Is there a War on Cops?

Could a book entitled The War on Cops be more disturbingly prescient? Within just a few weeks of the release of Mac Donald’s work on June 21, the country reeled in horror at the cold-blooded murder of five police officers in Dallas on July 7, followed by the assassination of three more officers in Baton Rouge just ten days later. Americans might be forgiven for taking Mac Donald’s title literally.

The War on Cops is not just about police, however. It is a polemic aimed at the Black Lives Matter narrative, which Mac Donald believes is undermining the effectiveness of our entire justice system. The BLM narrative sees racism at work throughout the system and decries the differential treatment of blacks and whites at the hands of police, judges, jails and prisons. Racism, according to this narrative, explains why African Americans are abused by police more than whites (if indeed that is true), arrested more than whites and incarcerated more than whites (both true in proportion to population). The War on Cops rebuts each of these claims and does so uncompromisingly and, in my view, effectively. Unless your mind is completely closed on this issue you owe it to yourself to read it.

Mac Donald’s contra narrative should be called “Black Crime Matters,” because at virtually every turn she relies on high black crime to explain the disparate treatment of blacks. Do police have more confrontations with African Americans? This is explained by their excessive violations of the law compared with whites and Hispanics and their concomitant suspicious behaviors. Do police patrol more in black neighborhoods leading to more confrontations and arrests? Yes, but that’s where the crime is; police are deployed more to communities with more crime. What’s more, Mac Donald asserts, the residents of color (at least the law-abiding ones) prefer it that way; they want more police protection, not less. The black crime rationale also accounts for the disproportionate number of African Americans incarcerated. Blacks do more serious crime per capita than other groups, so they are incarcerated more.

Mac Donald’s argument gains strength from the enormously high rates of black victimization, and she might have given this even more emphasis. For instance, mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control – untainted by any criminal justice system bias – indicate that blacks were, from 2000 to 2014, eight times more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be homicide victims. And data from 1976 to 2005, unlikely to have changed much in subsequent years, show that 94 percent of all of those black victims were killed by other African Americans. Figures like this support Mac Donald’s claim that a strong criminal justice system is in the interest of the black community. As she puts it: “the best protection that the law-abiding residents of urban neighborhoods have is the police. They are the government agency most committed to the proposition that “black lives matter.” The relentless effort to demonize the police for enforcing the law can only leave poor communities more vulnerable to anarchy.”

Persuasive as this might be this argument will remain a hard sell. Seventy percent of blacks polled by CBS/New York Times in July, 2016 (before the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge), said they support Black Lives Matter; 37 percent of whites concurred. As long as police abuses or apparent abuses of blacks get extensive media coverage, and as long as the Black Lives Matter racialization thesis continues to get support from key American institutions and individuals – including the White House, the New York Times and other influential media, university faculty, and the current Democratic candidate for president – pro-law enforcement arguments will be rejected out-of-hand by many. This despite the fact that half the citizens killed by police are white, whereas one quarter are black, and a recent study by a black Harvard economist, Roland Fryer, found that African Americans were 24 percent less likely to be shot at by police than whites.

In an ideal world, of course, we would reduce the police abuses and make law enforcement more effective. Unfortunately, things don’t seem to work that way.

Virtually every hot-button issue in criminal justice is discussed in this book, and Mac Donald’s slant, backed by data (unfortunately, however, without notes or bibliography), will make you think twice about the standard interpretations. Here are several examples.

