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Why I was disappointed by the Jillian Johnson Facebook tempest, and why it really matters

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 4.25.51 PMUnless you've been trapped in Faraday cage these past couple of weeks, unable to discern the blue-light glow of your latest smartphone Twitter alerts, you've certainly heard about Jillian Johnson's famous Facebook fracas.

The first-term City Councilwoman was apparently taken aback at the reaction that her post about police and the military being the "most dangerous people with guns," as the N&O's Virginia Bridges notes in today's very good summary of the matter:

However, Johnson’s outspoken, activist style drew backlash last week after she posted a statement on Facebook as members of the U.S. House of Representatives unsuccessfully called for measures to curb gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists following the Orlando shooting in the Pulse nightclub.

“I am all about keeping guns away from dangerous people,” she wrote, “but I feel like more of us should be pointing out that the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers, and that the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling and Islamophobia.”

Johnson posted a clarification Wednesday morning, saying “state-sanctioned violence causes more harm” than non-state sanctioned violence.

Every action has an opposite and likely unequal reaction, and the comments -- circulated from her personal Facebook page to an audience far wider than she expected -- led to a predictable reaction from those in and related to the law enforcement community, some of whom called for her resignation.

And, of course, the comments section of sites like the N&O's web site were as banal as one would expect, with predictably-racist diatribes involving returning to Africa, or criticism of black men and fathers.

And, just as predictably, came the full-throated defense of Johnson's comments from the most progressive in Durham's progressive community, many of whom seem to be members of the activist community that Johnson has long participated in, organized and championed.

All of which has made for, I am sorry to say, a terribly unenlightening and unenlightened debate. It is possible, indeed far more important, to disagree with her comments without the jingoism and call to proverbial arms we have seen in the initial pushback.

But the progressive defense of Johnson's comments is also, to these ears, tone-deaf and unable to be supported by the facts on the ground -- as we note beyond the jump, the CDC's statistics find that homicide is, by a factor of 50x, a more likely cause of death for young black males than police action.

In a sense, this very debate is emblematic of the poor coin of the current political discourse's realm. 


Because the concept that police officers are among the "most dangerous" people with guns, while touching emotionally raw wounds in the shadows of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others, is logically inconsistent with the sources, uses and users of guns and violence, in a way that undermines the very important point underlying Johnson's comments.

Because the use of policing power in the public interest is a necessary function of any division of government, and while Johnson shows great promise as one who can reform the work, the seeming eschewment of its validity and purpose could undermine that end.

Because the intersection of the fundamental tensions here -- the acknowledged misuse of power at times by law enforcement, coupled with the inalienable necessity of policing functions to exist -- makes it crucial that elected officials engage and not pigeonhole the subject.

At the end of the day, Johnson's activist background is one of the things that drives the passion and engagement so many citizens have with Durham's newest elected official.

Yet it may be hard to hold the reins of power and a picket sign simultaneously.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First, let's start with what seems problematic in the arguments made in the initial post and the walkback that followed.

As noted above, I winced at the push from some corners calling for Johnson's resignation, or otherwise drawing a thin blue shield around the general topic she raised. That malpractices and violence have existed for a long time in policing is, at this point, incontrovertible -- yet there are those who seem to argue whenever police are challenged that the work is too dangerous, the sacrifices too great, for us to denigrate the mass for the acts of those who transgress.

Yet while I recognize and appreciate that there is a strong need for "policing the police" -- the notion that "the most dangerous people with guns" are law enforcement and soldiers is -- I'm sorry to have to be the one to say it -- completely indefensible.

(To acknowledge something we'll note below -- Johnson's comments in the Indy, a week after this controversy bubbled up, find her acknowledging that violence levels in the community clearly outweigh that inflected by policing. Yet I've heard versions of the same point she raised in other corners, and it's useful for a moment to put data to hyperbole.)

There have absolutely been cases -- Cleveland, Baltimore, Ferguson, and some would argue Durham and Raleigh -- where police actions or inactions have caused a loss of life.

Yet as BCR's Lisa Sorg noted earlier this year, January 2015 was the most dangerous, violent year in our City's recordkeeping, and firearms used by Bull City denizens were the overwhelming cause:

Guns, not surprisingly, were used in the majority of violent crimes: In nearly two-third of robberies, the suspect used a firearm. And 44 percent of the 1,336 aggravated assaults involving multiple victims also involved guns. “This is the result of people shooting at occupied dwellings,” Smith says, “often ongoing disputes.” [...]

