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Excusing the Oakland Rioters

Looting is not a form of civil rights protest.

Jul 26, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 42 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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“If you embrace the reality of people’s legitimate rights and step back, then things are going to happen,” he said. “Some people will exploit that openness. I would rather err on the side of guaranteeing the constitutional prerogatives of people rather than to have been oppressive and militaristic.”

After all, he acknowledged, “de-mocracy can be messy.”

Actually, looting is not an inevitable concomitant of the exercise of speech rights.

- What is the contribution of the American elite’s anti-cop ideology to these still sadly-recurrent urban riots? A little over 24 hours after the destruction in Oakland’s downtown, a 30-year-old man was shot multiple times in East Oakland and killed. The next morning, another man was found dead in his car, also a suspected homicide victim. Neither of those killings received the slightest bit of attention from Oakland’s mayor or the activists who have been whipping up anti-cop, anti-society sentiment. The routine, daily bloodshed in inner cities is regarded as the ordinary course of affairs. The hundred or so homicides in Oakland each year are part of nearly 6,000 murders nationally committed by blacks, mostly of other blacks, compared to just over 5,300 homicides committed by whites and Hispanics combined. (Blacks are 12.8 percent of the U.S. population, whites and Hispanics, 81 percent.) Only in those extremely rare cases where a white police officer mistakenly shoots a black man do the activists, who allegedly care so much about the unjustified taking of black life, spring into action. (Needless to say, fatal police shootings of whites rarely get national press coverage and don’t raise fears of riots.) 

Such a double standard regarding police shootings of blacks and criminal shootings of blacks is perfectly in keeping with elite priorities regarding crime and the police. The academic world and the media churn out a constant barrage of reports purporting to show that the police unfairly target blacks for unnecessary enforcement and that the criminal justice system is racist. Just last week, the New York Times delivered a long article on police stops in Brooklyn’s 73rd Precinct in Ocean Hill-Brownsville—part of an ongoing series on the New York Police Department’s stop rate of blacks, which is higher than the city’s black population rate (but lower than the black violent crime rate). The alleged bias against blacks is the only law enforcement topic that consistently gets media, professorial, and professional attention; the costs of crime on victims and society are beneath notice. 

The prestigious law firm of Paul, Weiss sued New York City in January on the preposterous claim, inter alia, that police patrols in the city’s housing projects are “intentionally discriminatory” because the residents of those projects are overwhelmingly black and Hispanic—a typical big firm pro bono effort. The complaint, which is joined by the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund and the Legal Aid Society, offers no suggestion as to how the NYPD is otherwise to combat the high rates of violent crime that afflict the city’s public housing residents. On Sunday, July 11, an 11-year-old girl was sodomized in an elevator in her Brooklyn housing project. The assailant escaped, but it is just such predation that trespass patrols in public housing stairwells, elevators, and roofs are designed to prevent. 

The disproportionate rate of black crime is assiduously kept out of the public eye, whether through deliberate press policies to conceal the race of individual crime suspects or through an informal practice of suppressing aggregate crime data. The Times article on stop-and-frisks in the 73rd Precinct did not mention that the per capita rate of shootings there is 81 times higher than in the mostly white 68th precinct, to choose just one local benchmark; not surprisingly, the stop rate in the 73rd precinct is 15 times higher than in the 68th. Blacks in New York City commit 80 percent of all shootings, whites 1.4 percent, though blacks are 23 percent of the population, and whites 35 percent. Police tactics are color-blind; they target crime, not race. But given the reality of wildly disproportionate racial crime rates, rational, data-driven police activity cannot help but have a disproportionate impact on black neighborhoods, because that is where the overwhelming amount of violent crime occurs and where the victims who most need police protection live. 

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