Public safety and the war against truth


“In a free society, government has the responsibility of protecting us from others, but not from ourselves.” — Walter Williams, George Mason University

AS A RULE WE WRITE about Indiana issues here. Sometimes, though, a national story is so profound it encompasses our most local concerns. So it is with recent testimony before the Congressional Oversight Hearing on Policing Practices.

One witness told the truth, so far as it can be empirically defined. A later witness misdirected the committee — that is, lied — and then declined to provide supporting evidence for his slander of the other witness. But these days conflicting “truths” are acceptable in Washington just as in Alice’s Wonderland.

If it were true, for instance, as the one witness testified, that violent crime in our cities is driven by the racial hatred of white policemen against black civilians, then one course of action is not only recommended but obvious as a matter of both law and morality — cultural reeducation of whites, elevation of black police officers, research into root causes.

But if it were true, as the other witness said, that both white and black civilians are disproportionately the victims of attacks by criminal blacks, then another course is as obvious and as moral — timely crime reporting by citizens, prosecutorial accountability and proactive policing.

And, no, as a matter of public policy they cannot both be correct because there are absolutes at stake — life, death, etc. We have to choose.

Again, it could have been hoped that the members of the committee, our duly elected and amply compensated representatives with subpoena power, all having sworn to get at just this sort of truth, would have helped us with that. They did not, so we will muddle on as mere journalists.

The facts, as presented under oath, are these:

“A study published this August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is just the latest research undercutting the media narrative about race and police shootings. It is the rate of violent crime that determines police shootings, the study found. The more frequently officers encounter violent suspects from any given racial group, the greater the chance that members of that group will be shot by a police officer. In fact, black civilians are shot less, compared with whites, than their rates of violent crime would predict, the study found. If there is a bias in police shootings, it is against white civilians.” — Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute, author of “The War Against Cops” and “The Diversity Delusion”

The politics, also presented under oath, are these:

“None of that is true.” — Phillip Atiba Goff of the Center for Policing Equity

Professor Goff dismissed the cited study as “correlational,” his contention being that it was not an actual experiment but merely a search for causal associations between things that tend to vary in a way unexpected by chance alone.

Nobody in the committee majority or in the media thought to ask how an actual fatal shooting might be ethically designed as a research experiment. If they had, they would have realized that all such studies are necessarily correlational. That would include one by Goff’s own Center for Policing Equity (reaching the same conclusion regarding the rate of black-white shootings as that cited by Mac Donald).

Yes, we have entered the post-truth era. Your uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table will be as close to an unquestioned authority as you will find.

Craig Ladwig is editor of the quarterly Indiana Policy Review. Send comments to [email protected].

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