Gary Johnson slanders America’s police with sweeping racism charges

Gary Johnson slanders America’s police with sweeping racism charges
Topping the Libertarian ticket prospects. (Image: Screen grab of Fox News video)

Earlier, we described how Hillary Clinton lobbed baseless allegations of “systemic” racism against America’s police in a speech to the NAACP.  Now, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has done the same thing, in an even more extreme way, in interviews with Reason Magazine and Fox News. Johnson falsely claimed that blacks are four times more likely than whites to go to jail once they are arrested. He also suggested that black arrests are largely the result of police racism, not the fact that the black crime rate is higher than the white crime rate (as it in fact is). Indeed, he implied that the black crime rate is the “same” as the white crime rate, even though the Supreme Court has noted in an 8-to-1 decision that crime rates vary by race. Johnson simply ignored the fact that the murder rate is eight times higher among blacks than among non-Hispanic whites.

Sadly, Reason, a libertarian magazine, did not call out Johnson on these false claims, the way it has sometimes criticized Johnson’s past mistaken statements opposing religious freedom. Libertarians have historically supported broad rights to freely exercise religion, for both individuals and small business owners, but Johnson, the Libertarian presidential nominee, does not: For example, Johnson has said that “religious freedom, as a category, [is] a black hole,” and he opposes longstanding religious exemptions. Often, Johnson seems unfamiliar with both existing law, and the political principles of the very party that nominated him. Johnson, who has called Hillary Clinton a “wonderful public servant,” is not really a Libertarian, much less a viable alternative for conservatives unenthused about Donald Trump. Whatever his flaws, Trump is running on a law and order platform, and has defended the police against inaccurately broad-brush accusations of  racism.

In his interview with Reason’s Nick Gillespie, Johnson falsely claimed that “If you’re of color and you’re arrested, there’s a four times greater likelihood that you’ll go to jail than if you’re white.”  That’s ridiculous, falsely implying that the vast majority of arrested white people never even go to jail. The criminal justice system is not in the habit of just arresting people and then releasing them without charge. Johnson said:

I was on Fox News’ The Five a couple of days ago with Eric Bolling. I made the statement that “black lives matter” and Eric chimed in to say, “All lives matter”… I said, “Yes, all lives do matter, but blacks are getting shot at the rate of six times that whites are. If you’re of color and you’re arrested, there’s a four times greater likelihood that you’ll go to jail than if you’re white. Eric said, “Blacks commit eight times the crime.” My answer was little muddied, but I think I got to my point. Yes, blacks are being arrested, they are being charged, and they are being convicted at eight times the rate of whites. If that same scrutiny were applied to you and I as whites, we would have those same results. That’s the awareness [of unequal treatment] that doesn’t currently exist.

As a commenter to the Reason article noted,

Since the murder rate is 8 times higher among blacks than whites . . . Gary Johnson is just nuts to suggest that the crime rate is the ‘same’ among all ethnic groups, and only appears to be different because of greater ‘scrutiny’ of blacks by police. He says: ‘Blacks . . . are being convicted at eight times the rate of whites. If that same scrutiny were applied to you and I as whites, we would have those same results.’ But blacks are not subject to greater scrutiny than whites when it comes to arrests for most crimes. Arrests are largely the result of victim identification by other black people, not police scrutiny focused on blacks. . . when blacks are arrested, it is commonly because another black person has reported them, or someone matching their identification, as the perpetrator . . . Johnson repeats false Black Lives Matter propaganda in claiming that ‘If you’re of color and you’re arrested, there’s a four times greater likelihood that you’ll go to jail than if you’re white.’ There is actually not much different a likelihood, and it is largely explainable based on things like income to make bail and hire a decent attorney.

Or it may be explainable based on the fact that blacks who are arrested tend to have more past criminal convictions, on average, than whites who are arrested, as scholars like John Lott have pointed out. A lengthy rap sheet is a perfectly non-racist reason for sending an arrested person to prison, rather than giving them a suspended sentence.

