Ferguson

Why We Should Care About the Racial Divide in Perceptions of Law Enforcement

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The American Idea posits that the choices we make shape individual success. However, the State can undermine this promise if its most powerful tool—its policing power—is misused or allows external characteristics to skew the application of justice. It's demoralizing and imposes a narrative of inferiority. Recent Reason-Rupe polling reveals Americans are significantly divided in their perception of abuse and bias in the criminal justice system and this perception divide alone ought to give us pause.

Irrespective of the actual extent of systemic bias, perception alone can be debilitating. The perception of a biased justice system may lead one to be less willing to give benefit of the doubt and to feel that self-determination is out of their grasp.

Compiling Reason-Rupe polling data finds dramatic racial differences in perceptions of law enforcement and the criminal justice system more generally. Minorities tend to believe the police too often use excessive force, that the cases of excessive force are on the rise, but also that police officers are not generally held accountable for their conduct.

Stark Perception Gap

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Granted, majorities of all racial groups—80% white, 52% black, 51% Hispanic—say they have a favorable view of the police. However, black and Hispanic Americans (82% and 72% respectively) are far more likely to believe police are too quick to use lethal force, compared to 34 percent of white Americans. In contrast, a solid majority (59%) of white Americans believe the police only use lethal force when necessary, compared to 16 percent of black Americans and 23 percent of Hispanics.

Furthermore, both African-Americans and Hispanics feel that the number of excessive force cases is increasing—73% and 67% respectively—compared to 38 percent of Caucasians.

Not only that, but 67 percent of black and Hispanic Americans feel police officers are generally not held accountable for misconduct, compared to only 37 percent of white Americans. Notice, the wording did not say "occasionally" but "generally". Minorities tend to view lack of police accountability as the rule, not the exception. Conversely, a solid majority of Caucasians (58%) says officers are held accountable before the law, compared to a third of nonwhite Americans.

Perhaps most troubling for any Republic committed to the rule of law, is that nonwhite Americans perceive the criminal justice system to treat white Americans more fairly. While 53 percent of Caucasians believe the system treats all racial groups the same, 83 percent of African-Americans and 62 percent of Hispanics say Caucasians are treated more fairly under the law.

Reality Check

Why the perception difference? There is empirical evidence that does reveal racial bias in the application of justice.

For instance, in Ferguson, MO even though white residents are more likely to be caught with contraband, black Ferguson residents disproportionately comprise 86 percent of all traffic stops and 92 of all arrests despite representing 67 percent of the community. The Missouri Attorney General's Office's 2013 racial profiling report found 1 in 3 white Ferguson residents who were stopped and searched were caught with contraband compared only 1 in 5 black residents who were stopped and searched.

Moreover, a 2010 ACLU report found that although white and black Americans use marijuana at equal rates, African-Americans are nearly 4 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Implications

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Instead of drawing lines and labeling others as whiners/complainers or racists, we should take a moment to consider the possibility that no particular side has a complete monopoly on reality.

Part of the problem is that most individuals have difficulty understanding the experiences of others, particularly those outside of their social orbits. For instance, an ABC/Washington Post survey found that nearly two thirds of both white and Hispanic Americans did not believe black Americans in their communities experience racial discrimination. Yet the results are completely flipped for black Americans: nearly two-thirds say blacks in their communities do experience discrimination. This includes 33 percent who say it occurs "often" and 29 percent who say "occasionally" or "rarely."

Further complicating the perception divide is the relative group sizes. Suppose you have at least two groups: one of which comprises the majority and sees little problem but the other group is a minority and says there is a problem. Who might you be more inclined to believe? Personally, I'm inclined to believe both sides probably report what they genuinely observe in their own lives.

Nevertheless, James Madison's warning in Federalist #10 of tyranny of the majority should prompt us to pay careful attention to the perceptions of the minority:

"Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

…When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government…enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens." [Emphasis added]

The fact that white Americans are the majority and don't perceive much of a problem in the criminal justice system necessarily means most elected officials don't perceive a problems and thus don't pursue reform.

For instance, in the United States, the average member of Congress in 2014 is 57 years old, college educated, male, and Caucasian. As I explain in an earlier post, using a statistical technique we can predict the likelihood this average member of Congress perceives bias in the criminal justice system. Such a test found there is a 65% chance the average member of Congress does not think there is racial bias in the system. Without perceiving a problem, there is little reason to expect them to pursue reform.

And this speaks to the core of why so many Ferguson protestors are justifiably upset. It reasonably appears that in the midst of unarmed black men—or any unarmed suspects for that matter—being shot and killed by those entrusted with their protection, law enforcement officials are rarely held accountable. Not only that, but elected officials don't seem to believe there is even a problem. This naturally leads many to conclude those in power do not believe them or worse—even care about them.

