I was all set to do a big post about the police, but then Kevin Drum went and said exactly what I was thinking:

It shouldn't be too hard to hold two thoughts in our minds at once. Thought #1: Police officers have an intrinsically tough and violent job. Split-second decisions about the use of force come with the territory. Ditto for decisions about who to stop and who to keep an eye on. This makes individual mistakes inevitable, but as a group, police officers deserve our support and respect regardless.

Thought #2: That support shouldn't be blind. Conlin reports that in her group of 25 black police officers, 24 said they had received rough treatment from other cops. “The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.”

“Conlin” refers to the author of this article, at Reuters. It includes nuggets like this:

What's emerging now is that, within the thin blue line of the NYPD, there is another divide - between black and white officers.

Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime.

The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.

Desmond Blaize, who retired two years ago as a sergeant in the 41st Precinct in the Bronx, said he once got stopped while taking a jog through Brooklyn's upmarket Prospect Park. “I had my ID on me so it didn’t escalate,” said Blaize, who has sued the department alleging he was racially harassed on the job. “But what’s suspicious about a jogger? In jogging clothes?”

My students routinely tell me similar stories. In fact, I don't think I've ever met a black person who doesn't have a story to tell of ridiculous police harassment. Are they all liars? Am I really to believe the cops are all just competent professionals doing a difficult job, and the common perception of systematic racism on their part is just a tragic misunderstanding?

If the cops want to convince people that they are, indeed, serious professionals, they might want to avoid bush league nonsense like turning their backs on the mayor, or asking him not to attend the funerals of slain police officers. After the recent shootings of two police officers in Brooklyn, Pat Linse, who runs one of the police unions in New York, accused city hall (code for Mayor Bill de Blasio) of having “blood on its hands.”

And what terrible thing did de Blasio do to earn this reproach? Well, you've probably heard about the Eric Garner case in Staten Island. Garner was selling “loosies” on a street corner, which is not legal. So an army of cops went to arrest him. When Garner expressed some vexation, the cops put him in a choke hold, threw him to the ground, and then stood around and watched him die. And we know that's what happened because it's all on video. The grand jury nonetheless declined to indict any of the officers involved.

De Blasio then gave a speech in which he forthrightly acknowledged the history of strained relations between police and minority communities. He is married to a black woman and has a teenaged son, and he described the conversations he has had urging his son to be careful in encounters with the police.

And that is why, in the minds of people like Linse and his fanatical supporters on the right, Mayor de Blasio now has blood on his hands. His very mild and common sensical remarks constitute “not having their backs,” or they brand him as “anti-cop.” The protest rallies calling for better policing constitute “a war on cops.” When President Obama or Attorney General Holder describe their own experiences as black men, they are accused of race-baiting, or of inciting violence.

Show me a white pundit saying such things, and I will show you someone who feels confident his only encounter with police will occur as the result of a traffic accident. To deny that there is a problem here is to be willfully blind or overtly racist. And to pretend that acknowledging the problem makes you anti-cop is just standard brain-dead, right wing fanaticism.

More like this

On New Year's Eve, 2009, Oscar Grant and his friends were taking BART back from the San Francisco celebrations to their homes in the East Bay. They were raucous at minimum, and reportedly started a fight on the train. Police pulled them off the train because of their behavior, and planned to…
UPDATED (based on feedback from commenters, new information, and some other data) Is racial bias ever a factor in police work? Was racial bias a factor in GatesGate, the recent incident in Cambridge Massachusetts involving Harvard scholar Skip Gates and the Cambridge Police? Here, I want to relate…
Having grown up in an American league town east of the Mississippi, as a baseball fan it is my sacred duty to hate the Yankees. This is even more so given how badly my hometown team (the Detroit Tigers) and my second favorite team (the Cleveland Indians) are doing this year. Thanks to the Yankee…
The Sunday before I went to Texas, the girlfriend and I spent a pleasant day in Sonoma Valley, tasting wines and enjoying the spring weather. Then we headed back for a going away party for some friends who are bound for rainier climes. On our way back from Sonoma, we passed the scene of an…

The primary problem you have is not "just" a problem with racism
It's a more general problem with police tactics and training
In the USA the police are a poorly paid poorly trained organisation
If you compare policing in other western countries you will find that the police are much better paid
And they appear to be able to perform their function with about 1% of the civilian deaths

By duncan cairncross (not verified) on 26 Dec 2014 #permalink

It's the constant fear of the "civilian" being armed with a gun. I would argue. This fear makes a lethal response "reasonable" to a cop in the USA that would not be reasonable in other countries. Even though crime is at a 50 year low. unfortunately, the police refuse to allow data on police shootings of civilians to be collected so I have no idea what the trend is on deadly encounters with police. I am assuming with the downtrend in crime there are fewer deadly encounters.
Also, police are quite well paid.…
$221,000 for a port authority beat cop.