Violent crime clearly occurs in East Durham, but there were five murders even in the western fringes of the city. At least one of these appeared to be the result of domestic violence; in fact, 10 of the 37 homicides were attributed to that type of crime.

This brings us to the victims, often lost in the haze of numbers and percentages. African-American men and boys are disproportionately harmed: They compose roughly two-thirds of violent-crime victims. This compares to whites, who make up 15 percent of violent crime victims and Latinos, at 17 percent.

214 aggravated assaults where guns were used. 37 homicides, the vast majority committed at the lethal end of a barrel sight.

Indeed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, who noted in a 2013 analysis the following causes of death for black males aged 20-24:

  • Homicide, 49.9%
  • Unintentional injuries, 19.4%
  • Suicide, 9.1%
  • A list of maladies ranging from anemias to cancer to heart diseases, between 0.9% and 4.1%
  • "Legal intervention," 0.8% -- defined as "Physical or other force used by police or other law-enforcing agents, including military on duty, in the course of arresting or attempting to arrest lawbreakers, suppressing disturbances, maintaining order, and other legal action. Includes legal execution and excludes citizen arrest."

So, if we want to get technical, a young black male is roughly 50 times more likely to be killed by homicide than by "legal intervention."

We don't have the data in this CDC summary to disaggregate further the category of legal intervention, but would note that this category includes those deaths that are considered justified -- including when a law enforcement officer is acting properly when responding to a crime in progress. 

Yes, some fraction of these deaths are doubtlessly unjustified. (Exactly how many is a more pertinent question than ever.) 

But it is also the case that homicides where law enforcement officers are not involved are far more common than the alleged iatrogenic deaths implied in Johnson's comment.

Indeed, this fraction would point out the necessity of policing (done right) as a form of common protection against homicide and violent crime, and to bring justice when such acts happen.

The above liturgy of statistics is, of course, wholly unnecessary to engage the topic, and the depth I go into here risks alienating, insulting or (to use a Millennial term!) "mansplaining" a problem that, as Charlie Reece notes in his own Facebook response to this issue, I cannot directly engage with as a white male.

And yet, given the nature of today's political discourse and our collective and individual easy-retreats to intellectual safe spaces, I feel it's actually necessary to put out there what the data show.

Because when it comes to this debate, there are other statistics being bandied about that lack much cohesion to reality.

Take one of the arguments made on a local blog (whose cite I cannot find at this writing) supporting Johnson's statement, arguing that deaths by police action far outweigh deaths by terrorists in the US.

By any stretch of logic, this is a patently absurd argument. (Police do not merely protect us from terrorists, e.g.)

Yet it is part and parcel of the level of debate taking place today.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Of course, there's a deeper argument underlying Johnson's day-after clarification, in which she notes that she considers the harm that "state-sponsored violence" causes to be greater than that from other forms of violence.

Looking at the protests in Durham in recent years, the pain of families like Jesus Huerta's, there is no doubt that the actions of police in Durham, and certainly elsewhere in this time of troubled community-policing relationships, create a great deal of real as well as psychic harm, fear and mistrust in communities.

Yet when I hear Johnson's comments about the greater danger of "state-sponsored violence," I can't help but wonder how much distance lies between her words and the very real conversations going on in a segment of Durham today about "divesting" from police.

To me, the assumptions underlying that concept are impossible to contemplate.

It speaks to a deep, permanent, structural mistrust of sources and uses of power that does not seek to reform policing -- it seeks instead to remove it.

As Reece noted in his Facebook post, it would be condescending of me to believe that I have all the answers -- or more importantly, that I know all the pain, fear, racial injustice and violence that those who have been ill-served by policing feel.

Yet I also know that the solution must lie in fixing both the immediate causes of the problem -- reforming today's policing systems, adding real community oversight, but also addressing root causes of inequality and disagreement.

Sometimes, though, it's not clear to me who wants to fix what's broken, and who wants to break things beyond fixing.

And the greatest worry I have in watching this controversy unfold is, a City Council member should be unassailably, permanently, immovably on the former side of that line. 

The most worrisome thing to me in this affair is, it likely leaves too much ambiguity around that question dangling in the air. 


When I see an arch-conservative elected to public office whose first desire is to slash and burn the very underpinnings of the body politic, to cut schools and environmental protection and libraries all in the name of some Grover Norquistian fantasy, I rightfully wonder -- what the hell is a person who cares not about the public goods that government delivers, doing in government?

