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Are Cops Racist? A Book Review By: Michael Tremoglie
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, April 29, 2003


A Review of Heather MacDonald's Are Cops Racist?  Click HERE to order.

In June 1992, Mafia boss John Gotti’s minions organized a raucous demonstration outside the courthouse where he was on trial. They claimed he was a victim of the practice, by federal law enforcement officials, of profiling Italian-Americans. Similar claims were by made Mafia defendants in previous mob trials, Senate hearings, and organized crime investigations. This canard of being victimized by law enforcement because of race or ethnicity is one of the theses of Heather MacDonald’s excellent book “Are Cop’s Racist.”

MacDonald is a fellow of the Manhattan Institute-a think tank in New York City that was an essential part of the Giuliani administration’s law enforcement revolution, which led to New York City becoming a much safer city. She is a graduate of Yale, has a Master’s degree from Cambridge, and is a Stanford law school graduate. MacDonald often writes about law enforcement and racial issues for the Institute’s publication City Journal.

Are Cops Racist? explores how politicians, civil rights leaders, and the media manipulate the subject of “racial profiling,” for self-aggrandizement. MacDonald’s book is not an apologia. She is a vehement critic of the mainstream media types and academicians who criticize law enforcement. Indeed, MacDonald illustrates that the “ chattering class” are guilty of the unwarranted profiling of law enforcement. (My own experiences lead me to believe the “chatterati,” think every cop is a Bull Connors). According to MacDonald, the media template is that cops cannot wait to arrest a black citizen-and they fervently desire the opportunity to shoot one.

MacDonald mentions on the first page that “ the press has been on a crusade to portray cops as brutal and racist, despised by the communities they are sworn to protect. ” She states in her introduction that, “This book aims to tell the truth.”

One tactic of this crusade the book addresses is the issue of racial profiling, which is a subject of great concern for MacDonald. She demonstrates how defense attorneys and pandering politicians like former New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman willingly became part of the “anti-profiling juggernaut” which MacDonald feels “ will obliterate” the effectiveness of law enforcement in preventing both for crime and terrorism.

She deconstructs the allegation by illustrating that the evidence of profiling is fallacious. One example MacDaonld writes about is an ACLU and NAACP commissioned study of car stops by the Philadelphia PD-published by the Philadelphia Inquirer- that indicated cops stopped black drivers more than whites. (I wrote about this for Front Page Magazine in February 2001). The study was an example of a priori logic.

Another example of this anti-cop, racial profiling bandwagon was the practice by the New York Times of referring “ to New Jersey’s racial bias on the highways as if it were incontrovertible fact.” Yet, the report alleging racial profiling by New Jersey State Troopers was misleading. The report by the state attorney general is erroneous for two reasons-one is that the data only concerns consent searches not all searches. Secondly, the report does not establish a violator benchmark, which is the rate of lawbreaking among a specific group. So, for example, there is a claim  of racial profiling because 24% of all stops by the state troopers are black, yet only 19% of New Jersey driviers are black. In order to prove that claim it is necessary to know what percentage of traffic violators are black. This was not done.

Once MacDonald has established that the media myrmidons were all too anxious to crucify the cops using a cross of profiling, she then reveals, using two examples, how evidence repudiating racial profiling was either criticized by the media or prevented from being published by the Department of Justice. 

The first example of the media bias was the recommendation of North Carolina State criminologist Matthew Zingraff that a study be performed to determine if indeed blacks committed more traffic violations. I recall this idea being excoriated by the editorial page editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The Inquirer was not the only media, print or electronic, to do so. The diatribe Zingraff experienced prevented other serious researchers from such a study. 

The second more damning example was the result of a study requested by the New Jersey State Police and conducted by the New Jersey attorney generals office. This study responded to the criticism of the lack of a violator benchmark by attempting to establish one. As MacDonald describes it ” The elegant study, designed by the Public Service Research Institute in Maryland had taken photos with high speed camera equipment and a radar gun of forty thousand turnpike drivers. The photos were shown to a team of evaluators who identified the race of the driver. The evaluators had no idea if the drivers in the photos had been speeding.”

The study determined that blacks comprised 16% of drivers and 25% of violators; that blacks speed twice as much as whites; and blacks were actually stopped less than their speeding would indicate they should be. This report was heretical to the cop bashers. As MacDonald so cleverly writes,” The medieval Vatican could not have been more threatened had Galileo offered photographic proof of the solar system.”                                                                    

When MacDonald addresses media bias she specifically mentions New York Times criminal justice reporter Fox Butterfield as the paradigm of media bigotry. According to MacDonald, Butterfield routinely vilifies the NYPD. However, his credibility is questionable. Butterfiled’s reporting consists merely of recycling material about alleged police misconduct and adjusting the prose for the current allegation. She examines Butterfield’s reporting of the Diallo and Dorismund incidents (both were black men killed by the NYPD) and illustrates how very similar they were.