  • Ferguson: The actual evidence “eviscerated” the pro-Michael Brown, anti-Darren Wilson narrative, while the Justice Department’s report on the Ferguson police unjustifiably condemned law enforcement for racially motivated encounters with blacks without taking black offending into account.
  • Baltimore: The response to the Freddie Gray riots was “shamefully hesitant,” and the notion that the military-style police presence provoked violence is “ludicrous.” Media coverage was “riot porn,” with every act of thuggery “lasciviously filmed” for viewers.
  • The Ferguson Effect: As cops feared becoming “the latest YouTube pariah” they began to disengage from proactive policing. “Criminal summons and misdemeanor arrests for public-order offenses plummeted.” A “bloodbath ensued” in 2015, and blacks paid the price.
  • Police Shootings of Blacks: The total number of blacks killed by police is dwarfed by murders of blacks by private citizens, mainly other African Americans. The vast majority of black victims of the police were resisting arrest, assaulting officers or threatening the police or bystanders.
  • Stop, Question and Frisk: After NYPD’s SQF policy was terminated by a federal judge street stops declined 95 percent. As a result, murders and shootings surged in New York until Commissioner Bratton saturated the shooting hot spots with officers.
  • Goffman’s On the Run: Alice Goffman’s acclaimed book shows the cultural breakdown within the black underclass, but she is incapable of acknowledging it. Instead she blames the legal system for crime and dysfunction.
  • Drugs, Blacks and Prison: Crack penalties did become “arbitrary and excessive” and reductions are “appropriate,” but blacks are imprisoned mainly for violent and serious property crimes. If you remove all drug offenders from state prisons, the percentage of black inmates (37.5 percent) would drop one-half a percentage point, hardly a significant difference.
  • Mass Incarceration: The U.S. incarceration rate is higher than Europe’s because our gun homicide rate is 19.5 times higher. The system isn’t “mindlessly draconian”: For every 31 felony convictions 69 arrests for violent crime are released. Twenty-seven percent of convicted felons are released on probation and 37 percent are sent to jail, not prison, where they will be released in well under a year.

I have two issues with Mac Donald’s arguments, the first of which partially undercuts her thesis. She claims that Broken Windows policing, which calls for enforcement of laws against public order, such as trespassing, drinking, smoking reefer, or urinating in the street, shrank serious crime since the 1990s by reducing the “air of lawlessness” and “get[ting] criminals off the streets before they commit bigger crimes.” This is doubtful. Broken Windows policing has certainly helped reclaim public spaces for law-abiding citizens, unquestionably a great boon for our cities, but how it might reduce serious and violent crime is a mystery. Arresting or stopping and ticketing these low-level offenders results in no incarceration to speak of, unless the violator has outstanding warrants for other, more serious, offenses. The only other way such confrontations might reduce serious crime is if the police search such violators and seize bunches of illegal guns. (Stop, Question and Frisk, which aimed at weapon seizures, and police saturation of high crime and drug market locations are a different matter. These probably are effective in reducing serious crime – but I wouldn’t classify them as Broken Windows policing because they aren’t directed at minor public order offenses.)

If Mac Donald has exaggerated the benefits of Broken Windows policing then the 2015 crime increase may have nothing to do with the Ferguson Effect or police demoralization. This doesn’t make the undermining of law enforcement any the less real, but it does make it less devastating than she claims.

The other issue concerns the causes of high levels of African American crime. Mac Donald contends that we need to address “the real cause of black violence: the breakdown of the family.” Boys need fathers to raise them, she says, but over 72 percent of black kids are born to single mothers, three times the illegitimacy rate when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote presciently on this issue in 1965.

There is no question that the collapse of the two-parent black family in the 1960s correlated with a massive rise in African American crime. But black crime was high since the 1890s, when over 70 percent of black kids were living with two parents – which was the case through the 1950s. Moreover, black homicide rates fell by 50 percent from 1980 to 2009, while the proportion of births to unmarried black women rose from 57 percent (1979) to 73 percent.

The preceding, however, is not a reason to pass up Heather Mac Donald’s War on Cops. To the contrary, it’s a good reason to discuss the issues it so eloquently raises.

Reader Discussion

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.

on July 25, 2016 at 09:43:44 am

The absence of the name "Obama" in this review seems blatant defense of the left and perhaps the most racially divisive president the USA has experienced.

In Dallas, on July 12, 2016 after Dallas police were ambushed, President Barack Obama imposed a Baton Rouge aggressor's violent defiance of police duty to protect the public:

With an open heart, police departments will acknowledge that, just like the rest of us, they are not perfect; that insisting we do better to root out racial bias is not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up to our highest ideals. And I understand these protests -- I see them, they can be messy. Sometimes they can be hijacked by an irresponsible few. Police can get hurt. Protestors can get hurt. They can be frustrating. But even those who dislike the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” surely we should be able to hear the pain of Alton Sterling’s family.

Obama admits that he understands, in my paraphrase, Alinsky-Marxist organizers motivate people to disrupt public activity, knowing a few will act irresponsibly. I call it holding protesters' coats while they perpetrate harm and position themselves for future answers to the question, "Have you ever been arrested," the others that follow the affirmative; meanwhile, the organizers are exempt from the law. Also, Obama's tacit message is: black civic behavior is antinomian. His influence seems to have regressed blacks' moral progress fifty-one years, but organizers could not allow the last summer go to waste.

