White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday he doesn’t think there is systemic racism in the nation’s police forces and “bad apples” are at fault for the impression even as protesters argue that a pattern of discrimination is at the root of George Floyd’s death.
Black people have been killed in multiple high-profile interactions with police in Baltimore, Missouri and other places across the U.S. Some data shows minorities are stopped or searched at higher rates than their share of the population, but other studies dispute the idea that racism courses through law enforcement and say police are no more likely to shoot a black suspect than a white one.
Mr. O’Brien said 99.9% of law enforcement officers are “great Americans” and include blacks, Hispanics and Asians. He said many are working tough beats.
“No. I don’t think there’s systemic racism,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“But, you know what, there are some bad apples in there, and, you know, there are some bad cops that are racist,” he said. “There are cops that maybe don’t have the right training, and there are some that are just bad cops. And they need to be rooted out.”
His message contrasted with that of demonstrators nationwide who sometimes turn violent. The protesters argue that fundamental changes are needed to reform American policing in the face of high-profile deaths of black people during interactions with white officers, most recently when a Minneapolis cop put his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, rejected O’Brien’s comments.
“This is not about bad apples,” said Mr. Gaspard, a former ambassador to South Africa. “This is about systemic rot.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Mr. Floyd’s death was “part of a pattern.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said “the vast majority of cops are good” but suggested the need to dig deeper. “We have got to have these conversations and figure out what the issues are that we have to address,” he told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Researchers who have looked at policing and bias paint a mixed picture.
A black man in the U.S. has a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police use of force, which is 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys, according to a 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The risk tends to decrease with age. A 40-year-old black man faces about the same risk of a deadly police encounter as a 25-year-old white man, according to the authors.
Separate studies have found black and Hispanic drivers are more likely to be searched after being pulled over. They made up 80% of searches under New York’s stop-and-frisk policy despite representing just over half of the city’s population.
The Center for Investigative Reporting last year reported on active-duty police officers who posted racist memes on Facebook. It confirmed the identities of hundreds of posters and said their investigation sparked internal reviews at 50 of the police departments tied to posting officers.
Other studies, however, have found no evidence of racial bias in police shootings.
A Harvard professor’s 2016 paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, which examined thousands of incidents at 10 large police departments in California, Florida and Texas, concluded that police were no more likely to shoot nonwhites than whites after factoring in extenuating circumstances.
More blacks as a percentage of the population are killed by police each year than whites, but blacks are also more likely to be reported as crime suspects, increasing their chances of police encounters. FBI statistics and other data show blacks are more likely than whites to kill police officers.
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights member Peter Kirsanow, who is black and a Republican appointee, said the narrative that police over the past 30 years have systematically targeted blacks is “completely false.”
“[T]he data make clear that blacks are overrepresented among victims of police shootings, but they are underrepresented relative to their overrepresentation in crime, particularly violent crime. 22.5 percent of those killed by police in 2017 were black,” he said in a 2018 report. “But 26.8 percent of all individuals arrested in 2017 were black.”
Speaking to ABC on Sunday, Mr. O’Brien reiterated that the problem is “bad apples” within police forces.
“Whether they’re racist or they’re ill-trained or they’re just vicious, they’ve got to be rooted out of law enforcement because 99.9% of our law enforcement officers are heroes and they’re doing great work protecting the American people,” he told “This Week.”
Rep. Val Demings, a Florida Democrat who served on the Orlando Police Department for nearly three decades, said conversations about misconduct need to go beyond individual departments and cities or states.
“I do believe the time has certainly come, we are overdue, for us to look at the problem as a nation. I think we all need to pause and every law enforcement agency in this nation, whether they are 10 persons or 35,000 persons, need to review their hiring standards, their training standards, look at their de-escalation training that they’re doing within the department,” said Ms. Demings, who is considered a potential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.
Boiling frustrations over police treatment of black Americans come on top of a COVID-19 pandemic that has hit minority populations especially hard and has shined a light on health and economic disparities. Massive unemployment in the wake of related shutdowns is poised to worsen the pain in black communities.
Nina Turner, a senior adviser to Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign, said the time for platitudes is over.
“If something is not done, and I mean in a big way on the state, federal and local level, to do something to ameliorate this systemic anti-blackness that has been festering since the conception of this country, they are going to see more rising across this country as the weather gets warmer,” Ms. Turner told The Washington Times. “Black people are not going to sit idly by and take this, and platitudes are not going to work. Being Twitter champions is not going to work this time. We need real, actual solutions right now.”
The pleas are coming in a highly charged election year as President Trump courts black voters by pointing to criminal justice reform and “opportunity zone” funding.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, has boasted on the campaign trail about his ability to forge bipartisan consensus.
Ms. Turner said now is the time for him to show he truly has those chops.
“He especially owes the black community,” she said, alluding to how black voters revived his flagging campaign.
“He needs to take his behind down to Congress and get to negotiating and get some laws passed right now,” she said. “Stop playing with it. Either you believe in Black Lives Matter or you don’t.”
Ms. Turner said Black Lives Matter was built out of the foundation of the Black Panthers, which was built on the foundations of the Abolitionists.
“None of this stuff is new,” she said. “We just repeat the same scene from generation to generation.”
She said the big difference now is that the encounters are being caught on video.
“Emmett Till didn’t have a smartphone,” she said, adding that countless other black men and women who, because of racism, didn’t have witnesses to verify their side of a story “to undergird their humanity.”
It’s a shame, she said, “that black people always need someone to verify our humanity. … We are sick of it.”
⦁ Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.