As Ronnie Natch a peaceful Ferguson protestor put it: "This was a chance to vent about the national treatment of black men across the country… We want to show up at the front door every day and say, through words, that this shooting is not going to be swept under the rug …There have just been too many deaths."

All lives matter. Until we can genuinely attempt to understand the experiences of others—rather than label those with whom we disagree as complainers, Marxists, or racists—we cannot move forward.

* Contraband Hit Rate=(Searches with Contraband Found/Total Searches) X 100

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54 responses to “Why We Should Care About the Racial Divide in Perceptions of Law Enforcement

  1. Nope, I still don’t care about it. Thanks for trying, though, Emily.

    But I learned long ago – and have now embraced – what TP said about all this: “You believe what you wanna believe.”

    You see, you don’t HAVE to live like a refugee….

    *wanders off*

  2. Some idiot Peanut was posting last night exactly the opposite of this. He calls himself The Whole Truth now.

  3. Replace “African-Americans and Hispanics” with “poor people regardless of race” and I bet you’ll get similar results.

    Officers of the court prey on people who can’t afford representation.

    1. Word, although cops, not being the brightest people around, probably associate blackness with poverty.

      I know that I was harassed fairly often when I was younger because I drove cars in the 1000 dollar range (This was 2001-2007 or so). They’re bullies. They go after people who can’t fight back.

      The babalu still doesn’t understand why I hate cops so much. This is why.

      1. I dunno, that doesn’t match my experience. I’ve been driving a car in the $1000 range for 10 years and never even gotten stopped, let alone harassed, despite the occasional broken tail lights and expired registration stickers. And I usually wear jeans and a T-shirt.

        1. Maybe it depends on the part of the country.

          1. Yeah, it probably does. The most reasonable explanation is that poor parts of the country can’t afford to hire good cops.

        2. I used to know a guy, who made the same complaint and drove around in junk cars. Couldn’t understand until I rode someplace with him. He drove like a maniac. I walked away knowing it wasn’t the cop’s fault he had so many stories about being pulled over.

      2. If they can’t eat it, get high from it, or have sex with it they will break it or kill it.

        -Mark Twain

    2. Agreed, but in the low-crime areas the police are also trolling for targets who are easily fleeced, e.g. teenagers whose parents will pay the fines without questions.

      1. The idea that cops pull over people because they get the money from the fine is bogus. A great many police administrations don’t directly get the funds that come from their officers writing tickets. It has evolved from the days of the small town speed trap.

        1. You have your head in the sand.

  4. Couple things. Marijuana use and marijuana possession aren’t the same thing, especially considering one often comes attached with ‘intent to distribute’. Secondly, if blacks are being stopped far more, but result in far fewer contraband finds, why the “92% of arrests”? Clearly not coming from traffic stops. The article seems to imply that blacks are being treated unfairly in Ferguson, but with only a few facts and figures provided, it raises far more questions than it answers.

  5. #1: the links to the first three PDF documents don’t work.

    #2: there are a lot more crimes on the books than marijuana possession. To try to imply that whites commit crime at the same rate as nonwhites because marijuana is more than just a little misleading.

  6. As long as we focus on the racial bullshit, the real issues will be happily ignored. But hey, it will give scribblers more to write about.

    1. No Justice, No Peace!!!

      1. The scales of justice have Sharpton doing a bungee jump off one side.

      2. So you’re an advocate of injustice and war?

        Good to know.

        1. If they can’t eat it, get high from it, or have sex with it they will break it or kill it.

          -Mark Twain

    2. And if you disregard the concerns of significant portions of the population then your solutions to other issues will never gain traction.

  7. Is there any country where police do not have racial or ethnic biases?

    Ethnic bias and ethnic privilege are a fundamental feature of humanity. As long as humans enforce the law, it will always be.

    1. Seriously? Equality before the law is an ideal worth striving for.

      1. Agreed Lynchpin. If my buds went a lootin tonight, think we’d get the “let’em blow off a little steam” treatment the cops gave in Ferguson last night?

      2. Seriously? Equality before the law is an ideal worth striving for.

        Statistically detectable bias isn’t the same as discrimination or inequality. For example, if you look at NYC police violence statistics, blacks are overrepresented relative to their share of the population, but slightly underrepresented relative to their share of violent crimes.

        Furthermore, race is an arbitrary criterion to look for biases. It’s little different from looking for biases against people whose last name starts with a particular letter.

        1. Furthermore, race is an arbitrary criterion to look for biases. It’s little different from looking for biases against people whose last name starts with a particular letter.

