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Thursday, May 13, 2010

All the propaganda that's fit to print (Part II)

A front page headline in this morning's NY Times blared, "City Minorities More Likely To Be Frisked."

The first paragraph read: "Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested."

At first glance that sounds like racism on the part of the police. And what a lot of poeple would take away from that statement is, hey, they're just as innocent as whites are, but they're nine times more likely to be frisked. But consider that statement: They were no more likely to be arrested.

What this means is that once stopped, they were arrested in the same proportion as whites. (Much later in the article it is stated that both blacks and whites were arrested after about 6% of the stops.) If this is the case, then the police are exhibiting absolutely no racism, because the same percentage of blacks as whites who were thought to be exhibiting suspicious behavior were in fact guilty. (The article did not list the arrest rate for Hispanics.) If blacks were less likely to be arrested once stopped, then in fact the police would be demonstrating excessive suspicion of them. But they weren't.

The reason blacks and Hispanics are stopped more frequently is because they tend to live in high crime areas, which is where more police are sent. (Should more police be shifted to patrol low crime areas?) And there is in fact evidence that the percentage of people stopped on the street who are black is less than the percentage of violent street crime committed by blacks.

Another interesting fact which could be observed from the chart on page A27 was that Asians, who comprise 12% of the population of New York, are stopped by the police in only 3 or 4% of the total number of stops, i.e., at a rate roughly one third to one quarter of their percentage of the population. This is about the same proportion as for whites.

If the cops are racist and naturally inclined to harass minorities who don't look like them, why don't they harass Asians more?

And if they don't harass Asians more, isn't that New York Times headline as misleading as the first paragraph of the article?


Anonymous said...

I actually found the article quite reasonable, given the NYT traditional bias. I read "Blacks and Latinos were nine times as likely as whites to be stopped by the police in New York City in 2009, but, once stopped, were no more likely to be arrested." as saying exactly what you explain – ie no apparent racial bias in stopping rates, with the article then going on to discuss other data, as far as it is available.

The headline is taken from the penultimate paragraph of the article which states "officers frisked more people in 2009 than a year earlier but that the rate of frisks for blacks and Latinos was much higher than it was for whites." and "The police used force in 19 percent of the stops involving whites but in 27 percent of stops against Latinos and in 25 percent of those involving blacks." If the article’s purpose was to aggressively argue bias, this would have been put up front in my view. I read the choice of headline as editorial bias creeping in while the author is more balanced.

John Craig said...

Guy --
I agree that the article overall was less biased than the headline, which was ridiculous, but I do think the Times was banking on the fact that many people read the headline but not the article, and of those who do read the first part of the article, many do not turn to the continuation of the article on the inside page.

I also think the construction of that sentence in the first paragraph was meant to be misleading. I think they realized that a lot of people would just see the "nine times as likely to be stopped [but] no more likely to be arrested," and see police bias, even if a careful reading would indicate otherwise.

There's enough racial animosity out there without reports like this fanning the flames higher. (I know you're not saying otherwise on that score.)