Commentary Magazine


Topic: police

The Real Victims of the War on Police

From last summer’s disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri to the more recent riots in Baltimore, the country has been engaged in a debate about police violence that has hinged on accusations of systematic racism. Regardless of the findings about the shooting in Ferguson or the racial identity of the Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a narrative about police racism has become entrenched in our popular culture that has remained impervious to reason or the facts. One of the consequences of this war on police that has been encouraged by statements coming from the very top of our government, including the president and the attorney general, have been incidents of violence against police. When officers go down that generates some attention, yet less discussed is the way the lives of people in poverty-stricken minority neighborhoods are affected by this attempt to blame the nation’s ills on white racism. But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, it is precisely they who are suffering as arrests have gone down in Baltimore in the last month while violent crime has increased dramatically.

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From last summer’s disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri to the more recent riots in Baltimore, the country has been engaged in a debate about police violence that has hinged on accusations of systematic racism. Regardless of the findings about the shooting in Ferguson or the racial identity of the Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a narrative about police racism has become entrenched in our popular culture that has remained impervious to reason or the facts. One of the consequences of this war on police that has been encouraged by statements coming from the very top of our government, including the president and the attorney general, have been incidents of violence against police. When officers go down that generates some attention, yet less discussed is the way the lives of people in poverty-stricken minority neighborhoods are affected by this attempt to blame the nation’s ills on white racism. But as the Wall Street Journal reports today, it is precisely they who are suffering as arrests have gone down in Baltimore in the last month while violent crime has increased dramatically.

In the weeks after Gray’s death as scrutiny and criticism of the Baltimore police has intensified, arrests have gone down by a rate of 40 percent when compared to the same period of time in 2013 and 2014. What makes this figure so startling is that it includes the hundreds that were arrested during the riots that rocked portions of the city. At the same time, violence in the Western district of the city where the riots occurred has gone up in a way far outpacing the increase in the rest of the city.

What’s happened here is obvious. Nothing can or should excuse alleged police misbehavior and if the six officers — three white and three African-Americans — are convicted of responsibility for Gray’s death while in their custody, they will deserve to be harshly punished. But the willingness of so many people, both on the streets and on the airwaves, to take it as a given that the cops are alien invaders who must be resisted has made it difficult if not impossible for them to do their jobs.

It is understandable that the opprobrium directed at the police would affect their morale. But it goes further than that. As the Journal notes, it is now routine for police answering calls to be surrounded by hostile crowds with cameras. In some cases, this impedes their ability to carry out effective police work. In others it simply intimidates the cops who are often coming to the conclusion that it is far safer to simply do nothing than to intervene in situations and risk being accused of criminal or racist behavior regardless of their motivations.

Such a choice runs contrary to their duty to safeguard the public but given the stakes involved, it’s hard to blame officers for not risking their careers and freedom. But the real victims of a city with a police force that is reluctant to act are members of the public, not the cops. Those who will suffer the most are the residents of these same high crime minority neighborhoods. It is they who are most at risk at losing their property and injury and/or loss of life. Those areas of cities where public safety disappears are the same places where employment disappears.

The irony here is that the riots in Baltimore have prompted a lot of discussion about how best to deal with endemic poverty in minority neighborhoods with much finger-pointing at institutions like the police. That the example that prompted this outcry is a city that has been governed by liberals for more than half a century whose political establishment is dominated by blacks and has an integrated police force (as the list of those accused in Gray’s death testifies) makes it hard to take some of this discussion seriously. But no amount of racial sensitivity or liberal big government policies can undo the damage done by unchecked violent crime. In such an atmosphere no one can get ahead or indeed maintain any kind of standard of living.

The real consequence of the war on police that has been waged in the media and on the streets of America’s cities is a set of circumstances that may well doom another generation of minority kids to poverty and heightened chance of being a victim of violent crime. Those who have done the most to intimidate the police and to transform an unfortunate incident into a national effort to interfere with law enforcement activity may think they have won because they have changed the national conversation about race and the police. But they should weigh this illusory victory against the terrible damage their efforts have done to the people they claim to want to help.

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Police Lives Matter

Do the names Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate mean anything to you? Probably not, but they should.

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Do the names Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate mean anything to you? Probably not, but they should.

