On August 13, 2016, a 23-year-old black man was fatally shot by a Milwaukee police officer. The killing of Sylville Smith touched off protests and, eventually, rights in the city, leaving many white people asking why this community was so outraged. Much has been written on the subject since then. If you visit Vox and other websites, you would see that the backdrop to this story is a long history of segregation, police brutality, and injustice. Or, if you watched Lauren Southern’s appearance on Stefan Molyneux’s Freedomain Radio, you would find that it’s actually all the fault of single moms, welfare recipients, and black culture itself.
On August 19, 2016 — six days after Smith’s death — Southern, a conservative Canadian activist, was interviewed about the riots by Molyneux. Southern revealed that she had briefly visited Milwaukee post-riot in order to interview residents. Her conclusion as to what set off this unrest was the usual right-wing diatribe about how black people are being manipulated into bashing cops, how the black family is no longer intact, and how black people should just adopt “traditional values” like the rest of us.
The protests, Southern claimed, “started with songs and ‘Kumbaya'” but quickly changed after the “people with jobs” went home for the night. At which point, the “young people” (presumably jobless young people) and “the instigators” (e.g. Black Lives Matter and the Nation of Islam) supposedly began to riot. She went on to say that this only represented half the problem. The other half was single mothers — another favorite target of the woman-hating Molyneux.
Couching her argument as “what I was being told” by Milwaukee residents, Southern alleged that what was happening there was a “symptom of single motherhood” and “illegitimacy.” Evidently young black men and women wouldn’t be on the wrong end of a police baton or Glock if only their fathers were around.
Molyneux then launched into a anti-government tirade, laced with his usual government-handouts-are-destroying-the-country talking points. “You know, when I was a kid, single moms, you know, were kinda looked down on, were kinda scorned,” he remembered fondly. Today, he lamented, the government just hands out money to “irresponsible people.”
Southern asserted that the people she interviewed all told her the exact same thing: that there is “no discipline” within the black community and “traditional values have been completely wiped out” in favor of “this thug life.”
Molyneux asked Southern if the “narrative” was “beginning to shift” following revelation that the officer who killed Smith is black. This incident, he continued, “may be an important turning point” because it was a case of “a black shooting a black” which you cannot pin on white racism. This seems to be a common refrain on the right in the aftermath of Smith’s death, but, far from being the “Gotcha!” moment conservatives and the alt-right were looking for to discredit the anti-police brutality movement, the race of the officer isn’t especially relevant.
Just because the officer in this case is black, it doesn’t negate the fact that any police officer, even officers of color, can harbor unconscious anti-black biases. Nor does it mean that police officers of any race rarely get punished for killing a black person, as we’ve seen in the cases of Freddie Gray and Akai Gurley. In other words, the fact that this officer was black does not negate the problems that the Black Lives Matter movement seeks to highlight and change.
But both Molyneux and Southern, believing black people to be victims of a vast anti-white and anti-police media, dismiss the experiences of the very community they are trying to speak out on behalf of. It can’t be that black people in Milwaukee have experienced systemic racism and injustice. No, they must be mistaken. So instead Southern purports to have interviewed multiple residents of Milwaukee who just so happen to share her worldview of what is ailing African-Americans.
She even cites a supposed article on Everyday Feminism (Southern is an outspoken anti-feminist) that says “cops are trained to shoot and kill black people at night, and lie about it.” This, she claimed, is a “real article” on Everyday Feminism. If such an article exists on Everyday Feminism, however, I have yet to find it. There are certainly articles on racial justice and police abuses, mind you, including articles on the Blue Lives Matter movement, ways that police “break the law, threaten, or lie to you to get what they want,” four “magic phrases” to use when being questioned or detained by police, and examples of how white privilege impacts police interactions with white people. Now it’s true I could have missed an article that says what Southern claimed it does, but at the same time, she provided no citation that such an article was ever posted on Everyday Feminism (or any other website for that matter).
Dubious claims about the media aside, Southern is casting black protesters as pitiful victims, not of an unjust system but of their own ignorance. And while elsewhere in the interview she condemns white liberal agitators who have never lived in Milwaukee, I wonder if that’s really any worse than the benevolent racism of a white conservative stopping by to gawk at the wreckage just so she can do a patronizing interview with a eugenics-spouting crackpot.