Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Racial profiling: the deniers

"[There is no] shred of credible evidence that 'racial profiling' is a widespread police practice." --Heather MacDonald

Just as there are global warming deniers("global warming is a liberal conspiracy", there are racism deniers ("There is no longer any white racism"), and now there are racial profiling deniers. These people are ideologues who look first at their ideology and then at the facts. For some reason, the facts are never sufficient to affect their ideology.

Such a denier is Heather MacDonald, who writes conservative hit pieces, primarily for the Manhattan Institute, but she is also published in the New York Post and elsewhere. She writes that blacks and hispanics are targeted by police officers, not because of their skin color, but because blacks and hispanics are more often involved in crime.

Since 2005, however, better studies on the relationship between police actions and racial profiling have been conducted by police themselves. In New York City, Judge Shira Scheindlin's order in Daniels vs. City of New York (2003) directed police officers to keep better records of their contacts with the public. For the past several years, police officers have been taking time to fill out forms that indicate the exact reasons for their stop and question tactics. The results have been eye-opening.

Over 1.5 million persons were stopped and questioned by NYC police during 2010 through the first half of 2012. Of those, 80 percent were African-Americans or Hispanics. That alone was not enough to establish a pattern of racial profiling, though, as Jeffrey Fagan explained in his 150-page report entered by plaintiffs in Floyd v. City of New York. Fagan is a law professor at Columbia University who also teaches epidemiology there. He is a rare combination of lawyer and statistician.

After processing more than 4 million forms filled out by policemen during the course of their duties, Fagan concluded that almost 7 percent of the stops of African-Americans and Latinos made by police were unjustified and another 23 percent may have been unjustified but cannot be absolutely defined. Sheindlin accepted these findings when she ruled in Floyd v. City of New York (2013). These 150 pages described in great detail what the police were doing and whether force was used or contraband discovered.

Thirty percent of stops from 2010 to 2012--roughly 500,000 stops--were either certainly unjustified or almost certainly unjustified. That's enough to establish that the NYC police do indeed stop people because of their skin color. But Fagan also analyzed several other factors to determine why stops were being made, including the number of stops per felony report. Here, he found that areas with high minority populations had up to 7 times as many weapons stops per felony report. Fagan concluded either that these areas were overpoliced or that less heavily minority areas were underpoliced.

Put another way, police were using a felony crime report as a pretext to stop minorities and search for weapons, despite the fact that more whites were found to be carrying weapons overall. The police made up to 7 stops of minority individuals for each crime report.

Fagan studies not just racial characteristics of police stops, but numerous other factors. This is the most thorough statistical analysis of police tactics ever made. Judge Scheindlin came to a judicial decision based on her thorough understanding of the data reported. She concluded that the NYC police did employ racial profiling in its customary procedures.

Racial profiling deniers were not convinced, however. As noted above, these people are ideologues who are not persuaded by facts but by their preconceived notions of what should be true. Three of these deniers are judges on the panel that removed Scheindlin from the case and reversed her decision. They did not consider whether Scheindlin's decision was correct according to the law, but instead took her decision as evidence that she was prejudiced against the police. Such a point of view is not possible if one examines the totality of the voluminous evidence gathered from police records.

Heather MacDonald published an article in the Manhattan Institute's City Journal shortly after Scheindlin's landmark decision in Floyd. In it, MacDonald displays the attitudes of an ideologue and the invective of a demagogue. She also reveals that she did not read or comprehend the analysis of Fagan as published with the decision.

MacDonald stoops to name-calling and ad hominem attacks. She calls Scheindlin clueless and writes that the judge understands nothing about policing. Such an attack would not be possible for someone who had read Fagan's in depth analysis of police data, because that data describes, in minute statistical detail, just exactly what the practices of the NYC police are.

In the same article, MacDonald attacks New York State Senator Eric Adams for quoting Chief of Police Kelly as saying that the NYPD stop minorities to instill fear in them. MacDonald says Kelly could not have meant to say this because he was speaking to a group of African-American politicians at the time. This argument displays the same lack of logic as someone who claims he is not a racist because one of his best friends is black.

Racial profiling deniers act at a disadvantage by comparison with global warming deniers. Racial profiling is defined by law. Police are required to obey the law in their activities, whether or not they agree with the law.

No comments: