Maybe Cops Aren’t all Racist

cops racistHere’s a radical idea that challenges the message the media presents about cops killing people of color.  An editorial in the StartTribune carried it, suggesting that maybe the killing of black men by police officers is not all attributable to racism.  Because, maybe, cops aren’t all racist.  Of course, not all cops are racist, but with each tragic killing, the media and many people make the assumption that racism caused the killing—in comparison to a white criminal who may not be killed by a cop.  Here’s the story:

So far, the basis for this idea that African Americans are killed by police at a higher percentage of their population is anecdotal.  Here’s an example: almost every Black man I know has a story of being arrested by the police and being very scared.  Although I’ve been stopped by police for several traffic issues, I never felt scared and perhaps, I have not been stopped as often as my black, male friends.  I’m going to assume this is true (people of color are stopped more often than whites) —at least for now.  When you read the editorial you may change your mind.  That fact leads many of us to conclude that killings of black offenders by police is also higher than is the case in the white criminal community.

Heather MacDonald is a smart, well educated (Yale and Stanford Law School), journalist who has actually done some empirical research to investigate the truth behind our assumptions of police conduct and racism.  She concludes that maybe cops aren’t all racist.  In her book, The War on Cops, she argues that the actual numbers show a very different picture.  For instance, she claims that in white/Hispanic homicides, 12% are caused by police.  In African American homicides, only 4% are caused by police.  Does this prove that cops aren’t racist?

So why are more black people stopped for traffic offenses and other petty crimes?  Is this still racism?

Many police departments now use a data-driven approach to fighting crime.  For instance, they may use a tool called ComStat in which police target high crime areas and put more patrols in those neighborhoods and, therefore, end up stopping more people.  And for whatever reasons, African American neighborhoods tend to have higher crime rates—which would trigger ComStat to direct more police onto the streets there.  Does this explain why more arrests are made in these communities?  Or do we come back to police racism again?

Of course, it’s not an easy question to answer.  At least Ms. MacDonald has attempted to clear-up some of the fog by researching and reporting her numbers.  I think it’s worth considering.

What do you think?

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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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