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Summer 2002
 
City Journal Summer 2002.
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Cops, Cars, and Criminality

To the editor:
I’ve been a Phoenix police officer for only five years, and from day one I have been labeled a racist. I wanted to thank Heather Mac Donald for her article “The Racial Profiling Myth Debunked” [Spring 2002] and her willingness to report that racial profiling of traffic offenders is not really happening. It isn’t happening in violent and property offenses, either.

Besides the New Jersey Turnpike study Mac Donald cites, another resource is available to compare a given community’s minority population with its percentage of minority criminal suspects: the 911/Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. With every 911 call, the citizen advises of the suspect’s race, sex, and approximate age. Citizens, who want crimes against their persons and property solved, describe their assailants as accurately as possible, without racial motivations. These reports are stored in the CAD systems for up to four years. A CAD audit would show why officers make contact with suspects of a certain race, sex, and age: that’s whom they are told to contact by the citizens they serve.

Ron Bryant
Phoenix, AZ

To the editor:
Mac Donald makes a rookie error. The fact that blacks speed in excess proportion to their population rate does not exonerate the police for stopping them in equal proportion to their speeding violations. That fact merely “proves” that speeding laws are racist, as they have a disproportionate effect on blacks. The police, by not adjusting their enforcement to account for this impact, are also racist.

Don’t laugh—-that’s how the game is played these days.

Andy Freeman
Via e-mail

To the editor:
I retired at the age of 45 from the Philadelphia Police Department in 1998 after 24 years. I quit because I was fed up with being viewed as guilty until proven innocent. Sure, there must be some racist officers. But to claim there is widespread racial profiling is not supported by evidence and only serves to place barriers between good public servants and the minority community. Thanks to Heather Mac Donald on behalf of all officers who are colorblind and take their oath of office seriously.

Kenneth Walkling
Philadelphia, PA

To the editor:
On March 28, 2002, I was heading west on Bellevue Highway between M-50 and Cochran Road in Eaton County, Michigan, traveling at approximately 59 mph behind a silver Plymouth, when I noticed an Eaton County sheriff’s deputy coming to the corner of Bellevue and Gildart. The deputy was about to make a right, but after I passed, he turned left instead. After catching up to me, he paced my car and ran my plate. He then proceeded around me to run the plate of the car in front of me.

My girlfriend’s brother lives at the corner of Bellevue and Cochran, and seeing his truck in the driveway, I stopped to see him. He wasn’t home, so I left a note, got back into my car, and proceeded to work.

As I pulled up to the corner, I noticed the deputy heading south back down Bellevue. I turned right onto Cochran, heading north. Within minutes, he was in my rearview mirror.

At a stop sign, I came to a complete stop, used my turn signal, and turned right. After running the stop sign, the officer hit his lights and pulled me over. When the officer got to the window, I handed him my license, registration, and proof of insurance. I asked him why he stopped me. He didn’t answer.

He then asked me a series of questions: “Who lives at the residence where you stopped?” My girlfriend’s brother. “Who was that man you were following?” I don’t know who he was, we were just going in the same direction. “Where are you going?” To work. “Where do you work?” On the other side of Olivet. “What do you do out there?” I work for a framer. We just started framing a house. “Where are you coming from?” Mason. I just took an entrance exam for the carpenters’ school. “Why are you out here if you’re working on the other side of Olivet?” It’s the most direct route from Mason to Olivet.

He told me to hold on and he would be right back. A few minutes later he asked about an updated proof of insurance. I looked and later found it. He had told me not to worry about it, and asked, “Does the car have insurance?” I said yes, and that I just put the new slip in the car. “Who owns the vehicle?” My girlfriend’s dad or brother—I couldn’t remember which.

After sitting there for 45 minutes, his backup arrived. He placed me under arrest and took me to jail. I was later released on a $200 bond. I was not issued any ticket other than Driving with License Suspended.

I was driving on a public road. I stopped at a residence that I have every right to visit. I did nothing wrong to warrant being pulled over—I wasn’t speeding or driving erratically. I was stopped unjustly, because I was an African American. This is Jim Crow revisited.

The officer’s probable cause went out the window when he passed me. He had already ruled me out as a threat, and so I no longer had reason to elude him. I simply made a stop at a friend’s house, and because he was not home, that meant I was doing something wrong or acting suspiciously. (I was later told that the deputy asked the owner of the house on Cochran if he knew a “black guy.” He answered, “Yes, that’s my sister’s boyfriend.” The deputy replied “Oh, then he wasn’t lying.”)

As an individual who has friends of many different races and nationalities, I am really disturbed by this situation. I pride myself on the way my family raised me—to accept each individual as an individual. For years, I have led myself to believe that race relations were getting better in the world. What a fool I was. As an African-American man, I am looked at harder by police, and driving a car almost instantly gives them probable cause to stop and search me.

That deputy violated my civil rights, demeaned my character, and has done serious damage to my dignity. You cannot put a price on an individual’s dignity. The county is just as liable in this case as the sheriff’s department, and I plan to hold them as such. I feel this is a small price to pay for violating a person’s civil rights.

Luther W. Brown, Jr.
Via e-mail

Heather Mac Donald responds:
If the facts are exactly as Mr. Brown alleges, it may well be that he was stopped because of his race—or, to be more precise, because a black man who goes up to a house in what I will presume is a predominantly white residential neighborhood will raise an officer’s suspicions either as a possible burglar casing the joint, or simply as an element that “doesn’t fit,” just as a white male driver in a predominantly black neighborhood faces a higher chance of being stopped (as a possible drug buyer, for instance). That is a sad result of crime and residential segregation patterns, and Mr. Brown would be understandably angered at what feels like discrimination.

Since Mr. Brown has initiated legal proceedings against Eaton County and its sheriff’s department, the department is not discussing the case. According to its spokesman, “there is certainly another side to the story.” Here are some of the questions the fact finder will want to ask: Was there a string of crimes going on in the area that would have led the police to be extra vigilant? Did Mr. Brown or the car fit any known descriptions of suspects? The officer ran both plates—not just that of the black driver; what did he find out about either car? (Would anything have suggested that Mr. Brown was not the car’s owner—such as the owner’s age or presumed ethnicity?) Mr. Brown had a suspended license (though he was driving anyway): Why was his license suspended—is he an erratic driver, whose behavior may have attracted the deputy’s attention? What did he do when he approached the house—did he possibly try the door or look in the windows? What was his demeanor when he was stopped?

All these questions may be answered in Mr. Brown’s favor. Without doubt, there are officers among the country’s nearly 650,000 local law-enforcement personnel who use race in a lazy and biased manner to single out law-abiders for unjustified stops. I do not believe that such behavior is the norm. It remains to be seen whether Mr. Brown encountered one of those officers.

Politically Prepped

To the editor:
I was shocked to read what “The Prep-School PC Plague” [Spring 2002] had to say about my old prep school, Phillips Academy. And I accepted what Heather Mac Donald wrote as fact. I wrote to Andover to say that I didn’t like the direction the school had taken and that I would no longer support it financially. I sent e-mail to friends suggesting they do the same.

I should have known better. Andover does not promote sexual activity on the part of its students. The quote regarding Saran Wrap came from a question raised by a student during a presentation by a city or county health officer. Sex between students is not encouraged or considered acceptable. In fact, one school administrator indicated that such activity is strongly discouraged for both physical and emotional reasons.

My conclusion is that Heather Mac Donald is a tabloid journalist. Some people will do or say anything to make a buck.

I would love for Mac Donald to debate an Andover administrator in front of the students. She could point out where her article is truthful and Andover would have a chance to defend itself. Nah, that will never happen!

Edward H. Parker, Jr.
Spokane, WA

To the editor:
I am currently a sophomore at Phillips Academy. I came to Andover colorblind. Your article could not have been more accurate about the indoctrination I face every day.

Your piece caused quite a stir: apparently, a current parent and alumnus forwarded your article (anonymously) to several administrators. At a recent all-school meeting, Barbara Chase, our head of school, addressed the article, saying it “appeals to people’s prejudices in the worst sort of way.” I am sure that you have received much criticism, and I wanted to write to you to say that I am pleased that someone outside our community uncovered the grave problems created here by the PC plague.

Anonymous
Via e-mail

P.S.: Sorry to remain anonymous, but it’s that bad.

