Politics & Policy

Are Cops Racist?

In her new book, Heather Mac Donald says no.

God bless Heather Mac Donald. 

Her new book, Are Cops Racist? How the War Against the Police Harms Black Americans, opens with an essay titled “The Myth of Racial Profiling,” which begins as follows: “The anti-’racial profiling’ juggernaut must be stopped before it obliterates the crime-fighting gains of the last decade, especially in the inner cities. The anti-profiling crusade thrives on ignorance and a willful blindness to the demographics of crime.”

Hoo-weeee! And she doesn’t ease up from there, either. Can you imagine the mail she gets?

So, who is this Heather Mac Donald, the reader surely asks, some hired-gun mouthpiece from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association? Not by a long shot. She is a scholar at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a New York think tank. She earned her B.A. at Yale, her M.A. at Cambridge, and her law degree at Stanford, then clerked for the famously left-leaning Justice Stephen Reinhardt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the most consistently and resoundingly overturned court in the land. Hardly the curriculum vitae of one you would expect to find defending police officers in the pages of some scholarly journal.

But defend them she does, with a vigor exemplified by the provocative passage cited above. All but one of the essays in Are Cops Racist? originally appeared in City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s quarterly, but Mac Donald’s voice deserves to be heard by a far wider audience than the egghead crowd that no doubt comprises City Journal’s subscriber base. Indeed, her words should be shouted from the rooftops, most especially in those cities where anti-profiling hysteria has brought about less-effective law enforcement and higher crime.

Mac Donald has been writing on urban social issues since 1995, but in 1999 the Amadou Diallo shooting, or, to be more precise, the furor that followed it, drew her into an examination of the New York Police Department. In February 1999, you’ll recall, Diallo was confronted by four plainclothes police officers from the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit in the lobby of a Bronx apartment building. When Diallo refused to raise his hands and instead pulled out his wallet, one officer mistook it for a gun. Seconds later Diallo was dead, having been hit by 19 of the 41 rounds fired by the four officers. Could these four cops, Mac Donald asked, be as evil and racist as they were being portrayed in the press, particularly the New York Times? The conclusion she reached was no, they were not. Diallo was killed because of a tragic confluence of miscommunication and less-than-ideal tactics, not some deep-seated racial animus harbored by the four officers. (A criminal-court jury ultimately agreed, acquitting the officers of every count brought against them.)

The Diallo shooting engendered a comic opera the likes of which only New York City, thank heavens, can produce, with rival charlatans Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson leading their respective choruses of the perennially and perpetually aggrieved, and platoons of celebrities and other do-gooders, whose acquaintance with the Bronx begins and ends with Yankee Stadium, flocking down to One Police Plaza for sit-ins and ritual arrests under the adoring eyes of the media. In the essay “Diallo Truth, Diallo Falsehood,” Mac Donald exposes the many lies told and retold in the aftermath of the shooting, lies repeated so often and with such intensity that they, as in Josef Goebbels’s dictum, began to carry the authority of truth. Among the whoppers churned out in the press was the mendacity that New York cops had become, under Rudy Giuliani, more aggressive than they had been during the halcyon days of the Dinkins administration. Not so, writes Mac Donald, relying on those stubborn little things known as facts. Under Dinkins, there were two and a half times more fatal shootings per officer than under Giuliani. “For three months,” she writes, “the Diallo tragedy convulsed New York. But most accounts of it — the Times’s above all — were politically motivated distortions. The city is the worse for them.” I can’t help but wonder how she ever gets a table in that town.

And she’d be just as likely to starve in Cincinnati, where she went to explore the shooting of Timothy Thomas, the unarmed petty criminal killed by a Cincinnati police officer during a foot pursuit in April 2001. The shooting sparked three days of rioting, followed by the usual menu of racial rabble-rousing: marches, boycotts, demands for federal intervention, and of course the de rigueur appearance of Al Sharpton. In “What Really Happened in Cincinnati,” Mac Donald reveals the inconvenient truth behind the claims made loudly and often by that city’s race-baiters. The cry “Fifteen black men!” was often heard during the various protests, denoting the fifteen black men killed by Cincinnati police officers since 1995, the implication of course being that in each of these cases the police conduct was just as questionable as that in the Timothy Thomas shooting. (That officer, Stephen Roach, was prosecuted for a misdemeanor and has since been acquitted.) Not so fast, says Mac Donald. “In fact,” she writes, “the list of the fifteen police victims shows the depraved nature not of Cincinnati’s cops but of its criminals . . . To call such lowlifes martyrs to police brutality is a stretch.”

What, calling violent criminals “lowlifes”? Surely they’ve canceled Mac Donald’s subscription to the Stanford alumni magazine, and Justice Reinhardt, if asked, would probably claim not to remember her. Other essays in the book focus on terrorism, police training, and “The Black Cops You Never Hear About,” i.e. those who don’t militantly toe the racial-solidarity line, and who reject the claim that they’re “working for the man.” Given her academic credentials, Mac Donald is an unlikely and therefore all the more welcome friend to honest cops everywhere. To read this book is to be well prepared when you next confront your local cop basher. May it be a bestseller.

— Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.


The Latest