Balance At The NYT

About a month ago the New York Times ran an aggrieved piece, on its front page, about the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk statistics. The article, clearly intended to tar the police as racists, opened with:

Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested.

At first I thought that they were praising the cops for getting the proportions right (after all, this statistic actually means that their stop/arrest ratio is correctly balanced across racial lines, and means also that if the police stopped whites at the same rate as blacks and Latinos they would only be arresting a vanishing percentage of the whites they stop) — but then I remembered what paper I was reading. The fact is simply that cops go where the crime is — but of course, because it is axiomatic to the liberal mind that any unwelcome systematic differences in life experiences between human groups can only be due to racism on the part of white people or public institutions, the only possible account to be made is that the NYPD is racist. Once the statistics were made public, the charge was immediately taken up by familiar racially aggrieved voices here in Gotham, such as the Times‘s own Bob Herbert.

So when I opened the Times’s Op-Ed page today I was surprised to see that they had printed a rebuttal by Heather Mac Donald in which she argues that the NYPD’s policy is a realistic and sensible one, motivated only by a desire to concentrate police efforts where the crime is. She cites uncomfortable facts that weren’t mentioned in the original report — for example, that blacks and Latinos together committed 98% of all gun assaults in New York in 2009.

The article printed in the Times today was in fact a shorter version of a longer essay published by Ms. Mac Donald on May 14th at City Journal. Having prepared a draft of this post back then, it is from that more in-depth piece that I quote below.

We read (my emphasis):

You cannot properly analyze police behavior without analyzing crime. Crime is what drives NYPD tactics; it is the basis of everything the department does. And crime, as reported by victims and witnesses, sends police overwhelmingly to minority neighborhoods, because that’s where the vast majority of crime occurs—by minority criminals against minority victims.

The Times’s analysis, by contrast, which follows in lock step with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, assumes that policing should mirror census data. The only numerical benchmark that the Times provides for the NYPD’s stop data is the city’s population ratios. According to this analysis, since whites are 35 percent of the city’s population, they should be 35 percent of police stops, even though they commit only 5 percent of all violent crimes. But using census data as a benchmark for policing is as nonsensical as it would be to use census data for fire department activity. If a particular census tract has a disproportionate number of fires, and another census tract has none, no one expects the FDNY to send out fire trucks to non-existent fires in the fire-free census tract just for the sake of equal representation.

Given the vast disproportion in the city’s crime rates, you can either have policing that goes after crime and saves minority lives, or you can have policing that mirrors the city’s census data. You cannot have both. If the NYPD responds to the incessant pressure from the Times and the city’s anti-cop activists to conform its policing activity to population rates, the law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods will be hurt the most.

The Times’s radically incomplete front-page story, like so many that preceded it, only makes the NYPD’s job more difficult. It fuels the animosity against the police that makes witnesses less likely to cooperate with officers and suspects more likely to resist arrest. It is crime, not race, that leads to more stops in minority neighborhoods. The crime disparities in the city are deeply troubling, and thus have been regarded as taboo. But until those crime rates are acknowledged, reporting on police activity through an incomplete racial lens will continue to defame the NYPD and mislead the public about its work.

It is greatly to the Times’s credit that they have printed this response, albeit belatedly. The all-too-frequent charge of racism is the most serious accusation there is in what passes for political discourse nowadays, and in their original article the Times provocatively and unfairly assigned blame where it isn’t due.

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