Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Does a police officer's race matter?
by Jeff Jacoby
CAN YOU judge a police officer's abilities by the color of his skin?
When Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis earlier this month promoted five officers to sergeant, the commotion it generated had everything to do with the officers' race. All five happened to be white, even though the pool of 21 officers eligible for promotion on the basis of their Civil Service test scores had included nine nonwhite candidates. The commissioner was blasted by a minority officers' advocacy group, which accused him of making a "conscious effort" to keep minorities from moving up.
Boston's mayoral hopefuls jumped on the issue. "How can we have a city of Boston that's 53 percent people of color," demanded City Councilor Charles Yancey, "and not have one person of color heading up any of the 11 police districts in the city of Boston?"
Davis pleaded in vain that there is more to police leadership than color. "I'm not going to promote every single time based on race, which is what they want me to do," he said. "I'm going to pick the best people for the positions." Nevertheless, he quickly added two black officers to the promotion list, and vigorously affirmed his commitment to a "diverse" police force. If his hands weren't tied by state law, which restricts most promotions to candidates who score well on the Civil Service exam, "our police force would look much more like the city in terms of diversity," the commissioner insisted.
The racial makeup of Boston's police force has long been a source of stress and frustration. For years critics have argued that the Civil Service exams —multiple-choice tests that reward memorized book knowledge — can't measure many of the qualities that effective police supervisors need, such as a knack for leadership, good communication skills, integrity, and sound judgment. Davis isn't the first commissioner to complain about the tests' inadequacy; his predecessors were vexed by them too. Last year Davis proposed spending $2 million on a project to overhaul the BPD's promotion system to advance more minority officers. Meanwhile, when it comes to his command staff — where he is free to disregard Civil Service scores — Davis has named the most diverse group in the department's history: White men account for fewer than half of the chiefs, superintendents, and deputy superintendents on his team.
The arguments for a more holistic means of screening officers for promotion sound plausible. Yet I never see the subject raised other than in the context of "diversity." The deficiencies of the existing test become an issue only when there are complaints about too few racial minorities being promoted. Does that mean that there is something wrong with the test? Maybe.
Or maybe what it means is that Boston's police department cannot readily escape the persistent racial gap in learning and test scores that has been so extensively documented in American life. The average black high school graduate reads and writes at the level of the average white 8th-grader; black students taking the SAT college entrance exam score (on average) 200 points below white students taking the same exam. It's easy to blame a test for the achievement gap it reveals. It's a lot harder to implant the educational values, habits, and skills necessary to actually close that gap.
It has become an unchallenged truism that police departments must "look like" the communities they serve, especially in cities with large minority populations. Plainly there is great value in having police officers who can move easily in minority neighborhoods or interview crime victims in a language they're most comfortable with. When there are minority cops patrolling the beat in minority neighborhoods, residents are less likely to resent the police as alien occupiers — and perhaps more likely to come forward with information that can prevent or solve a crime.
Yet it's one thing to say that a racially mixed police force can reduce public suspicion of law enforcement, or help in practical ways to make a city safer. It's something very different to suggest that racial diversity should be pursued for its own sake, and that there is something inherently foul about a promotion list that doesn't include a certain number of blacks or Hispanics. If the Civil Service test needs improving, improve it. But let's not be seduced by the false assumption that, ideally, the demographics of a police department should match those of the population.
On the contrary: Ideally, the demographics of a police department shouldn't matter. No one imagines that Boston's cops should mirror Boston's population in terms of religion or party registration. Boston needs to recruit and promote skilled, honest, and committed police officers; most residents would agree that it's irrelevant whether they happen to be Methodists or Mormons, Republicans or Democrats. Maybe it's still not possible to be quite so nonchalant when it comes to race. But shouldn't that be the goal? Fifty years after the March on Washington, shouldn't public officials be able to acknowledge that there is always a serious moral objection to treating skin color as a job qualification? Even if, for the moment, there is no easy way around it?
Yes, Black Is the New ‘Transparency’
Cass Sunstein is on the NSA "review board" so Federal spying on Americans will only be done judiciously -- or will it?
The recently released secret FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court opinion is supposed to promote the idea that the administration elected on a promise of "transparency" is now making good on that pledge. There’s just one problem: a good 20 percent of the 83-page document is redacted, including some key paragraphs. It is to a large extent unreadable. But what else are we to expect from this Bizarro World administration – the most secretive in our history – where black is the new "transparency"?
Yet that’s just the beginning of the White House’s weirdly inverted response to the public outcry against its massive domestic surveillance program. At his press conference promising to "reform" the spying machinery, President Obama announced a "review board" to be appointed that would supposedly reassure his critics there really is no domestic spying program: the goal, as he put it, would be to strike a "balance" between civil liberties and the safety of all Americans. A week or so later he made some appointments to this panel: former Counter-Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke, former special assistant for economic policy Peter Swire, former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morrell – and Cass Sunstein, a very close friend and confidant of the President.
Sunstein formerly headed up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: now a Harvard law professor, he has made something of a name for himself as an outspoken advocate of government spying. Being one of those really highbrow types, he calls it "cognitive infiltration." Sunstein wants paid government agents to penetrate ostensibly subversive “conspiracy minded” social networks: in other words, he wants to set up a police state system of government spies and provocateurs.
Sunstein is a singular figure: no one else in government (or academia, as far as I know) has pushed for measures so openly totalitarian in their implications. Here is part of the summary of an academic paper Sunstein published in 2008:
"Many millions of people hold conspiracy theories; they believe that powerful people have worked together in order to withhold the truth about some important practice or some terrible event."
