Jun 3, 2020

Protest carnage turns to calm.

Protest carnage turns to calm.

Plus, what's the evidence for systemic racism?

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Today’s read: 11 minutes.

I announce the Tangle contest winners, cover the last 24 hours of protesting and answer a question about the evidence for systemic racism. Plus, some important news hits.

Tangle winners.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Tangle competition over last week! Nearly 500 new subscribers came on board, a one-week record. I will definitely be doing competitions again soon.

Last night, after a wild weekend that delayed the process, I put every entry into this website and randomly drew out three winners. I opted to do this instead of a live drawing on Instagram, which felt a little bit out-of-touch given everything going on right now.

Adam from Pittsburgh, PA, has opted for the $100 Amazon gift card. So has Charlie from Oak Park, IL. And, finally, Steven from New York, NY, is cashing in his $100 at a local black-owned business. A special shoutout to Michael from Raleigh, NC, who led every contestant with six total entries. Here are the receipts on the winners:

The news.

  1. Iowa Republican Steve King was defeated in the GOP primary by State Senator Randy Feenstra. King had a history of racist remarks and was one of the most controversial politicians in the U.S., even losing the support of his own Republican party recently. Feenstra’s win means the seat will be safe for Republicans in the 2020 general election.
  2. Minnesota’s Department of Human Rights filed a discrimination complaint against the Minneapolis Police department yesterday, saying it would investigate the department’s “practices and policies” from the last decade.
  3. President Trump says the Republican National Convention will look for a new venue outside of North Carolina after the state’s governor refused to lift social distancing guidelines that would make a full-scale convention possible. Many believe the convention will end up being held in Florida.
  4. Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee today over his handling of the Russia investigation. Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. A watchdog found “serious performance failures” in how the FBI handled requests to surveil the Trump campaign, and Rosenstein signed off on some of the applications for that surveillance.
  5. The Pentagon chief broke with President Trump this morning, saying he does not support using active-duty military forces to quell unrest. “The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort and only in the most urgent and dire of situations,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”

What D.C. is talking about.

The 8th night of massive protests across the United States had a decidedly different feel than the first week. Gone were highlight reels of rioters or violent police actions. Instead, they were replaced by images of rather peaceful, innocuous protesting in America’s biggest cities. It was the calmest 24 hours in the days since George Floyd’s death.

60,000 people protested in Houston. Thousands gathered in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. Protests in Portland, Oregon, turned violent, but that was after thousands peacefully laid down face-first on the Burnside Bridge. In Brooklyn, protesters passed my house for the first time last night in a peaceful, organized stream that lasted about two minutes — chanting George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s names while neighbors came outside to cheer them on and take photos.

Still, there were some sporadic reports of lootings and scuffles with police. Milwaukee officers allege that protesters threw Molotov cocktails last night and Portland police say protests were momentarily violent after bricks and water bottles were thrown at officers.

Protesters opted to defy curfews, which existed in dozens of major cities, to participate in peaceful demonstrations. The New York Times and Associated Press count says protests have happened in 140 cities and more than 9,000 people have been arrested. At least six people have been killed during the course of the protests, though it’s still unclear how directly each of their deaths are linked to police violence or rioting.

With protests waning, there is a debate happening on the right and left about Trump’s handling of the last week and how it might impact the election.

What the right is saying.

Views on the right have coalesced strongly against any violence, rioting or destruction. Many Republicans expressed support for Trump’s use of the military in cities that had lost control of the protests, and some early polling indicated they had America’s support, too. 58% of Americans said they would support sending the military in to supplement the use of police force, according to a Morning Consult poll.

Yesterday, NBC reporter Kasie Hunt peppered Senate Republicans with questions about the president’s photo op at St. John’s church. Park police were accused of using pepper spray to disperse peaceful protesters so Trump could walk over to the church. The Park disputes that report, and now a semantic debate about tear gas vs. pepper spray is taking place.

Regardless, Republicans responded to questions about that visit or Trump’s handling by saying they hadn’t seen it or they didn’t have any comment. Rep. Tom Emmer (R-MN), whose district wraps around Minneapolis, gave an unbending defense of Trump, saying his effort to restore law and order would be politically advantageous for him.

“[P]eople want to be able to protest,” Rep. Emmer said. “People want to be able to have their voices heard, but they also want to be safe and secure in their communities. And I’ll tell you here in Minnesota, the suburban folks around Minneapolis, they are scared to death about the situation and they want it under control, by the way, so do the people in the neighborhoods that are getting destroyed. They want it under control.”

Former President George W. Bush also chimed in yesterday for a rare statement on current events.