Butterfield used a cookie cutter approach to reporting about these incidents. He simply changed the names and some words. In both instances, Butterfield inveighed against the NYPD. He asserted that their policies of stopping and frisking were to blame. Butterfield argument was that the NYPD procedures “ estranged the community.” He felt that the NYPD should be more like a city such as San Diego and quoted criminologists to validate his thesis.

MacDonald points out that Butterfield uses the same stable of experts for his reports criticizing the NYPD. However, Butterfield’s experts are not quite so expert. One is University of Wisconsin professor emeritus Herman Goldstein. MacDonald interviewed Goldstein and asked what he knew of the NYPD. Apparently, Goldstein did not know much. He never studied the policies and procedures of the NYPD. What Goldstein opined to Butterfield for use in his column was what Goldstein had read in the papers about the NYPD.

How ironic that Butterfield’s expert obtain most of his information about a subject from the media. Even more ironic is that the media interpretation of the subject is furnished to Butterfield by the experts when he solicits their opinion. As MacDonald says there is a loop from journalists to criminologists to journalists. 

This lack of facts is neither unusual nor limited to Butterfield. The New York Times once stated that the NYPD was reviled by the minority community it terrorized. However, MacDonald writes that while, “ The New York Times has sent scores of reporters (to report about cops and the community)…they never seem to find people like Terry Lee… a preacher in Brooklyn, “ who told MacDonald when she interviewed him for her book that, “ (Cops) do great work…They allow our senior citizens to walk to the market.” MacDonald believes that “the press and liberal activists ignore such opinions.”

Just as the media disregards community activists who are advocates of law enforcement officials, MacDonald avers that, “ they ignore the views of black cops who debunk the racial profiling charge…” McDonald then quotes a black NYPD lieutenant who said, “People in prison are not black or white –they’re criminals.”

It is her categorization and debunking of myths that makes MacDonald’s “Are Cops Racist” such a valuable tool to those who study criminal justice in America. She writes, “The press-led by the New York Times-along with criminologists, law professors, and activists, most of whom have never bothered studying the NYPD, has spun a distorted…revisionist history of New York’s crime revolution..giving anti-police activists the ammunition to oppose the Gotham-style reforms that are any city’s best hope for reducing crime.”

MacDonald even developed a model for this revisionism that she believes is, “ cobbled together from Fox Butterfield’s annual anti-NYPD article in the New York Times..a Jeffrey Rosen new Republic piece,” other articles in “the Los Angeles Times ..Economist and conversations with various academics…” The motivation appears political because the model MacDonald cites is that the community policing practice of former NY Mayor David Dinkins was successful and that Giuliani implemented a police of draconian law enforcement which may have reduced crime, however, it is alienated minorities and may be racist.

“Almost nothing about (this) was true,” MacDonald writes. She proceeds to state the fact that during Dinkins’ administration there were 2200 homicides per year in New York City, meanwhile cops were assigned to tasks like “cleaning…junkyards.”

Another media myth debunked by MacDonald is the draconian law enforcement concept. What actually occurred during the Giuliani administration was a redeployment and efficient use of resources using a system called “Compstat” which is nothing more than a computer generated report of criminal activity. The results were a dramatic reduction in crime.

Debunked by MacDonald as well was the myth of lack of community involvement by the NYPD. She mentions the residents of a Far Rockaway community who very satisfied with the NYPD response. What about Al Sharpton, she asks them. “ Sharpton doesn’t speak for me” replied one resident. Of course, such a quote would never appear in the NY Times.

When she talks about the “climate of fear “ myth MacDonald, once again, speaks to people in the minority community who welcome the NYPD. Her point is that this could easily be written about in the pages of the NY Times yet is not.

During my interview with MacDonald I told her of the assertion of one of my Criminal Justice professors that the shooting of Amadou Diallo was murder. MacDonald exclaimed, “ that is ludicrous, “ nearly shouting her remark in the quiet café. She went on to say that unfortunately such an absurd opinion as my professor’s is common among academicians.

MacDonald’s revelations of the anti-police bias in journalism, in the civil rights “industry,” and in academia make “Are Cop’s Racist,” a valuable tome for students of criminal justice. It should be required reading for any Criminal Justice ethics course. It provides a perspective unique and necessary for an evaluation of the system of Criminal Justice in America.

Heather MacDonald's Are Cops Racist? is available from FrontPage Magazine.  Click HERE to order.


Michael P. Tremoglie is the author of the new novel A Sense of Duty, and an ex-Philadelphia cop. E-mail him at elfegobaca@comcast.net.


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