The recent killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked a national discussion about racism in America today, but the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley says the country is having the wrong conversation.
“Every time we get a Ferguson or a Trayvon Martin, we start talking about relationships between the black community and the police department,” Riley said. “We start talking about racial profiling. We start talking about poverty and unemployment. But I think those are really side issues, and what they're really ducking is the real issue, which is black criminality, black crime rates.”
Riley, who has been dubbed as the “the right’s favorite new race guru” by Salon Magazine, is the author of a provocative new book called "Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed" in which he argues that “values and habits” within the black community, not “oppression from a manifestly unjust society,” are to blame for the challenges facing “the black underclass.”
“The question isn't whether bias or racism or prejudice still exists, of course it does,” Riley said in a recent interview with “Power Players.” “The question is: Is that an all-purpose explanation for what ails the black community?”
Riley, a conservative commentator and FOX News contributor, cited a statistic showing that blacks are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crime in the U.S. relative to the group’s population size, arguing that, “until that changes, you're going to have tensions between the black community and the police department.”
The book’s release comes as Republicans and Democrats are already engaged in a heated philosophical and policy debate headed into the 2014 midterm elections.
Riley, who is black, is no stranger to racial profiling, and discusses his own experience being profiled by police as a young man – something he said is a common experience shared among most black men his age. But he adds, “It’s not that hard to avoid getting shot by a cop.”
“They pull you over, you answer their questions; you have nothing to hide, you're on your way,” Riley said. “It's much more difficult for young black men to avoid getting shot by other black people.”
Riley makes the case in his book that the black community needs to take greater responsibility to confront the current crime rates and poverty rates rather than rely on the government and blame racism for its woes.
“To the extent that a government program interferes with that necessary black self-development, it's doing more harm than good,” Riley said. “If you're trying to replace a father in the home with a government check … you're not encouraging proper child rearing, proper parenting.”
Riley blamed Civil Rights leaders and the NAACP for making the problem worse.
“I believe the Sharptons, and the Jesse Jacksons and the NAACPs have an entirely different agenda, which is to keep themselves relevant at a time, when as I say, white racism is less and less of a problem in terms of a barrier to black advancement in this society,” Riley said. “But they can't talk about that, because to talk about that makes their agenda less relevant.”
In response to Riley’s criticism, NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks told ABC News that “we are far from reaching racial equality” in the U.S., despite major gains since the Civil Rights Movement.
"Some may seem intent on critiquing social programs – which have yielded significant benefits not just for communities of color but many Americans – and those who advocate for them,” Brooks said in a statement. “But the most important goal, and what the NAACP will not lose sight of -- is dismantling the institutional and structural barriers that created many of our historic and contemporary social and economic challenges, while empowering those marginalized communities to overcome them in order to achieve equality for all.”
For more of the interview with Riley, and to hear about his own experiences being profiled by police as a young man himself, check out this episode of “Power Players.”
ABC News’ Richard Coolidge, Gary Westphalen, Chris Carlson and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.