John Lott’s piece in the New York Post starts this way (for those interested in reading the original DOJ report on Ferguson it is available here):
Addressing the nation from Selma, Ala., on Saturday, President Obama said that while racism may be “no longer endemic,” as it was 50 years ago, his Justice Department’s report on Ferguson shows that the “nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.”
Sorry: The Justice report doesn’t prove disparate treatment, let alone discrimination.
In fact, it looks more like something ginned up to distract from the embarrassing fact that Justice (in another report released the same day) wound up fully validating the findings of the Ferguson grand jury.
Racism is serious, and those engaging in it should be shamed — but we should have real evidence before accusing others of it. And every one of the Justice report’s main claims of evidence of discrimination falls short.
Starting with the primary numerical claim. The report notes on page 4: “Ferguson’s law-enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African-Americans. Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African-Americans account for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67 percent of Ferguson’s population.”
Those statistics don’t prove racism, because blacks don’t commit traffic offenses at the same rate as other population groups.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey indicate that, nationwide, blacks were 31 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over for a traffic stop.
Ferguson is a black-majority town. If its blacks were pulled over at the same rate as blacks nationally, they’d account for 87.5 percent of traffic stops.
In other words, the numbers actually suggest that Ferguson police may be slightly less likely to pull over black drivers than are their national counterparts. They certainly don’t show that Ferguson is a hotbed of racism.
Critics may assert that that “31 percent more likely” figure simply shows that racism is endemic to police forces nationwide.
Hmm: The survey also reveals that men are 42 percent more likely than women to be pulled over for traffic stops. Should we conclude that police are biased against men, or that men drive more recklessly?
In fact, blacks die in car accidents at a rate about twice their share of car owners.
A 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that black drivers who were killed in accidents have the highest rate of past convictions for speeding and for other moving violations. This suggests that there are a lot of unsafe black drivers, not racism.
The Justice report on Ferguson continues . . . .
The rest of the piece is available here. For half the day the op-ed was the most clicked on piece in the New York Post.
UPDATE: The National Interest has this:
. . . An interesting analysis of the report was produced by John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a former chief economist for the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Writing in the New York Post, Lott quotes the report as saying, “Ferguson’s law-enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African-Americans.’’ Between 2012 and 2014, says the report, Ferguson’s African-Americans, which constitute 67 percent of the city population, were subjected to 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by Ferguson police officers.
But, writes Lott, routine Justice Department statistics show that in 2011, nationwide, blacks were 31 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over for a traffic stop. If we applied this percentage statistic to Ferguson, the Ferguson differential would be almost precisely what the Justice report showed was the national differential. Indeed, these numbers reveal that Ferguson police officers are actually slightly less likely to pull over black drivers than police officers across the nation. Hence, the Justice statistics are meaningless in proving endemic racism among Ferguson police officers.
It’s possible, of course, as Lott notes, that the 31-percentage-point differential shows a racial bias among cops nationwide. But that hardly justifies singling out Ferguson. Besides, as Lott points out, the national survey also shows that men are 42 percent more likely than women to be pulled over for traffic stops. “Should we conclude that police are biased against men, or that men drive more recklessly?’’ asks Lott. He cites a 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study that found that black drivers killed in accidents had the highest rate of past convictions for speeding and for other moving violations. Hence, it’s possible that there is a differential in how people of different races handle themselves behind the wheel. In any event, it should give pause to those quick to draw conclusions about racism from statistics. . . . .
UPDATE: This continues to remain in the news with Obama’s comments on Thursday night.
OBAMA: And in the same way that you can’t generalize about police officers who do an extraordinarily tough job — overwhelmingly, they do it professionally — you can’t generalize about protesters who, it turns out, had some very legitimate grievances. The Justice Department report showed that they were being stopped; African-Americans were being stopped disproportionately, mainly so the city could raise money, even though these were unjust – . . . according to the Justice Department report, that indicated both racism and just a disregard for what law enforcement’s supposed to do. And as I said before, I said this at Selma: It is not unique, but it’s also not the norm. And we’ve got to constantly, when we’re thinking about issues of racial progress, or any kind of issue, recognize that things get better, but there’s still more work to do. And we shouldn’t be complacent about the very real existence of problems out there. . . .
Some of the data sources in piece.
2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, combine with data on the rate that blacks own cars from here.
KTRS Program Director McGraw Milhaven had this important discussion about what is going on in Ferguson. He notes that while Ferguson is 67% black the surrounding towns are almost all completely black and that the traffic tickets and warrants are being put on those who live outside of Ferguson.