A new report from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows that black and Hispanic drivers are significantly more likely to be searched, arrested and subjected to the use of force than whites.
It was initially encouraging to see the DOJ release this year’s report without any shenanigans considering what happened last time:
The Justice Department intervened, insisting that BJS not publicize that nasty part about minority drivers being more likely to be searched, arrested, handcuffed, beaten, maced, or bitten by dogs.
A conflict emerged in the course of which BJS Director Lawrence A. Greenfeld was removed from his post. His attempt to provide the media with an unbiased summary of his agency’s findings was apparently too much for his superiors at the DOJ. Ultimately, no press release was sent out, and the study was unceremoniously posted in the bowels of the BJS website.
Perhaps it’s a sign of progress and lessons learned that DOJ declined to bury this year’s equally shocking findings. After all, covering up racial profiling is one way – however shameful and undignified – of admitting that it exists.
Yet, upon closer inspection, we find that this year’s BJS report omits the single most important piece of information contained in the previous report: hit-rate data showing whether minorities were more likely to be hiding contraband.
Likelihood of search finding criminal evidence
Searches of black drivers or their vehicles were less likely to find criminal evidence (3.3%) than searches of white drivers (14.5%), and somewhat less likely than searches of Hispanic drivers
This revealing fact fundamentally undermines the sole premise from which police agencies and others have sought to defend ongoing racial disparities such as those revealed this week. Consider the following hypothetical (but really quite typical) debate with a racial profiling apologist:
RPA: There’s no such thing as racial profiling. Cops don’t even know the race of the driver until after they’ve made the stop.
Me: Who gets pulled over is only one part of the equation. The data show that minority drivers are more likely to be searched, arrested, and subjected to the use of force after being stopped…
RPA: Well, if that’s true it’s because those people committed more crimes.
Me: Actually, the data show that searches of white people are more likely to produce evidence of a crime.
RPA: Wow, you must have gotten straight A’s at the Al Sharpton Academy of Social Science.
Me: This data comes from the Department of Justice.
RPA: Hang on, I’m getting a call. Oh yeah, gotta take this. Good talk.
DOJ was able to provide a racial breakdown of hit-rates in its previous report (the one it buried) thus the omission of such information from this week’s report is highly conspicuous. And of course, DOJ’s previous attempts to cover up racial profiling data attest to the agency’s lack of candor and credibility on this issue.
The larger question then is why the Department of Justice seeks to downplay racial profiling in the first place. BJS reports primarily reflect the behavior of local law-enforcement agencies, not the feds. The only real embarrassment here for DOJ is its ongoing failure to provide adequate monitoring of police practices at the state level. An activist such as myself may be keenly aware of DOJ’s abdication of this responsibility, but I suspect that most people are not.
In any case, we’d be hard pressed to generate any further controversy surrounding cover-ups at the Department of Justice this season. Instead, let’s do our best to make sure everyone knows how to handle police encounters. No matter how thorough, a traffic stop report from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics won’t save your ass on the New Jersey turnpike anyway.