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National Review Online


The Reality of Black Crime

July 27, 2009

By Heather Mac Donald

Barack Obama has reached down to a lowly (though no longer “stupid”) cop and raised him up to the presidential empyrean: “And I have to tell you that as I said yesterday, my impression of [Sergeant James Crowley] was that he was a outstanding police officer and a good man, and that was confirmed in the phone conversation — and I told him that,” Obama said in his Friday press briefing.

What noble beneficence! What an honor for Sergeant Crowley to be removed from the sweeping White House black list of racially challenged officers! But the selective rehabilitation of Sergeant Crowley carefully lets stand Obama’s previous indictment of the policing profession as a whole. Nothing Obama said on Friday retracts his previous assertion that it is a “fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause.” That charge is the real outrage of the president’s reckless entry into Cambridge Burglarygate. The back-and-forth over who dissed whom in the Gates-Crowley encounter is, by comparison, a sideshow. Even if Obama announced tomorrow that Sergeant Crowley had in this particular case acted appropriately, his previous assertion that “we” need to “improve policing techniques so that we’re eliminating potential bias” would still be the ultimate takeaway from this surreal episode.

On Friday, Obama declared that wants to have a “teachable moment” about “relations between police officers and minority communities.” Here’s a good place to start teaching: Expose the reality of black crime. It is preposterous to talk about urban policing without talking about crime, and yet that is what anti-cop activists, politicians, and reporters have done for years. They focus public attention on police stop-and-arrest data while keeping crime rates carefully off-stage. But nearly everything that the police do, especially in this age of data-driven policing, is a function of criminal behavior. Attend any Compstat meeting in New York or Los Angeles, and you will hear police commanders intently and passionately debating how best to deploy officers to disrupt ongoing crime patterns; race never comes up. And those crime patterns are reported to them most often by law-abiding residents of inner-city neighborhoods who plead in precinct-community meetings for more police protection against drug dealers and thugs, as I have witnessed numerous times.

When liberals and left-wingers ponderously refer to “race” — as in Attorney General Eric Holder’s admonition this February that “we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race,” or as in Obama’s observation in his recent primetime press conference that “race remains a factor in the society,” or as in Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree’s scary announcement that Henry Louis Gates Jr. intends to keep the country talking about issues of race and law enforcement — they mean: Let’s talk about white racism and skin color. Here’s another possible way of defining the problem: behavior. The issues that the race industry subsumes under the accusatory rubric of “race,” such as differential arrest or poverty rates, overwhelmingly result today from behavior, not from a reaction to skin color. I’ll be ready to concede that “race” — defined, per Obama, Holder, Ogletree, and Gates, as racism and skin color — remains a significant factor in social outcomes when the same proportion of black children as white children are raised in two-parent, married households without greatly lowering the black poverty rate, or when black crime drops to white and Asian levels without proportionally reducing the black prison population. Until we conduct that experiment, though — which is wholly within the capacity of individuals to do — I’ll remain skeptical that the race activists’ favorite “race issues” are predominantly the consequence of white Americans’ atavistic bigotry.

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