The Dangers of Vilifying All Police: Former Civil Rights Activist Bob Woodson

By Irene Luo
Irene Luo
Irene Luo
Irene is the assistant producer for American Thought Leaders. She previously interned for the China News team at the Epoch Times. She is a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in Political Science and East Asian Languages and Cultures.
and Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Jan Jekielek
Senior Editor
Jan Jekielek is a senior editor with The Epoch Times and host of the show, "American Thought Leaders." Jan’s career has spanned academia, media, and international human rights work. In 2009 he joined The Epoch Times full time and has served in a variety of roles, including as website chief editor. He is the producer of the award-winning Holocaust documentary film "Finding Manny."
June 9, 2020Updated: June 14, 2020

The people condemning law enforcement in America and advocating for the defunding of police are not the ones who will have to face the deadly results of their proposals, says former civil rights activist Bob Woodson.

“Let’s do a survey of these communities where crime is the highest and find out what the people there want, before we rush to accept the recommendations of people who don’t have to suffer the consequences,” Woodson said, in an interview with The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” program.

The killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests demanding reform as well as cases of looting, arson, and vandalism. Reform proposals vary, with some groups such as Black Lives Matter and Democratic Socialists of America calling for a nationwide defunding of police.

Nine of the 12 sitting members of the Minneapolis City Council have pledged to disband the city’s police department. On June 7, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to cut funding for the New York Police Department and redirect it to youth and social services.

But there is little evidence of racial discrimination in police use of deadly force, according to a 2019 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and a 2015 Justice Department study of the Philadelphia Police Department.

In Woodson’s view, crime will likely increase even without funding cuts, because vilification of the police as agents of white suppression makes them more reluctant to enforce the law.

After surveying 200 officers across six agencies in the southern United States, Shetali Patil, an assistant professor of management at The University of Texas–Austin, found that when officers felt the public didn’t understand or appreciate them, they became less proactive.

The result is more blacks being killed by other blacks, Woodson said.

This occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of Michael Brown and in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, according to a forthcoming academic paper by Harvard economist Roland Fryer and co-author Tanaya Devi, which was cited by The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley.

Nationwide condemnation and scrutiny of the police also thwarts recruitment efforts, Woodson said.

A 2019 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum highlighted a “workforce crisis” with law enforcement unable to recruit new officers or retain the ones they have. Sixty-three percent of respondents reported a decrease in people applying to become a police officer compared to five years ago.

“In some cities, the police are unable to respond appropriately to 911 calls because they don’t have enough officers to cover it,” Woodson said.

The Mantra of Institutional Racism

People are using the tragic killing of George Floyd at the hands of police to justify a full-scale assault on the fundamental values of America, Woodson said.

“Their position is that slavery has not ended. It’s just evolved” from de jure to institutional racism, Woodson said. A key proponent of this stance is The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project,” which argues that “out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.”

The “mantra” of institutional racism has “morphed into an orthodoxy like communism,” Woodson said. “Are you a supporter of the party or not?

“It’s really sweeping the nation like a virus. This is our second pandemic in recent days.

“They are preying on the guilt of white Americans.”

Corporations are pouring money into “race grievance organizations,” Woodson said.

Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook will donate $10 million to “groups working on racial justice.” Uber pledged $1 million for the Equal Justice Initiative and the Center for Policing Equity. Many celebrities have donated to organizations like the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which posts bail for arrested protestors.

“People are afraid to challenge this orthodoxy. But challenge it, we must, because it’s really harming the very people in whose name it’s being evoked—that is low-income blacks,” Woodson said.

An Internal Crisis

The narrative of institutional racism incapacitates black Americans from taking control of their future and uplifting themselves through resilience and self-discipline, Woodson said.

“Nothing is more lethal than to provide a convenient excuse for someone’s failure; to say to them you are not responsible,” he said.

In Woodson’s view, black America is suffering from an internal crisis, with 70 percent of black children born out-of-wedlock as well as rampant drug use and crime in many low-income communities. These maladies cannot be conveniently explained by the shadow of slavery.

“Even though we’re only 13 percent of the population, we contribute 50 percent of all the murders that occur,” Woodson said.

Woodson carries with him a photo of Laylah Petersen, a 5-year-old girl who was sitting on her grandfather’s lap watching television when she was shot in the head.

In St. Louis, between May and September 2019, 18 children under the age of 16 were killed by gun violence. “And only one arrest was effected because of the distrust with the police,” Woodson said.

Real Solutions

Woodson founded the Woodson Center in 1981 to work with grassroots leaders to uplift people in the worst of circumstances.

As he told The Epoch Times in a previous interview: “If we say that 70 percent of families in these low-income, drug-infested neighborhoods are raising children that are troubled, it means 30 percent are not. We go into the homes of the 30 percent to try to find out what is the secret of how they were able to thrive and to progress in the presence of this dysfunctional community.”

In the 1980s, Woodson worked with the House of Umoja in Philadelphia, founded by Sister Fattah, a woman who discovered one of her sons was a gang member. She housed her son’s friends—more than a dozen gang members—with her family and “created an island of excellence,” Woodson said.

Three years later, they reached out to warring gang members in Philadelphia and helped them come to a truce. Youth gang violence radically decreased in just two years, from 48 gang deaths per year to two, Woodson said.

In 1983, groups of young blacks were attacking and robbing people in the city, and police were unable to contain it. The House of Umoja went to the local prison and recruited more than 100 inmates on a crime prevention task force. And they spoke with moral authority to more than 200 kids who were bused into the prison. “The wolf pack attacks stopped overnight,” Woodson said.

In 2008, Woodson was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the United States, for his work.

Many of the grassroots leaders Woodson works with are ex-offenders, but they were able to uplift themselves by embracing the “virtues of our founders of self-determination, of resilience, of triumph in the face of despair,” Woodson said. In February, the Woodson Center launched the “1776” initiative to counter the “1619 Project” and affirm America’s founding virtues and its promise of equality and opportunity for all.

Will we “continue to teach our children that they live in a nation that’s hostile to their future?” Woodson asked.

“People are motivated to change and improve when they are shown visions of victories that are possible—not constantly reminding them of injuries to be avoided.”

“American Thought Leaders” is an Epoch Times show available on Facebook and YouTube and The Epoch Times website.