Are Cops Racist?
February 28, 2003
A few years ago, Heather Mac Donald wrote a very good book called "The Burden of Bad Ideas." There was only one problem with it: Ms. Mac Donald doesn't know from firsthand experience what it's like to suffer under the weight of a half-baked thought, judging from her smart journalism. Yet she's become expert at diagnosing the afflicted, as she shows again in "Are Cops Racist?" (Ivan R. Dee, 177 pages, $22.50).
Cops deserve a break today, writes Ms. Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Not every officer is a gentleman, she admits, and a few may be racist. But the notion that America's police departments are factories of injustice is at best delusional and at worst a hate crime: "Unless the country pulls back -- and fast -- from its scapegoating of the police, it will soon find the public safety gains of the last decade melting away."
Remember all the fuss about New Jersey state troopers stopping people for "driving while black"? Both the Republican administration of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and the Democratic Justice Department of President Bill Clinton came down hard against the troopers for what was then a new term: racial profiling. They received a major assist from the mainstream media, which accepts charges of police racism from a guilty-until-proven-innocent posture.
Ms. Mac Donald eviscerates the case against the troopers with careful logic. It is not sufficient, she shows, merely to observe that minority motorists are stopped more often. Information must be gathered on driving patterns: Which groups travel the longest distances on turnpikes, which have the youngest (i.e., least mature) drivers and -- in what is a touchy but necessary topic -- which are in the aggregate more reckless, based upon accident and fatality statistics?
Ms. Mac Donald concludes that the troopers didn't practice "hard racial profiling," which is to say they didn't halt drivers for their skin color alone. They did, however, probably engage in "soft racial profiling": "pulling someone over because driver and car and direction and number and type of occupants fit the components of a drug-courier profile."
Much of this sensible book is drawn from City Journal, and it is replete with similarly sharp examinations of riot ideology in Cincinnati, the Amadou Diallo case in New York and the ways in which common-sense policing can thwart terrorism. There will always be people burdened with bad ideas, but at least we've got Heather Mac Donald doing her best to lighten their load.
-- John J. Miller
©2003 The Wall Street Journal