April 15, 2012

Richard Land, Race and Crime

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 12:19 pm

Fred Clark has been chronicling some offensive and racist statements made by Richard Land, the president of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. By virtue of his office, one would think that Land would embrace the highest ethical standards of the Christian faith. But not so. On his radio show, Land said that passions around the killing of Trayvon Martin are being inflamed by “race hustlers”, including President Obama, for purely political reasons. But where he really went off the ethical rails was when he later justified his statements, saying that “a black man is ‘statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man’.”

On its face, this can seem like a reasonable and factual statement to make. After all, the per capita rate of murders committed by blacks is seven times that of whites. Let’s accept this statistic as accurate, unsullied by disproportionate arrest, prosecution and conviction rates between blacks and whites. Doesn’t this justify increased suspicion and surveillance of young black males over whites?

No. No it doesn’t.

The murder rate is roughly 5 murders per 100,000 people per year in the US. Ignoring the fact that some murderers will have multiple victims, this means that for a population of 160,000, seven people will be murdered by a black, and one will be murdered by a white. Which means that 159,992 people will not be murdered by anyone, black or white.

The probability of someone being murdered by a black is 0.004%. But this back of the envelope calculation ignores quite a few important factors. First, black crime is far more often black-on-black crime. Victims of crime typically know the perpetrator. Crime rates are higher in certain areas at certain times of day. Perpetrators have motives and a desire to avoid arrest, both of which make it easier to avoid them (e.g. don’t walk down a dark alley while counting out loud your stacks of 20 dollar bills). The chances of a white person becoming a random victim of violent crime without any warning at the hands of a black person are effectively zero.

All of this means that using the sole criteria of a person’s race to determine whether they mean you harm, independent of any other sign of danger or intent, is guaranteed to give the wrong answer! It is more likely to miss a white perpetrator of violent crime as it is to correctly identify a black perpetrator.

If Land’s statement falls apart upon a minute’s reflection, why do Land and so many others find it compelling? Because it’s not really about understanding crime and public safety. It’s about tribalism. It comes from a sub-rational, primeval reaction to those outside our tribe, that if they are not us then they are an enemy to be feared and hated. An enemy must be conquered before they conquer us.

But remember, Land is a Christian ethicist. Christianity holds that all people bear the imago dei, even more, that the face of the other is the face of Jesus, that we are to welcome the stranger, that it is the Samaritan and not the priest who has done God’s will, that we are neither Greek nor Jew. Christ calls us to move beyond tribalism and into the City of God.

Which makes me think that Richard Land is not very good at his job. Which is why he should be fired.

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