That salary is an outlier based on the those who game the union rules in a specific department - the port authority who were once just toll takers but eventually argued that they needed guns since they dealt with money and then argued they were law enforcement since they carried guns...More representative are the quotes found on, etc.
In Virginia, for example, starting salary is $36,000 which increases to $40,000 after probation. The minimum requirement is a GED ( ).

I agree with your overall point however. My father was a Maryland State police officer in his youth before leaving to because an airline pilot for United. He never once used his gun or saw anyone who did - his unit was responsible for arresting moonshiners. People owned guns back then primarily for hunting for the most part. Today, the media has everyone whipped into such a frenzy ( 24 hour new cycle - hype to get ratings ) that your average effete suburbanite ( the kind that gets a back ache from mulching ) now thinks he needs a gun to protect his family - from what? Homicides per 100,000 are currently near the lowest levels since 1950. What kind of hellscape is the average lilly white suburbanite living in that requires being armed to the teeth?

i'd agree with the notion that there being guns everywhere would contribute to fear levels - both natural and trained

i'd also be inclined to think that they are getting way to many weapons resources, tech resources

that coupled with a media diet since birth of evil bad guys and heroes with quick guns gunning down said bad guys can hardly not have effected them

my experience with public servants in general has been that the well paid ones are doltish, arrogant, overly ambitious and prone to cutting corners when it suits the team

the male cops i've known have been great guys until they have to subdue a bad guy (no matter how bad) - there seems to be few grey areas - it's completely free and innocent or completely guilty and subject to any form of restraint

the female cops i've known have either been shell-shocked servants of poor suburbs or sex mad cat woman clones

in the old days i knew some pretty relaxed cops but those were days long before world news of terrorists shoved down our throats day after day after day interspersed with mindless movies about more bad guys

if we had wanted to set up a sociological experiment to see how uncivilized we can be "within" the law we'd not have done much better than reality

and not just in police systems - try looking at banks, politicians and other "legal" crooks who get away with harming millions - and get paid mighty well for it

and guess who are the first line of defense for such people and the last group to indict them?

Police - under-powered, over-armed and trigger happy under-achievers pointed straight at the weakest people in society while the powerful steal and kill and lie

if some black cops would accidentally shoot and kill a few bankers

well then.....


By The Peak Oil Poet (not verified) on 27 Dec 2014 #permalink

This is an anecdote which I've mentioned before (in other places). Well, here I go again.

A friend who grew up in Schenectady and I were driving somewhere in that city when we passed a parked police car. My friend saw who was in it and exclaimed angrily, "Every punk and bully I knew in high school is in the Schenectady Police Department!"

It occurred to me that being a cop is probably the job a bully would want. Apparently there isn't an effective screening process to keep them out. I have hope that someday there may be a technical solution to this and similar problems: an accurate lie-detector, based on MRI machines and neurological research.

I'm white. Around 2000 or so, I was living in Los Angeles. One day I was driving around and came to a left-turn light. When the light turned green, I made my left turn. A cop on the other side of the intersection (the "oncoming side") immediately turned on his lights and siren as we went through the intersection. He had a clear view of the person in the rear passenger side, who was black. I pulled over and the cop pulled up behind me. Two officers stepped out of the car, each with a hand at his holster and acting like we were the most fearful villains in the world. I rolled down my window and asked what the problem was as the passenger-side cop studied the passengers. The cop told me I made an illegal turn. I said "I don't understand. The arrow turned green and I turned." The cop said there's no turn arrow at that intersection. I said yes there is, and he said no, then took a good hard look at the other passengers for a few seconds. Then he said to make sure it didn't happen again, and he and his partner left. We drove around the block and back to the intersection to check, and yes, there was absolutely definitely a turn arrow.

The same thing happened about ten years earlier, in Hoboken NJ, but it was with "running a stop sign" even though-- as I also went back to check-- there was no stop sign.