FiveThirtyEight.com is the name of a website created by Nate Silver. Nate is perhaps the pre-eminent statistics-based analyst in America, and the name of his website is taken from the number of federal legislators (senators and representatives combined).
Yesterday, Nate posted an article related to Ferguson, with its white cops and black population. (The population is almost 70% black, but the cops are only 11% black). The 538 article described how common it was for large cities to be protected and served by policemen who don’t live in the city, but this was especially the status for white cops and not as much for black or Hispanic cops. For example, in NYC 77% of the black cops and 76% of the Hispanic cops live in the city, but only 45% of the white cops do. In San Antonio, 74% of the Hispanic cops and 57% of the black cops live in the city, but only 44% of the white cops do. According to Silver, cities with largely black populations have the greatest disparity in white cops and non-white cops living in the city they police.
Attorney General Eric Holder, upon his arrival in Ferguson, hinted at this disparity. According to an article in the NY Times:
- Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said on Thursday that the unrest the country has witnessed here over the past two weeks was emblematic of deeper problems that exist across the nation, where a corrosive mistrust exists in certain places between the police and the people they are meant to serve.
Common sense says that being policed by out-of-town cops might facilitate mistrust, and the 538 article noted that many cities require their cops to live in town. But such a requirement might be a great, undue burden on our cops. Further, no cop wants to live in a poor part of town, so it seems almost inevitable that cops will be viewed as outsiders when policing in a poor, inner-city area.
But what is the solution?
The San Antonio Express-News recently published an editorial critical of policing in Ferguson and elsewhere:
- For young black men in particular, encounters with the law seem to be more fraught with peril. Driving or walking while black — or in some parts of the country, Hispanic — is not a myth. And neither is the disproportionate number of young black men arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison. And disproportionately killed by police — four young black men in the last month alone. Ferguson, predominantly black but whose power structure is dominantly white, is just our latest lesson that we are far from post-racial nirvana. Case in point. On Friday, the Ferguson police chief released the name of the officer who shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown, 18. In the same press conference, he said that Brown was a suspect in a “strong-arm” robbery at a convenience story. One had and has nothing to do with the other.
I commented as follows to the editorial:
- “One (the robbery) had and has nothing to do with the other (the shooting).” How can you say that? Most reasonable people would believe that a person who has committed a strong-arm robbery in the preceding hour would be more likely to act in a way toward a policeman that would justify self-defense. Most of this editorial seems intent on rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The problem isn’t the police or the Ferguson power structure. If you don’t believe me, ask Detroit, DC, or other urban areas with a black power structure. The problem is the decaying inner city and its residents. You should be focused on ways to fix that.
Incidentally, another article in the NY Times a few days ago partially explained why there were so few black cops in Ferguson – i.e., the city until recently was predominantly white, and it takes time for the changing population to be reflected in long-career positions like law enforcement:
- Ferguson’s demographics have shifted rapidly: in 1990, it was 74 percent white and 25 percent black; in 2000, 52 percent black and 45 percent white; by 2010, 67 percent black and 29 percent white.