Thoughts from the ammo line

Ammo Grrrll draws on a REVEALING RIDE-ALONG chronicled by former Pioneer Press and Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman wasy back when:

About 15 years ago, when the “Driving While Black” meme was just finding purchase in the public mind, ultra-liberal Twin Cities columnist Nick Coleman, son of a Democrat pol, no friend to Power Line, was invited to go on a ride-along with the police. I knew Nick personally, not as a close friend, but more than an acquaintance.

I’m sure that Nick badly wanted to support the notion that the cops were engaging in racial profiling. But Nick was honest enough to make several very telling observations that I remember to this day. I tried in vain to find the column to link it, lest you think I am making up his observations. They were striking enough that I remember them clearly, but you’re just going to have to trust me on this unless you have a five-year-old who is more skilled on the Internet than I am. Here are several observations to the best of my recollection.

One: that with tinted windows and the cover of darkness, he failed to guess the race of the occupants in cars the majority of the time. It can’t be profiling if you can’t even SEE the occupants of the car.

Even in broad daylight, the eyes and mind play tricks on a person. I have a pretty hilarious personal experience with “eyewitness” identification. Some years ago I was walking around the lake in my neighborhood. My vision was 20/10 and I did not yet wear glasses. I was perhaps a quarter mile away from an approaching figure. My heart leapt with joy as I was sure that my beloved husband was jogging my way. I waved enthusiastically and crossed the street to intersect with him in hopes of a quick kiss. The figure was tall, with his trademark curly hair, wearing the blue jogging shorts he normally wore.

As the person got closer, I was gobsmacked to discover that not only was it NOT my husband, it wasn’t anybody’s husband. (Which was probably just as well since it certainly looked like I was coming on to him!) It was, in fact, a tall, black woman who was a little taken aback to see such a friendly lady waving at her and grinning like a fool. Got the race wrong. Got the sex wrong. And thought she was someone I had been married to for 30 years. Oopsie. Haven’t we ALL waved at someone we thought was someone else and then pretended to be fixing our hair or something in embarrassment? But mistaking them for your own husband?

Two: Nick noticed that after midnight the vast majority of people who were out and about were not white people. Now, it’s theoretically possible that such people are coming from Bible study or even getting off swing shift, but long sad experience has taught cops that most people roaming about very late at night are looking for trouble in some form. Drugs, “dates” with ladies named “Krystal,” weaving home from a bar, whatever.

One “night” at 4:30 a.m., I was stopped coming home from my weird typesetting shift. I was slip-sliding down icy, snowy University Avenue and skidded right through a stop sign. Oh dear, flashing lights. The cop did not give me a ticket since I had been trying valiantly to pump gently on the brake for many feet, but he wanted to know what a woman was doing out alone in a blizzard at that hour. Had I been black would I have reflexively felt unfairly targeted?

Three: that a large percentage of black people stopped for speeding, running stoplights and other clear dangers became abusive to the officers, accusing them of “profiling.” They were not polite; they were not cooperative. And often they were also drunk and combative. Nick found the officers very patient and not looking for escalation. Yes, it certainly could have been, in part, because he was a witness.

He came away not willing to dismiss the notion of “Driving While Black” completely, but with a whole lot of questions about its validity. He called ’em as he saw ’em. You know, like an actual journalist.

You add in the wild disparity in criminal activity by race, and the slight disparities in arrests and stops for suspicious behavior become even more understandable. Yet from the President on down, we see tremendous pressure on officers of the law to make sure that stops are noted by race and do not vary by one whit from that race’s percentage of the population. Never mind the difference between criminal behavior in young black males and, say, white women of late, late middle age.

In fact, it has made me rethink an incident I referred to in a previous column that happened on a Texas highway. Unlike every other driver in the great state of Texas, I had not been speeding. Scout’s honor. There was absolutely nobody behind me for a thousand yards. Flashing lights from nowhere. And the patrolman said I had failed to signal a lane change. I eventually just got a warning and the admonition to drive “the friendly Texas way,” but I wonder now if they didn’t need a “white” stop to balance out too many minority ones?

Are you a firm believer that the police unfairly target minorities? You can trust the great Heather Mac Donald, magnificent researcher and definitive writer on the subject, but she is pretty conservative. Mr. Coleman is not. Or look for yourself. Ask for a ride-along and see if you change your mind.