Messrs. Deen and Tate, both police officers, were shot dead in Hattiesburg, Mississippi last Saturday night during a traffic stop that ended in a hail of gunfire. The suspects fled the scene but were later arrested. Four individuals were charged, two of whom face capital murder charges.

According to news reports, Deen, 34, married his high school sweetheart and had two young children and a great family, according to those who know him. Tony Mozingo, a local judge, left red roses near the scene of the shooting.

“We all just are heartbroken because we know and work with these officers every day,” said Mozingo, who was accompanied by his wife and two daughters. Deen was a “consummate law enforcement professional.” He had been awarded his department’s Officer of the Year Award after rescuing a family from a burning home.

J.T. Taylor, a friend of Deen’s for 30 years, recalled Deen as a surrogate brother who enjoyed family more than anything else in his life. “He didn’t go anywhere without his family,” Taylor said. “You could usually find him one or two places: at his house or at his mom and dad’s house with his family.”

According to this account, Dean will be remembered as “a guy who was a little reserved, but still managed to have more friends than anyone else.”

“He was really and truly an awesome person to be around, always smiling, always making people laugh,” said Carla Higdon, who graduated with Deen in 1998.

“He grew up in a rich family environment and he had many friends because he really never met someone that he didn’t think, ‘Hey, this is a friend,’ ” said Taylor. “He had a smile that set you at ease. When he smiled, it was like you got a hug.”

The legacy Deen will leave behind, the Clarion-Ledger reports is “one of devotion to family and duty, to service and friends.”

“There really, really was not anybody who didn’t love him,” Higdon said.

The funeral service for Officer Deen is this morning.

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Liquori Tate, 25, grew up in a tough part of Starkville, Mississippi, 150 miles north of Hattiesburg, and became a police office so he could make a difference in the black community, according to Jarvis Thompson, who knew him from childhood.

“He wanted to become an officer because we’ve seen so much of our peers get killed or end up in jail,” said Thompson. “He was talking all the time about how he wanted to do better and make the place better.”

According to this story, Tate graduated last June from the police academy. Here’s what he wrote on his Facebook: “I am now a Police Officer. I would like to thank God, the Police Academy, the Police Department, my family, friends, and love ones.”

“I’ve never seen anyone more happy to be a cop than him,” Officer Jason Jarvis said.

Liquori worked at auto parts stores for years and was thrilled to have found his calling as an officer, his father, Ronald Tate, told CNN. “He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul,” his father recalled. “He really knew the risk. But I think my son just thought people are generally good, and that’s just the way he was. He thought people are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”

The two talked on the phone every week and texted every day. “My son didn’t see color,” according to Tate. “We didn’t have all this animosity between races, and my son didn’t see that. He didn’t have time for that. He was just mellow and laid back and didn’t want to get into that.”

On Facebook, where his timeline had been filled with condolences, Mr. Tate wrote that he’d been in a “dizzy haze” since 10:11 p.m. Saturday, when he son was gunned down.

“This was my baby, who I was willing to allow to go into this type of dangerous work,” Ronald Tate said. “A guy who understood and loved everybody. Peaceful, passive, understanding. Wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

“My heart has been ripped out of my chest, and torn into a million pieces,” Liquori Tate’s father said. “Gotta get down to MS where my daughter is. She’s absolutely devastated. He was clearly her protector, and friend.”

“I just need some kind of mercy right now.”

Officer Tate’s funeral service will be on Saturday.

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So why hasn’t President Obama said anything about the slayings of Officers Deen and Tate? I ask because Mr. Obama weighed in, emphatically so, on the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, the death of Eric Garner in New York City, and even the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for disorderly conduct, with Obama accusing Police Sgt. James Crowley of acting “stupidly” despite the president being unaware of all the relevant facts. So it’s not like Mr. Obama is reluctant to insert himself into local law enforcement matters.

I understand that cops can do bad things. Just last month a South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after shooting and killing a man after a routine traffic stop. But I do wonder why the president’s heart or conscience weren’t stirred by the events in Hattiesburg like they were in Cambridge, Ferguson, New York City and Sanford, Florida. Why hasn’t the president used the killings in Hattiesburg as a “teachable moment” in order to lead a “national conversation” that deepens our respect and gratitude for law enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom are professional and dedicated public servants (my brother is one of them)? Why did Mr. Obama choose to identify with Trayvon Martin, saying, “If I would had a son, he’d look like Trayvon?” when his son could also have looked like Liquori Tate.

