'My brown son is more likely to commit crime': RNC speaker claims police would be right to racially profile her son

Ms Johnson is a prominent anti-abortion activist

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 26 August 2020 02:32 BST
RNC speaker claims police would be right to racially profile her son

A prominent anti-abortion activist speaking at the Republican National Convention Tuesday made a video in which she appears to endorse racial profiling in policing, even if it means police being inherently more suspicious of her adopted black son.

Vice News reports that Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood worker turned anti-abortion activist, posted a video in June in which she claimed it would be "smart" for police officers to racially profile her adopted black son, and justified her belief with incarceration statistics.

"Statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offence over my white sons" she said in the video.

While the wording of her statement seems to suggest she believes black people are inherently more likely to commit crimes simply by the colour of their skin, the main thrust of her argument is that police should be more wary around black people because they represent a disproportionate percentage of individuals in prison.

"I recognise that I'm gonna have to have a different conversation with Jude than I do with my brown-haired little Irish, very, very pale-skinned, white sons, as they grow up," Ms Johnson said in the video.

Her video was posted in the wake of the the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

She suggested that her son may grow up to be a "probably sort of large, intimidating-looking-maybe brown man" and that police would be wise to be suspicious of him as a result.

"Statistically, I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African-American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes," Ms Johnson said. "So statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my Jude walking down the road -- as opposed to my white nerdy kids, my white nerdy men walking down the road -- because of the statistics that he knows in his head, that these police officers know in their head, they're going to know that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offence over my white sons."

She said an office racially profiling her son wouldn't make her angry.

"So the fact that in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son that my white son, that doesn't actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics," she said.

Apart from making a basic statistical fallacy of equating correlation and causation, she also has her facts wrong.

While she is correct that the prison population is disproportionately black - 13 per cent of the US male population is black, but they make up 35 per cent of the country's male prisoners - they are not overwhelmingly locked up for violent crimes.

According to FBI data from 2014 - the most recent year available - only 6 per cent of arrests of black men were for violent crimes in 2011.

In reality, black men are more likely to be arrested, charged and sentenced with crimes - generally tied to drug use or possession - due to racial biases in policing and the legal system.

The Vera Institute reported that in 2018, black people accounted for only 15 per cent of the drug using population in the US, but they accounted for 27 per cent of individuals arrested for drug possession and distribution.

On top of that, 33 per cent of people sentenced for drug-related crimes are black, and in federal courts that number rises to 38 per cent.

Policing in America is largely influenced by a philosophy known as "broken-windows" policing, a theory on criminal justice that suggests poor areas are home to people inherently more likely to commit crimes. The theory goes on to argue that police should have a more substantial presence in those communities to act as deterrents to crimes.

What happens as a result of that police mentality is that police spend more time policing majority black neighbourhoods, which - particularly in cities - tend to be poorer due to the effects of redlining, white flight, and generational poverty.

Because the police presence is greater in those communities, arrests are higher, and the stereotype as blacks being more likely to commit crimes is further perpetuated.

Ms Johnson - either ignorant of or unwilling to address these facts - simply blames the racial disparity in prison populations as a result of "bad dads."

"I believe the primary reason that we see a lot of the illness in our society today and one of the reasons that we're seeing a lot of what's happening today in our society is because of fatherlessness, because fathers have not stood up and they have not taken their place in the home and particularly in black homes," Ms Johnson said.

She later claimed that "70 per cent" of dads leave their children.

"Black fathers do not get a pass, just because it is culturally different, just because black fathers don't want to be in the home, and culturally it has been acceptable for them to be with multiple women," she said.

Ms Johnson's 70 per cent statistic is likely referring to a report from the US Centers for Disease Control in 2018 that said nearly 70 per cent of non-Hispanic black women gave birth while unmarried. That statistic doesn't take into consideration women who may be living with partners but are not married to them, and only takes into consideration the time period of when the women gave birth.

The CDC also reported that black fathers who didn't live with their kids were often still parenting them, and did so more often than white fathers in the same situation.

Black men being portrayed as bad fathers is an often deployed stereotype by those seeking to lay the fault of racial disparities in poverty and criminal statistics at the feet of the black community.

As the Vice News report mentions, Michelle Alexander, the author of "The New Jim Crow," points out that the reason why black fathers are away from their children is often times because they have been imprisoned.

"Hundreds of thousands of Black men are unable to be good fathers for their children, not because of a lack of commitment or desire but because they are warehoused in prisons, locked in cages," Ms Alexander wrote. "They did not walk out on their families voluntarily; they were taken away in handcuffs, often due to a massive federal program known as the War on Drugs."

Ms Johnson made a name for herself after claiming she quit her job at a Planned Parenthood after witnessing the abortion of a pregnancy of 13 weeks. She has since become a popular figure in anti-abortion circles.

Journalists have questioned Ms Johnson's road to Damascus moment. A Texas Monthly report cited a court case in which Ms Johnson's former colleagues claimed she expressed worries to them that she was about to be fired in the days leading up to her resignation. Salon reported that three days prior to her defection from Planned Parenthood, she was put on a "performance improvement plan" as a result of unsatisfactory job performance.

In Facebook posts obtained by Texas Monthly, Ms Johnson appears to be overworked and frustrated with her job rather than morally torn by her duties.

"Alright. Here's the deal. I have been doing the work of two full time people for two years. Then, after I have been working my whole big butt off for them and prioritising that company over my family, my friends and pretty much everything else in my life, they have the nerve to tell me that my job performance is "slipping." WHAT???!!! That is crazy," she wrote. "Anyone that knows me knows how committed I was to that job. They obviously do not value me at all. So, I'm out and I feel really great about it!"

Ms Johnson will speak Tuesday night at the RNC.

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