There is more at stake in Tuesday’s election than control of the House and Senate. In Michigan, voters will decide the fate of Proposal 2, also known as the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. Modeled after California’s Proposition 209, which in 1996 passed by a 55-45 margin, MCRI would amend Michigan’s state constitution so as to prohibit public agencies from granting “preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin for public employment, education or contracting purposes.”
Sounds simple enough, no? Who, one might ask, could argue with it? Plenty of people, as it turns out, and they have resorted to a wide range of scare-mongering tactics in their effort to see race and gender preferences continue undisturbed in Michigan. Among the recent attacks is a press release from a group called One United Michigan, which opposes the passage of MCRI. Law-enforcement leaders, it says, “are urging a No vote on Proposal 2, saying it will limit diversity in law enforcement and make communities less safe.”
Will it? First of all, it’s difficult to imagine how Detroit, for example, with a murder rate more than seven times the national average, could be any less safe. But, leaving the grim statistics aside for the moment, is One United Michigan actually taking the position that minority applicants are incapable of becoming police officers unless they are artificially helped along by racial preferences? Would the city of Detroit, where virtually the entire governmental apparatus is run by blacks, suddenly be unable to hire black police officers if MCRI were to pass?
The press release also cites the dubious notion that a police department should reflect the diversity of the community it serves. “Detroit Deputy Police Chief Claudia Barden-Jackson said she would have had little opportunity to become a police officer in the 1970s,” One United Michigan says, “when women and people of color were locked out of police departments despite laws against discrimination. ‘The Detroit Police Department in 1970 certainly did not reflect the diversity of the community, and the community did not respect the department. Affirmative action opened the doors for women and people of color. Proposal 2 slams these doors shut. We can’t go back.’”
A police department that is representative of the city it serves is all well and good, to a point. It’s difficult to envision the Detroit Police Department becoming all or even mostly white, even if MCRI were to pass, but there are neighborhoods in Detroit where less than four percent of the residents have bachelor’s degrees, and where less than half have graduated from high school. Should the police officers who patrol those neighborhoods reflect this same level of education?
And this raises another question: Should a city’s black police officers (or firemen or teachers or what have you) be mandated to work in its black neighborhoods? If ethnic identity is so highly prized in forging community relationships, should black cops be excluded from white neighborhoods? Here in Los Angeles, for example, police officers can choose to work in any of its 19 patrol divisions. Most of the city’s black population lives in the four divisions that make up South and South-Central L.A., but there are proportionally more black officers working the mostly white areas of the city’s Westside. Should those officers be denied the freedom to work where they choose for the sake of conforming to some nebulous “diversity” model?
Taking it further, if black officers are the only ones presumed to be culturally attuned to black neighborhoods, are white officers the only ones qualified to work white neighborhoods?
Inherent in the argument put forth by One United Michigan and other proponents of racial preferences is the insidious belief that minorities simply cannot and will not succeed without latching on to the helping hand of government. “Hiring the best employees for the jobs we do,” says Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie, “cannot be reduced to a rigid formula where grades and test scores determine who we want to represent us in court and in the community.”
I was a lackluster student in college, so I’d be the first to agree that grade-point averages are often not the measure of a man. But can there be no objective criteria by which to evaluate candidates for a job or a place in college or law school, criteria that ignore the melanin content of the candidate’s skin?
When I was new to the LAPD, promotions were based on both written and oral examinations, with each counting for half the candidate’s total score. The weight of the written exam has since been whittled down to the point that it is now simply a pass-fail test, with only a 70-percent score required to pass. Today, candidates who pass the written test are placed on promotional lists according to the results of the more subjective oral interview. I asked a longtime friend and mentor why this change was brought about. “Because,” he said, “they don’t want to limit the promotional opportunities for stupid people.”
I have worked for a number of those stupid people over the years. I hope the people of Michigan have better luck.
– 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.