But the most ubiquitous “Ferguson is racist” meme was the most familiar: the police force is too white. Four of Ferguson’s 53 officers are black. This imbalance must be the result of racism and must itself cause racist enforcement activity. How many qualified black applicants to the force applied and were rejected? Not an interesting question, apparently.
The “too-white police force” meme, which the New York Times generalized into another front-page article (MOSTLY WHITE FORCES IN MOSTLY BLACK TOWNS, September 10), complete with another impressive set of graphs, is of particular interest in light of the federal government’s current investigation of New York City’s sprawling Rikers Island jail complex. In August, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York issued a report denouncing the “deep-seated culture of violence” among Rikers corrections officers towards adolescent inmates. He accused guards of handcuffing juvenile inmates to gurneys and beating them. Rikers has been bedeviled by such claims of officer abuse of inmates for years. The resulting problem for the “abusive white cops” meme is that the Rikers’ officer force is about two-thirds black. (New York’s population is 23 percent black; no one has complained about the racial imbalance among Rikers guards.) This August, the Detroit Police Department emerged from 11 years of federal oversight for alleged abuse of civilians, including a pattern of unjustified shootings. The Detroit force, too, is about two-thirds black. The U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation of the New Orleans Police Department in 2010 for a pattern of civil rights violations; in 2012, the Justice Department imposed on the New Orleans PD the most expansive consent decree in the nation to try to rein in the alleged unconstitutional behavior of its officers, the majority of whom are black.
Now perhaps these civil rights allegations against these majority black forces are trumped up. But if so, perhaps similar allegations against majority white forces are, too. Or maybe the race of officers has little to do with whether they can police fairly.