Yet More On Interracial Policing: What Do People Really Want?

Last week I wrote a column saying that white cops have become so gun shy about being charged with racism, and thereby losing jobs, promotions, and careers, that many of them have stopped enforcing the law when blacks are involved. As part of the column I printed a letter from a cop in PG County saying that, yes, that is exactly what he and many of his colleagues are doing. (Incidentally, by coincidence there was a piece in National Review Online last week, from a cop in LA, who said the same thing. Cops really are backing off. It’s not something I invented.)

The response I got by email was about what I expected, but worth reporting anyway. White cops said essentially, “Yep. You got it right. I’m not going to be made into a sacrificial goat enforcing laws for people who don’t want them enforced.”

I got two letters from black cops, who said that when they enforced the law in black neighborhoods, they were accused of selling out, of being Uncle Toms. Black cops don’t face having their careers ruined — how do you charge a black cop with racism for giving tickets to blacks? — but they seem to get guff.

But the angriest mail came from blacks who weren’t cops. The thrust was that cops single out blacks, pick on them, harass them, and refuse to enforce the law evenhandedly.

Rationally this might be debated on any number of grounds. It doesn’t matter. Blacks believe, believe deeply, that they are victims of the police. For them, this isn’t debatable, can barely be discussed. The sense of grievance is so nearly universal as to approach the predictability of gravitation. They are very angry about it.

Not all of these letters are angry, though. Some are almost pleading. “Why can’t the police be fair? That’s all we ask.” I’m never sure what to think. The sense of being victimized is powerful among blacks, and doesn’t always involve the police. I’ve seen the polls showing that a majority of blacks believe either that AIDS was invented by whites to kill blacks, or else that it may have been.

According to newspaper stories, many blacks believe that the drug epidemic was engineered by whites to destroy blacks, that whites put something in various soft drinks to make blacks impotent. I get email saying the same things, especially about drugs being targeted at blacks. To whites these charges are nonsense. To a lot of blacks, they aren’t.

My guess is that the unbridgeable chasm (which is exactly what it is) between the views of the races is in part, but only in part, the fault of the press. Any racially motivated mistreatment of blacks is national news. For example, there was the black guy dragged to death behind a truck by whites, or the black in New York who was sodomized with a broom handle by white cops. Both happened. Both were racial.

But racially motivated atrocities committed by blacks are not played up. They occur: Blacks aren’t saints any more than whites. The recent Wichita massacre of whites by blacks is an example. It was all over the Internet, but not much in the press, and not too many blacks spend a lot of time on the Net.

If I were black, and saw unending news stories about brutality by white cops, and never saw anything about misbehavior by black cops, or blacks at all, I would not unreasonably conclude that blacks were being singled out.

The practical point, it seems to me, is that the resentment of cops among blacks is both potent and, in the foreseeable future, irremediable. It’s too deep-seated, too vigorously reinforced by the press, too much a part of the worldview of blacks.

So what to do?

As I’ve said before, a lot of tension might be eliminated by having neighborhoods predominately of one race policed by cops of that race. Same departments, same training, same pay, same equipment, but different beats. Blacks didn’t burn Los Angeles because cops were acquitted of beating Rodney King, but because white cops beat him, and were acquitted. The potential for explosion is still there, in many cities, and interracial encounters with cops are the likely spark.

Which is better — to keep pushing interracial policing that doesn’t work very well, because we think it ought to work, or go to same-race policing that people seem to want, but think they shouldn’t want?

I’d like to know what people, certainly including blacks, think about the idea.

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