Yet the same skepticism must apply to those on the left as well.

A Council member who is as passionate, intelligent and engaged as Johnson can be a force for remarkable good in encouraging reforms and changes within Durham's policing systems. And indeed, the selection of a promising new chief, pressure on body camera policies, and scrutiny of jail conditions are all good.

I am certain that Johnson will continue to press for such changes, just as her advocacy among others' has helped to cause them.

Yet comments about police being "the most dangerous" gun users, or speaking of the danger in the state's inherent policing power, come at a time when they're easily misunderstood.

Mind you, these come at a time when staff at Cocoa Cinnamon see fit to stage a workers' revolt when their coffeeshop partners with police on a thanks-for-not-jaywalking campaign.

They come at a time where there is at least a self-serious movement to divest in police -- a movement that at some level seems to believe we would be better off without police in communities at all.

(Frankly, the level of abuses within our own legal system even with its checks and balances makes me shudder at a system with even less oversight and electoral accountability, but then, I don't dwell in the fantasy aisle at the bookstore, and I won't dwell on this particularly policy fantasy, either.)

They come amidst difficulties in recruiting and retaining police officers. Could such comments encourage a striving, fair-minded officer to choose elsewhere, while a cynical, capricious LEO shrugs and stays for the paycheck?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Is it likely that Johnson literally believes that a person is at more direct risk from law enforcement officers in Durham than from community violence?

No -- indeed, Johnson quickly noted exactly this in comments to the Indy:

For her part, Johnson says she was making a broad point about policing and militarization to an audience—her private Facebook friends—that regularly engages in such conversations. "Outside my personal Facebook community, that message gets distorted and lost," she says.

"I don't think the police in Durham are more likely to cause harm to the Durham community than street violence," Johnson adds. "But I do think when they do cause harm—and they have—that needs to be quickly and effectively addressed."

I find it hard to quarrel with any part of Johnson's argument here.

Yet it is also a fundamentally different text and subtext here than the comment of a week prior. And it's those original comments that have been far too widely propagated for comfort.

More to the point, I suspect there are those in Durham's activist community who will accept the original comments as shorthand for the movement, the effort going on to reform -- and others in the community who literally believe this to be so, and see no hope for fixing a system they see as irrevocably broken.

The latter is a dead end for public policy.

And it's unfortunate that this affair will further foreswear some in the community to Johnson's position and perspectives.

This may be nothing more than a case of, as Johnson implies to Barry Saunders, comments among friends getting a wider, unintended circulation than intended.

Yet I hope this will also be a moment when, perhaps, we can remember the importance that perception has, and the important roles that community leaders have in, well, really leading a community.

You do not have to go back far in Durham's history to encounter some times of fairly terrible governance, and some fairly terrible elected and appointed officials to go along with it.

We have also had those who have been voices of reason, calm, compromise, engagement. And these latter officials have invariably been those who moved our community forward.

Johnson's strength lies in her engagement with the community, and she is not the kind of Council member to turn her back on protest marches and people's movements.

Yet there is a fundamental difference -- in tone, in contemplation, and in reflection -- between the work on activist front-lines and what happens at the dais.

Movements and marches are clearly very well-planned, yes, but they also ride a tide of immediacy and energy.

How many of us in our community, dear readers, were absolutely certain Something Terrible happened in that house on Buchanan Blvd. so many years ago? How many of us were on the lawn, with the pots, with the anger and sorrow in our hearts?

It was an open and shut case, everyone was sure -- until it wasn't.

Looking back, it was the great strength of Mayor Bell and of leaders at NC Central and Duke who called for cooler heads and calm to prevail.

(Frankly, the abhorrence so many younger Durhamites seem to hold for Bell's leadership sits to me as part and parcel of the Year of Bernie, Trump and Brexit, and the lack of taste we have for any form of compromise. Scorched earth over consilience, in all things in the public sphere; it leaves the nastiest, bitterest taste.)

"It will be very interesting to see how she balances that responsibility with her activist impulses," the Indy's David Hudnall wrote, closing his article in last week's issue.

It will indeed.

I only hope that should Durham have a real crisis in leadership or the public realm, that Johnson's voice will grow into one that can unite diverse voices, not divide it.




