here is no precedent for Barack Obama’s relentless attacks on the nation’s police officers and criminal-justice system. Simply put, the man twice elected to the country’s highest office routinely and repeatedly charges that cops and the courts are awash in systematic racial bias. “Too many young men of color,” the president told the Congressional Black Caucus in September 2014, “feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities.”
Addressing the nation in November 2014 at a moment of extreme racial tension, after a Missouri grand jury declined to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, the president seized the opportunity to accuse the police of discrimination: “The law too often feels like it’s being applied in a discriminatory fashion….Communities of color aren’t just making these problems up….These are real issues. And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down.”
In May 2015, in the Bronx, the president asserted: “The law is not always applied evenly in this country. [Young black men] experience being treated differently by law enforcement—in stops and in arrests, and in charges and incarcerations. The statistics are clear, up and down the criminal justice system. There’s no dispute.”
The negative effect of such rhetoric on the morale of the police, on the perceived legitimacy of the criminal-justice system, and on the atmosphere in which police operate is incalculable. Over and over again, the commander in chief of our armed forces has told the nation’s constabulary he views them as constitutional blackguards. Any officer who enforces the law in minority communities is now doing so under a cloud of suspicion that emanates from the highest office of the land. That suspicion cannot help but inhibit the willingness of officers to engage in proactive policing, especially when combined with street-level challenges to police authority.
It is bad enough for a president to undercut the legitimacy of the police and the criminal-justice system. But the most galling aspect of President Obama’s crusade against law enforcement is that it rests on falsehood.
President Obama’s failure to back his own Justice Department’s exoneration of Officer Wilson proved catastrophic. Michael Brown has continued to be treated as a martyr to police brutality.
Just how large are those “racial differences in criminal offending”? Huge. Nationally, blacks were charged with 62 percent of all robberies, 57 percent of all murders, and 45 percent of all assaults in the 75 largest U.S. counties in 2009, while constituting roughly 15 percent of the population in those counties. In New York City, whose racial crime rates are typical of large American cities, blacks commit over 75 percent of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, though they constitute 23 percent of the city’s population. Add Hispanic shootings to black shootings, and you account for over 98 percent of all shootings in New York. Whites, by contrast, commit fewer than 2 percent of all shootings and 4 percent of robberies, though they are 34 percent of city residents.
Obama accuses cops of discriminating against blacks in “stops,” otherwise known as stop, question, and frisk. In fact, before it largely gave up the practice, the much-maligned New York Police Department stopped and questioned blacks at a rate lower than their crime rate would predict: just over half of all pedestrian stops made by the NYPD have black subjects, even though blacks commit 75 percent of all shootings and 66 percent of all violent crime.
What President Obama fails to say about law enforcement can be as corrosive as what he does say. In March 2015, the Justice Department issued a 100-page report demolishing the Black Lives Matter narrative about the shooting of Michael Brown. That narrative held that Brown had been shot in cold blood by a racist police officer. After an exhaustive review of forensic evidence and eyewitness accounts, however, Justice concluded that Brown had assaulted Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson and had tried to grab his gun—exactly as Wilson had maintained from the beginning. Wilson reasonably believed that he was facing a lethal threat, the Justice report found. Physical evidence demonstrated that Brown had not been shot in the back.
President Obama could have provided an enormous service to the nation had he embraced the Justice Department findings. Instead, he asserted that the Brown-Wilson encounter was still shrouded in mystery. “We may never know what happened,” Obama said during a town hall at South Carolina’s Benedict College on March 6, 2015. This claim is irresponsible and false. The Justice Department analysis provides a definitive account of the interaction. The report supports the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson, as well as the Justice Department’s own decision not to bring civil-rights charges against Wilson. And yet Obama implied that only an overly stringent standard of proof in civil-rights proceedings prevented the Justice Department from bringing civil-rights charges against Officer Wilson. In fact, under no standard of proof, no matter how lax, would charges against Wilson be reasonable or justified.
President Obama’s failure to back his own Justice Department’s exoneration of Officer Wilson proved catastrophic. Michael Brown has continued to be treated as a martyr to police brutality, providing an endless source of fuel to the incendiary Black Lives Matter protest movement. Brown’s ongoing martyrdom, however baseless, makes police protection in inner-city communities increasingly fraught and dangerous.
he police play no more important function than maintaining civil order and preventing the wanton destruction of people’s property and livelihoods. Yet as a second round of rioting loomed over Ferguson, Mo., after the non-indictment of Officer Wilson, Obama chose to chastise the police in advance for their presumed overreaction to whatever was going to transpire: “I also appeal to the law-enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur….They need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence…from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.”
