Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work
By David A. Harris, The New Press, 276 pp.
In one episode of "The Sopranos," mama Soprano told the pre-adolescent Tony that the reason his father had been arrested was because “they like to pick on Italians.” If this book is indicative, David Harris would chase that paddy wagon with card in hand. A Balk Professor of Law and Values at the University of Toledo and a Soros Senior Justice fellow, he specializes in “racial profiling” by law enforcement. Credit him with successfully lobbying for the federal Traffic Stops Statistics Act.
Racial profiling is to law enforcement what environmental racism is to conservation (i.e., a leftist lie). Environmental racism, popularized by the disgraced former NAACP head Ben Chavis, posited that when minorities become the majority in industrial neighborhoods, the remaining industries that did not flee become guilty of purposely poisoning the residents with racist disregard. Racial profiling posits that when police stop and frisk, or stop and search, or traffic ticket minorities in greater numbers than their percentage in the general population, it is racism, regardless of actual criminal activity.
The rainbow coalition of profiling includes African-Americans, Latinos and Asians, whose arrest rate is less than half of that for whites and a fraction of that for blacks. The author makes the curious case that “the disproportionate(ly) large numbers of minorities reflected in arrest and incarceration statistics is further proof” of racial profiling. Minorities are “obliged to live and work in high crime areas for economic and social reasons…(and) become caught up in a vicious cycle.”
Harris' book is built on self-contradictory assertions. Police are damned for not using discretion, then damned for not following “hypertechnical” traffic law guidelines that exist to eliminate discretion. The reader is peppered with studies showing racial discrepancies in traffic stops, then told the police do not keep enough statistics to properly monitor suspected profiling.
Harris relies on argument-by-anecdote. Northwest Ohio law enforcement is signaled out for stopping the highest percentage of Latinos in Ohio, which is unsurprising since it is home to the highest concentration of Latinos in the state. Larry Sykes, a Toledo Democratic Party operative, sits on the Toledo Board of Education, a school system that he has led into "academic emergency." Sykes penned an essay in the Toledo Blade spouting the Nation of Islam rap accusing the English language of linguistic racism because some of the definitions for black are negative (explained by ancient man’s fear of the dark, a trait not unique to the English) hence the need for an Afro-centric curriculum in the schools. This man, whose career is defined by charging racism, is featured as a victim of traffic profiling. We are assured that despite the popular belief and low crime rates, Asians are also menaced by the police. As proof, the author shares an incident from Orange County, California, where teens wearing gang outfits were stopped and questioned.
This book is a dishonest, divisive political polemic. Drug sniffing dogs are compared to “dogs turned loose on blacks in the South by police in civil rights confrontations.” Minorities suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome because of racism (perhaps explaining why the white suicide rate is double that of blacks). To believe that, the reader must believe that people migrate to misery, that millions of Latinos, Asians, African and Caribbean blacks emigrated to the United States to suffer psychologically crippling bigotry. The reader must also believe that the horrors of life for black and "brown" people are so devastating that immigrants invite fellow family members to join them in this nightmare. By David Harris’ logic, Jews came here to experience anti-Semitism, not escape it; the Irish came to read the No-Irish-Need-Apply signs, not escape hunger and oppression; and the Poles came here to hear jokes at their expense, not to improve their lives.
