The Truth About Cops and Race

Last week, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, a black man, was arrested by a white police officer for disorderly conduct. Gates accused the officer of racism. President Obama created a national media firestorm by commenting on the arrest, saying the cops "acted stupidly" and that the U.S. has a "long history" of "African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately, and that's just a fact."

It's that old liberal stereotype once again - bigoted white cops picking on poor, innocent blacks, just like Selma, Ala. in 1963. Really? Perhaps Mr. Obama, who lives in a bubble, ought to get out into the real world and get his facts straight.

The truth is quite the opposite: minority suspects are likely to kill or injure white officers at a rate much higher than the minority component of the overall population.

This hit home for me twice this year, when two of my former students, both cops, were shot one week apart.

On Jan. 31, Rochester, NY police officer Anthony DiPonzio was shot in the head with a .22 caliber rifle, allegedly by 14-year old Tyquan Rivera. DiPonzio was very near death; he was saved only by the quick action of his fellow officers in transporting him to the hospital. It is a miracle that he survived - and a double miracle that he was able to regain speech and motor skills after the shooting. I knew DiPonzio personally - he was my student when I taught political science at the State University of New York at Brockport from 2004-2006. He was a model student; he came from a good family - he father is a sheriff's deputy -- went to parochial schools, and had a great work ethic. He got A's in my classes; I wrote him a letter of reference. The suspect reportedly dropped out of school at age 12.

DiPonzio, who is white, was investigating a complaint of possible drug activity. Finding no cause to arrest the suspect, he chose instead to escort the suspect, who is black, back to his home with a warning to stay off the streets and out of trouble. As DiPonzio walked away from the home with his back turned, he was shot in the back of the head.

On Feb., 7, Niagara Falls, NY, police officers Walter Nichols and Michael Bird - both white -- rolled up on a domestic violence call and were hit by a shotgun blast from suspect Adam Hamilton, who is black. Nichols, a combat veteran of Afghanistan, was also a student in one of my political science classes nearly a decade ago. Nichols returned fire, wounding the suspect. While awaiting trial, Hamilton announced his intent to sue the city.

Another police shooting that made big news in my little corner of the universe happened in December, 2006, when Buffalo police officers Carl Andolina and Patricia Parete were shot by then-18-year-old Varner Harris Jr. Andolina recovered, but Parete was shot in the neck and spine, permanently paralyzing her from the neck down. Both officers are white; Harris, who pled guilty to the shootings and received a 30-to-life sentence in 2007, is black.

These anecdotes are affirmed by aggregate statistics compiled annually by Mr. Obama's own Department of Justice and FBI.  According to the FBI's annual Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted study, in 2007, 57 LEOs were killed nationwide; 82% were white. Of the 62 known perpetrators, 39% were black males. Black males comprise approximately 6% of the population but killed LEOs at a rate six-and-one-half times their percentage of the population in 2007.

A DOJ study of crime from 1974-2004 found that blacks committed approximately 52.1% of crimes in the United States - yet blacks comprised only about 12% of the total population. In 2002, 10% of all black males were sentenced to prison; a 1998 survey found that 1/3 of black males were either in prison, jail, or on parole.

What is truly stunning is that, given these circumstances, more cops aren't out-and-out racists. But in my experience, they're not. Most are extremely professional; they know that any hint of police racism whatsoever is more likely to free a suspect than not - as was the case in the O.J. Simpson trial, when the defense was able to show that a Los Angeles police detective had used racial slurs in the past - and a guilty man went free.

Stung by criticism of his statements, Mr. Obama began to backtrack, calling the episode a "teachable moment" to improve race relations and inviting the cop and the professor to the White House "for a beer."

It would be real big of him to invite Officers DiPonzio, Nichols, and Parete to the White House for a beer, too -- but they might not be well enough to drink it.
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