Heather Mac Donald
Heather Mac Donald

Hamilton College welcomed Heather Mac Donald on April 8 for a talk titled “Are Cops Racist?.” She discussed the effects of revamped policing policies on crime in America and the relationship between the black community and modern American law enforcement.

Mac Donald is a standing fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank, and the recipient of the 2005 Bradley Prize for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement.

Mac Donald’s appearance at Hamilton follows a number of high profile shootings of black men by police officers that have sparked protests in recent months, including the April 4 shooting of Walter Scott during a traffic stop in South Carolina. Mac Donald was quick to draw a distinction, however, between recent events and the long-term trends that she claims new policing methods have produced, including a nearly 90 percent drop in homicides in New York City from 1990-2014, and similar historically significant drops nationwide.

Police tactics have changed significantly since the 1990s to include more proactive methods of crime prevention, going far beyond just incident-response into proactive patrolling and controversial new policies, such as New York City’s stop-and-frisk laws. This new approach to policing, Mac Donald argues, started in New York with the adoption of the CompStat computer system and quickly spread across the nation, accounting for the far-reaching decline in violent crime that has been seen in recent years.

CompStat is a relatively new system that allows police departments to assess areas of particular concern with regard to the number of violent crimes and civilian demands for policing to more efficiently distribute the district’s officers. Of CompStat, Mac Donald said, “For decades there was a racial rap against the police that was justified. Police officers would say ‘that’s just how poor people behave’ with regard to crime, and in many cases they meant ‘that’s just how black people behave.’ Compstat prevents any officer from thinking this way, because CompStat only cares about saving lives.” The implementation of CompStat also included the introduction of weekly crime control meetings among section chiefs within the NYPD, a tactic that has been replicated by police departments throughout the nation.

Though she mostly positioned her argument counter to the central theses of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that has arisen in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Mac Donald was quick to assert that “We have to make sure that the police only use force as a last resort,” before adding, “but as long as crime rates remain as disproportionate as they are, policing will continue to affect blacks more than whites.”

Finally, addressing the titular question of the talk, “Are Cops Racist?,” Mac Donald proclaimed, “In general, no, the police are not racist..,” adding that in her opinion, the black community’s biggest advocate has been the police, claiming, “Incarceration in New York State is down thanks to policing. We have many fewer black men in jail now than we did in the 1990s during the crime peak.”

“What’s my solution?,” Mac Donald said regarding the disproportionately large percentage of black crime compared to white crime, as well as the enormous number of black men arrested. “I would reconstitute the family all across America… let’s talk about poverty, let’s talk about schools, but if I had to just pick one cause of the problem to fix, I would make sure that each and every child has the same chance at success with two parents.” Rebuilding the family, however, is a long-term project, Mac Donald claims, concluding, “...policing is the best tool we have to cut down on crime.”

Mac Donald is also the author of several books, including The Burden of Bad Ideas and Are Cops Racist?: How The War Against The Police Harms Black Americans and most recently is the co-author of The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s. Her lecture was co-sponsored by the College Republicans and the AHI Undergraduate Fellows.

WUTR news story: Racism Surrounding Police

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