“Laura and I are anguished by the brutal suffocation of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear that suffocate our country,” he said. “Yet we have resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen. It is time for America to examine our tragic failures — and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths.”

What the left is saying.

There’s a sense that something has shifted. For folks on the left, seeing protests in 140 cities is a sign of grassroots mobilization that hasn’t been felt since the Women’s March, and before that all the way back to the 1960s. While there are polls supporting Trump’s call for military back-up, there is also widespread support for the protests.

54% of Americans said they backed them, and Trump’s poll numbers dropped 4%, according to Morning Consult. CBS has just 32% of Americans supporting Trump’s handling of the protests and Reuters has 55% disapproving of his handling of the protests. And, remarkably, 42% of Evangelicals — who overwhelmingly backed Trump in 2016 — said his handling of the protests was “poor” or “fair.”

Many on the left have pinned the blame for violence on a small minority of agitators and on a militarized police presence that has incited riots across the U.S. They’ve also responded to criticisms of the riots by asking: What is an acceptable form of protest? Colin Kaepernick took a knee during football games and became a public enemy. Peaceful protesters blocked off streets to march after Michael Brown was killed and they were accused of blocking ambulances and killing people. People post messages of solidarity on social media and they’re accused of virtue signaling.

Now, after years of sporadic protesting that has been largely ignored or dismissed, things have escalated. The left has not rallied around violence or destruction, but they seem to support it as a means to an end if it produces meaningful change.

My take.

It’s frustrating to watch the conversation get lost. As I wrote Monday on the question of “do I support rioters” and as I wrote yesterday about the way we move forward, there’s a lot of common ground here that’s worth focusing on. Conservatives and liberals alike recognize that our police are essentially immune and insulated from real accountability in most cities, and there are clear steps we can take to change that.

Arguing over whether Trump has been helpful or not — or whether he deployed tear gas or pepper balls so he could take a picture with a Bible in front of a church — is all irrelevant to me. I said it on Twitter yesterday and I’ll say it again here, for the record:

Trump has not been helpful. I’ve spent every day for the last year diving headfirst into the political thought of the greatest minds on the left and the right. That journey has brought so much nuance into my life, and it’s also made me realize how many compelling arguments from each side I miss on a regular basis. But there is no serious person making the case that Trump has been helpful in the last week. He’s thrown gas on the fire every chance he’s gotten — from “when the looting starts the shooting starts” to threatening “dogs” to musing about dropping the 82nd Airborne division into U.S. cities.

Still, there is no doubt there has now been a cost to these protests. Not just the destruction, but the deaths related to them. Details are murky on all six of the deaths that are being tied to the protests, but it’s clear this was not a violence-free affair. The law still applies here, and anyone who was involved in killing another human being or destroying a business should be held accountable.

I still think it’s worth noting that the vast majority of protests have been peaceful and that the issue at hand is not the proper way to protest (it’s also worth noting that the right was encouraging civil disobedience two weeks ago in response to COVID-19 lockdowns but now wants everyone to go back home).

The issues are “how do we improve policing?” and “how do we make our criminal justice system  just for black Americans?” If you want to stop the rioting and protests, finding answers to those questions is the best place to start.


A number of readers have written in asking about footage purporting to show police officers damaging buildings or stacking brick and other weapons around protest areas in order to incite more chaos. So far, I have had trouble verifying whether the most viral videos of those events are even from the last 72 hours (one tell-tale sign is to check if people are wearing masks). I will keep an eye on this footage but I haven’t seen anything I’d consider verifiable yet. Happy to field submissions if you have them, though.

Balls and Strikes.

In this newsletter, I often talk about “balls and strikes.” I love to write that “it’s too early to call balls and strikes” on an issue when we need more time. Today, I am debuting this section — where I revisit issues I wrote about in the past and make a definitive call on where I stand. Today, I’m flip-flopping on one position and digging in on another.

Hydroxychloroquine: In early April, I mostly sided with the left on hydroxychloroquine, saying I thought Trump’s promotion of the drug was dangerous and that — while I hoped and prayed it really did work — the experts were telling us it was not a cure. Still, I noted that it was too early to tell.

It’s now early June. Since then, we’ve had two large studies on thousands of hospitalized patients in New York City. Both found the drug was useless. Dr. Tom Balcezak, who helped lead one of the studies, didn’t just say it didn’t work, he said they “no longer recommend” it at all. France banned the use of the drug altogether after a large observational study found it was increasing heart problems and deaths in patients.

The president promoted the drug repeatedly and his right-wing media allies fell in line. They were wrong to do that, it was extremely dangerous, and the drug is not a cure for COVID-19.

