Monday, November 14, 2022

Charlottesville Shooting

I spent the weekend visiting friends in Charlottesville, Virginia, most of them associated with the university. Among the topics we talked about was how the rise in crime over the last two years has changed the debate over police reform.

Last night a UVA student opened fire in a campus parking garage, killing three and wounding two others; as I write, he is still at large and campus is closed. 

It's a grim reminder that while certain activists like to pretend that the police are the nation's worst instigators of violence, that is not so, and Americans (especially Black Americans) are in much more danger from semi-random acts of violence than they are from rogue cops.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 became a very famous event in some circles, symbolizing the far-right threat to America. But the neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis at that rally, horrible as they were, were far outnumbered by counter-protesters. One person ended up dying, when a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. It was a disturbing event, but I thought the main message was how the mass of people and the authoritites united against Unite the Right.

What will "Charlottesville" mean in the political discourse now that a random black student has killed three times as many people as Unite the Right did?

Pretending that skinheads and the police are our biggest dangers is wrong and dumb. Reforming the police to reduce the harm they cause, which you all know I support, has to be done while acknowledging the danger citizens pose to each other. Most American murders are committed by young men with guns. Some of them are crazy, some of them are criminals, some of them are wrapped up in gangstah machismo. Politically they span the whole spectrum, from Black Lives Matter to Nazism; most of them have no politics at all. I personally want the police to deal with the threat they pose.

The world is full of dangers, and to focus obsessively on one is usually a mistake. I want an effective police force, and I understand that as long as the whole country is full of guns, the police have to carry them too. I understand that armed police will sometimes shoot the wrong person. I think we could do a lot to reduce that number, but it will never be zero. But as long as the threat of thuggery looms, we are going to need police, and pretending otherwise is intellectually bankrupt, callous to crime victims, and political suicide.

The older I get, the more strongly I believe that the most important thing we can do is to defend civilization. There is no guarantee that this astonishingly rich world we have built will endure; plenty of other civilizations have collapsed or faded back into anarchy and village life. We have to defend it against all kinds of threats: random violence, police corruption, ethnic hate, divisive politics, environmental poisons, outside enemies with hypersonic missiles. We especially need to defend it against forgetting. We are too quick to forget dangers once they fade from the headlines, too quick to forget lessons learned in the fires of World War and violent revolution. I am a liberal, which means I think things could be better and support various reforms intended to make them so. But I never forget that my life depends, not on my party winning, but on the survival of our civilization in the face of a chaotic universe.


G. Verloren said...


Americans (especially Black Americans) are in much more danger from semi-random acts of violence than they are from rogue cops.

Yes, but semi-random threats do not swear an oath to serve and protect people. The police murdering people isn't egregious because it's a leading cause of death - it's egregious because the police aren't supposed to murder people, even in small numbers.

America is a massive outlier internationally when it comes to the police murdering people. The rates of such killings are incredibly high compared to comparable affluent Western nations. Instead of having numbers on par with our peers and allies, we have numbers on par with those of impoverished nations and brutal authoritarian regimes.

Moreover, this unacceptably high danger the police present to Americans (while, again, not a leading cause of death) is also massively disproportionately slanted toward ethnic minorities, especially Black Americans. Even worse, it's biased heavily toward young people.

We're talking about people, often teenagers, being shot and killed, John. People murdered by the men and women who are supposed to uphold our laws, often for no apparent reason at all.

Imagine one of your older children driving around town, getting stopped for a routine traffic stop, doing absolutely nothing wrong, and ending up being shot to death. Would you be comforted by the fact that such instances are "less of a danger" to your remaining children than "semi-random violence" is? Or would you demand justice? And how would you feel when the police responsible got away with it, despite how blatantly monstrous their acts were?

This is the reality Black Americans live with every day. It may not be some major leading cause of death, but it is an unbelievable and sickening injustice. No one should be getting shot to death during routine traffic stops where they have done nothing wrong, regardless of race, and your attempts to dismiss and diminish such senseless violence disturb me greatly.

G. Verloren said...


What will "Charlottesville" mean in the political discourse now that a random black student has killed three times as many people as Unite the Right did?

It'll mean exactly the same thing, John, because the two situations aren't comparable, and there's more context to consider in things than raw body count, which you seem strangely fixated on.

Pretending that skinheads and the police are our biggest dangers is wrong and dumb.

Good thing not very many people actually do that. It almost seems as if you are pretending that other people pretend that skinheads and the police are our "biggest" dangers. I don't think you're doing it on purpose, though - I think you just have a deeply flawed perception and understanding of what other people actually are saying or feel.

Again, you are latched onto the notion of "biggest danger", and ignoring the far more important metric of how big an injustice something is - and also that dangers do not exist in a vacuum, but rather stack on top of each other.

On average, slightly over two people are killed by vending machines every year - does that mean if a serial killer goes around at random killing only one person a year, we should simply dismiss and ignore the problem, because they're not even as big a danger as vending machines?

Not all threats are equal. Lightning kills about twenty Americans a year, but we can't really do much about that other than urge people to have common sense and get indoors, avoid trees, etc.

But the police are not lightning. Nor are they vending machines. They are the people we entrust with upholding our laws - the very foundation of a civil society. And we literally allow them to get away with murder, at rates which are wholly out of line for a nation like ours, and with a sickening degree of such violence being directed toward minorities, specifically blacks.

We can't control lightning. We can only partially control "semi-random acts of violence". But there's no excuse - none whatsoever - for failing to control our police.

Anonymous said...

It's a comment, not your own blog.