And what about the press? Some media outlets have covered the killings of Officers Deen and Tate, but with nothing like the intensity of the cases I’ve mentioned. Why? Do the lives of two cops mean less than the life of Michael Brown, who fought Officer Darren Wilson and then charged him before he was shot? Why did the death of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin dominate coverage, while the murder of two cops — one black, the other white — doesn’t?

Some may argue that it’s because the other cases triggered community protests and violence and therefore demanded greater attention. Perhaps, though it should be said that (a) the intense media coverage can accelerate tensions; (b) there’s no reason we can’t we draw larger social lessons from the lives and deaths of Officers Deen and Tate; and (c) anyone watching media coverage of stories like Ferguson could see that journalists want these stories to fit a preconceived narrative. So much so that President Obama and many journalists insisted on putting a racial frame around the Cambridge, Ferguson and New York City stories when there’s no evidence race played a role in the actions of the cops. Michael Brown was shot because he attacked Officer Darren Wilson. He was not shot because he was black. But Americans could be excused for thinking otherwise based on the coverage.

These stories get attention because they play into a preferred narrative in which the cops are the source of tension with the community. Yet when events like the killing in Hattiesburg occurs – when everything we know reflects well on the cops and there’s no racial frame to put around it – well, that’s just not as interesting, is it? After all, it’s only two dead cops, and two grieving families, and a grieving community of friends.

Here’s what bothers me and may bother you. For some individuals, the lives of cops don’t really matter as much as the lives of those who are killed by cops, even when the killings are justified. If the story allows people to focus on racial divisions and conflicts between cops and citizens, they’re all in. If not — if the story is about good and decent people who dedicated their lives to the protection of others and died in the line of duty — they quickly move on to other things. It turns out that it’s the narrative, not the individual lives that matter. Except to those who loved Benjamin Deen and Liquori Tate, those whose lives have now been shattered, those whose hearts have been torn into a million pieces.

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As Police Die, Racism Narrative Unravels

Any conversation about the murders of two New York City Police officers this weekend must start by acknowledging the ordinary heroism of law enforcement personnel that puts them in harm’s way every day. We should then acknowledge that all those who have criticized police actions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York after the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not responsible for the slaying of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We don’t know yet who or what may have influenced the reportedly mentally disturbed shooter, who was apparently bent on “revenge” for Brown and Garner. But we do know this. After four months of non-stop condemnations of the police and the justice system for both racism and deliberately targeting African Americans for violence, it is time for the race hucksters and their political enablers such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the campaign of incitement against the police.

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Any conversation about the murders of two New York City Police officers this weekend must start by acknowledging the ordinary heroism of law enforcement personnel that puts them in harm’s way every day. We should then acknowledge that all those who have criticized police actions in Ferguson, Missouri and New York after the controversial deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are not responsible for the slaying of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. We don’t know yet who or what may have influenced the reportedly mentally disturbed shooter, who was apparently bent on “revenge” for Brown and Garner. But we do know this. After four months of non-stop condemnations of the police and the justice system for both racism and deliberately targeting African Americans for violence, it is time for the race hucksters and their political enablers such as President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop the campaign of incitement against the police.

Conservatives know very well that attempts to politicize violence on the part of the mentally ill is deeply unfair. They know that liberal claims that either the Tea Party or conservatives such as Sarah Palin were somehow responsible for the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was sheer slander. If some angry supporters of the police now try to say Obama, Holder, or de Blasio approved or countenanced the actions of Ismaaiyl Brinsley, they are just as wrong. Obama, Holder, and de Blasio have all rightly condemned the murder of the two officers.

But once we acknowledge that, we cannot ignore the fact that the discussion about race and the police in this country has gotten out of control in recent months and that these same political leaders who should have been seeking to restrain the public from drawing extreme and general conclusions about two very extraordinary cases instead kept the pot boiling for political advantage.