I believe that Jillian Johnson’s original words in her facebook post did not cause new divisions in our community, rather, they exposed some of the deep divisions that already exist. And what has come of it? There have been over a thousand comments in various media threads, representing a wide spectrum of Durham. People have taken the time to share their views on some of the most important questions of our historical moment. For example, there have been thousands of words written about the difference between “structural violence/oppression vs. individual actions;” various articulations of what constitutes “violence,” how we measure it, and why we should care; deep reflections of race and class “privilege” and how that affects an individual’s relationship to policing and/or the military; personal stories of what makes someone feel safe or unsafe. And so much more.

Witnessing these divisions made visible and raw is deeply unsettling, and it should be. I embrace the discomfort, because I believe that honest dialogue (more so than polite dialogue) is how we sow the seeds of transformation. I keep coming back in my mind to the story of Ann Atwater and CP Ellis and the story of the Durham Schools integration efforts, which is so important in the Durham stories we tell. And how a lot of screaming and hurt had to be released before a deeper process of change could occur. My hope is that we can harness this raw nerve energy into a broader community process to dream a bigger collective dream of what a new vision of public safety looks like. Spirit House and the FADE coalition have already started this vital work. There is a tremendous opportunity for Durham’s political and community organizations to seize this moment and move forward to create intentional space(s) to continue this dialogue offline, in face to face settings. I hope we seize it.

Ram Neta

@Rann and @Michael: no group that feels oppressed is likely to be open to dialogue. That some groups are oppressed and others are not may be a fact, but simply pointing out that fact does not help to encourage open dialogue, since it does nothing to dispel the illusion of oppression. Try cracking down on the group that hallucinates its own oppression and see what results. And if the group in question is a bureaucracy, watch them close ranks and maneuver to protect their own. Imagine if I were to say that, since corporal punishment is very widely practiced in NC public schools, and data indicate how harmful such punishment is long-term, there is no more dangerous group in NC than public school teachers? What would the effect of that statement be?


@Ram: The effect would likely be increased public debate, school boards discussing corporal punishment, and perhaps a long-term change of law and policy toward a ban on corporal punishment.

Sounds terrible.

As Mel pointed out above, the analogous first step is already happening as a result of Councilperson Johnson's comments. Maybe we can try to move toward the next steps.


#AltonSterling. He was not killed by police in Durham but his death at the hands of police speaks to a national context in which police are over-militarized, flooded with military weapons and trained in military tactics that teach them to view the citizens they are to serve and protect as populations to be subdued and in which they seldom face criminal charges for killing citizens in their role as police officers--even when these killings are caught on film and would clearly be recognized as homicides were they committed by anyone else. This is compounded by a national gun sickness that floods our streets with guns and by laws and anticrime tactics imbued with racism and hostility to poor people. This is a recipe for disaster. And the disaster
disproportionally affects poor people and people of color. To get a sense of how systemic and national the problem is, look at how much of our national budget goes to the military vs how much goes to education, health care, infrastructure, public transportation, research. It all pales in comparison to the bloated military budget. How do we begin to talk about these issues if every criticism of police, policing and budget/crime/military priorities is met with a knee-jerk "not all police" defense. Of course not all police-but certainly enough dispersed nationally and even here in Durham to at least acknowledge a real problem with policing and how it intersects with race, economics and domestic& foreign policies. To criticize policing and the militarization of America as Jillian did is not the same as saying police should be abolished or all police are bad. It is to call for serious analysis and discussion about our priorities and values and how to achieve them.

Ruby Sinreich

I don't have time to read all these comments right now, but I am with Rann and Anthony and the many others to who understand what Jillian Johnson was talking about when we think about the big picture of entire communities here and abroad who live in fear of authority figures with guns. I completely agreed with her comments, and think it was perfectly appropriate for her to post them on her *personal* Facebook profile.

I voted for her because she shared my concern about over-policing in Durham. Why should I be surprised to hear her articulate this? She's been a great addition to the Council so far and next time I will probably do even more to raise money and votes for her.

This intensive analysis of whether or not certain data supports her views doesn't change the fact that Councilmember Johnson can and should say whatever she wants to her friends and fans on Facebook without fear of being threatened by law enforcement "leaders" who rightfully should be more concerned about the fact that the community they are supposed to protect actually FEARS them. The data isn't even the point, and I strongly dislike the way it's being used here to evade the actual problem.

Jeff Bakalchuck

How about accounting for the number of lives saved by law enforcement officers? Shouldn't we use the net lives killed(or saved) as a better metric or does lives saved not count?

