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DISCRIMINATION AND LAW ENFORCEMENT | 2000-04-08

A question is growing in my mind that is also growing in the mind of anyone who watches the TV show, "COPS." That question: Can a real-life policeman of any color really ignore race?

This question has grown with the shooting of unarmed black men in New York City, where it went along with a successful crackdown on crime.

A crackdown on crime means taking clues very seriously. There is nothing illegal about being young. There is nothing illegal about driving at 3 in the morning. There is nothing illegal about driving very, very slowly on most city streets.

But if a policeman sees young people driving very slowly at 3 am on a city street, he takes notice. Why? Because of a CORRELATION. All young people driving slowly at 3 am in a city street are not breaking the law. But a lot MORE people like that will be buying or selling drugs or doing something else illegal than drivers in general.

Likewise, if someone pulls something out of his pocket and points it at you on a city street in the dark, the chances that it is a gun is simply a lot higher if that person has black skin. If you are a lawyer for the ACLU, it's easy to say skin color is irrelevant in a speech in a nice safe courtroom. But if you are a cop on a dark street you had damned well better know the difference.

This is terribly unfair to most black people who are not lawbreakers. But it is also not the fault of the police. As I explained on July 17, 1999, "Racial Profiling Is the Fault of Black Criminals."