I’ve spoken with Heather Mac Donald, which you can hear here. What follows is a review of her latest book:
By the standards of the modern left, Heather Mac Donald’s The War on Cops is racist. Which is to say: It speaks bluntly and truthfully about the black underclass (which is responsible for roughly half of the homicides in the United States) and why, therefore, poor black neighborhoods desperately need police in a way that affluent white neighborhoods do not.
This is complicated by the anti-law enforcement animus which pervades these neighborhoods. Take, for example, the story of one of several lying witnesses to the Ferguson, MO shooting of Michael Brown:
A 31-year-old black female initially told investigators that she had seen Wilson fire shots into Brown’s back as he lay dead in the street. When challenged with the autopsy findings that revealed no shots to the back, she confessed to making up her story. “You’ve gotta live the life to know it,” she said. In fact, she then admitted, it looked like Wilson’s life was in danger as Brown was charging him. When authorities tried to serve her with a subpoena, however, she blocked her door with a couch.
It suffices to say that if a predominantly white town had conspired to falsely accuse a black man of a crime he did not commit (murder no less), the national media would have been intrigued.
Putting aside from violence involving police, the gross amount of violence committed in these poor black neighborhoods is hard to deny (though in my experience is little-known on the white left), so instead the left and right are mostly relegated to arguing about its cause: The left usually blame it on “institutional” or “systemic” racism, which follows in America’s tradition of slavery and Jim Crow. As Barack Obama once said, racism is in our DNA, which induces members of the black underclass to burn a CVS or smash a truck driver’s head with a cinder block. The right, including Heather Mac Donald in Cops, blame the modern black underclass on the disintegration of the black family which took place in the mid-to-late 20’th century and which continues disintegrating still. The logic (as I understand it) is this: People tend to not be very good people if they’re raised inattentively or irresponsibly, which single parenthood invites. And once you have a lot of not-very-good people in an area, you need a lot of cops or else you have a lot of murdered people. The problem, in Cops, is not that cops are over-policing poor black neighborhoods: It’s that poor black neighborhoods need so much policing to begin with coupled with the fashionable lie that this policing creates the very problem it’s there to deter (i.e. disproportionate black criminality).
In these kinds of arguments, leftists often blow out of proportion the ever-diminishing racism still present in a predominantly non-racist American institution (or in America itself) and/or construe things that are not racist to be racist. As a remarkable example of both phenomena at once, The New York Times both blows things out of proportion and implies that America’s police are widely racist, saying: “the killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African-American life and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast.” Ms. Mac Donald rebuts this by pointing out the rarity of police killing black men compared to the much more prevalent occurrence of (non-police) black men killing other black men:
The Washington Post found press documentation of 258 black victims of fatal police shootings in 2015, most of whom were seriously attacking the officer. In 2014, the most recent year for which data are available, there were 6,095 black homicide victims in the United States…
So somewhere in the neighborhood of 4% of total American black homicide victims die to police, and most of those were justified. Needless to say to anyone who’s picked up a newspaper in the past five years, this 4% is blown out of all proportion to its frequency by the left because it supports the leftist worldview, which is a very soothing thing to them. The unsoothing 96% become local news stories and vanish in a day or two.
Ms. Mac Donald made this point brutally clear in a speech last year:
Ten children under the age of ten were killed in Baltimore last year. In Cleveland, three children five and younger were killed in September. A seven-year-old boy was killed in Chicago over the Fourth of July weekend by a bullet intended for his father. In November, a nine-year-old in Chicago was lured into an alley and killed by his father’s gang enemies; the father refused to cooperate with the police. In August, a nine-year-old girl was doing her homework on her mother’s bed in Ferguson when a bullet fired into the house killed her. In Cincinnati in July, a four-year-old girl was shot in the head and a six-year-old girl was left paralyzed and partially blind from two separate drive-by shootings. This mindless violence seems almost to be regarded as normal, given the lack of attention it receives from the same people who would be out in droves if any of these had been police shootings.
That is the power of ideology: 4% feels bigger than 96%. So it gets reported bigger.
In her onslaught against racial lying, Ms. Mac Donald attacks another ubiquitous leftwing contention, indicating that blacks are disproportionately shot by police because of black behavior, not the racial animus of the police:
If the black crime rate were the same as the white crime rate, the victims of police shootings would most certainly also be equal among the races. Asians are minorities, which, according to the Times’ ideology, should make them the target of police brutality. But they barely show up in police-shooting data because their crime rates are so low.
Asians are almost always the best answer to charges of America’s supposed adherence to a doctrine of “white supremacy” because nobody (which is to say I have never heard it) claims Asians have orchestrated the legal system to punish blacks and whites and Hispanics at a greater rate than it punishes Asians. The same is true with the job market and university admittance, both of which favor Asians to blacks or whites or Hispanics.
Among other myths the author relentlessly dismantles are: The notion that higher sentences for crack than powder cocaine are racist (they were championed by a majority of black congressmen because their neighborhoods were being ruined by crack users), that our prisons are full of non-violent drug offenders (state prisons, which house the large majority of America’s prisoners, are about 52 percent full of violent offenders and 21 percent full of property criminals, for “a combined total over three and a half times that of state drug offenders”), and that police “over-arrest blacks and ignore white criminals. In fact, the race of criminals reported by crime victims matches arrest data.”
Ms. Mac Donald writes capably and without any distinctive literary flourishes, in the academic way that people do when they’re urgently avoiding being misconstrued by detractors. She reminds me of Thomas Sowell (who blurbed the book) in both her empirical approach and in her unadorned style.
Just in case a Sowell blurb isn’t enough, I will state it plainly: This is a desperately-needed book, as we may well stand on the precipice of a new high-crime era enabled by short prison sentences, ever-increasing prison costs driven by ever-more-creative litigants (and judges), mountains of paperwork tying up police, and an end to the proactive policing which likely played an important role in the renowned New York crime drop of the 1990s.
The question is: Will the rest of the idea-transmission belt do its job to bring Ms. Mac Donald’s work into discussions normal people are having? Are media personalities prepared to challenge the very existence of systemic racism in policing, charging, and sentencing? When will they say, “Enough is enough: American racism is not among the biggest challenges facing the black underclass in America, though it’s more comfortable to attack than the real challenges like the glamorization of violence within the black underclass, promiscuity, and prideful ignorance?” May this book give more the courage to say so, and therefore begin to address real problems instead of phantoms from a half century ago.