Labeling Trump’s tweets: Last week, I covered Twitter’s decision to slap a label on Trump’s tweets that contextualized his misleading statements about mail-in ballots. I mostly sided with the left, noting “It matters if the president is telling millions of people something that isn’t true or is misleading about how to vote or whether our system will work,” I wrote. “Twitter is right to contextualize those tweets.”

Over the weekend, I heard a compelling argument from Vice’s Michael Moynihan that pushed back on this idea. Moynihan essentially argued that the labels only exacerbated the problem, reducing trust in Twitter while simultaneously creating an environment where Twitter — and not other users — were now expected to fact-check the president.

Moynihan argued that while Trump was misleading Americans, Twitter’s decision to give him different treatment from other politicians who regularly lie on the platform has only dug the right in further to defend him. They also made mistakes while “fact-checking” him. Overall, it was a sloppily executed, counter-productive move that will end up making the truth harder to suss out. He convinced me, and I’m changing my position: I think it’s better to let Trump’s tweets undergo the typical public scrutiny and coverage vs. having the platform itself contextualize them.

Reader feedback.

“I take exception to the presumption that getting civil disobedience under control is the motivation for Federal action,” Dave from Annapolis, Maryland wrote into Tangle. “I certainly do not speak for Mr. Trump--his motivations are often inscrutable. Personally, I am astounded by anyone who considers arson, looting, assault, and other acts of violence to be civil disobedience. They are crimes and should be dealt with accordingly. Mr. Floyd's death, quite apparently a homicide, does not excuse such criminal acts. Arrest and prosecution of criminals carrying out those acts does not minimize the importance of widespread police reform including personal accountability of individual officers for their actions.”

Your questions, answered.

Reminder: reader questions are one of my favorite parts of Tangle. If you have something you want to see in the newsletter, simply reply to this email and write in. I’ll try to get to it as soon as I can.

Q: In a conversation with someone on Facebook, he denied whether systemic racism actually exists. Appealing to the fact that once you control for other variables like socio-economic-status and location the numbers are roughly even in terms of police brutality. I'm wondering if you've seen any of the numbers on that? (It seems for friends and many on the right, now that the officers involved in Floyd's death have been fired, and Chauvin arrested, justice has been served and nothing more needs to be done.)

— Jordan, New York, NY

Tangle: I’ve seen some similar commentary. I’ve also seen a number of people, including conservative campus firebrand Charlie Kirk, doing their best to cherry-pick statistics about unarmed killings of black men to claim there are “no statistics” and “no data” that prove systemic racism exists.

I’m not going to mince words here: this assertion is absurd.

What’s true about arguments being made by Kirk, and perhaps made by your friend on Facebook, is that the left’s rhetoric on police killings of unarmed black men might sometimes be overstated. The numbers have fallen precipitously. In 2015, 94 unarmed people were killed. In 2016 it was 51. By 2018 it was just 18, seven of whom were black. Now, my personal opinion is that seven unarmed black men being killed by police is absolutely disgusting and unacceptable. But some on the left have seemed surprised that the number is that low — which I think reflects rhetorical excess about police shootings.

There is some important context to those numbers, though. For one, police shootings of unarmed individuals is an incredibly difficult piece of data to parse, namely because police don’t do it for us. Most of that tracking has been done by reporters and independent data collection projects. It’s also true that, like George Floyd, people sometimes “die in police custody” without being shot.

Second is that the police shot and killed about 3,309 people between 2015 and 2018. That is a much larger number than the count of “unarmed” people who were killed, and it’s worth noting that some of those deaths may have been people holding a knife, bat, or another more innocuous weapon than a gun — all of whom ended up dead. It’s also worth noting that police have been caught planting weapons on victims they just shot and have killed people who were carrying weapons but not brandishing or threatening the cops with them.

But how about this for systemic racism: why do we even discuss the deaths of “unarmed” black men? A recent Poynter article did a fantastic job explaining how that language alone carries an implication. When Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed in the street by a retired cop and his son, we all ran to this idea that he was unarmed, as if the first thing we should be asking about a dead black man in the street is: Was he carrying a weapon?

The phrase “unarmed white man,” interestingly, is almost never used by the press.

What’s most interesting is the way data is cherry-picked to support this assertion that systemic racism is a relic of the past. For example, I wrote yesterday about Jason Reilly’s piece in The Wall Street Journal where he notes that a Harvard study found “no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account” on officer-involved shootings. In other words: white people and black people bear the brunt of the most excessive force at similar rates.

What Reilly didn’t mention was the sentences before that from the same exact study:  “On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities.”

Again, it’s cherry-picked information.