Even worse than that, they have empowered and legitimized racial demagogues like Al Sharpton who have sought to profit from exploiting these tragedies to promote their own agendas. In turn, Sharpton and those like him who are given prominent air time on networks like MSNBC and CNN have encouraged protesters who have not only engaged in violence but often openly called for the killing of police, a stance that has been openly endorsed by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and other radicals.

The act of a single possibly mad gunman does not mean that Americans must never question the actions of police or ponder broader issues about race. It is misleading to claim that those who have raised such questions have given a green light to the murder of police officers. Yet those who have sought to take two very different and quite unusual incidents in Ferguson and New York and weave them into a neat narrative of racism and anti-black violence by police have done very much the same thing. The difference between the two is that the media spent much of the last four months seeking to establish that wrongheaded narrative as a fact while they will, quite rightly, give no credence or air time to those who will blame Obama for cop killers.

The narrative of incitement against the police in recent months was based on two misnomers.

One was the unquestioning acceptance of the narrative of police wrongdoing and racism in the killing of Brown and the far more questionable death of Garner by both the media and political leaders. This involved not only the willingness of both celebrities and lawmakers to treat myths, such as the claim that Brown had his hands up when he was shot, as fact. It also involved the casual acceptance of the charge of racism on the part of ordinary cops around the nation in the absence of any real proof as well as the shouting down of those like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani who sought to defend the role of the police in defending the black community rather than attacking it.

Just as reprehensible was the willingness to ignore the calls for violence against the police on the part of so many of those who took to the streets about Ferguson and Garner. While stray comments on the part of a handful of Tea Partiers became the foundation for conventional-wisdom dismissal of their movement as racist or violent, the anti-police chants at mass demonstrations were largely ignored, rationalized, or excused. The same is true of comments like those of Farrakhan delivered in Baltimore where the killer of the two policemen lived.

But just as the murder of two cops doesn’t necessarily excuse the actions of the police in the Garner case, neither should we forget that all too many public figures have accepted with very little evidence the assumptions about racism and violence that have done so much to besmirch the reputation of the police. Rather than working to connect the dots between the comments of the president, the attorney general, and the mayor to a murder that none of them wished for, sensible observers should instead be unraveling the even shakier narrative these figures helped create about police misbehavior and racism.

The unraveling of the false narrative of incitement against the police should not give rise to another that is also mistaken. But what happened in Ferguson, Staten Island, and the assassination of two police officers should teach us that simplistic, easily manipulated narratives that serve the interests of a few race inciters and politicians don’t deserve any more respect than conspiracy theories coming from the other end of the political spectrum. If there is any reproach today that should be laid at the feet of Obama, Holder, and de Blasio, it is that by helping to foster one false set of assumptions, they have now left themselves vulnerable to questions about their own willingness to accept and exploit calumnies against the police and the justice system.

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Obama’s Ferguson Dog and Pony Show

As protests against the decision of a grand jury not to charge Officer Darren Wilson with the murder of Michael Brown continue, the White House is scrambling to catch up with President Obama’s liberal base. With the political left out in the streets and screaming murder on the cable networks, the president felt the need to play catchup today on Ferguson and to speak as if a difficult legal case can be used to justify politicized charges claiming that America’s police are out of control and targeting black youth with impunity. His response, a White House meeting and a raft of meaningless though potentially expensive proposals, may be enough to help him win today’s news cycle. But let no one, least of all the president’s media cheering section, pretend that what we are hearing today is anything more than an illustration of a basic political precept: it’s better to pretend to do something about a marginal problem than to tell those protesting that it is their skewed perceptions that are wrong.

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As protests against the decision of a grand jury not to charge Officer Darren Wilson with the murder of Michael Brown continue, the White House is scrambling to catch up with President Obama’s liberal base. With the political left out in the streets and screaming murder on the cable networks, the president felt the need to play catchup today on Ferguson and to speak as if a difficult legal case can be used to justify politicized charges claiming that America’s police are out of control and targeting black youth with impunity. His response, a White House meeting and a raft of meaningless though potentially expensive proposals, may be enough to help him win today’s news cycle. But let no one, least of all the president’s media cheering section, pretend that what we are hearing today is anything more than an illustration of a basic political precept: it’s better to pretend to do something about a marginal problem than to tell those protesting that it is their skewed perceptions that are wrong.

