By picking Colin Kaepernick as its newest ‘Just Do It’ star,” Nike has, in a huge way, supported Kaepernick’s policy prescriptions, rhetoric, and tactics, and, by inference, those of Black Lives Matter (“BLM”). Because of that, Nike made a huge mistake.
Despite the extensive public debate about Kaepernick and Nike’s pick, to my knowledge, no one is talking about the most significant error of their ways: They are making matters worse for the people Kaepernick thinks he is helping. Let’s sort that out.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The public debate over Nike’s pick is predominately about (1) the validity of BLM’s[i] and Kaepernick’s allegations against police, (2) the propriety of kneeling before the flag during the national anthem, and (3) whether (a) Kaepernick is worthy of hero status, (b) Kaepernick sacrificed anything by kneeling and other issues as to whether Kaepernick is an apt role model for the merits of sacrificing to achieve a higher purpose, (c) “punishing” Kaepernick for protesting violates his civil or free speech rights and (d) sundry less important matters such as whether the pick will be profitable for Nike. As important as any of those issues might be, they ignore a more important point: Nike is supporting the message and actions of BLM and Kaepernick (hereinafter “BLM”) that will make things worse for the people BLM believes it is helping. (Sound familiar?[ii]) This is an uber-example of most modern leftist activists’ activities, i.e., they identified a problem, have little or no idea how complicated the problem is or how to fix it, organize a movement around simplistic ideas, propose policies grounded on a small fraction of the relevant facts, and quixotically either hinder progress in solving the problem or make the problem more problematic.[iii] Because Nike’s move is so big, BLM’s counterproductive activism is boosted by Nike’s pick, and BLM’s policies will inflict great harm on many people who are in desperate need of assistance, sorting this out is extremely important.
That members of BLM care about and want to improve the interactions between black people and the police are highly commendable. On those occasions when BLM brings public attention to cases of actual police misconduct, BLM provides a commendable public service. To the extent BLM activists save black lives, reduce injustices of the justice system (e.g., police misconduct), and improve the lives of black people, their hearts and minds are in the right place and are a force for good. When, however, their policy prescriptions and rhetoric are based on misperceptions or accurate perceptions of insufficient fact (which is the norm), or (2) their policies are counterproductive to their goals, they make things significantly and heart-wrenchingly worse for the people they believe they are helping. This post explains why BLM, and thus Nike,[iv] are making matters worse for black people (assuming, as I do, that more conflict between blacks and the police, less hope for a better tomorrow, less safe neighborhoods, and more black anger, frustration, and poverty people are bad).
In paradise, humans would thrive without rules or law enforcement. Sadly, paradise is beyond the reach of living humans. In the here and now, in societies without rules and reasonably effective police forces, only the powerful can thrive. Having police forces is necessary for societies to create conditions in which essentially everyone has a shot at thriving. Sadly, having police forces results in some injustice. Not having police forces results in vastly more injustice.
The odds that any sizable police force will have zero “bad cops” is essentially zero. While determining the ratio of good cops to bad cops would be impossible, the actual ratio is irrelevant to the points made herein. (For what little it is worth, my belief is that a large majority of cops in the U.S. today are good cops.) That ratio, however, makes an especially large difference to the lives of poor black people. The higher the ratio of good cops, the better for black people—especially those in dangerous neighborhoods. Consequently, sorting out how BLM’s actions and policy prescriptions are increasing the ratio of bad cops in police forces is important.
As used herein, “good cops” means cops who (1) believe a reasonable level of security and safety for everyone is necessary for a good society, and (2) are willing to face danger and risk life and limb doing what they reasonably can to serve and protect the person and property of everyone. They are not racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., and they believe that equal protection and application of the law for all is a virtue. “Bad cops” means cops who do not adhere to above characteristics of good cops. The traits of “bad cops” include relishing the ability to bully or lord over people, being racist or otherwise bigoted, selectively enforcing the law, and/or looking forward to opportunities to exercise their power to instill fear, arrest, harm and/or kill people—and get away with it.
Police forces can and should remove bad cops. That, however, cannot be done to perfection for many reasons, including these:
- Evidence of possible police misconduct is often ambiguous,
- Eyewitness perceptions are not reliable,
- Distinguishing factual allegations of police conduct from fictional ones is often impossible,
- No clear and universally accepted line between justifiable and unjustifiable police conduct exists (and minor injustices are often perceived to be major injustices.),
- The true nature of job applicants who would replace a fired bad cop cannot be perfectly discerned,
- Bad cops can become good cops and vice versa,
- Human nature causes humans to give the benefit of doubts to fellow members of one’s group, and
- Well-intended managers are fallible.
Consequently, if humans are to have reasonably functional societies, there will always be bad cops in police forces. The best that can be done is to keep the ratio of bad cops as low as practicable. Policies that achieve the opposite result are counterproductive.