There is so much data and information about systemic racism it’s hard to choose which direction you should go. There are hundreds of books about it. But here are a few that strike me about everyday interactions:

Black and Latino drivers are more likely to get searched once they’ve been pulled over, according to a Justice Department study from 2013. They’re also more likely to be stopped in the first place. Black North Carolinians were far more likely to be stopped in incidents that didn’t end in a citation, indicating police were more likely to pull over people of color who hadn’t committed any obvious violation.

When it comes to misdemeanors, the black arrest rate is twice as high as the white arrest rate for disorderly conduct, drug possession, simple assault, theft, vagrancy, and vandalism. For prostitution, it’s five times higher. For gambling, it’s ten times higher.

And guess what happens when black Americans go to court? Black jurors are far more likely to be struck from a jury that prosecutors select and white jurors are more likely to rule negatively against black defendants. A 2010 study of “mock jurors” found that given the exact same evidence from a fictional robbery case, jurors were more likely to evaluate ambiguous, race-neutral evidence against dark-skinned suspects as incriminating and more likely to find dark-skinned suspects guilty.

Are these things pure coincidence? Of course not. They’re a product not just of inherent racism and societal prejudices that have existed for years, but they’re a product of a system that has been actively working against black progress for centuries. The most famous example, of course, is the way crack cocaine sentencing was far harsher than powder cocaine sentencing during the War on Drugs. The former was a popular drug amongst urban, black Americans and the latter was more popular amongst whites.

There are dozens if not hundreds of other laws on the books that produce similar disparities in outcomes. Again, systemic racism is not about a judge or juror or cop being racist (though that is sometimes the case). It’s about a system that produces racial disparities in its outcomes.

The preeminent book on this stuff is The New Jim Crow, which I highly recommend buying and reading. I love Michelle Alexander’s writing because she addresses criticisms of the data she cites and she also writes beautifully about the reality that the black community disagrees both on the solutions to systemic racism and the prevalence of it. That tension is something people like Kirk often use to further divide the black community, but Alexander does an incredible job parsing how and why the tension exists in the first place.

Her book has also been criticized heavily, not for the reasons you might think. Few people dispute her conclusions about systemic racism. Instead, some believe the book is fodder for white liberals and “preserves the status quo” by not doing enough to address capitalism’s role in mass incarceration, instead putting an outsized focus on the War on Drugs. You can read scholarly critiques of her writing here.

To put a bow on this: a lot of things are getting better. Body cameras, diverse police forces and independent review boards have spread across the U.S. At the same time, the rates of African-Americans going to jail and the number of killings of unarmed Americans have both fallen quickly. Citing that progress without acknowledging the reforms that ushered it in is offensive, whether disingenuous, just lazy, or both.

The people who deserve credit for improving the way we’re being policed and fighting the injustices in the system are the same organizers who are calling for more reform today. Your friend, and people like Kirk, are citing progress on systemic racism to pretend we’ve overcome it so it no longer needs to be addressed. That assertion is bonkers to me. I’ve cited it a couple of times now but I’ll link to it again: The Washington Post has an entire collection of studies that involve systemic racism in the justice system. You can read through them here.

A story that matters.

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders are leading to a huge shortage in blood supply, the New York Times reports. With collection drives at offices, school and churches canceled en masse, the supply plummeted — but so did the demand, as many people were opting out of surgeries and fewer people were getting injured in accidents. Now, though, hospitals have resumed elective surgeries and Americans are moving again, but blood drives are still dormant. The American Red Cross says it’s been a “staggering” drop in supply. Click.


  • 10%. The margin by which Steve King long his primary race to Republican challenger Randy Feenstra.
  • 2.5%. The combined airtime on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News dedicated to coronavirus coverage on Sunday.
  • 25%.  The combined airtime on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News dedicated to George Floyd protests on Sunday.
  • 28%. The percent of American adults who say that they or an immediate family member has experienced harassment by the police
  • 44%. - The percent of black American adults who say that they or an immediate family member has experienced harassment by the police
  • 90%. The percent of Americans who were concerned about the spread of Coronavirus in a poll conducted on March 30th and 31st.
  • 77%. The percent of Americans who were concerned about the spread of Coronavirus in a poll conducted from May 20th-27th.
  • 42%. The percent of U.S. adults who have a great deal or some trust in the media.

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A nature observance bought $4.3 million worth of land alongside the Virgin River in Utah, protecting threatened fish species and a beautiful landscape from private development. The land sits alongside Zion National Park, the most visited national park in Utah. The nonprofit organization bought the land with help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private donors. Similar purchases are happening all across the United States. Click.

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