President Barack Obama shouldn’t nominate Ray Kelly to be secretary of Homeland Security. He should invite him to consider the error of his ways.
At least that’s the logic of the president’s remarks on the George Zimmerman case. The president has had kind words for Kelly, but the president’s supporters point out the contradiction: In his meditation on the Zimmerman verdict, Obama dwelt on the evils of stereotyping, and Commissioner Kelly stands accused of policing an entire city on the basis of just that.
Already politically embattled, New York City’s stop-and-frisk policing is now in the crosshairs as allegedly an officially sanctioned version of Zimmerman’s suspicion of Trayvon Martin that created the predicate for the tragedy in Sanford, Fla. “Stop and frisk is both racist and damaging to actual police work,” wrote Jamelle Bouie in TheAmerican Prospect.
Kelly operates from this disadvantage: Musing from a podium is easy. Policing a city is hard. He doesn’t get to deal in airy generalities. His job performance is ultimately judged not by the approval of pundits grading his remarks, but by the safety of the streets.
I hazard to say that Ray Kelly cares as much about black lives as any of his critics, and I know he certainly has done much more to save them.
It is a matter of hard data that there is more crime in New York in minority neighborhoods. Are New York City police to ignore that because Tavis Smiley doesn’t want to hear it? And who would suffer most if the police decided never to stop anyone on the basis of reasonable suspicion — the legal standard for the stops in question — ever again in these areas? Presumably not many MSNBC executives live in Bed-Stuy or East New York.
The New York Police Department focuses its efforts where the crime is, and the results have been stunning. Heather Mac Donald of City Journal writes, “New York’s crime drop has been twice as deep and has lasted twice as long as the national average since the early 1990s.”
Mac Donald points out the fallacy of alleging racial bias in the mere fact that minorities are subject to stops disproportionate to their share of the population. They are more than half of all stops although they are about a quarter of the city’s population. But, according to Mac Donald, “blacks are 66 percent of all violent-crime suspects.”
Critics of stop-and-frisk have undertaken a class-action suit against it. The roughly 20 stops cited in the lawsuit don’t exactly offer compelling stories of police abuse or racism. Rather, they present a kaleidoscope of different circumstances when the police appeared to act reasonably, all things considered.
Deon Dennis got stopped because an officer thought he was drinking in public. He denied it. He got arrested on an outstanding warrant anyway.
Clive Lino got stopped because he fit the description and was wearing the same kind of jacket as a robbery suspect.
Dominique Sindayiganza got stopped because a woman said he was harassing her at a Petco.
There have been more than 4 million stops since 2004. That works out to roughly 40,000 stops a month, in a city with roughly 20,000 officers on patrol duty. About 6 percent of the stops result in an arrest, and 6 percent in a summons. Critics say that’s not enough to justify them, but it’s not clear what number would ever satisfy them.
No one seems to care about policing practices in cities beset by endemic violence. Should your police force drive the number of murders down to a 50-year low to the disproportionate benefit of young black men, though, that’s different. Then there’s hell to pay.
Who knows how many, but it is inarguable that there are kids like Trayvon Martin who are alive today because of New York’s policing. It shouldn’t be hard for anyone who rejoices in that to say, before anything else, two simple words: Thank you.