Justice Department alleges racial discrimination by Baltimore police, Part Two

The day before the Department of Justice released its report condemning the Baltimore Police Department for alleged racially biased policing, the Baltimore Sun wrote a story about the report. Apparently, the DOJ gave it and other big media outlets a sneak preview. It understood that the MSM would tout the indictment before the rest of us had the opportunity to review it.

From the Baltimore Sun’s reporting, it seemed clear to me that the DOJ’s real beef was with proactive policing of two high crime areas of Baltimore that are mostly black. The DOJ built its indictment of the Baltimore police on statistics purporting to show that the police treats blacks worse than whites when it comes to stops, arrests, and use of force. But these statistics, I suspected, are the product of the police force’s proper decision to concentrate its efforts in high crime neighborhoods, not evidence of racially biased treatment of those who encounter the police.

If you concentrate on policing neighborhoods with lots of blacks (because crime is prevalent there) you’re going to stop lots of blacks. And if you police these neighborhoods aggressively, many of these stops won’t result in finding contraband because, among reasons, criminals will be deterred from carrying it around.

Now, the DOJ report has been made public and my suspicions about it are confirmed. Heather Mac Donald has the details.

She asks:

What, for example, goes on in those two [predominately black] districts accounting for 44 percent of all stops? Might they contain a vastly disproportionate number of criminal victimizations? Is open-air drug trafficking terrorizing the law-abiding residents there? We never learn.

The DOJ makes much of a finding that blacks make up 87 percent of those charged with resisting arrest in Baltimore — an offense that may involve some subjectivity in charging? Mac Donald writes:

It is simply beyond the ken of the attorneys in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division that perhaps blacks make up 87 percent of resisting-arrest charges because they resist arrest at a higher rate than their population ratios, but consistent with their crime rates [blacks account for 86 percent of all crimes charges; they account for 90 percent of murder victims].

Ed Norris served as deputy commissioner in the New York Police Department and as the Baltimore police commissioner from 2000 to 2002. The “level of violence in the streets here [in Baltimore] and the willingness to fight with the police is much worse than what I experienced in NYC,” he says. “It really does need to be seen to understand what it’s like here.”

With the police backing off thanks to pressure from city politicians, Black Lives Matter, and now the Justice Department, we can expect an even greater willingness by punks and criminals to fight with officers.

The DOJ report recycles the complaint that blacks report using drugs at only a slightly higher rate than whites, yet are arrested for drug possession at a much high rate than whites. This must mean that they are unfairly targeted and harassed by racist police officers, no?

Not really. Drug use by blacks and whites may (or may not) be comparable, but the criminal activity and threat to the community that accompanies the drug trade is not. Mac Donald explains:

[D]rug enforcement follows community calls for service. The police enforce drug laws where residents ask them to, and that is overwhelmingly in minority areas plagued by open-air drug markets. If residents of white neighborhoods lived in the thrall of the drug trade, they would be demanding enforcement and enforcement would follow.

Police bring possession charges as stand-ins for trafficking charges, which members of street drug rings are careful to avoid through a tight choreography of facially lawful transactions.

The DOJ willful blindness to the plight of law-abiding residents of high crime neighborhoods is perhaps the reports most offensive element — even more so than its eagerness to castigate the police without any real awareness of context. MacDonald speaks up for these residents:

The report is assiduously blind to, and silent about, the burdens faced by residents of high-crime neighborhoods. It complains about racial and economic segregation, then proceeds as if street behavior and street crime are identical across Baltimore.

The authors are shocked by evidence that suggests that “trespassing enforcement is focused on public housing.” One can only conclude that the civil-rights lawyers are unaware of the shootings and muggings that characterize public housing, as well as of the relationship between trespassing and more serious forms of crime.

The authors likely do not rely on the police to keep trespassers away from their homes and can count on informal social controls like parents to maintain public order.

They are offended by the police practice of trying to disperse large groups of people hanging out. Yet the most frequent complaint made in police–community meetings in high-crime areas concerns just those congregating throngs of youth, because law-abiding residents know from experience that it is out of those knots of loiterers that assaults and shootings emerge. Those same law-abiding residents do not understand why the police can’t simply arrest everyone for loitering or truancy.

Mac Donald concludes:

[The DOJ’s] ignorant analysis is just one more reckless attack on police legitimacy. . . .

While the Baltimore DOJ report is far from an overt invitation to attack officers, it belongs to a mendacious narrative about policing that is contributing to an environment of virulent hatred against cops and that is obstinately blind to the realities of crime. As long as that narrative is dominant, more black lives will be lost, and probably also more blue ones.

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