• Jim Kelly

Do black rights matter?

"Black lives matter" is a terrific slogan for the same reasons as "Make America great again." It's a vague platitude that a wide audience can get on board with and fill in their own specifics. Black lives specifically ended by police? Or lost in drug violence? Or in the poverty of African kleptocracies? And to whom do they matter? If you're throwing your own black life up for grabs on the freeway, aren't you sending the opposite message? The slogan doesn't raise any of these questions, so just raise your fist in solidarity.

White people are less apt to raise fists and occupy freeways but instead to scold each other for their thoughtcrimes. I could pick a million examples, but Marie Claire's is as good as any. It calls white people to purely internal "work" to end racism, by reading from St. Robyn DiAngelo and other luminaries, reflecting upon one's sins, and then "finding ways to engage." There's nothing wrong with self reflection; preachers from their pulpits have been issuing that call to action for centuries. My grandmother would have performed it with rosary beads.

But George Floyd's shooting last summer highlighted more specific problems. Police approached him because they suspected he had printed his own $20 bill nearly as capably as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen does, and was therefore a public menace. Knowing they were going to prosecute him for possessing drugs without a prescription, Floyd gulped way too much fentanyl and was dead minutes later.

The public outcry and Derek Chauvin's trial focused on ancillary matters. Given that police needed to attack Floyd, and forcibly detain him before they could take him off to a cage somewhere, did they pin him to the street in a responsible manner?

The call to defund the police in the wake of Floyd's death is commendable in that it zooms out the picture from the street scene where Floyd died to the police dispatcher sending the men to attack him. After all, if we defunded the police, they would never have attacked him to begin with. Problem solved, right?

The public policy questions

Between reforming local police departments at the micro level or encouraging more white guilt at the macro level, most of the interesting public policy questions pass unremarked on. Although Floyd's death is supposedly an example of "systemic" racism, scant attention has been paid to the specific things "the system" does that end with dead black men.

I detailed the chronology of Floyd's death and identified specific policies of "the system" that brought about his end: the drug and legal tender laws police are expected to enforce.

But if you zoom out further, there are a lot more specific policies the system imposes that disproportionately impact blacks, and where reform could improve their outcomes and reduce the number of George Floyd-style confrontations. How about school vouchers so black parents could penalize worse schools, incent better ones, and along the way raise better kids? How about the end of job certification laws, which primarily protect established businesses and tenured workers against newcomers? How about recognizing that effective self-defense is a right of all citizens, not just those in the police force? How about repealing social engineering laws from cigarette taxes to plastic straw bans that criminalize peaceful citizens? How about ending the drug war? How about letting citizens of all colors keep more of the money they earn? How about ending lockdowns so people can go back to work?

Although all these policies may have a disparate impact on blacks, it's not helpful to view them as examples of "systemic racism" somehow determined by subconcious emanations from white people's brains. They're government policies enacted by a formal process and subject to repeal by that same process, if enough people start identifying them as a problem.

Although most legislators are white, it doesn't help to exhort white people in general to examine their biases, because most white people aren't legislators. They have the same influence over legislators as black people, which is to say little, indirect, and heavily outnumbered by special interests. That's not good news, but if America is suffering from "systemic racism," legislators are the most accountable people in the system.

What should we demand? Rights.

Maybe white "allies" are calling for self reflection and BLM supporters are setting fires in streets because they don't know what to ask for more specifically? With government trying to legislate on so many topics with such complex interactions across society, what reforms could move it reliably in the right direction?

Fortunately, we have an answer: human rights. Specifically a constitution that enshrines an important list of those rights and forbids the government from abridging them. But that's long forgotten and doesn't quite highlight the questions to answered:

Who has the right to decide where your children go to school? You as the parents, or a faceless bureaucrat?

Who has the right to decide whether you can offer or accept job X? You as the manager or job candidate, unions trying to corner the labor market for your industry, or industry associations demanding degrees and certifications "for public safety?"

Who has a right to use a gun in self-defense: you, the cop who pulled you over, or both?

Who has a right to the paycheck you earned: you and your family, or faceless people administering programs you never voted for and probably disapprove of?

Who has the right to engineer the rest of society by force? Can you hold a gun to your neighbor to get him to adopt Buddhism? How about giving up styrofoam cups? Do you have different rights if your employer calls itself the government and has offices in a big marble building bristling with gunmen?

Who has the right to decide what you can smoke? Janet Woodcock, Commissioner of the FDA, or you?

Who has the right to decide whether you walk around with a diaper on your face? Anthony Fauci or you?

Black lives are one of many black rights

The answers to these questions may not be easy and will certainly be controversial, but the questions must be asked. George Floyd's was just one of a hundred million dramas played out every day between the citizens and the System, which are ultimately questions of rights. Who, in a given situation, gets to decide what for whom? Better answer with respect to black lives with likewise improve lives of every other hue.

What you're entitled to is rights to life, liberty and property. When one of those is violated, don't go scolding white people for their subsconscious biases, identify the actual violator and the organization that set the stage. You won't find "whiteness." You'll find specific government actors, specific laws they're enforcing (with guns, obvs), and non-government actors such as George Floyd trying to conduct their lives nevertheless, and often losing.

If you want to see improvement, or that progressive holy grail "Change", it's possible. The government isn't the collection of neutral public servants as we were led to believe, but it is susceptible to the will of the people, the demos. The demos just has to get very specific about what we want.

Stop asking for vague platitudes like "justice" and "equity," dig into the real issues, and see who's really on your side. Your "anti-racist" friend who just voted for the drug war architect and the cop? Your "common sense gun control" friend who wants to defund the police, just as soon as they round up all the guns?

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