What person in their right mind could possibly believe that powerful people are working together to withhold the truth about some important practice? Oh, wait! Isn’t that what the Snowden revelations have proved beyond what any "conspiracy theorist" I know of ever asserted? Thanks to the Snowden "leaks" we now know that is precisely what’s been happening.
According to Professor Sunstein, if you believe that, you’re creating "serious risks" for society at large, "including risks of violence." The mere existence of such people "raises significant challenges for policy and law."
James Clapper didn’t lie to Congress and the American people – you’re just imagining that, you conspiracy theorist wacko! Moreover, you’re a danger to society, and have to be combated by law enforcement agencies operating online and undercover. Sunstein proposes sending government spies into "chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups" to provide a bit of Attitude Correction.
These agents would be paid to infiltrate and counteract any "conspiracy theories" the Harvard Professor and his co-thinkers deem "dangerous." Sunstein stresses the importance of the covert aspect of this program: these Attitude Correctors must at least appear to be independent, all the while taking their marching orders (and their checks) from Washington. Think of it as a "stimulus" job-creating program. Their targets: anyone who "attempts[s] to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role." In short, the enemy is anyone who believes the government has covered up illegality and egregious violations of the Fourth Amendment for years – and anyone who suspects what Sunstein and his online KGB are up to.
As an exercise in ideological ambidexterity, Sunstein’s proposal is Olympic quality stuff: he is, after all, the author of an entire book about the necessity for dissent in a free society. Well, then how can he possibly advocate the creation of a covert government program to infiltrate, combat, and discredit these very same dissenters? Well, you see, there are good dissenters and bad dissenters, and as long as the Good Guys are in charge of the government, it’s cool to deploy government resources against those who believe in the wrong "conspiracy theories." As he puts it in his paper, imaginatively titled "Conspiracy Theories":
Rulers throughout history, including especially the worst tyrants, have touted their virtuous motives, and proclaimed themselves the guardians of "social welfare" – an oleaginous phrase that’s a code word for those ideologues (left and right) who long for a system of effective social control. Yes, there must be dissent – there’s the "liberal" gloss on a very illiberal idea – but it must be the right kind, our kind. Those crazy Ay-rabs, Sunstein avers, are rife with conspiracism, it oozes from their very pores, and here in America we have the homegrown "antigovernment" types, the very kind who hate Harvard professors and are potentially just as violent as Al Qaeda: indeed, perhaps more dangerous in the long run.
Well, then, "What can government do about conspiracy theories?" he asks:
"Among the things it can do, what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5)."
In Sunstein’s world, censorship is just another option, but "cognitive infiltration" of targeted groups – and the public square at large – by paid "credible" government covert agents on the Internet is definitely on the table. This is the person the President is appointing to his NSA review board, a body set up to reassure us that there’s no reason to fear for our privacy and that Big Brother isn’t watching us. Really?
And it isn’t just the Fourth Amendment the new authoritarians are after: Sunstein opposes the First Amendment as presently constituted. Instead, he says, we need a "New Deal for speech," one that would recognize that technological changes have made the old marketplace-of-ideas conception of free speech outdated. What we need, says Sunstein, is a reformulated First Amendment because the current version isn’t "adequately serving democratic goals." And, no, he didn’t capitalize the "d" in democratic, but you get the idea.
Sunstein, in short, is the single most consistent academic representative of barefaced authoritarianism one could possibly find, short of unearthing some aging New Left Stalinist. Certainly he is the most highly placed, shuttling from Harvard to government and back again. His appointment to the NSA review board is an unabashed middle finger aimed directly at the Obama administration’s civil libertarian critics.
Sunstein’s extremism is on full display in an article published by Bloomberg News just the other day, which the editors gave the rather skeptical-sounding title of "Could Bowling Leagues and the PTA Breed Nazis?" In it, Sunstein tells us "social capital" – the links that bind us together socially – is not necessarily a good thing. There is a "dark side" to it. Citing a recent study by one of his fellow nutty professors, he avers that a "high level of social capital" led directly to the rise of …. wait for it! … Hitler and Nazism!
Citing this crackpot study, Sunstein points to a correlation between membership in the Nazi Party and membership in private social organizations – those German drinking societies! – to "prove" a definitive link between bowling leagues and the Holocaust. And, no, you can’t make this stuff up. Utilizing the methods of "sociological" pseudo-science and progressive anxieties about the rise of right-wing fascism, Sunstein posits that "dense social networks" in the US are a problem for our democracy:
Sunstein’s argument of last resort, you’ll note, is always the alleged threat of "terrorism": this is the Get-Out-of-Jail free card for our post-9/11 authoritarians, whether they be outright neocons or else "progressives" of Sunstein’s ilk: the deus ex machina of all their ideological morality plays is always the same. That theme is wearing a little thin, however, as the upsurge against the Surveillance State takes on momentum and the revelations continue – thank you, Edward Snowden! – in spite of recently stepped up strong-arm tactics to stanch the leaks.
In a halfway healthy society, Sunstein would be laughed out of polite society, and consigned to the margins, where fruit-juice drinking sandal-wearers and founders of utopian communes plot revolution in cheap cafeterias. In Barack Obama’s America, Sunstein divides his time between the halls of government and the lushest groves of academe, whispering in the ear of the President that the number of bowling leagues has grown quite alarmingly.
There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc
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Posted by JR at 12:53 AM