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Mayor Poe’s reckless comments endanger Gainesville

Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe speaks at a press conference on May 29

OPINION

BY LEN CABRERA

For months, we’ve suffered under the oppressive dictates of politicians who claim to know what’s good for us. They shuttered our businesses, closed our churches, and prevented us from peacefully assembling. Hairdressers were arrested and skate parks were filled with sand or mulch, all for our own “protection.” The fact that coronavirus is only a threat to the old and infirm was irrelevant. Who needs context when you have an excuse to extend emergency orders that destroy the economy and increase reliance on government?

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Similarly, who needs context when you can stoke racial tensions and encourage anarchy to further damage the economy and the country? That’s exactly what Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe did at his May 29 press conference (video).

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers was the flash point for riots all over the country, even though there was nothing overtly racial in the incident. It’s a textbook case demonstrating the adage, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

At Mayor Poe’s press conference, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones acknowledged the incident and assured people that “the actions of the officers that I saw on that video, as portrayed, are not in line with the training, and it’s not in line with the philosophy, of the Gainesville Police Department.” He did not impute any racial motivations to the offending Minneapolis police officers, and he didn’t try to encourage racial animosities in Gainesville.

Mayor Poe, however, had his New York Times 1619 Project talking points ready and said, “We acknowledge the impact that racism and racial violence have on our own neighbors,” seemingly oblivious to the fact that the police chiefs in Minneapolis and Gainesville are both black. Further, over half the Gainesville city commissioners are people of color.

Mayor Poe was so eager to jump on the Virtue Signal Express that he forgot his role the last few months has been to micromanage our lives under the guise of protecting us from every possible increase in health risk. We have to social distance and wear masks to reduce our chances of catching COVID-19, but he promised to take his kids to the protest march. Given the number of protests that turned violent, why should we trust his judgment on our safety when he is willing to endanger his own family?

Mayor Poe claimed social media is “shining the spotlight on the disproportionate violence faced by people with brown and black skin.” Before making official statements, the mayor should look at actual data instead of relying on social media. There is no systematic targeting of people of color. The majority of violence comes from individual people doing bad things, and it turns out that both white and black people are much more likely to be killed by someone who looks like them.

According to FBI data for the 6,570 murders in 2018 that have identification for both victim and offender, 89% of blacks were killed by blacks, and 80% of whites were killed by whites. There’s not exactly a wave of ethnic cleansing by white supremacists when only 7% of black murders were committed by white offenders.

In fact, hate crimes are not exclusive to whites. According to FBI data on 6,266 hate crime incidents in 2018, nearly a quarter of them were committed by blacks, who only make up 13.4% of the U.S. population.

There is no defense for what the Minneapolis police officers did, but the incident is also no excuse for the race baiting or riots that followed. Incidents like Minneapolis are rare, but an average of one law enforcement officer is feloniously killed every week: 48 killed in 2019 and 55 killed in 2018. The distribution of officers killed mirrors the population (83% white, 13% black), but they are killed disproportionately by black offenders (30% black in 2019, 42% black in 2018). There are also over 60,000 officers assaulted each year.

Police officers have an unbelievably difficult and often thankless job. In 2018, officers responded to 1.2 million violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and over 7 million property crimes (burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson). In Gainesville it was 734 violent crimes and 1,938 property crimes (1,806 and 7,896 county-wide). Nationally, there were over 10 million arrests in 2018. That’s over 3,000 interactions with violent offenders every day, yet the number of incidents like Floyd in Minneapolis are so rare that they become national news.

The data do not support claims that police purposely target black suspects for executions. According to FBI data for 2018, blacks made up 37% of arrests for violent crimes, but the Washington Post’s database of fatal police shootings (2015-2020) shows only 23% of the victims were black. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report using 2003-2011 data estimates that the victims of arrest-related death incidents are 28% black and 48% white. A 2015 study showed that white officers are not more likely to shoot minority suspects.

The Floyd death was horrific, but authorities acted fairly quickly to punish the offenders. All four officers were fired immediately, and the kneeling officer was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. In response, protests in 25 cities turned violent, causing immeasurable property damage to people who had nothing to do with Floyd’s death. There have also been at least two deaths: one civilian shot in Detroit and one Federal Protective Service officer killed in Oakland.

Instead of providing context, Mayor Poe was quick to stoke racial tensions. He could have taken the opportunity to provide real leadership, like Chief Jones or like Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta (video):

“This is not a protest… This is chaos. A protest has purpose… You’re not protesting anything running out with brown liquor in your hands breaking windows in this city… When you burn down this city, you’re burning down our community… You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country… We’re no longer talking about the murder of an innocent man. We’re talking about how you’re burning police cars on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Go home.”

Mayor Poe’s comments at his press conference were irresponsible and bordered on incitement. If we do get violent protests in Gainesville, the rioters will be primarily to blame, but Mayor Poe will also bear some responsibility.

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