COP Columns





Cops And Race

The Subject That Never Goes Away


I keep hearing, sometime from blacks, often from whites who heard the stories somewhere but don't know details, of cops racially harassing middle-class black people here in the metro area. I got a rendition of this last night: Respectable black couples in nice clothes in nice cars repeatedly being stopped and checked out for no reason. The (white) woman telling me this specifically said it wasn't a scruffy looking teenager, which these days is any teenager, in a car he might well have stolen. It was well-dressed adults of middlish age.

Now, if this is happening, I want to know about it, and not vaguely, sort of. I want the time, place, officer's name and badge number, exactly what is supposed to have happened. I don't mean people who rolled a stop sign and got stopped. "Repeatedly" means "repeatedly." If the cops locally are indeed racially harassing blacks, tell me. I'll look into it. If I get stonewalled, would amount to conceding that it happened, I'll say I got stonewalled.

But -- do the charges make sense if you actually think about them? What department is supposed to be doing this racial harassing? PG and Washington, which have huge numbers of black officers? Washington, which has a black government? Am I supposed to believe that black cops are racially harassing blacks? Or tolerating it in white colleagues? There are black police organizations that make loud noises about discriminatory behavior.

Is it happening in Arlington? Not a chance. These guys first of all are better cops than that. But if they weren't, they still run scared of racial complaints. Even the suggestion of racism is enough to put a damper on a career. So these guys are going to racially hassle middle-class blacks -- which means blacks who have the savvy and influence to call their representatives, hire lawyers, and so on -- and lose their jobs?

Alexandria? Same objection. Montgomery? Same. So where is this relentless persecution taking place?

Now, if the charge were that these things were happening in Detroit or in East Desperation, Nebraska, for all I know they might be true. I just don't know those departments. But around Washington? Where?

What I have seen repeatedly, and I mean dozens of times, is blacks and Hispanics who get stopped for things everybody gets stopped for (traffic violations, for example) or for serious offenses like drunk driving--and then insist they the stop was racially motivated. I remember the Hispanic guy in Arlington who was swerving from curb to curb across Washington Boulevard and blew a blood alcohol that you could have sterilized a surgical suite with. He said the cop stopped him just because he was brown. Blacks more than Hispanics have a sense of being victimized by cops.

What cops actually do is to target people of any sort that make trouble. If scruffy white kids are in town to stage a riot, as they were in Washington not long back to protest whatever they thought the World Trade Organization was doing, then the cops will hassle scruffy white kids. If the Hells Angels show up in numbers and begin scaring the locals, the cops will hassle the Hells Angels. If young black males have been selling drugs and shooting each other, the cops will focus on them. When I was a hippy-looking kid hitchhiking the US, I got hassled by the cops. I was innocent, but kids who looked like me weren't.

All of these groups claimed that they were being unfairly singled out, that their rights were being violated, that they were suffering discrimination, and so on. The Angels say that they are patriots legally riding motorcycles and helping old ladies when their cars break down.

In DC, most car theft is committed by black males. This isn't racist Fred making things up. The numbers are on record. For reasons of fostering racial harmony one might argue that the police shouldn't stop suspicious looking blacks in cars they don't look as if they ought to be driving. But I can tell you: If a Florida cop sees a cracker -- a down-scale guy in cruddy clothes and grubby hair, obviously just out of the swamp -- driving a new Lexus with a Rotary Club sticker, he's going to pull the guy and check him out.

This doesn't justify repeated stops of well-dressed middle-class blacks, who usually drive nice cars. If this is happening in Washington, I want verifiable details, on the record. And I'll publish them.

See? You are not alone.

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