As I wrote earlier today, after spending so much of the last six years crying wolf about racism and seeking to stoke fears rather than to heal, the president is in no position to reclaim the high ground on the issue that he occupied when he was elected by deliberately eschewing appeals to partisanship and race. Nor does it speak well for the president that he felt the need to, in essence, backtrack from the sagacious stand he took last week when the grand jury in St. Louis County decided no crime had been committed when Wilson shot Brown. Having told Americans to respect a judicial process and to refrain from riots and violence to vent their disappointment in the result of the proceeding, today he reverted to playing the race card, albeit in more measured terms than his fans on the left.

It is true that many African-Americans don’t trust the police and that racism isn’t dead. But by accepting the premise of the Ferguson rioters that somehow the lack of an indictment is proof that the system isn’t working, Obama wasn’t advancing the cause of healing. Even more to the point, by focusing all of his attention on alleged police misbehavior, the president was ignoring the fact that what African-Americans trapped in poor neighborhoods need most is more policing, not less.

As for the president’s suggestions, they speak volumes about how insubstantial the White House’s approach has become. The president said he would seek to impose more restrictions on the transfer of military-style equipment—like the ones deployed in Ferguson when the trouble began this summer—as well as spending money on body cameras for police, presumably to ensure that those wearing the devices would be caught red-handed if they mistreated civilians.

Let’s specify that there is a reasonable discussion that can be heard about the utility of such equipment in most local police problems. There are also arguments to be made in favor of applying the same sort of technology that has brought cameras to many police cars to the bodies of officers. Police may benefit as much from the scrutiny as they will be hurt by it.

But let’s not pretend that this is about better policing or bridging the racial divide. The president could cite no studies pointing to the need for any of his measures nor could he argue credibly that a White House photo op was anything but what he denied it to be: a dog and pony show intended only to demonstrate a faux interest in an issue that would soon be forgotten as soon as the media and left-wing demonstrators move on from Ferguson to whatever the next media feeding frenzy turns out to be.

Nor should we be impressed by the noises about a possible presidential visit to Ferguson or any other measure intended to make it seem as if Obama is doing something about the issue.

The problem here is not just that Obama punted on his chance to be a genuine racial healer years ago as he egged on his supporters to brand his critics as racists rather than just Americans who disagreed with his policies. It’s that by putting forward a faux program intended to make it look as if he is doing something, he has again made the problem worse rather than better.

It is no small irony that the administration run by the first African-American president and staffed by the first African-American attorney general has done so much to stoke racial disharmony and to empower race baiters like Obama ally Al Sharpton. By validating those who are determined to perpetuate the myth that the Ferguson incident was about a vicious white cop who killed an innocent black kid with his hands up—a proposition that the evidence presented to the grand jury appears to debunk—the president has ensured that his time in office will continue to witness a further deterioration of relations between blacks and whites.

President Obama isn’t solely responsible for this. But he could have used his bully pulpit to steer the national conversation in a more rational manner in ways that might have helped more than it hurt. White House dog and pony shows have their uses at times, but today’s version was evidence of how they can also do far more harm than good.

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Rudy Giuliani vs. the Ignorant Agitators

There was some controversy over on Meet the Press this weekend when Rudy Giuliani got into a bit of a heated exchange on race, Ferguson, and public safety with Michael Eric Dyson, MSNBC’s Vice President of Accusing Everything That Moves of Being Racist. Dyson claimed, in a comment that should discredit him to anyone still taking him seriously, that Giuliani’s comments about black-on-black crime stemmed from “the defensive mechanism of white supremacy.” This morning on Fox, Giuliani defended his comments: “I probably saved more black lives as mayor of New York City than any mayor in the history of the city, with the possible exception of Mike Bloomberg, who was there for 12 years.” Yet while the argument centered on police action, to understand Giuliani’s contribution to this issue–which is even greater than he says himself–it’s important to take a step back from the policing issue.

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There was some controversy over on Meet the Press this weekend when Rudy Giuliani got into a bit of a heated exchange on race, Ferguson, and public safety with Michael Eric Dyson, MSNBC’s Vice President of Accusing Everything That Moves of Being Racist. Dyson claimed, in a comment that should discredit him to anyone still taking him seriously, that Giuliani’s comments about black-on-black crime stemmed from “the defensive mechanism of white supremacy.” This morning on Fox, Giuliani defended his comments: “I probably saved more black lives as mayor of New York City than any mayor in the history of the city, with the possible exception of Mike Bloomberg, who was there for 12 years.” Yet while the argument centered on police action, to understand Giuliani’s contribution to this issue–which is even greater than he says himself–it’s important to take a step back from the policing issue.