Victims of wrongdoing by bad cops and mistakes by good cops (of which there are all too many, no matter how few) are understandably and justifiably aggrieved, if not outraged. Full stop. Those grievances should be addressed. Ideally, they would be addressed with good ideas and policies rather than the bad ideas and plans held and proposed BLM—which does not include all of BLM’s ideas and policies. The focus here is on BLM’s bad ideas and policies that are producing the opposite of their stated objectives.
- There is a “war on black people,” being conducted by police and others.
Much of the so-called “war” was adopted with the best of intentions and at the urging of Bill Clinton and black leaders, including Charlie Rangel, i.e., they were a bunch of well-intended, bad ideas and policies to help black people that preceded BLM’s new set of well-intended bad ideas and policies.[vii]
- “…vague and subjective infractions such as “willful defiance” and “disrespect” should be tolerated.
For a democratic society to work, the rule of law must be accepted by the people and sufficiently maintained by the government. To peaceably, efficiently, and effectively maintain the rule of law, an interaction between the police and a citizen cannot be treated as an interaction between equals concerning the issue for which the “meeting” was called. If the police have probable cause that a person has committed a crime, the police have the right to stop and obtain information from that person. Under the rule of law, the courts, not the suspect, is empowered to decide whether the police had probable cause. Confrontational resistance to a policeman’s request is not a part of a peaceful process and wastes time the policeman could otherwise use to deter, stop, or bring justice to other criminals. YouTube is replete with examples of how things do not end well for black people when they do not act civilly with police. No doubt, some of those videos evidence police misconduct. Those videos make a big splash, but they create at least four negative consequences for black people: (a) The black person in the video suffers more than would have been the case had they cooperated, (b) The eagerness of many Americans to address problems of police misconduct is reduced, (c) Some good cops are unfairly maligned, and (d) It provides opportunities for bad cops to do what they like to do.
- “An end to money bail, mandatory fines, fees, court surcharges and “defendant funded” court proceedings.”
Stated differently, poor people should be exempt from criminal procedures that apply to everyone else.
- “An end to the mass surveillance of Black communities, and the end to the use of technologies that criminalize and target our communities (including IMSI catchers, drones, body cameras, and predictive policing software).”
Stated differently, the police should not use many of the methods that are designed to protect innocent people in black communities and usually do.
- “The demilitarization of law enforcement, including law enforcement in schools and on college campuses.”
Stated differently, render the job of policing more dangerous and policing less effective.[viii]
- “Until we achieve a world where cages are no longer used against our people we demand an immediate change in conditions and an end to all jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons as we know them.”
Stated differently, until the negative consequences of committing crimes by blacks are lessened to some undefined, possibly utopian, standard, there should be no negative consequences for black criminals.
- The incidence of disciplinary actions in schools against black students should be proportionate to the incidence of disciplinary actions against students of other races.
Notice the absence of a mention of the relative incidence of violations of disciplinary rules by members of various groups.[viii]
- Likewise, corporal punishment should be administered to students of all races.
Notice the absence of a mention of the relative incidence infractions deserving corporal punishment by members of various groups.
Police do not criminalize activities, houses and senates do that—they also pass the laws that call for incarceration. Reasonable cases can be made that too many things have been criminalized. Defunding institutions that enforce crimes will cause there to be less enforcement of the laws that protect innocent poor black people.
- “A system that perpetually condones the killing of people, without consequence, doesn’t need to be revised, it needs to be dismantled!”
A system that does not condone killing people in certain situations (e.g., self-defense or killing someone shooting at school children) would be a bad system (regardless of the skin color of the person killed). No cop who justifiably kills someone wants to be accused of being evil—especially a good cop.
- Whenever a black person is killed by a cop, BLM foments anger and resentment—often without regard to whether the killing was justified.
- Kaepernick compares cops to runaway slave patrol after Castile verdict, and he said “You can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist.
These claims defame cops—especially good cops.
- Lamont Hill, a BLM supporter, claims, “Racism is so deeply embedded in our psyche…. that we can’t simply locate and eliminate racist “bad apples” — a blatantly racist police officer or a white supremacist juror– from our society.”
If good white people are called racist whether they are or not, fewer good white people will remain or become cops—thereby leaving vacancies for bad white people to fill.
BLM’s policies undermine police effectiveness. While ineffective policing will hurt all neighborhoods (because criminals do not limit their crime in their own neighborhoods), ineffective policing disproportionately hurts poor black people.
Many of America’s poor black people live are high crime areas.[x] If the residents of high crime areas who are innocent and deserve protection (which is the overwhelming majority of residents) are to have a reasonable level of protection (and not lose the deterrence of crime provided by the presence of cops), more police are needed, not fewer. So, while cutting or eliminating policing in poor neighborhoods would be beneficial to people wrongly suspected of criminal activity, people who would have been victims of police impropriety (both of which are significant positives) and BLM, fewer cops will also help criminals wreak even more havoc on poor black people (the negative of which is even greater than the above positives).
