A bit less than a year before he would win election as president of the United States, Donald Trump retweeted an entirely incorrect and explicitly racist set of data on crime:
Every number in that image is wrong. The most recent data available from the FBI (which is for 2015) indicates that 89.3 percent of black murder victims that year were killed by black perpetrators. Among white murder victims, 81.3 percent were killed by someone who was white. It’s also obviously not the case that 3 percent of white people who were murdered were killed by police — the debate over police behavior would be very different — but none of this seems to have given Trump much pause.
At the time, this tweet was largely treated as another unprecedented move from an unprecedented political candidate — who seemed to many to be unlikely to win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency. That Trump accepted the obviously bogus data is one thing; that he decided to retweet it to his followers is another. But it got washed away in the flow. Two weeks later, Trump called for a ban on immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries.
Then he won the nomination and the presidency. Then he appointed Sebastian Gorka to serve as an aide in the West Wing.
Gorka’s tenure in the White House was relatively brief, coming to an ignominious end in late August after Gorka had spent most of his time, it seems, defending the administration in television interviews. Once he left, he found other opportunities doing the same thing, now hosted by the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group.
On Thursday, his duties with Sinclair, which owns scores of local television stations, had him participating in a roundtable discussion on gun violence in the United States for WJLA-TV in Washington. On that panel, Gorka proceeded to argue that efforts to regulate guns after mass shooting incidents was the wrong focus.
The problem was not “inanimate objects,” he said, noting that the Boston bombers killed several people with an illegal inanimate object — a bomb. (That 19 times as many people were killed with the inanimate firearms used in the Las Vegas massacre earlier this month was not noted.) No, the guns weren’t the problem.
“Our big issue is black African gun crime against black Africans,” he said. “It is a tragedy. Go to Chicago. Go to the cities run by Democrats for 40 years. Black young men are murdering each other by the bushel. This is a social issue. Allow the police to do their jobs and rebuild those societies. Legislation will not save lives.”
Panelist and former Maryland state delegate Jolene Ivey challenged him on that point, noting that a key reason that most black people who are murdered are murdered by black people is that, as with white murder victims who are murdered by whites, they’re more likely to spend time with people who share their racial identity.
“You think it’s a geographic function?” Gorka asked. When Ivey said she did, Gorka replied: “If they move out of their neighborhood, it will be fine, right? If they move to another neighborhood?”
The conversation quickly devolved from there, when Ivey said that Gorka was being ridiculous, and he replied by suggesting that Ivey was saying that murders were ridiculous.
But that last point from Gorka is worth highlighting, for two reasons. The first is that Gorka is arguing that it’s inherently ridiculous to assume that moving someone out of their community would affect their behavior. Specifically, he’s talking about moving people who live in inner cities, as made clear by his references to Chicago.
One of the factors that overlaps with black-on-black crime is economic status. Poverty and crime are correlated, and low-income neighborhoods often see more crime. Black and Hispanic people are more likely to be poor. It’s difficult in many circumstances to extricate the effects of race from the effects of poverty, and that’s certainly true in this discussion. If we assume that we’re removing this theoretical criminal from the place that he or she lives, are we then also assuming that we’re changing his or her economic status?
Which brings us to the second reason this argument by Gorka is worth highlighting. He scoffs that it’s ridiculous to think that moving a black person out of a predominantly black neighborhood would make it less likely that the person would commit a murder. In other words, he’s implying that there’s something inherent in black “Africans” committing murders against other black people. That it’s a function of who they are as black people, not of circumstance.
Consider this phrasing: “This is a social issue. Allow the police to do their jobs and rebuild those societies.” Murder is a function of black social structures, apparently, which the police can “rebuild.” He’s not saying: “This is a social issue; we need to provide more economic opportunity and reduce poverty.” He’s saying that only law enforcement can fix what’s wrong with black communities.
The broader rhetorical trick Gorka is deploying here, of course, is a bit of concern-trolling, trying to distract Democrats and liberals from calling for new gun legislation by suggesting that they’ve fallen asleep at the wheel on a much more important issue: black-on-black murder. Democrats have run these cities for 40 years, yet people are still dying! Over the course of the past 15 years murder rates have dropped precipitously in those cities, but as long as there’s one murder in a poor neighborhood, one can expect a Gorka or a Rudy Giuliani to use it to criticize Democrats.
This argument by Gorka is particularly clumsy and awfully revealing. It also serves as a reminder that the willingness Trump showed to retweet untrue data about black crime wasn’t an aberration: Once elected president, he hired a guy whose grasp of the subject is similarly questionable.
This article was corrected to remove an incorrect claim about Gorka’s employment.