It is not clear what Johnson was referring to when he claimed that “blacks are getting shot at the rate of six times that whites are,” but either way, his point made no sense. Some have suggested that he was talking about police shootings of blacks versus whites: But blacks are not shot by police at anywhere near such a rate.  In 2015, 26% of the people shot by police were black (258 of the 990 people), while blacks are 13% of the U.S. population. Thus, blacks are shot at about double the rate of people in general (and about three times the rate of non-Hispanic whites), not six times the rate. And that figure does not prove police racism, but rather reflects the higher black crime rate and higher rate of black suspects attacking or posing a risk to police. As the Daily Wire has pointed out, “Blacks are more likely to kill cops than be killed by cops. This is according to FBI data, which also found that 40 percent of cop killers are black.” Moreover, a “police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black than a cop killing an unarmed black person.” More than half of all murders in America are committed by blacks, who are just 13% of the population.  As noted in the Wall Street Journal, “Blacks made up a lower percentage of those police-shooting victims—26%—than would be predicted by the higher black involvement in violent crime.” And claims of racism in police shootings are debunked by a recent study by a black Harvard economist, Roland G. Fryer. His study, “‘analyzing more than 1,000 officer-involved shootings across the country, reports that there is zero evidence of racial bias in police shootings.”

Another source, Bustle, has said that “Johnson might have been referring to a statistic found within Heather Mac Donald’s War on Cops, which claims that black males between the ages of 14 and 17 are six times more likely to be killed, reportedly due to a higher rate of homicides committed by black teens.” If that’s the case, then Johnson’s remarks are even more irrational, since it makes no sense for him to blame police or law enforcement for black teens killing each other.  If the black teen homicide rate is high due to “homicides committed by black teens,” then the logical response is to support police efforts to arrest and convict the perpetrators, not (as Johnson did) to suggest that the resulting higher black arrest and conviction rates are racist, or that less “scrutiny” should be applied to blacks who are committing the killings. It’s not as if the black adolescent death rate is due to killings by whites, since the rate of murders committed by black teens is higher even than the rate of murders suffered by black teens. That may reflect the fact that blacks are more likely to commit crimes against members of other races, on a per capita basis, than other races are towards blacks (most robbers are black, and whites are commonly robbed by blacks. Blacks are far less likely to be robbed by whites).  As Katherine Kersten pointed out earlier this year in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, “young black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit homicide at 10 times the rate of white and Hispanics of the same ages combined.” That ten-times-higher rate of committing murder among black teens is even larger than their six-times higher rate of getting killed (overwhelmingly the result of black-on-black crime), and the latter statistic shows the need for a greater police presence in predominantly black neighborhoods, not fewer arrests and convictions.

Some studies suggest that police are less aggressive in dealing with black suspects, rather than being racist against them. As Heather Mac Donald points out, a “‘deadly force’ lab study at Washington State University by researcher Lois James found that [law enforcement] participants were biased in favor of black suspects, over white or Hispanic ones, in simulated threat scenarios. The research, published in 2014 in the Journal of Experimental Criminology, confirmed what Ms. James had found previously in studying active police officers, military personnel and the general public. In 2015 a Justice Department analysis of the Philadelphia Police Department found that white police officers were less likely than black or Hispanic officers to shoot unarmed black suspects.”

Contrary to what Johnson suggested, higher black conviction rates reflect higher black crime rates. As John Lott has pointed out in the New York Post, “blacks commit murder at almost six times the rate whites do,” and at a rate eight times higher than non-Hispanic whites. Arrests are generally not due to racism or black people being framed: instead, they result from victim reporting of crimes. As City Journal has noted, “the race of criminals reported by crime victims matches arrest data. As long ago as 1978, a study of robbery and aggravated assault in eight cities found parity between the race of assailants in victim identifications and in arrests—a finding replicated many times since, across a range of crimes. No one has ever come up with a plausible argument as to why crime victims would be biased in their reports.” Black violent-crime victims themselves generally report that their attackers were black, just as white victims (except for robbery victims) usually report that their attackers were white. The higher arrest rate among blacks is thus due largely to police properly paying attention to black victims’ reports of being victimized. Even for the few offenses where police scrutiny does play a significant role, there are real differences in crime rates: As a black lawyer and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Peter Kirsanow, explained in 2015, “several studies over the last 20 years (including data adduced before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights) show that black drivers commit various types of traffic offenses – including speeding, driving under suspension, DUI, and running red lights and stop signs – more often than drivers of other races.”