Baton Rouge's mayor, Kip Holden, unpopular among organizers, has done his best to resist the influence of visiting, black separatist events and speakers, who systematically prepared the city for Obama's last summer in office: the summer of 2016. Louis Farrakhan, October 2012 batonrougecrime.com/.../louis-farrakhan.../ ; Jeremiah Wright February 2015 nola.com/.../jeremiah_wright_tells_a_southe.html ; Nation of Islam and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, July 2015, theadvocate.com/.../article_0267ba79-4a92-552a... . Holden prayed for Baton Rouge at that last event, and there is much more I could not possibly know, because I do not posses the privilege to attend without seeming like a mole. (My "friend" for the Wright event no longer collaborates.)

I suspect that both MacDonald and Latzer will vote against my vote in November, and that's their prerogative.

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Phil Beaver
on July 25, 2016 at 09:45:07 am

Sorry. The blockquote should end before "Obama admits."

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Phil Beaver
on July 25, 2016 at 11:18:21 am

Interesting piece!

1) "Broken Windows policing has certainly helped reclaim public spaces for law-abiding citizens, unquestionably a great boon for our cities, but how it might reduce serious and violent crime is a mystery."

I am not so mystified as is Mr. Latzer. In its simplest terms, "broken windows" is effective in the same manner as which as any *actively* monitored program would be. It is police *presence* and the sense that criminal behavior will be a) observed and b) stopped. In a sense it is simply another version of placing police resources where needed and is an offshoot of the old "neighborhood beat-cop."

2) Following link may provide some useful insight into the problem and aggravating factors in police use of excessive force. Let us recognize that there are some bad cops out there who for one reason are another are abusive, too quick to react, etc. AND as the link implies are hard to remove from the job.


BTW: LLB readers recall an essay a short time back on Civil Asset Forfeiture. There appears to be a growing concern regarding the link between CAF and "aggressive" policing - submitted for your consideration said Mr. Serling!

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on July 25, 2016 at 12:18:02 pm

You are right. What sometimes gets overlooked is that poor policing is often and inevitably associated with poor government. Too often posturing and cynical politicians "ban: and "mandate" things for no other reason than emotional satisfaction and political opportunism, or use the authority of police forces to accomplish non-police objectives. The rank and file are then left to deal with the messes. Thus, we have police as revenue agents, hassling motorists for items attached to rear-view mirrors, arresting people for letting their children play in parks, harassing children over lemonade stands, arresting people for untaxed cigarettes, etc. Add to this the excesses such as the "John Doe" investigations in Wisconsin. All of these things burden the legitimacy of law enforcement because the police are often the most visible agents of poor policy that they had no hand in creating. If you use police forces for dubious purposes, you should not be surprised if they sometimes fall short of professional standards.

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on July 25, 2016 at 12:18:40 pm

I recall debating a friend some fifty years ago on the problems of race & prejudice, taking the stance that the Afro-Americans must do more for themselves as others have done. Fifty years later nothing has changed, if anything it's worse. I conclude there is no hope, if anything it'll get worse, as it now is. So the question is Why? I suggest the answer may be in the instability of the family but also a lack of such self discipline as militates against progress and self improvement. Not pleasant but what are the alternatives?

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john trainor
on July 25, 2016 at 13:51:46 pm

The people who are rational enough to want civic safety and security in the broadest terms must come "out of the closet" and publicly collaborate. A theory for how to get it done is posted on our website, for collaboration, rather than to boast the objective truth.

Just this moment (noon, 7/25/16) on our TV is the tragic funeral service for one of the officers slain in Baton Rouge. It is obvious that the Christian church's god has controlling power. When Emperor Constantine called on Roman priests to canonize a Bible and did not make certain books that seemed to condone slavery were excluded, he did not anticipate that some people think slavery is valid, but the question is, who is god's people?

The continuing conflict for the claim "we are god's people" seems an indisputable fact of reality

People who are not familiar with black church of both Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama as well as James H. Cone's book "Black Power and Black Liberation," 40th anniversary edition, might take the time to consider it. On those strings, representing perhaps 3.5% of inhabitants, maybe 13% are influenced, but 99% are repressed (don't overlook the word "perhaps").

