The conservative economist's take on Ferguson, Eric Garner and more.
Thomas Sowell, Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of America’s premier economists, has just released the 5th edition of his best-selling book, Basic Economics. He sat down recently for a lengthy interview not only on the topics in his new book, but also on current events. In part one of this three-part interview, Sowell discusses Ferguson, the Eric Garner case, and civil rights in America.
David Hogberg: Why did Ferguson and the Eric Garner cases create so much social unrest? Other people are shot by police every year, black men are shot by other black men, and none of that generates even a smidgen of interest. So why are these cases different?
Thomas Sowell: Oh, because there are professionals out there who are in the race industry, and this is an opportunity for them. It so happens a white teenager was shot and killed by a black policeman down in Alabama, during this very period, and it has practically not been heard of. Larry Elder is one of the few people who has given it any publicity.
DH: By professionals I assume you mean folks like Al Sharpton and Bill de Blasio, correct?
TS: Yes, and there is a whole army of them going right on down to the community organizer level.
DH: What do you think motivates Al Sharpton and Bill de Blasio to involve themselves in these incidents? Is it in any way really a concern for civil rights?
TS: Not in the slightest. It is obvious that for de Blasio it suits his political interests and for Sharpton it suits his power and income interests. De Blasio hopes to use this to turn out the minority vote next time around. As for Sharpton, well, he owes, I think it is literally, millions of dollars in back taxes. I have never owed millions of dollars in back taxes. Alas, I never had any reason to be owing millions of dollars. So, really, a man of fairly modest accomplishments is living very high on the hog, on the strength of his ability to exploit the guilt of white people and the gullibility of such blacks as he can get to follow him.
DH: And so involving himself in an incident like this helps keep the funds flowing?
TS: Yes and more than that. For this kind of thing to work you have to keep the black community, in this case, as worried and preferably paranoid as you can. So that you can then play on that.
DH: Do they have an incentive to keep minorities filled with resentments and even, perhaps, poor?
TS: I don’t know about poor, but insofar as you keep people focused on things that have very little to do with their poverty, the net result is they will likely remain poor longer than they would otherwise.
DH: Some of the protesters in New York City chanted, “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” To what degree are they responsible for the two cops who were shot to death?
TS: To a degree, they are. If you stir up hostility against a group, in this case police, terrible things are going to happen. Some people express their hostility in words, some in other ways. But you can be sure that across a broad spectrum of people there will be those who will use violence.
I love it when the left says that these were peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson that got out of hand. Well, going in, it’s as predictable as the swallows coming back to Capistrano: If you are going to have a mass of people whipped up by demagogues like Sharpton and others, if these people are told that the world is against them, and the protest occurs at night, somebody is going to start doing something violent. And I can’t believe that the people who organized this are so naïve that it has never occurred to them that violence might happen.
DH: To what degree, if any, are people like Al Sharpton and Bill de Blasio responsible for those dead cops?
To a considerable degree because, again, they set the atmosphere. When you go out and stir all of this stuff up, of course you are responsible. You can’t turn this stuff on and off. When you open the floodgates, you can’t tell the water where to go. The ultimate responsibility, obviously, is the man who pulled the trigger. But what I’m saying is that when you set this kind of stuff in motion, you know that violence is a likely outcome.
One thing that’s so disturbing, even beyond the racial issue, are the people who act as if controversial issues should be discussed in just talking points. It doesn’t matter what the realities were. For example, the phrase, “The police shot an unarmed man.” It makes my teeth go on edge. But what is that supposed to mean? Does it mean that if you are in danger from an unarmed person and you are armed, you are supposed to wait until he’s armed before you can shoot him? The only time I ever pointed a gun at anyone, when I was in the Marines, I did not know if he was armed or unarmed. Fortunately for all concerned, he froze in his tracks. Otherwise I’d have had a lot of paperwork to do. But if I had shot him and killed him, I would not have lost one moment’s sleep over it. He created a danger, and I defended myself from the danger.
I’ve even heard conservatives like Bill O’Reilly and Charles Krauthammer say that the police were wrong in the Eric Garner case. It drives me crazy when people who have never faced a situation like that are sure what should have been done in it. Once when I was in the Marines I was corporal of the guard, and I had to take another Marine into custody. He was much bigger than me and he refused to go. Luckily for me, another Marine, who was even bigger, was nearby and must have realized that this could get very nasty. He intervened and helped. And he wasn’t anymore gentle than the police were with Eric Garner. But, in the case of Eric Garner, here is this 350-pound man telling the police he is not going to be arrested. Now, once it becomes physical, you don’t know what the hell is going to happen the next moment. With one punch, Garner could have maimed, even killed, the officer. And so many people point to the fact he was saying that he couldn’t breathe. When you are trying to bring a 350-pound man down you are not listening keenly to what he is saying. You are trying your damnedest to get him handcuffed before someone gets hurt. And to think that pundits and others will sit back in their safety and comfort and second guess this—it’s a little much.
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