A fiendishly deceptive article about the New York Police Department in the New York Times has set back the cause of public safety not just in New York but nationally. A front-page story on Friday twisted a police commander’s exhortation to an underperforming officer to work harder against crime into an injunction to target blacks on the basis of race. The commander’s statements were captured on a tape secretly recorded by the officer and replayed last Thursday during a federal racial-profiling trial directed against the New York Police Department’s stop, question, and frisk policy. The officer had already joined the lawsuit when he made the recording and was patently trying to goad the commander into making a statement that could be used in the litigation. As I explain here, Officer Pedro Serrano failed in his effort to elicit anything remotely approaching a racial-profiling mandate from Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, who is shown in the recording to be fiercely committed to protecting the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic residents of his South Bronx precinct and who explicitly repudiates stopping people on the basis of race, rather than criminal behavior. It didn’t matter. The Times finished the job for Serrano, making it seem that McCormack had said the opposite of what he had actually said. (Readers can now compare the Times account of the episode with the actual transcript and decide for themselves.)
Just to make sure that the damage was irrevocable, the Times followed up the next day with an editorial that was even more duplicitous than the article on which it was based. Titled “Walking While Black in New York,” the editorial strips whatever meager context the Friday article had included that might have allowed a highly determined reader to hazily glimpse the truth behind the Times’ distortions: that McCormack was referring to an ongoing, local string of robberies perpetrated by young male blacks when he responded to Serrano’s increasingly aggressive racial provocations with the phrases: “The problem was, what, male blacks. And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem telling you this, [the problem was] male blacks 14 to 20, 21.” It is perfectly appropriate to mention suspects’ race when police are looking for actual perpetrators who have been identified by their victims, but “Walking While Black” displays a breathtakingly juvenile determination to eliminate all facts that stand in the way of the all-consuming agenda to demonize the police.
If the Times honored its by now-dubious status as the newspaper of record, it would run a correction. But even if it did, it would come too late to help the police. Sharpton, the NAACP, and the ACLU are labeling McCormack’s remarks the NYPD’s “smoking gun” and are calling for his suspension, despite his strong backing from the actual residents of the South Bronx. But this is about more than one hard-working commander’s slandered reputation or the ability of the NYPD to preserve its record-breaking crime drop. The conceit that McCormack has revealed the truth about proactive policing will become gospel in anti-cop circles nationwide, making it even harder for police everywhere to do their jobs, due to political pressure from above and street resistance from below.
On March 6 of this year, I attended a community council meeting in the NYPD’s 40th Precinct, where Deputy Inspector McCormack presides. A former Marine named Duwon urgently called for more vigorous policing. He travels to the Bronx from Brooklyn to escort his mother to cash her Social Security payments, he said, because she is terrified of the addicts and youth milling on the corners. “If she ever fell, they’d pick her dry,” he observed.
The Times’ writers and publishers will likely not notice much of a difference (at least initially) if the current campaign against New York’s stop, question, and frisk policy succeeds. Times staffers overwhelmingly live in safe neighborhoods where shootings are merely theoretical. But law-abiding residents of inner-city neighborhoods know that effective policing is a life-and-death matter, and thus passionately support law enforcement. The NYPD works around the clock to provide upstanding members of poor communities the same freedom from fear that affluent areas take for granted. The Times’ preposterous conceit of “walking while black” will only widen the crime gap that, despite the NYPD’s unmatched success in fighting crime, still separates the cozy enclaves of white liberals and the hard streets that continue to blight too many striving inner-city lives.