Distorting the Truth About Crime and Race

Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, May 14, 2010

The New York Times’s front page story this week, {snip} written by Al Baker, began with what the Times thinks is a shocking disparity: “Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested.” (The fact that blacks, Hispanics, and whites are arrested at the same rate after a stop undercuts, rather than supports, the thesis of racially biased policing, but more on that later.)

The Times’s story includes a graphic breakdown of police stops by race: blacks made up 55 percent of all stops in 2009, though they’re only 23 percent of the city’s population; whites accounted for 10 percent of all stops, though they’re 35 percent of the city’s population; Hispanics made up 32 percent of all stops, though 28 percent of the population, and Asians, 3 percent of all stops and 12 percent of the population. The article details a host of other police actions by specific racial numbers, including arrests, frisks, and use of force.

But when the Times gets around to mentioning crime rates, more than halfway into the piece, it does so only because the NYPD raises them in its defense, not because the Times deems them independently worthy of note in a story on police stops. And it mentions them only as a form of reported speech, in the most generalized of terms: “Mr. Browne, the department spokesman, .&nbsp. . said the stops mirrored crime–that while a large percentage of the stops involved blacks, an even larger percentage of violent crimes involved suspects described as black by their victims.” {snip}

{snip}

Only in 2007 did the Times disclose some actual black crime rates in discussing stop-and-frisk activity–though as usual, only as an aspect of the NYPD’s defense of itself, and only by attributing those crime rates to what the police “say,” as if they were a matter of opinion, unlike the stop-and-frisk rates, which the paper reports as a fact so indisputable that it does not need a source. That 2007 slip has never been allowed to reappear, however; the disclosure of crime rates has been purged from all subsequent Times stories on the NYPD’s stop activities. The actual numbers convey the shocking magnitude of the city’s crime disparities with a vividness that a mere generalized statement about a “larger percentage of crimes than stops” cannot, which is why the numbers are almost always left out. The actual crime rates reveal that blacks are being significantly understopped, compared with their representation in the city’s criminal population, another reason for omitting them from the paper’s reporting.

Here are the crime data that the Times doesn’t want its readers to know: blacks committed 66 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009 (though they were only 55 percent of all stops and only 23 percent of the city’s population). Blacks committed 80 percent of all shootings in the first half of 2009. Together, blacks and Hispanics committed 98 percent of all shootings. Blacks committed nearly 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, committed 5 percent of all violent crimes in the first half of 2009, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population (and were 10 percent of all stops). They committed 1.8 percent of all shootings and less than 5 percent of all robberies. The face of violent crime in New York, in other words, like in every other large American city, is almost exclusively black and brown. Any given violent crime is 13 times more likely to be committed by a black than by a white perpetrator–a fact that would have been useful to include in the Times’s lead, which stated that “Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped.” These crime data are not some artifact that the police devise out of their skewed racial mindset. They are what the victims of those crimes–the vast majority of whom are minority themselves–report to the police.

You cannot properly analyze police behavior without analyzing crime. Crime is what drives NYPD tactics; it is the basis of everything the department does. And crime, as reported by victims and witnesses, sends police overwhelmingly to minority neighborhoods, because that’s where the vast majority of crime occurs–by minority criminals against minority victims.

The Times’s analysis, by contrast, which follows in lock step with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, assumes that policing should mirror census data. {snip}

{snip}

{snip} A good place to start would have been a police-community meeting in East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, or other any high-crime area. Here is what the reporter would have heard from community members: “We want more officers, we want more arrests, we want the dealers off the corner.” The police cannot respond to these heartfelt requests for public safety without generating disproportionate stop data that can be used against them in a racial profiling law suit. If a grandmother in a public housing project calls the police about the young drug dealers in her lobby, a properly responsive officer is going to question the youths hanging out there. The officer is not “profiling” the youths; he is responding to a citizen request for action. But the NYCLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights will tally all those stops against the police as evidence of “racial profiling.” The police aren’t getting calls from Riverdale residents about the young gang members congregating on the corner or in their lobby. If they were, the police would respond the same way that they do in Harlem: by finding legal grounds to stop the gang members and let them know that they’re being watched. {snip}

Contrary to the Times’s assumption, the fact that an identical proportion of stops of whites and blacks–10 percent–results in an arrest or summons strongly suggests that the police use the identical quantum of reasonable suspicion in stopping whites and blacks. The police stop a greater absolute number of blacks because the overwhelming majority of crime, suspicious behavior, and calls to respond to crime occurs in black neighborhoods.

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