Fomenting outrage often leads to the destruction of business property in poor neighborhoods, thereby causing the cost of doing business there to rise. The resulting replacement costs and insurance cost increases must be passed onto the poor customers of those businesses to stay in business. Alternatively, business owners get fed up and decide to no longer serve the needs of the community. Either way, the destruction of property and businesses hurt the poor people in the area. If the uptick in destruction in poor communities due to BLM fomenting destruction after police encounters causes insurance cost for businesses in all poor areas, poor people everywhere will pay the cost.
As if those problem with BLM demands were not bad enough, something else is even worse. To sort that out, first focus on why people become cops.
People choose to become cops for the pay, benefits, and other compensation. Patrol police pay and benefits are relatively high compared to some other dangerous jobs, [xi] but most other dangerous civilian jobs require a less diverse skillset and do not involve people intentionally wanting to prevent them from doing their job or to harm or kill them. All things considered, pay for cops may not be exceptionally low, but it is certainly not exceptionally high. Consequently, other compensations become exceptionally significant in attracting officers and maintaining a police force. For essentially all cops, total compensation includes camaraderie with fellow cops. That, however, can be obtained in much less dangerous occupations. What cannot be obtained in most of those other occupations, however, is the pride of serving and protecting others and the gratification of receiving respect and appreciation of the people they protect and serve. That respect is earned on account of the cop’s necessary and noble work, skill, heroism, sacrifices and courage on behalf of friends and neighbors and society at large.
In the above respects, bad cops get the same compensations as good cops. Bad cops alone, however, receive the additional compensation that attracts bad people to police forces, e.g., the pleasure of feeling powerful and important by bossing people around, instilling fear, lording over people, and/or carrying out their racist desires, etc.—and getting away with it.
BLM is attempting to delegitimize and disarm policing and paint all cops as bad cops deserving our condemnation and scorn instead of our respect and appreciation. BLM claims that policing in black neighborhoods does not serve and protect black people and that police are causing harm when they do their job. Lamont Hill, a BLM supporter, has said[xii] that getting rid of bad cops does little good because there is so much systemic racism that they can only be replaced with other cops who will discriminate against blacks. Setting aside that Hill’s statement is a mischaracterization of the problem, it implies that all cops are racist. All of these BLM actions reduce compensation for good cops, but not for bad cops.
Making matters worse, chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon” and Kaepernick wearing socks with pigs wearing police caps increase compensation to bad cops – especially racist ones—by, among other things, revealing that they are getting under black people’s skin.
The heart of the matter is that the more successful BLM is, the more BLM reduces the total compensation that has traditionally caused good people to join and remain with police forces. Lowering good cop compensation results in fewer good people willing to be become or remain cops. As the percentage of good cops on police forces declines, the percentage of bad cops increases. So, as a consequence of the efforts of BLM’s claims and activities, a higher percentage of the cops who do show up will be bad cops. The people who will be the greatest victims of a higher percentage of bad cops will be the exact people on whose behalf BLM claims to be acting.
Making matters worse, as good cops find work elsewhere and the city can no longer offer the reward of being honored and respected by their community for their service, the number of people who will be willing to be cops will decline. As a consequence, the bad cops who remain and the bad people who apply to replace the good cops will be able to demand and receive higher wages because the demand for cops will remain high while the supply of people willing to become cops shrinks. Higher cop salary increases the cost of policing. The higher the cost of policing, the fewer police and the less policing there will be.
A higher ratio of bad cops and budget constrained police forces will cause the people in the communities that need cops most to suffer the most from BLM policies. It is sad.
By picking Kaepernick as the face of the “Just Do It” campaign, Nike has lent credence to BLM’s claims and policy prescriptions and has, thereby, become complicit in the inevitable negative consequences described above—which will be disproportionately visited on poor black people. Nike made a huge mistake.
[ii] See my many posts that make a similar case about other activist movements. (It is strange that I just completed an eight-part series defending Nike against claims by activists who harm the people they believed they were helping, and here I’m condemning Nike for supporting a different cause that is doing the same thing. Such is life.)
[iv] Nike’s move could very well be a huge success in terms of profits, but the positive of Nike’s profits pale in comparison to the huge damage Nike’s selection of Kaepernick will inflict on black people if BLM achieves its aims.
[vi] Several of BLM’s observations and proposals are accurate and meritorious, i.e., they will create net positives. I commend them for those, but they are not relevant to this post. Other BLM observations and proposals are omitted because they are irrelevant to the point of this post.
viii] The problems with this idea were addressed in “Slowing the “School-to-Prison Pipeline”—At What Cost?”