People were sending messages of support, inclusivity, and organization on an all employes email list. An older white dude with known libertarian and conservative leanings sent the following message:

At the risk of losing a job that I love very much…

Black lives matter? White lives matter? All lives matter?

How about …

Good lives matter … most.

The notions of good and bad are being undermined by the superficial colors of black and white. Rodney King was not a particularly good man. From what I have read, George Floyd was also not a particularly good man. Certainly Derek Chauvin is not a very good man either. Their skin color doesn’t matter.

It’s not about black and white. It’s about good and bad. That’s what matters and that’s what we should hold up as our ideals. The deification of people based on the color of their skin is extremely flawed and does not lead us to a better society. Holding people accountable for being better human beings … does.

Below is my response that I sent to him and everyone else.

I want to make my response public as there are many more people out there who have my colleague’s opinions, and some of those people can be reached.

I also wanted to make my response public becuase the Salk is taking a tremendous amount of flack, some of it justified, for how they handled the situation. I will summarize the problem with the response (from my viewpoint) as being too wishy-washy at the first go, where they called for respectful dialogue and the condemnation of the offensive letter did not originally call it racism. Later iterations of the official statments addressed this and did forcefully condemn the original letter. And again, for those who take this as “Salk has a problem” I point out that the original offensive letter was in response to people at Salk organizing to fight racism and protest police brutality.

Anyway, here’s my letter —-

Dear XXX,

Here’s what I hear you arguing, please correct me if I’m wrong: 1) that being race-blind should be a guiding principle, and 2) that we should care most about people who are good.

(1) is a nice idea, since race is a social construct, not a biological one. But we live in a world that actively holds back and threatens people of color as compared to caucasian looking folk. Do you agree that that’s a true statement?

If so, it makes sense to work on the plight of people facing the problem, and that it makes no sense to say “but all lives matter!” … not because they don’t matter… they do… but they are not under threat in the same fashion or to anywhere near the same level. You don’t go around saying “all houses matter!” when your neighbors house is on fire, and you shouldn’t be upset that the fire department is shooting water on the burning house and not your own.

(2) I just can’t even understand what you’re getting at here. A human life is a human life. To value the life of someone who is “good” over someone who is “not good” is against just about every philosophy, principle of law, and religion I can think of. This is true up to very extreme definitions of “not good” (like our law says we can kill a killer via our judicial system). Goodness shouldn’t matter as you contested it should. Police are required to treat every life as sacred, regardless of their rap sheet or what they are accused of. Use of force should not be predicated on goodness, only on the nature of the interaction at that moment.

And crucially, back to (1), cops should react to the situation not the color of your skin.

On a separate note I believe (and I’m guessing that given your libertarianism you do too) that police are too interventionist and invasive in general. Police kill 6% - 10% of all people killed in the US in a year: This is unbelievably high, and wrong no matter who is killed. Our guardians shouldn’t be one of our greatest single threats.

But the burden of police violence falls directly on Black Americans who are killed at 3x the rate of white people. : People of color are stopped and searched by police up to 5x as often as whites depending on the location, yet the outcomes of these searches are not finding contraband more frequently. That is, the police stopping them more frequently is not justified by the outcome

In summary, I don’t think (1) is possible now, and therefore emphasizing racial aspects of the policing problem is valid. Your statement essentially denied that racial disparity, and therefore it hurt many people who feel deeply about this topic. Also I think you are just dead wrong on (2).

I challenge you to look at the stats of racial disparity above, then read this article, and then the book it was excerpted from:

And I look forward to your response to my points. —Jason