In an op-ed piece published by the News on Oct. 4, Aron Ravin ’24 makes the argument that it is not systemic racism, but rather police unionism, that serves as the root cause of police brutality. Ravin states “in order to enact effective reform, we must be informed.” I agree, which is why a piece like this — rife with misrepresentation and fallacy — is not only negligent but also dangerous to publish during this political moment. Meanwhile, abolitionists, often Black, are saddled with a higher burden of proof compared to their political opponents. We are asked again and again to present airtight cases as to why our lives matter.
Ravin’s claim is twofold: first, that systemic racism does not cause police brutality, and second, that police unions cause police brutality instead. Ravin does not provide sufficient evidence for his first claim. He acknowledges the racial disparity in instances of police brutality but tries to argue that this is not because of systemic racism. The problem isn’t with Ravin’s individual statistics. The problem, rather, is that systemic racism in policing is not simply over-policing or cases of individual racism. In fact, this false equivalency between individual and systemic racism gravely misrepresents the entire abolitionist argument and leaves his major claim against systemic racism completely unsubstantiated.
First, Ravin uses the following statistic: “Black people were no more likely to have an officer initiate contact with them than white or Hispanic people.” But this misses some nuance. In his book, “The End of Policing,” Alex Vitale discusses how Black communities are simultaneously over-policed (when it comes to petty or property crimes) and under-policed (when it comes to murders and homicides). This is because policing is not structured around the safety of all populations, but the protection of capital and the preservation of the status quo. And racism in these institutions is most often not individual, but systemic.
Second, individual racism is not equivalent to systemic racism. Ravin cites the following: “the race of officers has no correlation with their likelihood to shoot minority offenders.” However, systemic racism describes the more covert ways in which racism is institutionalized. It means that we have policies and institutions — systems — that produce racially disparate outcomes, regardless of the individual inclinations of the people within them.
When abolitionists talk of the systemic racism in policing, we are talking of its roots in slave patrols, of warrior-mentality police training, of stop-and-frisk policies, of mass incarceration, of the racialized coding of crimes and criminality, of the intersections between race and poverty and crime, of redlining, of food deserts, of the school-to-prison pipeline, to name a few topics. Ironically, Ravin acknowledges a number of these things, further rendering his case against systemic racism in policing incoherent. Is the consistent police brutality throughout history, disproportionately against Black and Indigenous people, not evidence in and of itself of prolonged systemic racism within policing?
This is not a question of differing political opinion, but one of the News’ journalistic integrity and ethical responsibility. Ravin’s piece is logically incoherent and poorly argued — its publication was an oversight on the part of both the author and the editor. This isn’t a trivial topic, and allowing unfounded claims to publication can mislead the public and perpetuate violent rhetoric.
As an intellectual community, we must be vigilant in upholding the standard of discourse. And even then, we must understand that the discussion about defunding the police is more than just theory, but has real consequences for real people. To support Black lives is not simply publishing stories by Black people, but ensuring that all voices are held to the same intellectual standards. If anything, at a time when the police violence against Black life is glaringly apparent, the onus of responsibility should not be on the oppressed to prove why these systems shouldn’t exist, but on those still supporting the oppressive systems.
TEIGIST TAYE is a junior in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.