Mr. Harris is a domestic terrorism denial nut. We are repeatedly told that the "hit rate," or percentage of times a stop leads to an arrest, is higher for minorities as for whites. Blacks are 6.67 times more likely to go to hospital emergency rooms for drug overdoses than whites (suggesting higher hard drug use). In 1997, 60% of all reported robberies were by blacks but only 57% of them ended in arrest. The black murder rate is nine times higher than for whites. The robbery rate for blacks is eight times higher than for whites. The majority of violent black felonies are committed against whites. The black on white crime rate is 55 times that of the reverse. Blacks are five times more likely to suffer criminality than are whites. The federal government does not separate out Hispanics from whites. California does and reports that the Hispanic crime rate for murder, rapes, muggings, robbery, and assault is two-to-four times greater than it is for whites. Violent crime in the U.S. is as skewed towards blacks versus whites as it is for males versus females. Interestingly, white and black alcohol arrests match their percentage in the population. Adjusted for crime rates, unless criminals are the most law-abiding of drivers, the hit rate for whites is the one out of proportion. One wonders if the percentage of middle–aged white males investigated during the recent Wall Street scandals were statistically proportionate. “When we use race as a way to predict who might be a criminal…a funny thing happens. The prophecy is fulfilled,” writes Harris.
The author argues that “racial profiling” is really criminal profiling with “sets of personal and behavioral characteristics.” The author incorrectly traces it back to Bob Vogel, a county sheriff from Florida, who developed a “drug-courier profile.” Correlative similarities included the driver’s attitude, passengers’ behavior, rental car, overly cautious driving, and oddities such as placing the spare tire in the backseat. Harassing criminals through frequent stops and searches is an old police tactic. Daryl Gates, for example, employed it early in his career to fight the mob in LA.
Coming for specific criticism is the hugely successful New York’s crime crackdown that reduced murder by half between 1994 and 1997, saving hundreds of black and brown lives. New York practiced community policing based on the broken windows theory. Under this concept, small crimes are punished in the belief that minor mayhem like graffiti and aggressive panhandling provides the oxygen fueling the general breakdown of law and order. New York Mayor Rudolf Gulliani’s anti-crime tactics also proved politically popular as he easily won re-election, setting the stage for the election of a Republican successor, a first for any living New Yorker.
The reader must carefully parse the author’s words. He claims that 43% of drug searches at airports are conducted on minorities, far out of proportion to the traveling public, yet not for international flights in the examples he gives. The reader is told that only 19% of stops in New Jersey and 8% of consent searches in Maryland produce criminal evidence. What is found is typically about 4.2 grams of marijuana. Unmentioned are the ethnicities of the drivers caught with large stashes of contraband.
Residential segregation is blamed for minorities being stopped in white suburbs, the DWB syndrome – driving while black. Yet it is fear of black crime, failing public schools, and corrupt and incompetent urban political machines that drive people to the suburbs. Harris laments that minority parents instruct their children not to provoke the police -- as if white parents don’t do the same. Additionally, white parents must inform their children which minority neighborhoods to avoid for fear of senseless hate crimes.
Reverse profiling goes unnoticed. In the Chicago of my youth, a white kid in a minority neighborhood was assumed to be up to no good and consistently checked out by the police. Chief Moose, who profiled white drivers in white vans while demanding his officers not bother drivers of color, allowed the D.C. snipers to continue their murderous rampage. Yet he is commended for stopping the profiling of drivers of color.
Without shame in the post-9/11 world, the author condemns the history of profiling Arabs and Muslims at airports. He credits the Gore Commission that instituted Computer Assisted Passenger Screening (CAPS) in 1998 to avoid specifically searching Muslims. “The results of CAPS have been striking….” Really? It only cost 3,000 innocents their lives at the World Trade Center. Even Harris' case study of success is the very same Customs Department that allowed the terrorists in and has failed to secure America’s borders.
Law enforcement policies deserve an honest debate, though they do not get one in this book. Reforms such as eliminating plea bargaining, ending untrustworthy jailhouse snitch testimony, holding police accountable for preventing crime, reforming incarceration to minimize recidivism, training the police to respect the citizenry, and repealing sovereign immunity for police, prosecutors, and judges, are issues deserving of serious consideration. But this book is not about better policing; it is about group grievance and Third World solidarity. Thanks to insular ideological vigilantes, the police are now on the defensive and crime is again escalating, up almost one-third in Toledo within the past couple of years. In other words, professor Harris entirely missed the story. Avoid his book.