Turmoil in the United States over police violence is the result of a distorted representation of the problem, says Brown University economist Glenn C. Loury. According to Loury, an African-American, the “empty thesis of racism” distracts us from the real problems of black Americans. Below is an edited and translated conversation that Loury had with Peter Winkler, U.S. correspondent for the Swiss daily newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ).
Peter Winkler: Professor Loury, hundreds of thousands of people in American cities have been protesting that police treat black people more harshly than other populations. The reason, they say, is systemic racism. What do you think?
Glenn Loury: This is a representation that has developed a life of its own. The claim is: the police are hunting black people, black people are at risk, there is an epidemic of violence against black people—unarmed, innocent black people.
There is a problem, but I think its scale is exaggerated. There are approximately 330 million people in the United States, and there are many tens of thousands of encounters between citizens and the police every day. We take half a dozen, maybe a dozen, admittedly outrageous, disturbing incidents of police violence, and we form this into a general account of how people are treated. I think that’s dangerous.
Winkler: But wasn’t the incident in Minneapolis extraordinary in its nonchalant brutality?
Loury: I don’t want to understate it: the case is terrible. It is difficult to look at the images. There was nothing good about it; it’s certainly not good policing. But you still don’t know what exactly happened. This requires an in-depth investigation. Even so, people have started to call it a lynching, and to say that it characterizes the nature of racial relationships in America today. This is a kind of collective hysteria.
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