I had hoped to spend the summer running columns from my recent trip to Chicago, which gives a picture of big-city policing that Washington can’t. As it happens, however, the growing racial problem, in which cops are declining to risk arresting blacks for fear of being prosecuted, has upset the apple cart. My email on the subject increases. It’s actually important, so maybe we ought to let Chicago wait.
Consider a few questions:
What can we expect cops to put up with on the job? What can we not reasonably expect them to put up with? And what do the answers have to do with the growing refusal of white cops to police black neighborhoods?
To begin with, we can expect them to risk being shot and perhaps killed. That’s part of the job. They know this when they sign up. They do in fact accept this risk.
We can also expect them to put up with hostility from many of the citizens they deal with. People don’t like being arrested. They don’t like being ordered to take sobriety tests. They usually will not be gracious about it. Being snarled at is part of the job.
We can expect them to tolerate scrutiny by the press. The police wield an enormous and potentially dangerous power. While cops may not enjoy being watched constantly, as who would, any organization with so much authority ought to be watched carefully in anything approximating a democracy. That, sez me, is part of the job.
Finally, whether reasonably or not, we can expect them to accept being disliked by the majority of the population. Actually it’s not reasonable. The average cop is a decent enough guy who does his job as best he can, which is usually pretty well. The reality is that people don’t like cops, and never will. If cops don’t know this when they sign up, they ought to. This also is part of the job.
Cops are not complaining about these things, except for the ritual grousing about the press.
So what are they quietly going on strike about? Why are they increasingly ignoring crime in black neighborhoods? Why are they upset? And how much sense does it make?
They are angry, and seriously angry, because they are being ordered to do certain things, and then punished, often severely, for doing what they were told to do. For example, they are trained to stop people who drive dangerously. Then they are demoted, denied promotion, have their careers ruined, if too many of those stopped are black. (Has a cop ever been punished for stopping too many whites? Has anyone ever checked the numbers?)
They are angry because the job has been politicized. If a cop shoots a white criminal during a robbery, it’s just a dead white criminal. If the robber is black, a racism beef arises, and some ambitious prosecutor files charges. This is what cops are angry about: Double jeopardy.
They are angry because the chief tells them to police aggressively to reduce crime, and then won’t support them when they do. They know they’re not picking on blacks. They know the chief knows it. The public may not, but the chief does. He has been on the street.
This is a common complaint: The chief looks for his own political advantage instead of backing his men.
I’ve talked to a lot of cops. They are perfectly willing to enforce the law. They are increasingly willing not to enforce it. They are not real willing both to enforce the law and be made into political footballs because of it. We can’t expect them to. It is not part of the job.
Now, where do blacks stand on the question? It’s hard for a white guy to know. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and organizations like the NAACP pretty much control what whites think blacks think. Middle-class blacks in PG, GS-13s with nice kids and a floppy-eared pooch in the backyard – these people have no public voice. I’d like to know their views (firstname.lastname@example.org) . My guess is that they would like to have the law enforced in their neighborhoods — but I don’t know. Al and Jesse control the microphones.
The politicization is the killer. I got an email last week from a cop in the Midwest. He stopped a seriously drunk driver, found he was black, and just let him go: It wasn’t worth the racial risk. He didn’t need a profiling beef. That drunk might have killed a kid, who could as easily have been black as white. We want this?