April 28, 2000 | Commentary on Crime
Say there was an outbreak of influenza in New York, a city of 8 million, and 11 people died. A tragedy, yes, but you would hardly call it an epidemic. Yet according to race agitator Al Sharpton, the 11 fatal police shootings in New York last year are a contagion aimed squarely at the city's minorities.
The shootings of Patrick Dorismond and Amadou Diallo are undeniably tragic. But it's wrong to tar the New York City Police Department as racist on the basis of just two headline-grabbing incidents. That label is a verbal hand grenade, and the pin shouldn't be pulled without solid evidence that the epithet fits.
It doesn't. Those castigating the NYPD as bigots with itchy trigger fingers are conveniently ignoring the fact that New York has become a much safer place for New Yorkers of all races. In fact, the crackdown on crime has benefited blacks more than it has whites.
In 1990, under Mayor David Dinkins, 1,096 blacks were killed in New York. By 1999, that number had been slashed by two-thirds, to 356. The citywide drop in crime has greatly benefited minority neighborhoods such as Central Harlem and Crown Heights, "where murder is today 90 percent lower and kids can now go to bed without hearing the nightly rattle of gunfire," reports New York City Journal editor Brian C. Anderson in a recent paper.
Anderson cites several other statistics that help explain why-despite the highly volatile Dorismond and Diallo incidents-the NYPD still enjoys a high level of support among New York City minorities (close to 80 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau for Justice Statistics). For example, the use of force by the police has declined dramatically, with less than 1 percent of the officers using their weapons in 1998, a 25 percent drop from 1993's total. Shootings by police officers declined 67 percent over the same period.
In fact, New York's rate of fatal police shootings is better than most major American cities: 0.48 per 1,000 officers, compared to Philadelphia's 0.72 and Washington's 3.12. And even though the NYPD since 1994 has been prosecuting "quality of life" crimes that bring it into greater contact with criminals, the number of fatal shootings by police officers has fallen from 23 in 1993 (when 266,113 arrests were made) to 19 in 1998 (when 403,659 arrests were made). Civilian complaints are down too. Yet we're to believe this represents an "out of control" force bent on violating every civil right on the books.
Unfortunately, these facts don't square with Al Sharpton's political agenda. So he does what any demagogue would do: He ignores them. That way, he and his supporters can claim with straight faces that it's "open season" on New York City blacks and that "they keep murdering our young black men." Meanwhile, the "No Justice, No Peace" signs keep popping up at every rally. "We're going back to the streets," Sharpton said at a recent press conference. "This is necessary to put pressure on the federal government so that they know that our lives are on the line."
There's a crime being committed here, all right-a crime against the truth.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.