Facts Don't Matter
Recently, Rafael Mangual, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute, wrote a well-researched op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, The Limits of Police Reform. Unfortunately, you need a subscription to read it and the Manhattan Institute’s website just links you to the WSJ. In the op-ed, Mr. Mangual pointed out that over the last fifty years in New York City, police shootings and people killed by police have declined from 810 shootings with 93 fatalities, to 72 shootings and 9 killed. That is more than a ninety percent reduction in police violence.
Mr. Mangual also noted that out of ten million arrests nationally there were only 3,046 shooting incidents resulting in 992 deaths (0.03% and 0.01%, respectively). Clearly, there have been substantial reforms to the police over the last fifty years resulting in much greater restraint on behalf of police. Mr. Mangual goes on to say that many of the proposed reforms being demanded by protestors will provide only incremental improvements and not transformational change. For example, a study published in the Yale Law Journal shows that qualified immunity was rarely used as a defense (only 3.9% of the cases where it could have been applied) such that eliminating it, as is being demanded by many protestors, would have a minimal impact on police bad conduct. But like many well-intentioned but poorly considered policies, the elimination of qualified immunity would have the consequence of reduced community interaction by police and an increase in crime and violence.
The Task Force on 21st Century Policing created by President Obama came up with 59 recommendations to improve policing and police relations. The Stockton, California police department, under Chief Eric Jones, implemented almost all of those recommendations. And while he noted some improvement, he stated, “It’s a continual path.”
But the facts, as cited by Mr. Mangual, don’t matter. The past efforts of reform don’t matter. The narrative, based primarily on anecdotal evidence, is that racist cops in systemically racist police departments, murder unarmed black men with disgusting regularity
We don’t know what Derek Chauvin was thinking as he was killing George Floyd. Everyone assumes that it was racist animosity against black people. Black people and many white people as well have been conditioned to believe that race and racism is responsible when bad things happen to black people. But that may not be the case in many situations. If I cut in line in front of a white person, I would be considered a rude jerk. But if I cut in line in front of a black person, I would be considered a racist jerk for the same inconsiderate action. I think that if I cut in front of a black person and not for a white person, that would be racism. But we will never know in my case because I do not cut in line.
Life is full of many slights, affronts and insults. Bullies abound. Some are racists. But many are not. They’re just bullies. I have been bullied. Most people have been bullied in their lives. And bullies are good at finding people’s buttons and pushing them. Short people are bullied by tall people. Women are often bullied by men. And blacks are often bullied by whites. And vice versa. When the cacophony created by black leadership, identity politics and media headlines continually screams that racism is the greatest problem facing America, then it is no wonder that black people see racism in every action of white people.
Al Sharpton doesn’t get up in front of a crowd and say let’s be reasonable and think about this rationally. That wouldn’t feed his ego. Or his coffers. Or those of many other black leaders and progressive politicians. All the Black Lives Matter protests are driven by emotion. Anger by blacks and guilt by whites. And policies to deal with systemic racism are being formulated based on those emotions. But emotion is not a good basis for making policies. And the policies made in the heat of emotion often have unintended consequences that are worse than the original problem. But once passed, these laws and policies are hard to change or reverse.
Transformational change is revolutionary, not democratic. Incremental progress is part of the essential nature of democracy. And we have been making incremental progress. The participation of Millennial and Gen Z young people in the protests is proof that the attitudes of America are changing from those of older people who grew up in the segregated South. I know that many people are impatient with the slow pace of change. But transformational change based on emotion and not reason, could result in the destruction of all that we have been working toward.
While the facts indicate that police violence is declining and that racism is receding from America, as I write this commentary another unarmed black man is shot and killed, this time in Atlanta. What are these cops thinking? Yes, Rayshard Brooks was running away and might have escaped punishment for his crime. But getting drunk and falling asleep in a Wendy’s drive-thru is not a capital crime. Neither is a broken taillight, not dimming your headlights or trying to pass a phony twenty-dollar bill.
It would be nice if people that were being stopped for petty crime or for being a public nuisance would say to the police, “yes, officer, you caught me. I will go with you to the station, peacefully.” But they don’t. They are often mentally ill, or on drugs, or just plain scared and they resist. And that resistance gets the cop’s adrenaline pumping and then things get out of control.
The facts say that things are getting better, but the headlines say that things have never been worse. Cops need better training in order to deescalate these confrontations, but deescalating might mean that some of the offenders get away. There must be a better way to make sure that these petty crimes don’t erupt into violence when the perpetrator tries to resist or flee.
There was no need to use force to arrest Rayshard Brooks. The police had his driver’s license, his breathalyzer test and his car. The police could have impounded his car and arrested him later at his home (with an attorney present if necessary) so that the judicial process could proceed. Of course, if Mr. Brooks had proceeded to commit other crimes or kill someone after fleeing the police, the police and their employer (the taxpayers) could be held liable. But if qualified immunity had been repealed, as many people are pushing, then the police probably would have done nothing and let Mr. Brooks continue to drive home drunk.
One idea I have is that, instead of shooting or tazing people that are resisting, why don’t we tag them. Everybody’s pets are now chipped so that lost pets can be properly identified and returned to their owner. And some companies are chipping their employees so that they can pass through security, track attendance or grant access to proprietary data. I am sure that the technology can be developed where a tagger can shoot a non-lethal dart at a suspect that would track that person’s position as surely as his (or her) smartphone or smart watch.
Petty crimes should not be allowed to run rampant, but we must cease executing people for these types of crimes. Tagging would allow the suspect to flee but also allow police to track the suspect so that the suspect can be issued a summons (which is all most of these petty crimes can justify) or arrange an arrest through intermediaries to reduce the possibility of a violent escalation.
We rely on technology to solve so many of our day-to-day problems. Surely, some innovative mind can devise a device that will protect the lives of suspects, police and the rest of the community.