Johnson’s lack of knowledge of crime statistics and the criminal justice system reflects his larger ignorance about legal matters in general.  As a lawyer pointed out at Hot Air, Johnson has sought to justify forcing wedding photographers to photograph gay commitment ceremonies by falsely claiming that a century-old federal law requires all businesses to serve all comers (thus, he has falsely claimed that even Jewish businesses have to serve Nazi customers).  The New Mexico judiciary, including liberal judges appointed by Gary Johnson when he was governor of New Mexico, rejected a free-speech claim by a wedding photographer forced to photograph a non-marital lesbian commitment ceremony, which occurred after a lesbian couple filed a discrimination complaint against the photographer under state law.  The New Mexico courts also rejected the wedding photographer’s religious-freedom defense. Libertarian legal scholars criticized the state judiciary’s rejection of her free-speech claim, noting that photography is recognized as protected speech under the First Amendment, in briefs submitted on behalf of the libertarian Cato Institute, leading First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh, and law professor Dale Carpenter (who is himself openly gay).  But Johnson has defended this ruling attacking the First Amendment, claiming a century-old federal law required this result (even though the ruling was based entirely on state law, not federal law, and federal law does not ban sexual orientation discrimination against customers). As a lawyer (and past blogger at this site) pointed out:

Gary Johnson is not well-informed about federal law.  Johnson claims a century-old public accommodations law bans discrimination, such as against Nazis by Jewish bakers.

But the federal government’s public accommodation laws don’t cover Nazis, political affiliation, or even sexual orientation; were not enacted a century ago, but rather in 1964 and 1990, respectively (Title II of the Civil Rights Act, in 1964, banning public-accommodations discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin; and the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, banning discrimination based on disability in public accommodations).

Moreover, federal RFRA carves out exemptions to the reach of federal laws (see the Supreme Court’s Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita decision), so even if Congress were so stupid as to ban discrimination against Nazis, a Jewish baker might be able to seek an exemption to such a law to avoid serving a Nazis).

There is also a law banning racial discrimination in contracts, 42 USC 1981, which the Supreme Court applied to the private sector beginning in the late 1960s; but it only covers racial discrimination, not sexual discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, or discrimination against Nazis.

This year’s Libertarian ticket isn’t simply hostile to religious freedom and free speech; it is hostile to judicial protection of civil liberties in general, when they conflict with progressive dogma.  This year’s Libertarian nominee for Vice President, William Weld, has touted liberal judge Merrick Garland and liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer as his favorite choices for the Supreme Court. This has horrified knowledgeable libertarians, like constitutional lawyer Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute: Breyer and Garland, writes Shapiro, are “the jurists most deferential to the government on everything, whether environmental regulation or civil liberties.” Breyer has voted against free speech and First Amendment claims more often than any other Supreme Court justice.

The indifference to free speech of the Johnson-Weld ticket has been chronicled even by many libertarians themselves. As the Williamson County Libertarian Party lamented on May 28, 2016,

Judges [that Gary Johnson] appointed voted to force a wedding photographer to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony, which violated the photographer’s free-speech rights, since photography is speech, and the First Amendment forbids compelled speech.

His running mate Bill Weld is also not supportive of free speech, freedom of religion, and free association. Weld ran to the left of John Silber, his 1990 Democratic rival for governor, on political correctness issues (Silber, a university president, opposed campus speech codes and political correctness), and Weld’s appointees to the state judiciary included people who had supported draconian campus speech codes. Weld’s appointees to the MCAD demanded that people be fired by private employers for offensive racial jokes.

Weld supported new regulations and red tape, like the Big Green initiative voters rejected in the early 1990s. Weld backed race-based affirmative action in state college admissions (which most state voters opposed in polls) and state contracts.

Libertarian Vice Presidential nominee William Weld is so politically-correct that he claims it is racist to say “All lives matter.”

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle is an attorney and author, who writes about politics.


Commenting Policy

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.

You may use HTML in your comments. Feel free to review the full list of allowed HTML here.