          Seriously? If I’m walking down a random street in Anytown America, would it be easier to count the number of black guys or the number of people who’s lats name started with “S”?

          Race is such an awesome criteria for bias because it’s so readily accessible.

      3. Which is why the Federalist Papers were written – to try to convince people to adopt the Constitution – making the quote from #10 useless, since it was referring to what it was like BEFORE the Constitution was ratified.
        Now, if we had government the way the Constitution was intended….

    2. Oh god shut up will you Ejerkito, nihilism is so boring.

  8. I’m pretty sure the point of this is that perception matters, and that those perceptions are not totally detached from reality. If a significant portion of the population perceives a certain problem, and an overall majority side with them, then they’ll be able to enact legislation regardless of whether you think those concerns are BS. Sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling “na na na, I can’t hear you” doesn’t change that reality.

    Progressives make minorities feel like they are being listened to. If we want people to start embracing libertarian, instead of progressive, solutions to problems, then we also need to listen.

    1. Perception does matter, but it doesn’t, nor should it, change reality. We have to stay objective.

    2. We shouldn’t pretend that we are oppressors and pay pittance just because some other group has an unfounded belief that they are victims. I’d argue that we should be explaining that following the progressives and attacking others who are not really oppressing us will not solve our problems, it will only bring others down.

    3. I’m pretty sure the point of this is that perception matters

      Of course perception matters: if you believe that your life has been wrecked by factors outside your control, you aren’t going to bother dealing with the things you have control over.

      Progressives make minorities feel like they are being listened to. If we want people to start embracing libertarian, instead of progressive, solutions to problems, then we also need to listen.

      We are listening. The problem is that people don’t like the answer, namely that government can’t fix these problems: all government can do is create a legally equal playing field, and we have pretty much done that. Government can’t get people to like each other or trust each other, and it can’t effectively compensate people for harm done to distant ancestors even if that did have a bearing on today.

      1. All value is subjective. If you could be made to believe you are being treated well, that’s as good for you as if you’re actually treated well.

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  10. my best friend’s mother-in-law makes $62 /hr on the internet . She has been fired for six months but last month her check was $18735 just working on the internet for a few hours. visit site….

    ????? http://www.netjob70.com

  11. Worrying about perceptions too much is what got us into this mess in the first place.

  12. We live in a world now where perception IS reality, for all intents and purposes anyway. It’s mind boggling to me that so very many people are happy to willfully ignore facts and verifiable truths.

  13. Who are we kidding here? I guess when 14% of the population quits committing 48% of the crime I guess I will care…. I mean the most common way for a young black man to get killed is by another young black man…. This is not racist, this is a fact. I like what Giuliani had to say “I find it very disappointing that you’re not talking about the fact that 93 percent of blacks [killed] in America are killed by other blacks.” He added later, “The white police officers wouldn’t be there [in black communities] if you weren’t killing each other.”

    1. I’d point out as well that it’s other black people who are accusing them of the crimes as well. It’s not a mass movement of white people SWATing blacks as some sort of neo-lynching. They are commiting crimes against each other, and calling the cops on each other.

    2. In the case of Ferguson, one might add that “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if the black population voted differently.” Ferguson is 2/3 black, after all, and how police operate and who they hire is determined by local politicians.

  14. The evidence you gave for racial discrimination in the justice system isn’t very convincing. At best, it’s cherry picked. For example, just because a greater % of whites are caught with contraband, doesn’t mean they should be targeted more by the police. If the whites are only in possession because they are buying from black drug dealers. it would make sense to target people who fit the more likely description of the dealer than going after every user. Scarce resources being what they are. If blacks are committing more severe crimes, even if they aren’t committing crimes in general as much as whites, it would still make sense to target blacks. All the racial divide in perception of the police tells us is that people who have to deal with the police more often tend to have more negative opinions of the police. Also explains why there us such under representation of black in the police force. Interaction with the police leaves them disdainful of police, so fewer want to become police officers.

    1. “If the whites are only in possession because they are buying from black drug dealers. it would make sense to target people who fit the more likely description of the dealer than going after every user”

      Why don’t we just assume they are buying from you?” Where do you get the “fact” that they are buying from black drug dealers….your ass?
      BTW the article speaks for itself…unless you are a racist asshole. The data shows more whites actually commit crimes but more blacks are arrested and go to jail. A situation I am sure you are satisfied with.

  15. Many blacks have a persecution complex. They think they are being persecuted when the police do their job arresting them for crimes they commit. If they would stop committing so many crimes the police wouldn’t arrest them. Poverty has nothing to do with it. West Virginia is poor but has a very low crime rate – why? because it is overwhelmingly white. WV has about the same education rate and poverty rate as inner city black communities.
    It is a cultural phenomena in the black communities – lack of respect for other people’s property and a predilection towards violence.