This point came thundering to me this week when I tried to talk to someone here in Baton Rouge about broadly defined safety and security. She asked, "What do you mean?" I answered, that we think at least 65% of inhabitants would like real-no-harm private liberty with civic morality. She asked, "What is private liberty?" We said, you collaborate for civic peace in public, keeping religion in your heart, your closet, your home and your church. She said, "That's man talk. The power comes from God." I think we could have found common ground, but the connection was broken by completion of the task and the waiting next customer.

There is a way of living wherein every real-no-harm factional culture can thrive without objections. We want to collaborate for it, low as our situation may be.

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Phil Beaver
on July 25, 2016 at 16:36:42 pm

Does MacDonald mention the enormous regional disparities in shooting by police (as emphasized recently by Peter Moskos)? These are not explained by crime OR race, and so they call into question the idea that crime is sufficient to "explain" behavior of police.

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on July 26, 2016 at 17:33:31 pm

Tangentially related: I have occasionally cited Nixon's Southern Strategy to explain the rise of white nationalism in the Republican Party. Vox offers a different explanation.

In short, Goldwater won the 1964 Republic nomination by espousing libertarianism. He had supported a number of civil rights laws reforming discrimination by government, but argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act wrongfully interfered with the rights of private actors to discriminate. In contrast, Johnson supported the Act—and won in a landslide. Republicans celebrate Goldwater’s quixotic campaign as a blow for principle, but it set in motion the circumstances whereby minorities transferred their loyalties from the party of Lincoln to the party of Johnson, and white nationalists transferred their loyalty in the other direction. Republican intellectuals have been able to live in denial about where their votes were coming from. But the Trump campaign has exposed the fact that, at its base, the GOP is a party of white nationalism dressed in the clothes of principled conservatism. Today the party has no clothes.

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on July 28, 2016 at 13:43:55 pm

I agree. As you probably know the Great Society/War on Poverty programs that were created in the 1960s incentivized a lot of bad behavior, to include out-of-wedlock births. In1960 the black illegitimate birthrate was ~26% and now it's ~71%; ~55% of black children are raised in single-parent homes. (Different sources have slightly different numbers; the illegitimate birthrate has worsened for whites & Latinos as well). As we all know children born out-of-wedlock and/or raised in single-parent homes have worse stats across-the-board re. crime, substance-abuse and dropping out of school. If girls/women would refuse to have a child with a man that they aren't married to all those stats would almost certainly improve.

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Jeff York
on August 03, 2016 at 09:47:11 am

I don't know Bratten's original notion, but it's clear that "Broken Windows" works because of territoriality. Basic mammalian stuff.

When non-criminals are out and about all the time, walking and talking and smoking and mowing lawns and watering gardens, the territory belongs to non-criminals. When non-criminals stay inside, criminals begin to mark the territory their way, with graffiti and broken glass and broken fences. After the mark is made, the more active aspects of criminality move in.

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on August 04, 2016 at 17:42:20 pm

The key questions here are (1) why black homicide rates fell by 50 percent from 1980 to 2009, and (2) what made whatever-it-was ineffective after 2009.

It looks like something was done that worked, but which later was abandoned or overcome by some new development.

If I had to guess, it would be that “Stop-and-Frisk” and “Broken Windows" had a multiplier effect in black neighborhoods, and it was the combination of the two that cut the crime rate.

If that is so, then abandoning either one would be bad, but abandoning both would be a disaster.

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on August 07, 2016 at 23:30:06 pm

Black communities are clearly happy to have higher rates of criminality and murder within their own neighbourhoods - they have consistently voted Democrat for half a century and the statistics quoted above show they do not support the police in reducing black crime. So what's the issue? Respect the democratic decisions of these communities! Let them keep working it out for themselves and stay well away yourself.

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on September 11, 2016 at 02:10:39 am

The $500 Hillary Clinton (Bring Them to Heel) SuperPredator Reward is being offered by blackcrimematters.org for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the teenage Negro males who accosted and murdered Mardoquo Sincal Jochola in Philadelphia on August 26, 2016.

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Guarana Hernandez
on December 30, 2016 at 19:40:04 pm

the left and progressives and democratic party have failed ,undermined blacks of this country .leftist government policy has destroyed black families.with no married and committed black males in homes CHAOS has resulted.this can only get worse,within 10 years all major U.S.cities will be under year round Marshall Law.beware whites and Hispanics are not immune to these dangerous progressive bureacrats.