Obama’s condescension toward the cops was unjustified: The guardians of law and order didn’t fire a single shot during the riots that once again tore apart Ferguson, despite being shot at themselves. Had Obama grasped the seriousness of his responsibilities, he would have confined his remarks to the reasons for not indicting Wilson and thanked the jurors for their service. He could have ended by observing that the U.S. criminal-justice system is unparalleled in its respect for due process and pursuit of the truth.
Officers need to know that their lawful use of force will be supported by political leaders. And the public needs to know that political leaders stand with the police when the facts require it.
The data are clear: At the same time police are pulling back from discretionary enforcement, violent crime is going up in major cities across the country, as FBI Director James Comey confirmed in an October address at the University of Chicago law school. According to FBI data, in the first six months of 2015, murder rose 45 percent in Baltimore, 58 percent in St. Louis, 50 percent in Oklahoma City, 50 percent in Tulsa, 27 percent in Dallas, 44 percent in Houston, 108 percent in Milwaukee, 51 percent in Louisville, 29 percent in New Orleans, and 12.3 percent in New York City, compared with the first six months of 2014. The Washington Post has found a nearly 17 percent increase in homicides in the 50 largest cities during all of 2015, compared with 2014—the greatest increase in lethal violence in a quarter century. Dozens of children, from Baltimore to Cincinnati to Cleveland, were struck by drive-by shootings in 2015. The bloodbath is continuing in 2016: 120 Chicagoans were shot in the first 10 days of the New Year, 19 of them fatally.
Of course, White House rhetoric is far from the only reason we are seeing this reversion to a frightening past. Officers are facing virulent, sometimes violent, resistance to their lawful authority. A mini-riot broke out in Cincinnati in July when the police responded to a drive-by shooting whose victims included a four-year-old girl shot in the head. The target of the mini-riot? Not the shooters but the police, who were trying to enforce outstanding warrants to avert a retaliatory shooting. Officers worry that a cellphone video will not capture the reason for their use of force against a resisting suspect and that their police chief or mayor will lack the spine to rebut unjustified accusations of bias. Overreaching criminal indictments, such as the murder and manslaughter charges issued against six Baltimore police officers following the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015, have also had a chilling effect on policing.
Officers need to know that their lawful use of force will be supported by political leaders. And the public needs to know that political leaders stand with the police when the facts require it. If officers lose their legitimacy in the eyes of the public, they will face increasing levels of resistance, possibly even murderous resistance. Such resistance increases the chances that officers will have to use force against suspects, possibly even lethal force. And should officers have to resort to deadly force against a black suspect to protect their lives or the lives of others, it will only fuel the false narrative against them.
President Obama’s undermining of law enforcement is among the most destructive legacies of his administration. Since 2009, his Justice Department has opened an unprecedented 23 civil-rights investigations of police departments on the slimmest of pretexts—going after the Sanford, Florida, police department, for example, following the shooting of Trayvon Martin, even though the gunman, George Zimmerman, was not even a police officer. It has saddled nearly as many police departments with costly and crippling consent decrees, written by attorneys who have never patrolled a housing project, much less at night. In February 2016, in a typical display of bullying, the Justice Department sued the city of Ferguson after that city asked to revise a particularly burdensome consent decree that the Feds were trying to foist on it. Justice had found Ferguson’s police department guilty of racism without ever taking into account the city’s racial crime rates, an omission typical of its civil-rights consent decrees.
Pace the claims of Black Lives Matter activists and their political and media enablers, police killings of blacks are lower than what black crime rates would predict. In 2015, blacks were 26 percent of civilians killed by the cops; the vast majority of those black victims were armed or otherwise viciously assaulting the officer. Blacks made up 40 percent of all cop-killers over the last decade. They commit over 50 percent of all murders nationally, more murders than are committed by whites and Hispanics combined, even though blacks are only 13 percent of the nation’s population.
The Republican presidential hopefuls have a political opportunity here. If they make the restoration of law and order a major campaign theme, they will be speaking not only to a very real problem but also to an issue that resonates with many people who are too cowed to speak up. Republicans could warn about the dangerous erosion of respect for law enforcement, and of the disproportionate threat that that erosion poses to the African-American community. The victims of 2015’s violent-crime spike were overwhelmingly black and will continue to be so if policing remains under attack. Blacks gained the most from the crime drop over the last two decades, enjoying a newfound freedom to raise their children in relative safety. But as a result of Obama’s delegitimation of policing, urban-dwelling Americans are seeing their communities fall back into criminal squalor and their lives shrink again to the four walls of their homes. Their fundamental civil rights are at risk. Someone needs to speak for them even if their self-appointed leaders will not.