One of the Republican National Convention’s top speakers said in a recent video that it would be “smart” for a police officer to racially profile her biracial son, because “statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.”
“I recognize that I’m gonna have to have a different conversation with Jude than I do with my brown-haired little Irish, very, very pale-skinned, white sons, as they grow up,” Abby Johnson, a prominent anti-abortion activist, said in a 15-plus-minutes video posted to YouTube in late June, after weeks of nationwide protests against the police killing of George Floyd.
“Right now, Jude is an adorable, perpetually tan-looking little brown boy,” said Johnson, whose husband blogged, in 2015, about adopting their biracial son at his birth. Johnson is white. “But one day, he’s going to grow up and he’s going to be a tall, probably sort of large, intimidating-looking-maybe brown man. And my other boys are probably gonna look like nerdy white guys.”
But the fact that the police could one day view her sons differently, simply due to the color of their skin, doesn’t make Johnson mad, she said. Instead, it makes sense to her.
“Statistically, I look at our prison population and I see that there is a disproportionately high number of African-American males in our prison population for crimes, particularly for violent crimes. So statistically, when a police officer sees a brown man like my Jude walking down the road — as opposed to my white nerdy kids, my white nerdy men walking down the road — because of the statistics that he knows in his head, that these police officers know in their head, they’re going to know that statistically my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons.”
“So the fact that in his head, he would be more careful around my brown son than my white son, that doesn’t actually make me angry. That makes that police officer smart, because of statistics.”
Johnson, who is set to address the RNC on Tuesday, is perhaps the highest-profile anti-abortion activist to speak at the convention this year.
Johnson has a colorful history within anti-abortion circles, where she can be revered as a kind of folk hero. A former Planned Parenthood employee, she quit working a Texas clinic more than a decade ago after, she says, witnessing the abortion of a woman who was 13 weeks pregnant. (Reporters have questioned details of Johnson’s conversion narrative; Johnson has stuck to her story.)
Johnson’s stature also skyrocketed after her life story became the basis for the popular anti-abortion film “Unplanned” last year. That movie made more than $6 million during its opening weekend, recovering its entire budget, according to the New York Times.
Johnson’s video, which was reported on by the Daily Caller shortly after its posting, has since been made private. Johnson didn’t respond to a VICE News request for comment.
In her video, Johnson went on to clarify that she would be angry if a police officer treated her “brown son violently, more violently than my white son.”
“But if he’s on more high alert with my brown son than he is with my white son, that doesn’t make me angry, because that’s just smart, because of statistics, okay?” she said. “Now if he acts in an unjust manner toward my brown son than my white son, that makes me angry. But statistically if he’s on more high alert, I’m not angry about that.”
As Johnson said in her video, there is a disproportionate number of Black men in prison: While they make up about 13% of the U.S. male population, they comprise about 35% of incarcerated men, according to a 2018 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, which seeks to solve mass incarceration.
But that’s not simply because Black men are more likely to commit violent crimes, as Johnson suggested. In fact, in 2011, just 6% of arrests of Black men were for violent crimes, according to a 2014 analysis of FBI data by the Brookings Institute.
Instead, study after study has uncovered deep racial biases and disparities throughout the U.S. criminal justice system, from individuals’ first interactions with police and continuing through sentencing. That 2018 Vera Institute report uses drug crimes to illustrate this inequality. Although Black people comprise 15% of adult drug users in the United States, 27% of people who are arrested for drug possession and distribution are Black. That number only rises when it comes to sentencing: In state court, 33% of people sentenced for drug-related crimes are Black; in federal court, 38% are.
On average, Black men receive federal prison sentences that are almost 20% longer than the sentences handed down to white men who commit the same crimes, a 2017 report from the United States Sentencing Commission found.
Johnson’s video didn’t dive into any of that. Instead, she pinned the blame for the mass incarceration of Black people on one thing: At its root, she said, it’s due to “bad dads.”
“I believe the primary reason that we see a lot of the illness in our society today and one of the reasons that we’re seeing a lot of what’s happening today in our society is because of fatherlessness, because fathers have not stood up and they have not taken their place in the home and particularly in Black homes,” said Johnson, who claimed later on in the video that “70% of these dads are walking out on their babies.”
“Black fathers do not get a pass, just because it is culturally different, just because black fathers don’t want to be in the home, and culturally it has been acceptable for them to be with multiple women,” she said.
“Research institutions” are now trying to “redefine Black fatherhood because they don’t like that 70% stat,” added Johnson, who was wearing a shirt with a Vanilla Ice lyric in the video.
“That’s crap. If Black America wants to start writing and talking about something, this is it.”
In an interview with blogger Simcha Fisher, Johnson didn’t clarify which research institutions or studies she was referring to. But her mention of “70%” may be referring to a report by the Centers for Disease Control that found that in 2018, almost 70% of non-Hispanic Black women who gave birth were unmarried. However, this statistic doesn’t account for the fact that women may be living with a partner but not be married to them.
Data from a 2013 CDC report also challenges Johnson’s claim that Black men aren’t parenting their kids. Black men who live with their children were found to be deeply involved in their lives: 70% of those fathers, for example, had “bathed, dressed, diapered, or helped their children use the toilet every day,” compared to 60% of white fathers. Josh Levs, author of the book “All In,” has also found that CDC data reveals most Black fathers live with their children.
Still, the CDC found that Black fathers who didn’t live with their kids were often more likely to parent their kids — through activities like playing or eating together, or dressing or diapering their children — compared to white fathers in the same position.
The stereotype that Black men make poor fathers is frequently deployed when critics seek to blame Black people for the lack of racial equality in U.S. society. But while public debate continues to swirl around the question of “missing Black fathers,” Michelle Alexander, author of the “The New Jim Crow,” a seminal book on racism in the criminal justice system, has pointed out that fathers who are missing in action may be found in prison. One in three Black men born today can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their lifetime, according to the Vera Institute.
“Hundreds of thousands of Black men are unable to be good fathers for their children, not because of a lack of commitment or desire but because they are warehoused in prisons, locked in cages,” Alexander wrote in “The New Jim Crow.” “They did not walk out on their families voluntarily; they were taken away in handcuffs, often due to a massive federal program known as the War on Drugs.”
In an email to VICE News, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue condemned Johnson’s inclusion at the RNC.
“Rolling out the red carpet for Abby Johnson to join the Republican National Convention as a featured speaker underscores Trump and Republicans’ ongoing willingness to peddle and prop up dangerous conspiracy theories and disinformation,” Hogue said. “Their willingness to cast aside evidence-based policy in the midst of a pandemic, when Americans need leaders who believe in science more than ever, speaks volumes.”
Cover: Abby Johnson, an American pro-life activist and an author of a book “Unplanned” attends a meeting at the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki, Krakow, Poland on February 12, 2020. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)