated as a related but distinct problem from racism. I’m confident that anti-black (and anti-poor) biases make the victims of police abuse disproportionately black, but they are not exclusively so (see, for instance, the case of Ryan Whittaker, who was shot in the back and killed by Arizona police responding to a noise complaint this past May). Portraying police abuse as exclusively a subset of racism runs the risk you point out here of focusing on symbolic anti-racist actions, such as renaming buildings or corporate diversity training, rather than the practical reforms that will help those, black or otherwise, who suffer from police abuse.

    Of course, even if I think the best way to handle police abuse is not focusing primarily on eliminating the racism in people’s souls, that racism is a genuine and serious problem in its own right. I grieve it, but I can’t say I have the confidence many seem to have in how to approach it. The question of whiteness you bring up does weigh on my heart, since I am someone who, when confronted with the race question in forms, can’t check any box besides White. If thinking of myself as white is itself evil, than how instead should I think of myself? You mention that you are not yourself sure how to resolve the wickedness of whiteness, and maybe there is no real answer. Certainly it seems to me that the majority of anti-racism proponents today don’t believe there is any alternative – White vs. People of Color is the eternal reality, and there is no alternative for White people but to engage in unending self-flagellation for our intrinsic participation in the evils of Whiteness.

    I’ve seen some people propose that white Americans should instead seek to identify with the pre-white ethnicity of their European ancestors. Groups such as the Irish or Italians which are now subsumed under the racial category of white were once seen as ethnic minorities in America against the backgroup of the dominant Anglo-Saxon culture, and so by elevating them once again the stranglehold of whiteness can be broken. That seems to be the idea, anyway. Maybe there are some who that mode of thinking can work for. But I, who lie at the remove of many generations from my ancestors who immigrated to America, can’t very well roll back two centuries of history and pretend that I am in any way European rather than American. And besides, my ancestors were predominantly of that perpetually dominant Anglo-Saxon culture to begin with. So that’s a dead end.

    Then there are a few who propose to move beyond thinking in racial categories altogether, Thomas Chatterton Williams being perhaps the most prominent example. I find that way of thinking attractive, even while I can hardly believe it to be realistically possible. I know some will say I find moving beyond race attractive simply because I’m trying to escape my complicity in white supremacy, and I don’t want to do that – I fully accept my participation in collective guilt. Still, without moving beyond race in some fashion, I can’t see any possibility for hope in this world.

    Jesus Christ, in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, is that possibility beyond race I see. Of course, the reality of the church has never lived up to that ideal of Christ. But I still believe it – I have to, because there is no other viable option for me. I may not be able to shed my whiteness, but I can still find redemption from that and all my other sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. I may not be able to make a dent in systemic racism, but I still believe that, resting on that redemption, God can use me for the good of others in some meager way, maybe even for the momentary healing of racial hatred in one particular situation. If we’re to have a Christian approach to race, alongside the necessary condemnation of injustice this hope of redemption must be present as well. Jesus spoke harshly towards those who believed they weren’t wicked, but offered forgiveness to those who were convinced of their own wickedness. That dynamic is at the core of the Christian message, and I think it remains relevant to the issue of racism, if we’re to avoid either pride or despair.

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  7. Thanks, Matt. Imho, you’ve made a few good points. You’ll probably take this as an insult, but it’s not intended to be: overall, I’d encourage you to read more–a lot more–before writing any further on this topic. Read:

    Kennedy’s Race, Crime and the law (maybe Sellout, as well)
    Loury’s The Anatomy of Racial Inequality
    Sowell’s Discrimination and Disparities (and Intellectuals & Race?)
    McWhorter’s Losing the Race
    Field and Field’s Racecraft
    Stuntz’s Collapse of American Criminal Justice
    The relevant research by Roland Fryer, Jr.
    West’s Race Matters (dated but seminal)
    Buck’s Acting White
    Chappell’s A Stone of Hope

    And if you’re ready for it:

    Murray’s Coming Apart

    All the best,

    b

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    1. thanks, will try but living overseas my access to books is very limited. Read Coming Apart when it came out a few years ago, can’t say I loved the book itself but the ideas he talks about are pretty crucial for all of us to understand and part of my life’s mission is getting Christians to vote with their feet against the sort of thing Murray talks about. No insult received, always happy to learn more.

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  8. Thanks for writing. I find the Dreher vein of social/racial commentary in Christian discourse to be so frustrating and I struggle to respond in a gracious way. This is a helpful resource.

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  9. Focused Deterrence in theory seems to be a workable solution that will ameliorate at least a percentage of the problem of violence. The thing that sticks with me is that most of the inner cities are controlled by democrats and if the solution is this clear why don’t they fund it further…….so where does the tax money go??? Prostitution, drugs, gambling, car theft, extortion, there is a lot of money to be made and to protect turf, violence is used. When I was a kid I rolled out of bed to see people going to work as electricians, plumbers, produce managers, barbers, cops, transit workers, businessmen etc.. Kids in the inner city see a brother walking in with 3k from jacking a BMW or with a thousand bucks from standing on a street corner and selling product…..that’s part of the problem and not everyone in the inner city experiences that slice of life but there seems to be enough of it going on to freeze people to inaction…..snitches get stitches…..

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