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July 19, 2013 8:21 AM America, Both Black and White, Doesn’t Trust Cops

By Keith Humphreys

John Buntin has an engaging piece in New York Times on how to prevent gang members from killing each other. David Kennedy describes how the long-term, prevalent use of stop-and-frisk tactics in minority neighborhoods has eroded community trust of law enforcement:

In high-crime neighborhoods across the country, community cooperation with police investigations has virtually stopped. It’s not simply that residents are afraid of retaliation, Kennedy says. “There is a strong and growing norm in many communities, especially poor black communities, that good people don’t talk to and don’t work with the police,” he says. So even while the sheer number of murders in most cities is dropping, the homicide clearance rate — the proportion of cases solved — is doing the same.

But the otherwise excellent article includes one false note:

A 2009 Pew Research Center study found that just 14 percent of African-Americans had a great deal of confidence in the proposition that their local police officers treated blacks and whites equally, compared with 38 percent of whites who thought so.

This is a common, but misleading bit of media legerdemain, namely quoting statistics in a fashion that implies enormous disagreement between how whites and African-Americans perceive issues related to race. But if you stated these same statistics the other way, you would see that 86% of African-Americans and 62% of whites agree that local police do not treat blacks and whites equally. We ought to be worried not about so much about the level of White-Black disagreement, which is small, but the fact that people of different races largely agree that the police are engaging in discrimination.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
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