When Policy Analysis Isn’t Enough: Supporting #BlackLivesMatter without Hesitation

By Jeremy Levy

Two weeks ago, when I came home to Chicago for Thanksgiving, I was deeply troubled of the news that the city had only just released video evidence of the CPD shooting of Laquan McDonald, an entire year after the incident. And in many conversations, I was surprised how reluctant fellow liberals were to declare outright support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In San Francisco last Wednesday, a video was revealed showing eight officers shooting 26 year old Mario Woods.

Aside from being arguably the most important policy issue of the current political landscape, the issue of police shootings and Black Lives Matter is one where the limits of objective public policy analysis come squarely into focus.

This is not to say policy analysis and data are unimportant. Existing research from GSPP and elsewhere is highly informative, and the policy research landscape is also shifting in significant ways. In multiple instances this year, FBI director James Comey has said that current national efforts to collect data on police shootings of civilians are inadequate, stating, “It’s ridiculous that I can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police in this country right now.” And moving forward, increased researcher focus will be put toward evaluating the impact of police-worn body cameras.

But research leaves many questions unanswered, and most people do not wait for data-driven evidence to make up their minds. There is no time to wait for more answers to be revealed.

For all of these shootings, the “policy solution” that follows from the available information is not entirely clear. In ad hoc conversations on the topic, I will not have the information on hand to answer all questions to the satisfaction of a Black Lives Matter skeptic. Are we absolutely sure the officer was in no danger? If we train cops to take more time to assess their surroundings, will it result in any increase in officer deaths?

If it is your view that communities of color should respect police, or if you raise black-on-black crime, I will not have essays on hand to explain my view that respect needs to flow the other way around, or that black-on-black crime is a separate issue (although one similarly made worse by political neglect for the needs of these communities).

Earlier this year, New York Times columnist Charles Blow outlined his son’s gunpoint encounter with an officer at Yale, and how glad he was he had talked to his son previously about police encounters. He writes, “When that moment came, I was exceedingly happy I had talked to him about how to conduct himself if a situation like this ever occurred. Yet I was brewing with sadness and anger that he had to use that advice.”

If you, like me, are white, liberal, but unlike me, are a skeptic of the very important movement, I will not be able to answer all of your questions. But if I can leave you with just one question, it is this: would it ever occur to you to have a preemptive conversation with your children about how to interact with police in order to avoid death? And given that many black families currently feel the need to have such talks, does it not suggest that the answers to many of our unknowns, once revealed, will only confirm that the way we conduct policing needs to change drastically? That we, as a nation, do not value black lives?

Jeremy Levy is a first-year MPP student at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Before GSPP, he worked on criminal justice policy research at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC.