We are not prone to

We are not prone to second-guess police work, but the sniper investigation seems to have been marked by confusion and worse. The Washington Post reports that the snipers’ vehicle’s license plates were checked by police at least ten times, but apparently no one tabulated these sightings and noted that the snipers’ Caprice was repeatedly spotted under suspicious circumstances. Most readers have probably seen the deeply offensive statement by the District of Columbia’s Chief of Police–“We were looking for a white van with white people, and we ended up with a blue car with black people”–but the worst thing about the authorities’ obtuseness isn’t that it was bigoted, but that it was stupid. There was no reason whatsoever to assume that the snipers were white. There is nothing wrong with racial profiling; what is inappropriate is irrational racial profiling, as occurred here. Further, the authorities’ premature fixation on the mythical white van seemingly blinded them to evidence inconsistent with their assumption. Just ten seconds after the shooting on October 3, a witness saw a dark-colored Chevrolet Caprice “creep away from the scene with its lights off.” At least one other witness saw the Caprice, but did not report it; that individual now says that at the time, “I didn’t know that [the Chevrolet] was important…and I didn’t know if I wanted to get involved. And everybody’s ‘white van’ this, ‘white van’ that.” If more attacks of this type occur, police work will have to be better.

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