Just yesterday a Durham County sheriff's deputy along with firefighters saved 2 people from drowning in south Durham.


@Jeff: So as long as they do their jobs (saving lives), it's ok for them to destroy people's lives?

The window cleaner cleaned some windows today, so that folks could have lovely light shine into their office, making their lives better. So let's ignore the fact that he then shoved someone off a platform on the 30th floor because he didn't like the way they were looking at him.

Ruby Sinreich

A friend of mine just posted this on Facebook his afternoon:

Yes, Black America Fears the Police. Here’s Why.
by Nikole Hannah-Jones
ProPublica, March 4, 2015, 9:14 p.m.


is it ethical to offer posts if you don't have time to read others'?

Jeff Bakalchuck


Of course not, and I never said any such thing.

Are you saying that a law enforcement office jumping into a creek to save two people from drowning is the same as someone cleaning your window?

Michael Bacon

@Jeff this comment thread has been blessedly free of the "ACAB" type of commentary on the police. You'll notice not one person has said that police never do good things.

I'm going to get self-referential and quote myself from my prior comment:

"Now, with that said, we now have in the body that ultimately supervises the work of the Durham police a member stating the fears of a large portion of our community, the community that is also most victimized by crime. That alone is not nearly enough to bridge the divide of mistrust, but it is a far better start than insisting on the inherent goodness of the police and shouting down anyone who disagrees, which is what has happened in this whole sorry mess."

Why are people so threatened by any criticism of the police? If we have problems in the police department, and the data as collated by groups like FADE are fairly strong in determining that we do have problems with policing, we should be able to talk about them and try to fix them. But police-hero-worship seems to get in the way of this. That's a really sad thing.

Chris Tiffany

Unlike many of those commenting on this story on some sites, I live in Durham,
and worked for the police (elsewhere) for years,
and would only make ONE correction to Jillian's remarks:
It's true that "[SOME OF] the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers"
especially when, as in Durham,
the use of guns by cops
is undocumented
with no after-action review. Very unprofessional, and NOT consistent with best practices.

ANY angry stranger pointing a gun at you is dangerous, and cops here do it so often that
cops are most certainly among the most dangerous people with guns, especially since
cops' GUN PLAY here is undocumented.

Many millions of people have been killed in the past century by soldiers and
many thousands of people have been killed by cops in this country alone,
including thousands lynched, almost always with law enforcement as accessories,
and sometimes even the perpetrators,
as well as, even now, actively or passively encouraging criminal violence
& teaching/modeling violence to kids who emulate them.

For those of you who don't know Durham, it is the only jurisdiction around here that
does not require cops to document the use of weapons. I've been stopped by cops
here in Durham HUNDREDS of times going to work, leaving work, going to Church, etc.,
with blatant racial remarks from cops
a common feature of most of those stops.

I've been stopped at gunpoint, searched at gunpoint, & explicitly threatened with death
by cops. 2 cops told me they could shoot me for wearing those little LED safety
blinkers you get at bike shops, accusing me of playing laser tag (bad training;
if you're gonna tell cops they can shoot people for playing laser tag,
then you need to explain the difference
between LASERS and LEDs (like tail-lights on cars, or bicycle safety blinkers);
one cop slashed a knife across my throat telling me not to report dirty cops
and 2 cops confronted me at a bus stop
when they heard I was asking around about
cops selling drugs and said "Yeah there's cops selling drugs,
but it's none of yer business;
keep yer nose out of it; we know where you live; next time you won't just be beaten
[as I have been; I complained about a beating BEFORE as well as after I was beaten];
we'll just shoot you down like a dog in the street; just another drive-by."

After one of several times I saw cops blatantly committing armed robbery,
a cop got all up in my face and asked me "What do you think about this?" and I said
"I think your men are thieves; I saw that; I'm a witness" and he told ordinary
street criminals (not cops) that I was an informant, that they pay me for information,
very nearly getting me killed hours later. [Fortunately, my executioner was killed.]

One of the most dramatic arrests of gun-runners EVER by the ATF was
the arrest of 5 men, including a guy with a Federal Firearms license,
a security guard, a manager at RDU international airport, and 2 cops,
one of them right here in Durham, someone I had seen committing what
could be described as armed robbery [I've seen more blatant examples];
those 5 guys sold over a thousand guns all up & down the East Coast, and
many of those guns were used in homicides.

