Police, Race, and Instinct

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.


  1. Bbb says:

    Targetting black people for assistance has proved a problem before because the system has in some cases to be seen as colour blind but this has been circumvented by targetting ‘poor’ people . So in some instances its not ok to say we will just help these black children even though its obvious they desperately need. help but it is ok to say they need help because they are poverty stricken . The result is that when you give some state funded assistance to someone because he is poor you are mostly helping the black and mixed race people because they are more often than not the poorest in society..
    I wish cops could see poverty as easly as colour and i wish I could put some statistics in your blog that revealed perpetrators of violent crime by solvency or income ,some statistical indicator of their relative wealth.showing their abject poverty. I dont think we would be surprised to see that the more financially disadvantaged you were the more likely you are to commit violent crime. The wealthy dont have to commit crime and if they do they dont have to use violence to steal and exploit , they have their poistions of power and their macbook and their wealthy friends. Crime can be a clean stealthy affair , the poor are reduced to using guile, menace and violence to get money.
    So perhaps its the poor that are those violent criminals and unfortunately for many many reasons, many not of your own making you are much more likely to have a dark skin if you are one of those poor people


  2. xyquarx says:

    Yes, Bob, that may be a post. But other factors may play a role — there are cultural differences between “black” and “white” culture, that may affect crime rates. And different rates of fatherless households — it may be that people raised in a household with no father are more likely to be criminals. But your point is interesting — I wonder if you investigated the statistics, if blacks and whites of equal income are equally likely to be criminals.

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