New book breaks down anti-police protest movement's narrative distortions

In her new book, Heather Mac Donald takes hard data on crime and race and debunks myriad anti-cop talking points

In a new book that seems certain to resonate with most street officers, author Heather Mac Donald relentlessly pillories the narrative distortions that she says are propelling the virulent anti-police movement in the U.S.

The culprits she calls out are agenda-driven activist groups, opportunistic politicians, and a flawed national mainstream media whose pervasive propaganda obscures the documented realities — the hard statistical data — of today’s law enforcement challenges and practices.

She argues that these “multipronged attacks on law enforcement” not only raise the day-to-day personal risks of line officers, but threaten to scuttle the significant “triumph over chaos and lawlessness” that American society has enjoyed for two decades, thanks to policing priorities that are now under assault and in jeopardy.

A Data-Driven Book
Mac Donald’s 233-page treatise — The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe — is available through in hardcover or Kindle formats.

Mac Donald is a frequent contributor of op-ed essays and articles on social problems and is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research and policy organization that is ranked among the nation’s top think tanks.

In The War on Cops, Mac Donald builds her case across four themed sections:

  • First, she confronts “the lie-based protest movement” and its drumbeat mantra that “[r]acist cops are gunning down innocent black men in cold blood.”
  • Next, she explores the political attacks on effective anti-crime tactics like stop-and-frisk, and examines the methods and consequences of the federal DOJ’s effort to control police departments through the “judicial power grab” of consent decrees.
  • Then, she analyzes the violence-breeding culture of “criminogenic environments” in major urban inner-cities to rebut the “excuse that crime — black crime especially — is the result of poverty and inequality.”
  • Finally, she takes on the “deceptions” behind the crusade against “mass incarceration” and statistically establishes that the make-up of our prison population is the result of violent crimes and not of systemic racism.

At this year’s annual training conference of the International Law Enforcement Educators & Trainers Association (ILEETA), Mac Donald was widely praised as “one of the few journalists who advocates for police officers.”

In The War on Cops, her allegations are presented and buttressed with page after page of detail. Here are samplings from which you can draw your own conclusions:

Rampant Racist Cops?
Mac Donald, who claims to have been the first national voice to identify the “Ferguson Effect” on American policing, starts off with a thorough reprise of the seminal Michael Brown case and the false “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative. No credible witnesses nor any other evidence supported that storyline, Mac Donald says, but it was “too good” not to be exploited as gospel by Black Lives Matter and perpetuated by mainstream national media.

As other high-profile shootings arose, the anti-police movement framed cops as “the biggest threat facing young black men today.” The New York Times claimed that the killing of black youth by police “is a common feature of African-American life” and that “many police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.”

“That,” Mac Donald notes, “would be news to the thousands of police officers who are the only people willing to put their lives on the line to protect innocent blacks from predation.” (Mac Donald repeatedly spotlights the Times’ missteps in covering police shootings because that newspaper is widely regarded as “an authoritative source of information” about cops and crime by influential readers who have little if any firsthand knowledge of such matters.)

Protesters and their supporters talk “feverishly about police racism to avoid talking about black crime,” Mac Donald charges. Yet what brings police to black neighborhoods in force is not a mission of malice, she says, but an undeniable racial disparity in crime statistics. “All crime commission, whether felony or misdemeanor, is racially disproportionate,” she writes.

For example, in New York City, blacks are 23 percent of the population but “commit over 75 percent of all shootings,” based on reports by victims and witnesses; whites are 33 percent of the city’s population but commit under two percent of its shootings. Nationally, “young black men commit homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of young white and Hispanic males combined,” Mac Donald reports, and the overwhelming majority of their victims are other black men.

Indeed, she points out, all fatal shootings of blacks by police could be removed from computation “without having [any] significant impact” on the death rate of blacks from homicide.

And what of officers shooting unarmed black males — “the most politically explosive” flashpoint of anti-police rhetoric about “rampant racist cops”?

The implication has been created that an unarmed target equates with an unjustified shooting. But protesters and media alike customarily ignore or minimize the violent resistance that often characterizes these events before the fatal trigger pull, Mac Donald charges.

For example, a Washington Post database that’s often cited regarding unarmed victims “typically omits relevant details” about these incidents — such as, making no mention of injuries to a deputy who used deadly force only after an “unarmed” black assailant beat him in the face so viciously that several bones were broken ... or in another case, acknowledging that an unarmed suspect “struggled,” but not explaining “that the officer’s equipment was ripped off him.”

In the brutal reality of the street, Mac Donald writes, “an officer’s chance of getting killed by a black assailant is 18.5 times higher than the chance of an unarmed black man getting killed by a cop.”

Draconian Decrees
Long before Ferguson, a campaign already was “quietly proceeding in the courts and in the U.S. Dept. of Justice, rooted in the premise” that stop-and-frisk practices and the Broken Windows theory of law enforcement are racially biased violations of civil rights, Mac Donald writes.

“It is this campaign,” she states, “that poses the greatest threat to the vigilant style of policing” that brought a “record-breaking” plunge in crime rates across a 20-year period beginning in the 1990s. Under court mandate, pedestrian stops dropped by 95 percent in New York City, for example, while guns grew “rampant on the streets” and “murders and shootings surged,” a consequence now being seen in other cities as well, Mac Donald says.

A “power grab” by civil rights groups eager to control police departments and police practices is blindly advanced by the DOJ, despite the realities of crime, Mac Donald alleges. She characterizes its “career attorneys who investigate police departments for constitutional violations” as “possibly the most left-wing members of the federal bureaucracy,” known for their “hostility to the police.”

To illustrate the nature and effect of their “pattern-or-practice” investigations and of what she terms “draconian,” “costly,” and “unnecessary” judicial consent decrees, she develops in detail the experience of the Los Angeles Police Department, which she claims the DOJ was determined to “make the model for future oversight” of law enforcement agencies nationwide.