To the editor:
When I first read Heather Mac Donald’s article on the extraordinary lengths prep schools have gone to enforce “diversity,” I laughed out loud. I’m a sophomore at Phillips Academy, and diversity mongering has been a sharp thorn in my side from the moment I registered in the fall of 2000. As one of the few members of the student government who fought against the administration’s attempt to enforce gender parity among student-government representatives—and one of the principals in its eventual demise this year—I have butted my head against the administration’s obsession with “diversity” many times. I am thankful that at last the news media are picking up on the outrageous, divisive measures prep schools take to encourage self-segregation among students of different races, ethnicities, and backgrounds.

Will Scharf
Andover, MA

To the editor:
As a current senior at Phillips Exeter Academy, I was struck by Heather Mac Donald’s article. The points she makes are right-on. Exeter’s racially charged environment is stifling to free speech and free thought, but I always considered myself lucky, imagining that college would be much worse. Having just returned from a visit to Yale, I have concluded that free thought and intellectual curiosity are far healthier there than at Exeter.

R. Sam Cecil
Exeter, NH

To the editor:
As an Exeter alumnus, I find it sad to watch what has happened to the school. The only recourse is to cease to have anything to do with them. And so—even before reading Heather Mac Donald’s article—I declined to attend my 40th reunion or to donate to the class fund due to the school’s overriding PC atmosphere.

Dean Clark
Tulsa, OK

Heather Mac Donald responds:
Parents who do not believe that explicit sexual instructions should be part of their children’s schooling are unlikely to be comforted to learn that the advice regarding Saran Wrap and fellatio came during a city or county official’s sex-ed presentation on campus. What does Mr. Parker think the participants were discussing—the Missouri Compromise? As for whether Andover clearly tells students that they shouldn’t be having sex, period, I can only quote Gender Studies director Diane Moore: “We’re not promoting any given response to sexual activity.” Sounds pretty nonjudgmental to me.

Mr. Parker does not uncover any inaccuracies in my story. Since he intimates that Andover has exonerated itself from the charge of political correctness run amok, I assume he agrees with the administration that Andover’s students—girls and boys alike—are so sexist that they need gender quotas in student government forced upon them.

I fail to see how arguing that today’s students are ready for a gender- and colorblind education “appeals to people’s prejudices.”

A Taxiing Problem

To the editor:
Yes, New York’s taxi system is a mess. But so is the economic analysis underlying Steven Malanga’s solution [“How to Fix Gotham’s Taxi Mess,” Spring 2002]. The economic problem is that the city has interfered with the free market: by not allowing an increase in taxi supply to meet demand, it has created an artificial scarcity. That scarcity’s economic impact (a cost to riders, a benefit to taxi owners) is easy to quantify: it is the market value of the outstanding medallions, roughly $2.4 billion ($200,000 for each of 12,000 medallions).

Malanga proposes that the city buy back the medallions and charge a license fee to taxi operators. This only perpetuates the artificial scarcity problem and the cost it imposes on taxi riders. This socialist solution—the “nationalization” of the medallion industry (as distinct from the taxi industry)—is rife with problems, not the least of which is that the city will be forced by its fiscal imperatives, exacerbated by Malanga’s bond offering, to act as any monopolist would—by restricting supply to extract the maximum economic rent (in this case, total license-fee revenues) from its position.

The article is replete with fuzzy math and dubious law. Malanga says the buyback will cost “hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps more than $1 billion,” assuming that the city could buy each medallion from its owner at its original cost. This is a gross violation of due process: when the government takes property, it must pay fair value and treat owners of equal property equally; the original purchase price is irrelevant. The fellow who had the foresight to buy a medallion for $35,000 and the one who paid top dollar at $275,000 must get the same current fair market value—and that total is $2.4 billion.

The “licensing fee” number—even in the broad $5,000 to $10,000 range Malanga allows—is highly suspect. He confuses the licensing fee that covers the medallion only with a leasing fee of $30,000, which would include the cost of buying, operating, and insuring the taxi vehicle itself. The licensing fee is really a payment to the city for the artificial taxi scarcity it creates. Whatever that fee might be with 12,000 taxis, it must be radically lower if 25,000 cabs are to operate profitably. The notion that taxi economics will not be affected by an increase in supply from 12,000 to 25,000 will get a flunking grade in Econ 101.