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on December 31, 2016 at 11:23:58 am

Your comment is welcomed, and reform is on the way. I attended a Trump rally to support the election of John Kennedy to be U.S. Senator from Louisiana. Kennedy will be great!

The GOP preliminaries to Trump's plane-landing were disgustingly traditional American Christian. Not a surprise in Louisiana and in Baton Rouge, whose suffering you referenced. Most residents have not experienced the awakening that has occurred for me after five decades self-indoctrination and into my third decade of struggle to discover Phil Beaver: the accumulation of the choices I have made and am making in appreciation of my candle of life. (If that's too poetic, maybe you are not a poet.)

Everywhere I turn, I perceive and awakening to the damage done the USA by Alinsky-Marxist organizers (AMO) during the last half-century. The movement pivots from “’Black Power’: Statement by National Committee of Negro Churchmen,” New York Times, July 31, 1966, signed by 51 ministers, online at episcopalarchives.org/Afro-Anglican_history/exhibit/pdf/blackpowerstatement.pdf . It gains power with formation of the Congressional Black Caucus, dating from 1969, the year James H. Cone published his book "Black Theology & Black Power. Then comes Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. One theology springing from Cone is that Jesus was brown, God is black, The Word originated in Africa, God's people are the black-Americans, and "whitie" may save his or her soul by helping God's people reign supreme. When Jeremiah Wright claims government cannot be trusted, he advocates AMO power through public pretest by recruits who are psychologically young enough to risk their reputations, health, and futures for a cause the bosses preach from afar. Meanwhile, local passions erupt into disruption, property damage, personal injury, random shootings, death and destruction.

People like Peter Skerry, "Comprehensive Immigration Confusion," National Affairs, No. 29, Fall 2016, draw scholarly attention to the movement. "Black Lives Matter can be seen as an effort by [black] Americans to recapture their prominence on the agenda after 15 years of national . . . attention on Muslims and Hispanics."

David Kahane's Rules for Radical Conservatives, 2010, is too cute for a slow reader like me, and I perceive Kahane is more like me than his corroborator, Kathryn Jean Lopez. I will turn to other options out there. I am more interested in rules for radical public-integrity, and doubt that has been written.

Perhaps the most pleasing event for me is the December 16, 2016 signing of Congress's HR 1150, sponsored by Rep. Smith, Christopher H. [R-NJ-4] (Introduced 02/27/2015). This means IMO that Greece v. Galloway (2014) is wrong in its claim that an elected official forcing me to listen to his or her sanctioned prayer is a niggling concern. I hope before long Greece v. Galloway will go the way of past tyranny based on majority judicial opinion about majority judicial opinion. Everybody knows that prayer belongs in hearts, closets, homes, and religious assemblies but not in civic meetings: It's just that people find ways to reject what they know to favor what they believe. By the same token, no one can object to an elected official having religious beliefs: the beliefs just cannot be used to rebuke civic morality.

Our appeal is redirected to We the [Civic] People of the United States. We perceived at the Trump rally mentioned above that most people, perhaps 2/3, want but could not articulate public-integrity as private-liberty-with-civic-morality. Also, widespread awakening to the essence of AMO is responsible for Trump's victory, even though few might articulate it. I sensed this when Trump addressed lies of the social democracy advocates and pointed fingers at the press section at the rally. Trump whetted the appetites of the Christians present, without committing to their cause. We think it will take at least three years for the-objective-truth about Trump's politics to emerge. We are excited for possible reform to the promise created in 1787 by one civic sentence: the preamble to the constitution for the USA.

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Phil Beaver
on October 15, 2018 at 07:48:34 am

[…] because criminal defendants are disproportionately African-American (ignoring the fact that blacks commit a disproportionate amount of crimes). Liberals also accuse the bail industry of “exploiting” low-income criminal defendants, […]

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Bailing Out On Common Sense
on December 30, 2018 at 05:47:20 am

[…] because criminal defendants are disproportionately African-American (ignoring the fact that blacks commit a disproportionate amount of crimes). Liberals also accuse the bail industry of “exploiting” low-income criminal defendants, […]

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Bailing Out On Common Sense - Lawyers: Jobs, Career, Salary and Education Information

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