Let’s say that you’re a New York Times editor or George Soros and you want to make the case that the New York Police Department’s racist stop-and-frisk policy is indiscriminately sweeping up hundreds of thousands of squeaky-clean black and Hispanic males simply because of the color of their skin. Easy, right? You just go out and find one of these innocents — a Boy Scout and school chess captain, say, who has been gratuitously harassed by the police — and interview him. Well, apparently, it’s not so easy. Today, the Times gives the “wholesale harassment of law-abiding minorities” meme its best shot and comes up with . . . a two-time warrant absconder wanted for assault.
Twenty-one-year-old Tyquan Brehon is featured in a video on the Times’ website called “The Scars of Stop-and-Frisk” that is intended to make a tear-jerking case for the destructive impact of the NYPD’s proactive policing. If Brehon is the most compelling victim that the Times and the Open Society Foundations, which funded the video, can find, the NYPD should stick with its pro-active stops.
Brehon, a resident of Bushwick, Brooklyn, claims to have been stopped more than 60 times, a claim that can not be corroborated thanks to a New York state law that requires the NYPD to purge the names of stoppees when they are not arrested. Why might Brehon have been the at least occasional object of police attention in the past? Here’s some possibly relevant information which the Times does not disclose: On August 2, 2010, Brehon was arrested for assaulting a 44-year-old female after first making obscene remarks to her; he was also charged with harassment and disorderly conduct.
This was hardly Brehon’s first formal encounter with the law. He had already been arrested twice prior to that incident, but those arrests are sealed because Brehon was then underage. In August 2010, Brehon was arraigned on the assault charge and given a court date for further proceedings, but failed to appear at the scheduled hearing. Then on April 13, 2011, he was arrested for jumping a subway turnstile in Queens. The police charged him with fare beating and discovered his previous outstanding assault warrant. He pled guilty to the fare-beating charge and was ordered to report to court to answer the warrant on the assault charge. Once again, he didn’t show for this new court hearing and is still at large. The police are now asking him to surrender.
Even without this background information, what the Times does reveal about Brehon hardly makes him a poster boy for the toll of stop-and-frisks on innocent lives. Taking responsibility for his own actions is not one of Brehon’s strong suits. He was expelled from one of his many high schools but not, he says, because of his own behavior, but because of his distaste for police oppression, reports the Times:
His fear of the police also set back his education. At one high school he attended, he recoiled at the heavy presence of armed officers and school security agents. “I would do stuff that would get me suspended so I could be, like, completely away from the cops,” he recalled. He would arrive late, cut classes and refuse to wear the school uniform. Eventually, he was expelled.
Let’s see if we can follow the logic here. You don’t want contact with disciplinary authorities, so you engage in behavior that will put you in contact with those same authorities. Bear in mind that to be expelled from a New York City school today requires considerable effort, since school officials are under enormous pressure to lower their suspension and expulsion rates of black and Hispanic males. What else might Behar have done to get himself expelled? Who knows. As with his warrant evasion, either he didn’t tell the filmmaker or the filmmaker chose not to disclose it.
#more#In the video, Brehon describes one of the allegedly unjustified stops to which he was subjected. The officers said he was being stopped for graffiti. But that couldn’t have been the case, he says, because the wall in front of which he was stopped was black, whereas the highlighter in his pocket was pink. Is it possible that he had scrawled graffiti elsewhere and was known to the police for doing so? The filmmaker does not ask. In fact, on November 29, 2009, Brehon was given a criminal summons for graffiti. Perhaps during the stop about which Brehon complains, defacing someone else’s property was the farthest thing from his mind. Needless to say, his credibility is not of the highest here.
Another of Brehon’s activities that got him illegitimately stopped, he says, was frequently hanging out late at night with large numbers of other teens. Unwarranted? Maybe not. Perhaps an elderly couple in a nearby housing project had complained to the police about the youth milling around harassing them, drinking, or smoking dope. Or perhaps there had been a recent gang homicide and the cops were expecting a retaliatory shooting. In such cases, it would be sound anti-crime policy to question a pack of juveniles (we do not even know how they were behaving at the time, but it is not irrelevant that on July 19, 2010, Brehon was given a criminal summons for underage drinking).
There is no question that many truly law-abiding people have been stopped by the New York police, an experience that is infuriating and humiliating. The higher risk of getting stopped is a tax that law-abiding blacks pay for living in high-crime neighborhoods. In Bushwick’s 83rd Precinct, for example, there have been five murders, 181 robberies, and 176 felonious assaults this year, compared with zero murders, 55 robberies, and 41 assaults in the Upper East Side’s 19th Precinct. But the evidence does not support the activists’ charge that the stop policy is driven by race rather than crime. Blacks are actually under-stopped, and whites over-stopped, compared to their crime rates. Blacks were 53 percent of stop subjects in 2011, though they are 23 percent of the city’s population. Whites are 9 percent of stop subjects, though they are 35 percent of the city’s population. But here’s what you will never read in the New York Times: Blacks are 66 percent of all violent-crime suspects, according to the victims of and witnesses to those crimes. Blacks commit around 70 percent of all robberies and about 80 percent of all shootings in the city. Add Hispanic shootings, and you account for 98 percent of all shootings in the city.
Whites, by contrast, were only 5 percent of all violent-crime suspects in 2011. They commit barely over 1 percent of all shootings, and less than 5 percent of all robberies. Such disparities mean that the police cannot deploy their resources where people most need protection from violence — in minority neighborhoods — without producing racially disproportionate stops.
A recent study by criminologist David Weisburd and two colleagues confirms the obvious: The NYPD carefully targets its stops in crime hot spots. Crime patterns are the only determinant of police tactics.
To be sure, the police need to do a far better job explaining to individuals why they were stopped. Officers need constant retraining in courtesy and respect, which get worn away from their interactions with hostile crime perps and their supporters in the streets. But the NYPD’s proactive policing has resulted in the steepest and longest crime decline in recorded history. No other city comes close. Ten thousand minority males are alive today who would have been dead had the city’s murder rate remained at its early 1990s level. Proactive policing has turned around neighborhoods and liberated their law-abiding residents from the daily thrall of fear. No other government program has had as beneficial an effect on the well-being of minorities.
Perhaps the Times could next post a video about people who were shot by thugs who were not stopped by the police.
— Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor to City Journal and the author of Are Cops Racist?