John Hawkins: You’ve called racial profiling a myth. Why do you believe that’s the case?
Heather Mac Donald: The studies that purport to prove the existence of racial profiling are junk science that wouldn’t earn their authors an F in a freshman statistics course. Their biggest flaw? They ignore the most important factor in policing: crime. You can’t determine whether the police are stopping or arresting “too many” members of any given racial group unless you take into account the crime rates among different groups. No profiling study to date does that.
An example: In New York, blacks are 50% of all persons stopped and frisked by the police, but only 25% of the population. Police critics seize on this disparity between population percentages and enforcement activity to charge the police with racism. And such a disparity would indeed be cause for concern if crime rates were evenly distributed across the population. They are not, however – not in New York, not anywhere. In New York, in 1998, 62% of victims of violent assault identified their assailants as black, meaning that blacks were 13 times more likely to commit a violent assault as whites. Remember: these are victims identifying the criminal, not the allegedly “racist” police. It turns out that blacks in New York are actually being under stopped, compared to their rates of violent crime.
Such disparities are typical: In Arlington County, Va., blacks are 10% of the population, but commit 70% of all robberies. In Los Angeles, blacks committed 41% of all robberies in 2001, according to victims’ descriptions, though they constitute only 11% of the city’s population. Robbery victims in Los Angeles named whites, who make up 30% of the population, 4% of the time.
Police go where crime is highest, and in cities, that imperative takes them to poor minority neighborhoods, where most of the people stopped will, almost by definition, be black or Hispanic. And officers go to those neighborhoods not out of racism, but to protect the many law-abiding residents who live there from thugs.
The next time someone tells you that the police are stopping “too many” members of any given racial group, ask: “too many” compared to what? Compared to their population ratio or compared to their crime rate? If we want the police to be effective, they must direct their enforcement activity based on crime, not on skin color.
John Hawkins: The subtitle of your book, “Are Cops Racist” is “How the War Against the Police Harms Black Americans”. Why do you believe that black Americans in particular are harmed about attacks on the police?
Heather Mac Donald: The war against the police harms black Americans because they are most often victimized by violent criminals. When the media and political elites tell the cops that they are racist if they go where crime is highest and arrest criminals, the cops back off. They cease “proactive policing,” which attempts to stop crime before it happens, rather than respond to a crime after the fact. Officers worry that someone from the ACLU will compare their arrest statistics to population, rather than crime, rates, and accuse them of racism for merely doing their job. When the cops stop working aggressively, they deny protection to that inner-city grandmother who desperately needs to get to the grocery store for food but is terrified of the drug-selling scum on the corner.
John Hawkins: There were riots in Cincinnati back in April in 2001 after the police shot an unarmed black man. What was the effect of those riots and the aftermath on how police did their jobs and the crime rate in Cincinnati and why do you think that is?
Heather Mac Donald: Cincinnati is a perfect example of the “depolicing” effect. In 2001, a Cincinnati police officer fatally shot an unarmed teen-ager, triggering three days of vicious race riots and a tsunami of unjustified media and political charges of racism. In response, the Cincinnati police department pulled way back. Arrests dropped 50% in the first three months after the riots; traffic stops fell nearly 55%. In the summer of 2001, Cincinnati resembled the Wild West: the city had never seen such violent crime. Drug dealers operated with near impunity on the streets.
The trend has continued in Cincinnati for nearly two years after the riots. Violent crimes were up 40% in 2002 compared with 2000, and homicide reached a 15-year high. City officials started imploring officers to resume assertive patrol, a demand met with irony by the rank-and-file. In response to a city councilman’s proposal that the police crack down on loiterers who appeared to be selling drugs, the police union president observed: “Cops are saying: ‘That’s what I was doing. And I got my hand smacked for it and people called me a racist. So now what do you want me to do?’”
