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Disproportionate Response By: Lloyd Billingsley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 30, 2009

Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is on record that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts “acted stupidly” in the arrest of Harvard scholar and presidential pal Henry Louis Gates. Feedback to the “stupid” comment has neglected a more important part of the president’s response.

At first, the President of the United States acknowledged that he didn’t “know all the facts” in the case. But he said it was “just a fact,” that African-Americans and Latinos are “disproportionately stopped by police.” He also put it this way: “the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often times for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause.” All this was evidence, President Obama said, that “race remains a factor in our society.” It does, but not in the way the president intends.

The key word here is “disproportionately,” a derivative of the proportionality doctrine, a key orthodoxy of political correctness. In this view, everything must conform to the racial and ethnic breakdown of society, from college admissions, participation in sports, to success in business and entertainment. These are all to conform to the ethnic breakdown of society, otherwise some groups are “underrepresented” or “overrepresented.” In the cannons of political correctness, disproportionality has only one cause, deliberate discrimination. In similar style, there can be only one correct cure, government action in the form of preferences and quotas.

The proportionality doctrine is not found in the Constitution of the United States nor in federal law. It is a sociological-racial construct and Gatesgate shows how incredibly pervasive it is. Even the extent to which people are stopped by the police must conform to the proportionality doctrine, otherwise justice stands in peril. Despite president Obama’s certitude on the issue, is it  a “fact” that the police disproportionately pick up blacks and Hispanics? And does that happen for “no cause” under some nefarious practice of racial profiling?

Profiling is actually an important part of police work, which is why the FBI employs professional profilers. Should someone, for example, catch a glimpse of John Allan Muhammad, the 2002 beltway sniper, it would be entirely appropriate for police to profile him as a black man. The police could immediately rule out someone who looked like, say, white vigilante Bernard Goetz, or David Berkowitz, a white serial killer. Police officers sometimes mistreat suspects and even commit crimes. When they do, a profile can play the key role in their arrest.

In Are Cops Racist? (2003) Heather MacDonald noted that even anti-profiling activists conceded that the police stop drivers for actual traffic violations, not for no reason other than race or ethnicity. In one ACLU study, the police did not even record the race of the motorist. The notion of selective enforcement, says MacDonald, is meaningless. In New Jersey, MacDonald notes, blacks make up more than 60 percent of arrests for drugs and weapons, though they are 13.5 percent of the population.

Statistical disparities are the rule, not the exception, in American life. Black American males dominate jazz, for example, but cannot be said to be “overrepresented” in that field in any meaningful sense. As Thomas Sowell has noted, Americans of Irish descent are not highly represented among piano manufacturers.

For police officers, the breakdown is more along the lines of criminals and law-abiding residents, not blacks and whites, anglos and Hispanics, latinos and non-latinos, and so on. It is not, therefore, a reality that the police target any group based on race or ethnicity. Their job is difficult enough without the stereotype that every officer, including James Crowley of the Gates case, is some kind of Bull Connor.

The profiling crusade, MacDonald says in Are Cops Racist? was a bogus construct from the start, and it can have serious consequences for innocent civilians, particularly minorities.  The proportionality doctrine is also a bogus construct, one that ignores personal differences, effort and choice. It remains disturbing that the President of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, considers this construct a “fact” and invoked it even before he knew all the facts of the Gates case. 

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of From Mainline to Sideline, the Social Witness of the National Council of Churches, and Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s.

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