For some dozen years, LAPD labored under a 180-clause decree that “govern[ed] nearly every aspect of its operations,” requiring, among other things, that officers collect “racial information on every stop.”

Mac Donald writes, “The LAPD spent approximately $40 million trying to comply with the decree in its first year and close to $50 million annually for several years thereafter. It pulled 350 officers off the street to meet the decree’s mountainous paperwork requirements ... and fanatical standards for compliance ... [A] whopping average of 100 hours [was spent] on each complaint [of racial profiling] no matter how patently fabricated ...”

In Los Angeles — as elsewhere — “if the stop rate for a particular group is higher than its population ratio,” police are accused of bias. But, Mac Donald points out, “measuring the rate of police stops for various racial groups against the proportion of those groups in the local population” can “only be remotely appropriate if racial crime rates were equal.

“They are not.” In Los Angeles, blacks commit “34 percent of all felonies, though they are 10 percent of the population,” while whites commit “13 percent of all felonies, though they are 29.4 percent of the city’s population.

“Such crime disparities — which are repeated in every big city — mean that the police cannot focus their resources where crime victims most need them without disproportionate enforcement activity in minority neighborhoods ...”

Still, Mac Donald notes, the federal juggernaut of consent decrees continues to roll forward, pursuing the “chimera of criminal justice bigotry,” while street officers, in response to this “blindness to the realities of inner-city crime,” retreat in droves from proactive enforcement.

Incarceration Myths
“The myths about the criminal justice system come to a head in the attack on incarceration,” Mac Donald writes. As cops well know, increasingly vocal opponents of “mass incarceration” — including presidential candidates — allege that a substantial portion of the prison population is “the product of a misguided, racist war on drugs” that has led unjustly to an overrepresentation of “harmless” minority offenders behind bars.

No, says Mac Donald. “In fact, violent felons and habitual thieves make up the vast majority of prisoners.” And, in fact, the racial composition of the prison population “accurately reflects the incidence of crime,” as broken down by race.

In state prisons, where a vast majority of the nation’s inmates are doing time, over 50 percent of prisoners are incarcerated for violent felonies and some 20 percent for property crimes, Mac Donald reports. Combined, these populations total “over three and one-half times that of state drug offenders.”

If you were to remove drug prisoners from the state prison population, she says, the percentage of black inmates would drop by only half a percentage point — “hardly a significant difference.”

Plus, the overwhelming number of inmates who are in prison for drug crimes are there for trafficking, not for personal possession.

Regarding non-drug crimes, rather than being over-arrested and over-convicted Mac Donald offers some research showing that “blacks actually had a lower chance of prosecution following a felony than whites ... and that they were less likely to be found guilty at trial.”

She writes that the “evidence is clear: black prison rates result from crime, not racism.”

She points out that “the critics of ‘mass incarceration’ love to compare American incarceration rates unfavorably with European ones. [However,] crime is invariably left out of the analysis.”

Germany’s incarceration rate, for instance, “is one-tenth that of the U.S.,” a New York Times piece has noted. But not mentioned in the fact that the U.S. rate of gun homicide, to cite just one offense, “is about 17 times that of Germany,” Mac Donald says.

“The U.S. homicide rate is seven times the combined rate of 21 Western developed nations plus Japan,” she writes. American 15- to 24-year-olds “kill with guns at nearly 43 times the rate of their counterparts in [other] industrialized nations.” Since our prison system is driven by violent crime, “it is not surprising that America’s incarceration rate is higher than Europe’s.”

If anything, based on numbers alone, the U.S. prison population should be even higher than it is, Mac Donald suggests. Half the defendants charged with a felony in the 75 largest counties in a typical recent year “had five or more prior arrests, and 36 percent had 10 or more”; 30 percent had “multiple prior felony convictions. Yet the majority of those offenders will still not get a prison term ...

“America does not have an incarceration problem; it has a crime problem.” And that problem, Mac Donald insists throughout her book, is on a trajectory to get much worse.

Breakdown Ahead?
“The cop-hatred that activists and press organs like the Times do their best to foment significantly increases the chances of aggressive and dangerous [criminal] behavior,” Mac Donald believes.

“Resistance to lawful police action is becoming routine ... Riots are returning to the urban landscape. Police officers are regularly pelted with bricks and water bottles during the course of their duties ...” she writes.

“Liberal elites have successfully kept attention focused exclusively on phantom police and criminal-justice racism while squelching even the most tentative discussion of the crime-breeding chaos of inner-city underclass culture ...

“We are playing with fire,” she warns. “The demonization of the police and the criminal-justice system must end.”

Police who actually do abuse their powers need to be weeded out and punished, she acknowledges. But if the lies about the profession as a whole are allowed to continue unchallenged and effective enforcement of the law is stymied, she foresees, in time, the anarchic breakdown of “civilized urban life.”

What Police Can Do
How can Mac Donald’s book help police leaders and officers on the street? What can they take away from it and execute on to make our current situation better? Mac Donald says to take the data she has gathered and presented in her book, and use it in courageous conversations with a public that is unaware of — even willfully ignorant of — the facts about crime and race.

“The only thing that I know has not been tried — and I think that it has not been tried — is actually tell the facts about what the crime disparities are ... All I know that’s left to do at this point is to actually get the facts out there. Right now, we have the standard protocol by activists, the Justice Department, and the press — which is to compare police activity to population benchmarks, and that is completely specious,” Mac Donald told PoliceOne.

Work to make incremental improvements, because there will be no overnight solution. Presenting the facts will make people uncomfortable, but getting to the truth of these issues is really the only remedy to resolve the current climate between citizens and cops. 

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