The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Are cops racist?
Tom Smith


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Tom Smith


It's a pretty good piece and makes some important points. I'll add a few more that I don't think necessarily conflict with anything said there. 1) Crime being concentrated in certain areas has a sort of looping effect, where often it's extremely difficult for a one-time criminal to be anything other than a criminal again. Lots of traditional policing in an area, especially with low tolerance for activities that would be let go in other areas, might well intensify this effect. I think this is one of the more important social problems in the US, but one that very little is done about. (We don't, I think, know much about what to do about it, but even given that, little is done.)

2) Anyone who spends any time around police at all (and I've spent a long time around them- my father was a police officer for about 30 years, working all different sorts of jobs in the police dept, and my younger brother has been a police officer for about 6 years now) knows that activity that's ignored in some areas will be used to make a stop in others. This doesn't always cut in one direction. But if it's suggested that the same behavior will lead to the same action in any neighborhood or with any group of people, that's just wrong and pretty naive. Given this, it's hard for me to believe that a purely "neutral" standard is applied in deciding when to make a stop, such that the same behavior would lead to a stop in the upper west side as on Lexington and 135th. That's not always unreasonable, but it does me that the difference in stop rates is not quite as neutral as the article seems to imply.

3) Many cops, even ones who are otherwise quite decent people and who do more for others than most people do, are racists. They often don't start out this way, but when you spend a large amount of time dealing with the worst of a group, it's very hard to not come to attribute the bad aspects of some members to the majority of the group without justification. And this is racism, and it has serious implications for law and justice. I find this an understandable reaction in many cases, but that doesn't make it less of a problem, especially in people who wield very significant state power. Again, if you spend much time around cops, at least ones who regularly deal with minorities, it will be very hard to not come to this conclusion. This doesn't apply to all police officers, obviously enough, but it's foolish, even dangerous, to not think that this is a real problem.

Posted by: Matt Lister | Jun 26, 2010 9:06:46 AM

The article lays out some incomprehensible statistics in making the case for a racial differential in investigatory stops. 1.4% of "gun assaults" committed by non-minorites? That's hard to fathom. Then it's not "gun crime", is it? I'm looking at this from my single-issue perspective, concentrating on the RKBA, and I must confess, the figures have me all aback. What can we say except that, "Guns don't kill people,. . . kill people." No, we can't let ourselves finish the sentence.

It's sort of like that airport security issue, isn't it--whether we should be searching some 80-year old nun or concentrating our attention on Achmed with the smoking shoes. Look what the reverse affirmative action argument does, look who it hurts. Most of the victims of all that minority violence, that 98% of "gun crime," are other minorities. Which, then, is the racist position? I suggest that it would be to withhold reasonable protection from minority communities.

Posted by: Lou Gots | Jun 26, 2010 9:21:00 AM

One thorn of experience is worth a whole wilderness of warning. Practical wisdom is only to be learned in the school of experience. Do you think so?

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