“Before we give someone a gun, uniform, badge and the power to put handcuffs on someone’s wrist, we need make sure they are the best and the brightest…police unions are making it impossible.”
– Chesa Boudin, San Francisco District Attorney, on The Appeal, June 5, 2020
It is hard to imagine a public figure whose ideology is more toxic to the future of California and America than Chesa Boudin. But politics can make for strange bedfellows.
Chesa Boudin epitomizes San Francisco’s failure as a city and, increasingly, California’s failures as a state. Boudin is part of a political movement that has created criminal friendly cities, where thieves and drug addicts cannot be arrested and prosecuted, where cash bail is about to be abolished, where citizens are slowly being denied the means to protect themselves.
The policy agenda promoted by politicians like Chesa Boudin has released tens of thousands of dangerous inmates from California’s jails and prisons. And if downgrading drug and property crimes, trying to eliminate bail, and emptying the prisons didn’t do enough to make it nearly impossible for police to keep Californians safe, the California legislature passed AB 953 which requires police to report the race and gender of every person they interact with in order to monitor possible disparate impact.
Which brings us to the issue of the day; the alleged disproportionate targeting of black people by police in America. Like so many emotional issues that are shamelessly exploited by ideologues and opportunists, the facts don’t matter. But here are the facts:
There are more than 800,000 sworn police officers in America, authorized to make arrests and use deadly force. Over 50 million Americans have at least one encounter with a police officer per year, usually involving something minor such as a traffic stop. Police make over 10 million arrests each year. On average, just over 1,000 Americans each year are killed by police, but nearly all of them were armed. In confrontations with unarmed people over the past decade, only between 50 and 100 have been shot per year by police, about the same number as police who are killed in hostile encounters per year.
Over 50 million police encounters, less than 100 unarmed people killed. It is statistically impossible to root out every single incident of misconduct in a group that large. But whether police misconduct is epidemic or incredibly rare, are blacks disproportionately targeted? In a word: No.
It is true that the number of blacks killed by police is consistently disproportionate to their share of the U.S. population. Over the three year period from 2017 through 2019, blacks represented 27 percent of all people shot to death by police, yet they comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population. On the surface, this looks bad. But there is a lot more to this story.
In an analysis recently published in the Wall Street Journal, Manhattan Institute fellow and author Heather Mac Donald presents some inconvenient facts: Blacks are indeed twice as likely to be fatally shot by police than whites, but, “in 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.”
When crime rates are taken into account, it turns out that blacks are not disproportionately killed by police and, in fact, the opposite is true.
In a recent study that even NPR reporters acknowledged was peer-reviewed and published by the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers concluded: “We find no evidence, at the national level, that officers show racial bias against Blacks in the decision to use deadly force,” and “we found no evidence that the race of a police officer related to the race of a citizen shot.”
Accountability is a Two-Way Street
None of this data relieves anyone concerned about law and order of the obligation to examine why mistakes are made, and why police abuse still occurs. Even if the facts indicate that mistakes and abuses happen less today than ever before, if there is a way to curb them further without compromising effective policing, we have to try. But Boudin, other leaders, the media, and the millions of protesters in America need to understand: The biggest problem is not racism. It’s bad apples. And these bad apples, all too often, and as Boudin acknowledges, are protected by powerful police unions.
Why do police unions protect bad cops? When they do this, they’re as bad as the teachers union, and that’s not inevitable. Teachers unions have very nearly destroyed public education. Apart from protecting bad apples, police unions have not destroyed the effectiveness of police departments. Politicians like Chesa Boudin did that.
If it weren’t for the socialist billionaires who back him, and the votes he bought with all that money, and the power he amassed as a result, Chesa Boudin would be an irrelevant laughingstock. Because Boudin wants accountability for police at the same time as he wants to make criminals and drug addicts unaccountable. And because Boudin wants to hold police unions accountable at the same time as he has little to say about unaccountable teachers unions.
If Chesa Boudin wants to promote a consistent and principled approach to law and order, then he is invited to find accountability in all areas where it is warranted. The idea that “systemic racism” exists in California in 2020 is the least likely explanation for racially disproportionate outcomes. