The Corner

Law & the Courts

Twelve Observations on the Police and Race

1. There’s really little to say about the Dallas shootings. There were horrific and inexcusable.

2. Does Black Lives Matter bear some of the blame for them? The argument would be that, by relentlessly vilifying the police and shrilly insisting that they are targeting black men, it encourages counter-assassinations. But, as Kevin Williamson points out, there’s a big jump from even overheated rhetoric to an action like the Dallas sniper’s. Yes, it shows that words matter, and those elements of BLM that have used irresponsible words should take a hard look in the mirror. And BLM’s supporters should ask whether they are really comfortable in supporting an organization that contains such elements.

3. There’s more to say about Louisiana and Minnesota.

4. But the first thing to say about both is that we don’t have all the facts.  Remember Ferguson, all right: It turned out that the police officer there acted entirely reasonably. It may turn out that way in these two cases as well. The Minnesota governor was wrong to prejudge the matter.

5. After all, we already know that the Minnesota case did not involve an “unarmed black man,” and it may turn out that the Louisiana case didn’t either (certainly the video suggests that the police at least thought that the black man there was armed, and maybe he was).  When the police are dealing with armed suspects, the equation obviously changes.

6. The Louisiana man, who was much loved by his family but also had a long criminal record, certainly appeared to be resisting arrest; whether it was reasonable for the police to conclude that he posed a serious enough threat to warrant being shot is, as I said, a question we can’t yet answer. 

7. We don’t know what actions the Minnesota man took that might have provoked a shooting (by a Hispanic policeman, incidentally); we have only the statements by his girlfriend that he did nothing provocative. Our heart has to go out to her, as it does to the family of the Louisiana man, but again we have to await more facts on what precisely the police were reacting to.

8. Even if it turns out that in one or the other case the police acted unreasonably, it’s a big jump from that to a conclusion that the police acted unreasonably because of race. It’s still wrong and still a tragedy, but it might not be a racially tragic wrong.

9. And even if it turns out that in one or the other case the police acted unreasonably because of race, it’s a big jump from that to a conclusion that the police commonly act unreasonably and that they commonly act unreasonably because of race. President Obama’s suggestion to the contrary last week from Poland was unpersuasive and unhelpful. Each case provides some evidence, surely, but each is only one encounter among thousands of police encounters every week. Even the very liberal Chronicle of Higher Education acknowledges that the research in this area is inconclusive.

10. More nonblacks, after all, are shot by the police, some reasonably and some unreasonably.

11. Assuming that some (disproportionate, because of their race) number of African Americans are shot unreasonably by the police, what do we do about it?  I’m open to the possibility of better training and better community relations, and quicker and sterner measures against bad actors; but bear in mind that less aggressive policing will hurt only law-abiding people (especially those African Americans who — disproportionately —  live in high-crime areas), and hiring by the numbers will only result in less qualified policemen, which is also not in the interests of the community, whatever its color.

12. The police should not profile on the basis of race, in their shooting or anything else that they do, but the degree to which they do so has been greatly exaggerated. What’s more, the unpleasant fact is that the reason for this profiling is that a disproportionate amount of crime is committed by African Americans, a problem that is, in turn, rooted in inner-city culture (particularly the breakdown of the black family). This doesn’t excuse profiling, but it does help explain it, and so long as this problem persists then so will some amount of profiling.  Those who want to eliminate racial disparities in this country have to get serious about most important racial disparity of all, namely that more than seven out of ten African Americans now are born out of wedlock.

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