Archive for July 2016

Police, Race, and Instinct   2 comments

Police officers do a lot of their work based on instinct.  When they encounter a person, they have to very quickly make an estimation of whether the person warrants further attention as a potential criminal, and, more importantly, whether the person presents a threat to the officer.

If a cop has been working for decades, they have encountered thousands of people, and developed instincts about which ones, based on their appearance, stance, manner of expressing themselves, and facial expression, are likely to be a problem.  Cops don’t have time to fill out a written checklist, assign points to certain traits, and add up an impartial, objective score.  They must use their instincts to size someone up in seconds.

And it is not humanly possible, the way American society is today, for someone’s instincts to be race-blind.  The law even provides much harsher penalties, under some circumstances, for crimes against a different race than for crimes against one’s own.  We have deliberately made our country into a place where being race-blind is a very dangerous proposition.  And for a cop, dealing with the subject of crime — there are huge differences in crime rates between different races.  To ask a cop to somehow develop instincts that are race-blind in a context where they observe radically different crime rates for different races is not reasonable.  And it’s not reasonable to expect a cop to ignore their instincts.

  • Perpetrators of Violent Crime by Race (In cases where the race of the perpetrators is known, White and Black only): White: 66%, Black: 34% (source: US Department of Justice)
  • Population by Race (White and Black only): White: 85.2%, Black: 14.8% (source: Wikipedia)
  • Score in Proportion to Likelihood of One Person Being a Perpetrator, by Race: White: 66/85.2 = 0.77, Black: 34/14.8 = 2.31

So a black person that a cop encounters on the street is 3 times more likely than a white person to be a violent perpetrator.  Is it realistic to expect a cop to work for years and not notice that?  Even subconsciously?

Do I believe the Black Lives Matter protestors when they claim that cops are treating blacks worse than whites? Absolutely. It makes perfect sense. What can we do about it? I’m not sure.

Posted July 16, 2016 by xyquarx in Uncategorized