  16. This is why many of this sites poster’s Utopian ideals for society come to a flaming crash when it runs headlong into reality. Those ideals require a citizenry of highly educated, self regulating individuals that make most of the criminal justice system and other government unnecessary. Unfortunately when we have to deal with a lawless underclass it renders those ideals impossible as it has for all of humanities existence. The black community has not advanced in the past 40 years – in fact it has gotten worse – more dependent on government programs, less educated, more addicted to drugs and a 70%+ single mother household (it was about 10% in the 1950’s).
    Now thanks to Obama’s immigration policies, we are importing another underclass from Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Instead of getting highly educated people by being selective about who we allow to immigrate into the country we are getting illiterate people who will use our social systems as soon as they arrive. The Democrats are doing this to pad their ignorant electorate with a election-proof majority.

    1. If they can’t eat it, get high from it, or have sex with it they will break it or kill it.

      -B. Obama

  17. All lives matter. Until we can genuinely attempt to understand the experiences of others?rather than label those with whom we disagree as complainers, Marxists, or racists?we cannot move forward.

    You are absolutely wrong. Your understanding of my life is not necessary for me to succeed, and neither is my understanding of yours. It’s attitudes and mistaken beliefs like yours that perpetuate the plight of African Americans.

    I suggest your read Thomas Sowell’s “Intellectuals and Race” if you are genuinely interested in understanding these issues.

  18. my co-worker’s sister-in-law makes $82 every hour on the computer . She has been unemployed for ten months but last month her pay check was $17037 just working on the computer for a few hours. find more info ….

    ????? http://www.netjob70.com

  19. I’m sorry but when people are made to believe they are victims all the time, than of course they are going to say they are victims in a poll.

    I’m not saying profiling doesn’t happen. It does for every color/race. But the problem in black culture at the moment is “I’m a victim”.

    Everyone is up in arms about a white cop shooting a “innocent” black child, or a white (Non-white) man shooting a black teen in self-defense but were is the outage of blacks killing blacks in Detroit or Chicago. Where is the outrage that most black children don’t grow up with 2 parents?

    Yea yea it’s all whities fault.

  20. The reality is that blacks commit violent crime at a rate several time their percentage of the population. This is why they are stopped more, arrested more, incarcerated more. The marijuana issue is a canard. You need to look at the percentage of murder, armed robbery, aggravated assault, home invasions and violent flash mobbings committed by blacks. These stats are freely available. But since they do not support the “victim” and “racism” narratives, they go down the memory hole.

    For instance, in Ferguson, MO even though white residents are more likely to be caught with contraband, black Ferguson residents disproportionately comprise 86 percent of all traffic stops and 92 of all arrests despite representing 67 percent of the community

    Are you confusing traffic stops, searches and arrests? Are you deliberately ignoring the stops and arrests for violent crime? It appears as if you are confusing the issue.

    Care to explain why?

  21. I have often maintained that most “Libertarians” are simple minded closet racists who use the label Libertarian to hide behind. That feeling is confirmed by the multitude of idiot commentators on this excellent article. There is nothing more antithetical to a Libertarian ideal than racism you morons. I really wish you would all just join the Klan like you really long too, because you give the rest of us a bad name.

    1. Perhaps it is you who is the moron. Its not “racism” its reality and the sooner morons understand that the better we all will be.

      It hasn’t done a bit of good to coddle the black race in this country. Not holding them accountable for their failings has proved to make them little more than spoiled children, unwilling to grow up or take responsible for their actions individually or collectively. The few that do are called Sell outs, Oreos and Uncle Toms.
      While the few blacks that accomplish things in their lives are despised.

      Libertarianism requires a high level of personal responsibility and education, two things that blacks like those in Ferguson refuse to engage in.

      1. To racialists, like “poguemahoney” not treating minorities, especially blacks, with special consideration, as would be your general libertarian position, is racism.
        Such words as “qualified”, “educated”, “civilized”, “responsible” are called code words, dog whistles, etc. and really mean we hate darkie.

    2. If they can’t eat it, get high from it, or have sex with it they will break it or kill it.

      – Bill Clinton

  22. I would hazard a guess that fat, ugly people feel similarly discriminated against in other areas of social interaction, of course. We are not Buddhists. We judge. We discriminate. Otherwise we would not find friends and lovers. Doesn’t that primal need extend to the rest of social contact. Aren’t we bright enough to recognize this and at least try to overcome those tendencies? It’s hard to be moral ethical and good to all we encounter from their point of view. It just is.

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