Cops here still take money, drugs, and (allegedly) guns.
When I wrote to the police chief about a drug-dealer
who wanted to talk about cops taking guns
and letting him go (he gave me his name & 'phone number),
La-La-La-Lopez did not reply, and when I tried to complain about
a cop pushing his way through a crowded bus with gun drawn,
to wake up a sleeper (homeless?)
he wouldn't hear it and
he said cops pulling their guns like that is not documented because
"it happens all the time" and his spokesman said it's "normal behavior".

Cops here in Durham call cops who jerk their guns out "all the time" "jerk-offs".

100 cops jerking out their guns 100 times in 100 cities is 1 million chances
for some "jerk-off" cop to shoot someone (oops).
1 tenth of one percent of 1 million is 1,000;
that's about how many people are killed by cops in the USofA every year.

MOST bad shoots are preceded by "jerk-off" cops jerking out their guns
for no good reason,
just itching to shoot someone.

"Our job is not law enforcement; it's social control. We're hire to come to Durham to
patrol the inner city, keep people in their place and go home after our tour of duty."

"Ah don' lahk yew, boy." "Yew don' blong' heah." -As cops have told me.
Living, working and tutoring kids in Durham's "Target Areas" has made me a target.

SOME OF the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers.

Police chiefs in places like Durham where use-of-force searches against PEDESTRIANS
by greedy cops looking for drugs and money are undocumented
have no clue which of their cops are "jerk-offs" or
armed robbers.

Khalid Hawthorne

I would like to see all of the good cops in America (including those who may have made mistakes but owned up to it) come out against bad and crooked cops instead of hiding behind the blue shield. It is ridiculous to say that "Cops are the most dangerous"...guess who gives them their marching orders? We the people...In Durham our citizens have always supported more cops...more patrolling...more targeting. And then we don't!

Let's not put all of the cops in the same boat. I don't want to be put in the same boat as criminals yet my skin tone puts me in to a biased category on a regular basis.

We are not talking about cops doing their job correctly which includes de-escalating hostile situations. Murder should never be an option for petty misdemeanors...neither is excessive use of force. I will definitely say that some police officers have more of military way of interacting with people versus "protect and serve".


@Khalid, @Chris (and @Jeff, for that matter): As a number of people have pointed out above, none of this is about individual cops. There are many good cops. No one is saying otherwise. That's also entirely beside the point. This is about _systemic_ violence. It's not about good cops getting together to have a little cop revolution. It's about decades and centuries of the police being wielded by governments as instruments of violence against people of color.

Joshua Allen

Jillian should hold respect for those who for the most part serve and protect us. It was police officers who went into the Orlando night club, risking their own lives, and stopped the shooter. It's easy to run your mouth and disrespect people. It's hard to lay your own life on the line for others. Yes, there are bad apples and yes there is rampant racism but that's no excuse for the type of divisive language an elected official chose to use. You don't bring people together with the rhetoric she used. She should go back to being a protestor, not a City Council member. Sad for Durham. Let's show our police our respect! They deserve it!


In light of events in the last 48 hours in Louisiana and Minnesota, it sure feels like Johnson's comments are accurate for certain segments of our society. We can learn a lot by listening, rather than speaking. Time to listen.

Paolo Shirazi

I'm sorry, but precisely how do the recent events prove the accuracy of her statement that police are the most dangerous element in society? There have been two fatal shootings of black men by police in the last 48 hours – events that have somehow warranted top-of-the-page headlines in the Post and Times and other newspapers. How many black men do you think have been shot nationwide by "civilians" (mostly other black men) during that same period? On average, about twenty-five black men are shot and killed by other “civilians” (usually other black men) every 48 hours in the US. So even with the recent “surge” in police shootings over the last two days, there is still, on average, a twelve times greater likelihood that a black man has been murdered by another (usually black) person during the past 48 hours than fatally shot (perhaps even legally) by a police officer. When I look at those figures, I don't conclude that Ms. Johnson's absurd statement that cops are the most dangerous people with guns in our society is "accurate". Why did you?


@Paolo. I'll repeat.

We can learn a lot by listening, rather than speaking. Time to listen.

Listening starts with not talking. While it's technically possible to do both simultaneously, in practice it's awfully difficult.

Time to listen.

Paolo Shirazi

@Aaron. You didn't answer my question. Why do you think her statement that cops are the most dangerous people with guns in society was "accurate"? What did you base your opinion on? If nothing else, show me the data you used to come to your conclusion.

I'm listening.



