The Corner

Re: The Color of Cops

Jay — I’ve long thought this an interesting topic, maybe in part because it’s one of the areas where I don’t endorse rigid colorblindness in government. To me it seems reasonable to prefer some black cops for some majority black neighborhoods, just as I think it is reasonable to want some Hispanics on the payroll in a majority Hispanic neighborood — just as it would make sense at various times and in various places in our history to have Italian, Irish, and German cops in Italian, Irish, and German neighborhoods. Having a cop who knows the neighborhood because he’s from it, adds enormous value (this is particularly obvious when the local community doesn’t necessarily speak English).

In an all-black neighborhood that almost surely means preferring black applicants, all other things being equal. Let me give a concrete example. When my dad grew up in the Bronx, it was understood that a cop could give a kid a smack or kick in the butt if he got caught doing something stupid. While physical force is seen differently today, I think the principle still applies: cops should be able to yell at or physically intimidate kids if it will “scare them straight” as it were. But such interactions between a white cop and a black kid can often become racial instantaneously. Even parental visits by white cops can be taken as overly racial. Is it so crazy to think a police commander, who knows the needs of his own community, should have some latitude in making hiring decisions that take into account the demographics of his own community. Of course such a policy can be abused, but all policies can be abused.

I sometimes think conservatives, myself included, are so eager to champion race-neutral government we forget that sometimes ethnicity-neutral government is not always well-advised — and far from the norm in American history.

Update: From a reader:


In Jay’s defense, he was arguing that we shouldn’t have to have a certain racial mix present to prove that a cop acted in principle.  What you say makes practical sense, but Jay argued that it’s a sad statement on our society that we have to mandate a certain racial mix in our police force just so that we can answer white guilt charges of racism every time a white cop responds to a crime scene with a black suspect.

I’m sure you agree, but your response seemed tangential to what Jay wrote.

I plead no contest to the charge of tangentiality!


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