When asked in a recent CBS News interview why African Americans are still dying at the hand of law enforcement, Donald Trump replied: “So are white people.” Barely unable to contain his disdain – punctuated by telling interviewer Catherine Herridge, “What a terrible question to ask” – he added that even more white people are killed by police.
The obvious distinction is that police kill Black men and women at disproportionate rates, ranging from 2.5-3 times more often than white Americans, according to numerous reports. More importantly, Trump’s assertion doesn’t undermine Black Lives Matter and arguments for police abolition the way he and his rightwing allies believe. If anything, he made the case for them.
The primary argument of prominent Black Lives Matter protesters is that Black people should be the center of conversations about policing because they are killed at higher rates due to systemic injustices, white supremacy inherent to the police state, and implicit anti-Black bias among officers. The rate of these killings, and the delayed consequences, if there are any, reveals that Black lives are not treated as equally as white lives in this country.
The abolitionist argument goes a step further, arguing that we should abolish the police altogether, because the police cannot be reformed. Their fundamental purpose is controlling people and communities through violent means, and policing funds can be better allocated to social services and proven interventions that prevent crime.
Trump, naturally, did not raise any of these arguments and counter them. He did not actually dispute that police kill Black people. He essentially said: “Even more people are killed than we talk about! Gotcha!” Thanks, Trump, that’s the point! Perhaps it would be more likely that we could create more peaceful, thriving communities – where race and postal code don’t determine our life chances – if “even more” white people grasped how police repression and incarceration harm all of us.
As Ryan Cooper at the Week noted: “[T]he white American rate of 20.4 killings per 10 million population is more than twice as high as the overall Canadian rate, more than 10 times the New Zealand rate, more that 15 times the German rate, and more than 100 times the Japanese rate.”
America’s incarceration rate is just as abominable. A Prison Policy Initiative study on mass incarceration found that most US states have higher incarceration rates than every country in the world.
I would love if Trump and the right continued their “Well, actually” line argument from police violence to incarceration. “Well, actually, cops kill even more people!” Please, shout it from the rooftops.
Of course, this won’t happen. Trump and his allies don’t genuinely care about police repression. Slogans like All Lives Matter and its pro-police twin, Blue Lives Matter, like Trump’s comments, are counter-protests meant to silence and dismiss, not raise awareness of the inherent injustice of policing.
White conservatives like Trump can make the claim that, in absolute numbers, more white people experience police violence than black people. But what matters is the disproportionate representation of black people in police killings. It’s what makes it more likely, if you are a black person, to know someone who has experienced police violence or have experienced it yourself. .
I’ve been in the driver’s seat and a passenger of these encounters. In one, a police officer stopped a friend’s car, forcing us to sit in the dark in nervous silence, each of us quietly contemplating if we might die. Though his only crime was being a dark-skinned Black man driving a nice car – the cop gave us absolutely no justification for the stop – any movement he or I made could be seen as a threat.
I also will never forget the time I lived in a predominantly Black, working-class neighborhood in which police officers regularly set up random checkpoints at all hours of the night. Each time I was stopped, I compliantly handed over my license, seething over the flashing lights and regularly occupied streets, thinking about my fellow Black and Latino neighbors also subjected to wasted minutes and hours that could have been spent getting on with our lives. Cops were always fishing for a problem. And there was constant worry that they’d accidentally create one. Our blackness, alone, was treated as grounds for suspicion.
These encounters add up. Nothing serious will probably happen in any of them. But there is always a threat that it will – and a concern that it could happen to our cousins, friends, uncles, fathers and other Black men. It means a perpetual sense of unease for entire communities.
Black Lives Matter and abolitionists don’t think anyone – black or white – deserves this constant threat of violence. Because we experience this violence at higher rates, and because controlling Black people is at the root of policing, helping us helps everyone. But that’s not what Trump wants to do. Trump and All Lives Matter counterprotestors should drop the pretense and just say what they’re actually arguing: “No Lives Matter.”