I think someone addressed you earlier which you have not responded to?

Paolo Shirazi

Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

I was, of course, being sarcastic in the “hypothetical call to remove police” from those neighborhoods in which Ms. Johnson apparently believes they are systematically terrorizing residents. It wouldn't surprise me the least if this proposal engaged some kind of logical fallacy – after all, I was merely extending the impeccable logic first furnished by Ms. Johnson. (That last sentence was dipped in sarcasm, in case you were in doubt.)

With respect to your first question, “I'm curious – what changed?,” it looks like I may have confused you (and probably others) by using the word “empirical,” when I should have used “statistical.” I was trying to get across the idea that anecdotal evidence, although often profoundly meaningful to the person offering it up, is virtually never going to be as persuasive in systematic inquiry as reliable statistical evidence.


Hey Paolo!

The reason I asked what changed was because the data clearly demonstrates that police officers are more dangerous people than average people. In this case, it's not "anecdotal evidence" (which I agree must be viewed with suspicion) but the very "reliable statistical evidence" supplied by Kevin in his original post (the CDC data).

I'll admit that I was surprised to see you still arguing that Ms. Johnson's post was inaccurate in this light, given your repeated appeal to the importance of data of this kind.

Paolo Shirazi


I never argued that police officers are, statistically speaking, less dangerous than the "average" person. I stated that the data shows that the greatest threat (by a factor of 50) to a black person of being fatally shot comes not from a police officer but rather from another "civilian" (usually a young or youngish black male). When we're gauging the amount of violent crime committed by certain groups, “young black males” hardly conform to the "average."


Hey Paolo!

Sorry if I misunderstood you. Of course, that question - the more likely cause of death - is actually not at all what is at stake here. At least, it shouldn't be, since the whole article is about Ms. Johnson's statements about dangerous individuals.

My concern is that establish that a) the data clearly shows police officers are more dangerous than "average" people, and b) Kevin's piece misunderstood that by using the 50x figure in the first place.

(I also would like to point out that the "reliable" data supports much of the anecdotal data in this case.)

In the end, I'm glad to hear you agree that police officers are dangerous people! Of course, we might debate whether they should be so dangerous, but to be clear: Ms. Johnson's statements are really just statement of statistical fact. Criticizing them as "indefensible" just isn't appropriate. Well, for me at least - I appreciate when my elected officials stick to the truth!

Kevin Davis

Thanks, all, for the commentary and a useful dialogue on multiple perspectives. It is always our collective right, and responsibility, to talk about the events that impact our community. It is also absolutely necessary to listen, and learn, and there is much of that going on in that thread across sides. (And Mel's point on honest dialogue vs. polite dialogue is right on point.)

It is difficult to reflect on the past 48-72 hours' events. Two clearly unjustified, horrific killings of black men, in Louisiana. And, five officers from Dallas P.D. and DART P.D. killed, six wounded, in an attack on police by opportunistic killers at the end of a peaceful BLM protest.

I was not alive in 1968, but it is chilling to reflect back on the summer of King and RFK, the summer of Chicago, even as we have national political conventions coming right upon us.

It is too early to know at this hour what the impact will be locally. But the powder keg has been there all along. We can all see the powder keg, if we didn't see it before. And the fuse is lit.

What happens in our local community will be influenced by leaders at many levels -- elected officials, the city manager, people of faith, activists, media, non-profit leaders and others.

Here's to wise minds and calming voices helping us all in the days to come.



>> " @Aaron. You didn't answer my question. "

The passion and energy around this issue, both locally and nationally, is a strong signal that this may be an opportunity to learn. The responsibility lies with you. It's not anyone else's job to teach you.

My humble suggestion: you're not going to find all the answers on a blog comments section or Excel spreadsheet. Go spend time with people. Behave with humility and an open mind. Break bread with those who are acutely impacted by these issues.


If folks are looking for a good place to start (or continue) listening, to grieve, or simply to think, there's a vigil at 6:30pm tonight in Raleigh:

Moore Square
200 S. Blount St


I noticed there are also several openings on citizens advisory boards with application deadlines in a few days. Possibly a good place to gain some experience and one approach to start influencing policy?


Data, for all your perusal needs.


Interestingly, all 3 of these recent violent incidents were caused by either police or soldiers...


More data, this time showing that it's actually pretty irrelevant whether individual cops are racists. The problems are structural, and are far more to do with mass incarceration, minority poverty, and the policies that create those:

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