Here is a better idea: the city sells medallions to all comers at $200,000 each this year, and at the average of the prior year’s free-market prices in subsequent years. (Note that this can’t possibly be higher than $200,000, because the city is providing an unlimited supply at that price; note also that future sales at lower prices occur only if the free market moves in that direction.) Taxi medallions cannot go up in value any more, and there can be no element of speculative upside in their pricing. The price will simply reflect their current scarcity value. That should decline over time as more and more medallions are sold and in the long run we get closer to a free market in taxi services. In the short run, the city reaps the medallion sales revenues; in the long run, the taxi rider gets the benefits of greater availability of service, lower fares, and nicer cars.

Robert Rosenkranz
New York, NY

To the editor:
Steven Malanga comes close to Judge Simon Rifkind’s 30-year-old proposal to solve the taxi license problem—but missed the bull’s-eye.

Rifkind recommended that the city issue a second medallion to holders of existing medallions, thus doubling the number of licensed cabs, reducing the value of those already possessed, and increasing the supply of taxicabs, but without destroying the investment of people who paid for existing medallions—sort of like a stock split. This suggestion was never pursued, but isn’t it a fairer way of dealing with existing medallion holders?

Edward N. Costikyan
New York, NY

Steven Malanga responds:
My article’s preferred taxi fix was for the city to buy back medallions at their owner’s original purchase price—if such a scheme could hurdle the political and legal obstacles. Failing that, I suggested that the city could issue more medallions, refuse to give fare increases, and so drive down the medallion’s market price—not unlike Mr. Rosenkranz’s proposal. Where Mr. Rosenkranz and I differ is that I suggested that the city could then buy back the medallions at affordable prices in order to institute a new—and yes, regulated—system.

Mr. Rosenkranz would prefer the city never to stop issuing medallions, and he seems to assume that an unregulated taxi market will reach equilibrium and regulate itself. Though my free-market instincts would love to agree, cities where open entry has been tried have suffered from paralyzing congestion in central business districts and around airports—too many competitors all rushing to where the action is. [See “New York’s Unsung Taxi Triumph,” Autumn 1999]. The market’s invisible hand can’t guarantee that you’ll make your flight or your crosstown meeting.

Where Mr. Rosenkranz’s proposal would likely lead to too many drivers crowding into already congested streets, Judge Rifkind’s suggestion does nothing to solve the current problem Gotham faces: a shortage of drivers, caused by the high licensing fees that medallion owners charge. My solution gives the license to the taxi operator and so is more likely to attract sufficient drivers.

Who Is Being Ethnocentric?

To the editor:
I finished Victor Davis Hanson’s “Do We Want Mexifornia?” [Spring 2002] and let out an explosive breath. I am profoundly touched by his heartfelt article. It is a wonder to me that so many are blinded by selfish and egotistical politicians and demagogues, while those of us who see the situation clearly are labeled racists. I hope more Hispanic and other ethnic immigrants will realize that the only way for their children to prosper is to assimilate and fully become proud Americans. This country, for all its faults, is still one of the most generous and free countries in the world. I, for one, am grateful and proud to be her citizen.

Stacey Choi
Via e-mail

To the editor:
Victor Davis Hanson’s latest article is worthy of wide dissemination. Assimilation is indeed the key to success in this society.

My mother is Mexican. I grew up in Gary, Indiana, in the 1960s, and its Mexican-American population maintained ethnic pride—just as the Germans and Poles did—but were unflinchingly American. California’s proximity to Mexico does pose a special problem—the cultural umbilicus is still connected.

Thanks for a hard-hitting and truthful article.

Major Mark Tims
U.S. Air Force

To the editor:
Somebody needs to shut the fucking mouth of your racist columnist Victor Davis Hanson.

Antonio Mantranga
Via e-mail

Soft Bigotry

To the editor:
John H. McWhorter is 100 percent correct [“The Mau-Mauing at Harvard,” Spring 2002]. The racism of low or no expectations is doing more harm to blacks and black culture than “intellectuals” like Cornel West realize. How on the one hand can they claim that blacks are equal, and on the other dodge the responsibility that comes with being presumed equal?

Michael Fleming
Fountain Valley, CA

 

 


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