Rich Lowry’s False Choice

If you don’t like racist police, you must want no police at all.

There’s a rhetorical trick that everybody needs to learn to spot, because it’s widely used and very convincing if you’re not on guard: the false dilemma. In the false dilemma, an author or speaker cuts an entire universe of possibilities down to two: the one he likes and an alternative that is obviously horrible.

A particularly nasty false dilemma is the heart of Rich Lowry’s “#SomeBlackLivesDontMatter“, which appeared on the Politico website Wednesday. (Lowry is a longtime editor at National Review. Why Politico publishes his work is something of a mystery.)

Lowry starts with the familiar conservative trope that black activists don’t care about black-on-black crime.

Let’s be honest: Some black lives really don’t matter. If you are a young black man shot in the head by another young black man, almost certainly no one will know your name. Al Sharpton won’t come rushing to your family’s side with cameras in tow. MSNBC won’t discuss the significance of your death. No one will protest, or even riot, for you.

Of course, no one should protest for you, because protest is a tool for addressing the government, not criminals. So protesting against some random street criminal who shot some innocent civilian would make no sense. (This is frequently missed point on the Right. For example, the protests after Trayvon Martin’s death weren’t directed at George Zimmerman, but at the local legal system that wasn’t taking Martin’s death seriously.) But keep going, Rich.

The Baltimore Sun ran a headline (since changed) that had the air of a conundrum, although it isn’t very puzzling, “With arrests down in Baltimore, mayor ‘examining’ increase in killings.” According to the paper, arrests have dropped by about half in May. The predictable result is that violent crime is spiking.

The implication is clear: More people need to be arrested in Baltimore, not fewer. And more need to be jailed. If black lives truly matter, Baltimore needs more and better policing and incarceration to impose order on communities where a lawless few spread mayhem and death.

The reason Baltimore can’t get this “better policing” — somehow synonymous with “incarceration” — is because the black community doesn’t like the bad policing it’s been getting.

If the message is supposed to be that they don’t want the police there, it has been received.

Of course, literally no one is saying that the black neighborhoods of Baltimore shouldn’t be policed. (That’s why Lowry needs the if. If he could quote some black or liberal leader calling for no policing, he’d really have a point against them. But since none is, he needs a hypothetical.) And now that Lowry has cut the alternatives down to (1) continued racist policing and (2) no law enforcement at all, it’s clear that the people protesting against racist policing should just shut up.

It is wrong for the police to shrink from doing their job, but the last month in Baltimore shows how important that job is. This is especially true in dangerous, overwhelmingly black neighborhoods. They need disproportionate police attention, even if that attention is easily mischaracterized as racism. The alternative is a deadly chaos that destroys and blights the lives of poor blacks.

Again, he quotes no one saying that police don’t have an important job, and he offers no evidence at all that policing in Baltimore has been mischaracterized as racism. That’s just what Lowry wants to believe and wants you to believe. (If someday we reach a point where all the apparently racist actions of police have been “mischaracterized”, the #BlackLivesMatter movement will have succeeded.)

So that’s your choice, black America: Live in completely lawless communities, or STFU whenever police kill young blacks they already have subdued, or shoot down young blacks who are doing nothing wrong. You can have police who continue misbehaving the way they have been, or no police at all. There is no third alternative.

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  • thebhgg  On June 1, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I would submit that protests aren’t just for governments. They can be used against organizations, whether government, corporate, or even criminal. The main productive result is drawing attention to an issue that needs collective action.

    Protests are probably not required for individual criminals getting appropriate attention from the legal system.

    • weeklysift  On June 1, 2015 at 11:44 am

      I accept this correction. In general, protests are for communicating with entities that are on a larger scale than the individual. We have to band together so that they see us. But scattered individuals are not appropriate targets for a protest.

    • Amy Zucker Morgenstern  On June 5, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Or it makes sense to protest if the crime rate is high and you don’t feel the government is doing enough about it.

  • mcwhereistand  On June 1, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Reblogged this on #ThisIsRelevant and commented:
    TiR because we need to know the danger of the false dilemma and understand how logic is misused.

  • Nancie McDermott  On June 1, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    Brilliant excellent clear worthy good. As I have come to expect from WeeklySift. Thankful for you and your eloquent focused witty way with words and ideas.

  • Da Troof  On June 1, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Racist police? The police force is half black. Black people run baltimore. What a load.

  • Michael  On June 2, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Let’s be honest: Some white lives really don’t matter. If you are a young white man shot in the head by another young white man, almost certainly no one will know your name.


  • By Homage to Virtue | The Weekly Sift on June 1, 2015 at 9:51 am

    […] This week’s featured post is “Rich Lowry’s False Choice“. […]

  • By Themes of 2015: Black Lives Matter | The Weekly Sift on December 28, 2015 at 9:37 am

    […] that BLM is anti-police, or even promotes violence against police. I tried to answer that in “Rich Lowry’s False Choice“. (The choice was between the bad racist policing so many black communities see now, and no […]

  • By The Call Remains | The Weekly Sift on July 18, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    […] Rich Lowry’s False Choice, the false choice being that black communities can either have the current overly violent, racially biased kind of policing, or no policing at all. […]

  • […] Yes it would. But are “cover the topic insensitively” and “drop it” really the only options? I discussed a similar excluded-middle thought pattern with regard to policing in “Rich Lowry’s False Choice“. […]

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