While Giuliani was not anyone’s idea of a traditional social conservative, there were aspects of his public policy of which the ends and the means were more conservative than he’s often given credit for. That’s why it’s worth putting the policing issue aside for the moment and concentrating on something else: his approach to inner city poverty and the role of fatherhood.

In a 2007 piece in City Journal appropriately titled “Yes, Rudy Giuliani Is a Conservative” (a premise many conservatives take issue with but one that is followed by a perfectly coherent case in the article), Steven Malanga goes over Giuliani’s highly successful welfare reform. And after discussing welfare, Malanga offers the following paragraph, which is rarely discussed but seems crucial to understanding Giuliani as a politician:

As part of Giuliani’s quintessentially conservative belief that dysfunctional behavior, not our economic system, lay at the heart of intergenerational poverty, he also spoke out against illegitimacy and the rise of fatherless families. A child born out of wedlock, he observed in one speech, was three times more likely to wind up on welfare than a child from a two-parent family. “Seventy percent of long-term prisoners and 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without fathers,” Giuliani told the city. He insisted that the city and the nation had to reestablish the “responsibility that accompanies bringing a child into the world,” and to that end he required deadbeat fathers either to find a private-sector job or to work in the city’s workfare program as a way of contributing to their child’s upbringing. But he added that changing society’s attitude toward marriage was more important than anything government could do: “[I]f you wanted a social program that would really save these kids, . . . I guess the social program would be called fatherhood.”

That is, in fact, something cultural conservatives–really anybody, but cultural conservatives in particular–should celebrate. And if offers a clear window into Giuliani’s approach to public policy. Public safety per se wasn’t the foundational principle of Giuliani’s mayoralty; it was a beneficial, and in some cases practically revolutionary, outgrowth of its real foundation: dignity.

There is much that Missouri police have done since the tragic death of Michael Brown that robs members of the Ferguson community of their dignity. So the point is not tough policing uber alles, nor would that have been Giuliani’s choice. Indeed, as I wrote at the time, the hasty militarization of the county police force was a mistake. When you work for the government in some powerful capacity, and you approach a citizen, how you approach that citizen tells him how the government sees him. If you show up on a tank-like vehicle dressed like you’re about to enter a war zone, the message you send to the citizens you are policing is that the government sees them as a warlike population. St. Louis County did not declare war on the Ferguson community, but could you blame them for wondering if they had?

Giuliani took the opposite tack, refusing to behave like an invading general, despite what his dimmest critics might claim. And what was the result? To briefly revisit Malanga:

Giuliani’s policing success was a boon to minority neighborhoods. For instance, in the city’s 34th Precinct, covering the largely Hispanic Washington Heights section of Manhattan, murders dropped from 76 in 1993, Dinkins’s last year, to only seven by Giuliani’s last year, a decline of more than 90 percent. Far from being the racist that activists claimed, Giuliani had delivered to the city’s minority neighborhoods a true form of equal protection under the law.

Those of us who have lived in Washington Heights know this is no joke. Those who like to play expert on MSNBC are usually speaking out of ignorance.

And the key point here is to understand that the belief in the dignity of men, women, and children, of families, infused every decision Giuliani made with regard to improving public safety in minority neighborhoods and the city at large. Accusations of “white supremacist” thinking aren’t merely obscenely stupid, though they are certainly that. They also tend to come from those who have never shown the black community a fraction of the respect or service Giuliani has.

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Ferguson and the Right: the Geography of Community Policing

One of the stranger reactions to yesterday’s disturbing standoff between a militarized county police force in Ferguson, Missouri and protesters was for leftist commentators to accuse libertarians and limited-government conservatives of insufficient outrage. Paul Waldman wrote an absolutely ridiculous version of this yesterday at the Washington Post, asking where all the libertarians were. In the process, he revealed that leftists apparently think if libertarians don’t work for Reason magazine, they don’t exist. (Why he missed libertarians who write for the same newspaper he does goes unexplained.)