John Hawkins: Most people are aware that the crime rate in NYC plunged during Rudolph Giuliani’s tenure as mayor of NYC. Can you tell us how big of a drop in crime occurred during that time period and why the NYC police were so successful?
Heather Mac Donald: Crime in New York under Mayor Giuliani dropped 64% from 1993 to 2001. The reason: The New York Police Department began a computer-assisted crime analysis program that held precinct commanders accountable for crime in their jurisdictions. Until then, no one had held any police official accountable for reducing crime.
John Hawkins: Here’s a quote from a Jan column you wrote for the Weekly Standard,
“Every month, businesses and government agencies lavish vast sums on diversity “consultants” to come up with every reason other than the correct one–the skills gap–for why they do not have a proportional number of black and Hispanic employees.”
Why do you say there is a “skill gap”?
Heather Mac Donald: For decades, the SAT scores between whites and Asians, on the one hand, and blacks and Hispanics, on the other, have differed by an unyielding 200 points. That skills gap continues into professional school. In 2002, for example, among the 4500 college seniors nationwide with the LSATs and grades to qualify without preferences for a top-ten law school (a GPA of 3.5 and LSAT scores of 165), there were only 29 blacks.
John Hawkins: Overall, do you think Affirmative Action helps or hinders the people who receive it?
Heather Mac Donald: Affirmative action hurts its beneficiaries by holding them to a lower standard of performance.
John Hawkins: In your opinion, do welfare programs have any negative effects on the people who participate in them?
Heather Mac Donald: Welfare programs accustom people to look to the government for their support rather than to themselves. Their most dire effect has been to render husbands and fathers superfluous by paying women to have children out of wedlock. This incentive for illegitimacy has nearly totally destroyed the black family, to the great detriment of children, especially boys.
John Hawkins: Are illegal aliens committing a significant amount of crime in the United States? Could you elaborate on your answer?
Heather Mac Donald: In Los Angeles, 95% of all outstanding warrants for homicide target illegal aliens, and over 60% of all outstanding felony warrants. Illegal aliens, and immigrants generally, are a major, and unacknowledged, driver of gang crime. Yet in most cities, the police are not allowed to arrest someone for an immigration felony. And in the country overall, there are only 2000 immigration agents who are responsible for arresting some 10 million illegal aliens. When someone, echoing the Wall Street Journal, argues that we need to give amnesty to illegal aliens because enforcement “hasn’t worked,” tell them: we have never tried enforcement, because our enforcement resources have always been dwarfed by the size of the problem.
John Hawkins: What do you say to people who claim that the Patriot Act is a threat to our freedom?
Heather Mac Donald: The Patriot Act allowed intelligence agents to share information among themselves – a critical advance in our ability to fight terrorism. Before the act, two FBI agents in the same office on the same Al Qaeda squad could not talk about intelligence information if one agent were designated an intelligence officer, the other a criminal investigator. No one’s rights are violated by allowing all members of the intelligence and anti-terror community to collaborate. The other changes in the Patriot Act are de minimis – largely bringing the law into the 21st century regarding communications technology. Nearly all provisions require judicial review before their exercise, providing citizens with the protection of the judiciary.
John Hawkins: You used to be a liberal at one time. What caused you to move towards the right?
Heather Mac Donald: I moved towards the right by talking to the alleged “beneficiaries” of liberal paternalism. I found that they were more scathing about many hand-out programs than any think-tank conservative. They could describe in great detail the corrosive effects of entitlements and the fraud and cheating endemic in welfare programs. Most everyone I met supported work as a precondition of welfare. Remarkably, however, the liberal press never seemed to find these people, though they comprise the majority of clients in any welfare office or homeless shelter. I realized the elites were lying all the time about the causes of poverty.
I’d like to thank Heather Mac Donald for taking the time to do an interview with RWN. If you’d like to read more of Heather Mac Donald’s work, I’d suggest taking a look at the columns listed here or reading her books: The Burden Of Bad Ideas & Are Cops Racist?