The California recall election’s Republican front-runner, Larry Elder, has built a career as a Black radio talk show host who isn’t afraid to deny the reality of systemic racism by maligning Black people. He likes to call himself “the sage from South-Central.”
The problem is, the statistics he’s shared over the decades to support his views and policy proposals are misleading, if not outright false, casting Black people as unusually crime-prone. In some cases, the bogus data come directly from Jared Taylor, a leading white supremacist Elder has repeatedly cited in his articles and books.
If Elder becomes governor, the state that led the charge against Trumpism could plunge into an alternate universe reminiscent of the ’90s, when California passed a racist three-strikes law and the anti-immigrant Proposition 187.
“He would be a violent ricochet backwards for California and the country,” Sydney Kamlager, a California state senator and vice chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, told me. “We’re not trying to go back to Jim Crow.”
Elder told The Times last week that he plans to “change the rhetoric about how bad the cops are.” Last year, he shared a graphic with so-called facts depicting Black people as murderous, echoing similar claims he’s made on air for decades: “Blacks kill 2x as many whites (500) as whites kill Blacks (250),” and “Blacks, 13% of pop., commit 50% of murders.”
Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University, said of these numbers: “This is an extraordinarily dishonest rendering.” He and other criminal experts say Black people don’t disproportionately victimize whites, nor are they more inclined toward violent crimes.
Those claims ignore crucial context: “There are more whites in the United States than there are Blacks,” David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford University criminal law professor, told me. “Because of that, it’s inevitable that if there’s any cross-racial offending, there are going to be more whites victimized.” John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University, agreed that it’s a matter of “random chance.”
Government data show violent crime occurs overwhelmingly between people of the same race. Higher homicide rates within Black communities reflect “the role that segregation played in American crime patterns,” says Jonathan Simon, a criminal justice law professor at UC Berkeley. The suggestion that Black people are exceptionally violent humans is rooted in a eugenics-era belief in racial differences and discredited race science.
In an early “BET Tonight” appearance with Tavis Smiley, Elder said: “Rape, murder, uh, robbery with aggravated manslaughter, about 90% of that involves a Black perpetrator.” Government data show that’s a gross exaggeration.
In an interview with The Times editorial board, Elder cited a study with an unusual finding: “Police are more reluctant, more hesitant to pull the trigger on a black suspect.” The vast majority of crime research, however, reveals the opposite. “There’s overwhelming evidence that the system operates more harshly against Blacks than it does against whites,” said Sklansky of Stanford University.
Elder’s views were shaped by Taylor, who wants a “majority-white” nation and wrotea 1999 pamphlet, “The Color of Crime,” a white supremacist classic. Elder quoted him repeatedly between 1998 and 2002. Elder also featured the white nationalist site Vdare, with its stated mission to defend the country’s “racial and cultural identity,” on his website in 2016.
As governor, Elder, who mentored Trump advisor Stephen Miller, would veto legislation that conflicts with his ideology. He told The Times he doesn’t believe in sanctuary laws or citizenship for Dreamers. He’s against in-state tuition, healthcare and driver’s licenses for the undocumented. He opposes birthright citizenship. He objects to cashless bail and diverting police funds to social programs.
Elder also said he doesn’t plan to do much about climate change, and that he opposes COVID-19 vaccine and masking mandates. Inaction would disproportionately harm people of color, who’ve borne the brunt of those disasters.
Of course, the Legislature can, with its supermajority, stop a Republican governor from destroying California. But Elder could embolden the Republican minority to obstruct funding for existing programs approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom, such as the expansion of healthcare coverage to undocumented seniors, offering state earned income tax credit for people without Social Security numbers and providing COVIDassistance for farmworkers.
Elder has long conflated Latinos with crime. In his memoir, he wrote that an influx of “legal and illegal Hispanics” near the Convention Center made the area “gang infested, and much more dangerous.” He told The Times he plans to use the “bully pulpit,” and favors the term “illegal alien,” not “undocumented.” He’s sought advice from Gov. Pete Wilson, who normalized “invasion” rhetoric.
State Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) believes harsher rhetoric alone could endanger mixed-status families of color, subjecting them to more racism and hate crimes. “When they use immigrants as a scapegoat, they’re really going after the whole community,” she said.
Elder seems unable to see racism in action. He offered an illuminating anecdote in his interview with The Times. He said that the first year after he got a driver’s license, police stopped him “between 75 and 100 times.” He continued: “And every time, I did what my father told me to do, which is to make sure my left hand was at 10 o’clock, my right hand was at 2 o’clock. Made sure I said, ‘yes sir,’ or ‘no sir.’”
Elder rejects the idea that he was racially profiled. He argues the stops happened because he “looked young.” And he believes he survived because he behaved. As governor, he says, “I would urge people to comply.”
His gospel of denial and his use of false race data are dangerous enough on the radio. If elected, his views on race and marginalized people would be front and center, driving state policy for some 40 million Californians. The threat to immigrants in this state and racial justice for all would be catastrophic.