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One of the stranger reactions to yesterday’s disturbing standoff between a militarized county police force in Ferguson, Missouri and protesters was for leftist commentators to accuse libertarians and limited-government conservatives of insufficient outrage. Paul Waldman wrote an absolutely ridiculous version of this yesterday at the Washington Post, asking where all the libertarians were. In the process, he revealed that leftists apparently think if libertarians don’t work for Reason magazine, they don’t exist. (Why he missed libertarians who write for the same newspaper he does goes unexplained.)

But foolishness aside, it did raise an interesting point: namely, the fact that this issue blurs ideological lines, as well as the fact that libertarians have raised their profile sufficiently to be on speed dial in case of emergency. The issue of heavyhanded policing itself does not divide the left, but it does divide the right. And that is a topic Ben Domenech has covered before and returned to again this morning in the wake of the Ferguson coverage. Domenech writes that attitudes toward the police can be something of a Rorschach test for libertarians and conservatives:

If you want an indication about where someone sits on the dividing line between conservative and libertarian, sometimes it’s as simple as how they answer this question: how do you feel about cops? Do you naturally tend to trust them, viewing them as a necessary and needed hedge acting in defense of law and order? Or are you naturally suspicious of them, believing them to be little more than armed tax collectors and bureaucrats with a tendency to violence and falsehood in service of their whims? Are cops the brave individuals who stand between the law-abiding and those who would rob, rape, and kill, or are they the low-level tyrannical overpaid functionaries of the administrative state, more focused on tax collection in the form of citations, property grabs, and killing the occasional family dog?

This isn’t to say that only libertarians are suspicious of cops. There has always been a strain of conservatism very skeptical of government power, and as police forces have become more interested in seizing assets and ignoring complaint, many conservatives have become openly critical of their behavior. Indeed, Mary Katharine Ham has a great response to what we’re seeing in Ferguson, as does Kevin Williamson. But how you answer that initial question will tell you a lot about your political assumptions regarding authority.

I would say, however, that there’s another dividing line here. How you feel about cops depends on your experience with them, and your experience with them often depends–aside from race, of course–on geography.

Look at the pictures of last night’s standoff in Ferguson. The complaints are not just about arbitrary arrests or a media crackdown. The complaints also have to do with the county police rolling in on military-style vehicles and wearing the kind of body armor and fielding the kinds of weapons–and pointing them at unarmed protesters–we usually associate with a war zone. Ferguson is not a war zone.

But intense and effective policing, even of high-crime areas, doesn’t have to look that way. In fact, a police force that looks the way it did in Ferguson last night is almost certainly an indication of counterproductive policing. (And thus raises questions about whether the police were actually sufficiently trained to use the weaponry they had with them.)

I work in New York City, and until recently lived in Washington Heights in Manhattan. It is a neighborhood with a troubled history. It’s also ethnically diverse and immigrant-heavy, and so it’s normally a model of a stable civil society brimming with energy–strivers with large families just trying give everyone in their world a better life. But it has also been a beneficiary of better policing. In 1987, the New York Times proclaimed it the city’s “murder capital.” Today, along with next-door Inwood, it is safer than all Manhattan neighborhoods except the Upper West Side and Upper East Side.

Having lived in Washington Heights twice a decade apart, I saw the improvement, though it began before I first moved to the neighborhood. The Heights were part of the general decline in New York City crime under the proactive policing efforts begun after David Dinkins’ atrocious term as mayor. And here’s the thing about the Heights: it did this without putting tanks on the streets and snipers on the roofs.

Proactive policing is not synonymous with militarized policing–not by a long shot. I have been amazed time and again by the calm under fire demonstrated by the NYPD. It’s almost exactly the opposite of what we saw in Ferguson. In Ferguson, the police showed up prepared for war; that in itself is an escalation, and it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So conservatives and libertarians may have very different instinctive responses to the police. But controlling for other factors, including race–black New Yorkers gave former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly 63 percent approval last year–it’s impossible to truly understand how a population sees the police without taking into account the geographic distinctions between them. Sometimes the most effective police forces fighting the most sophisticated threats are the ones who make the best argument against militarized law enforcement.

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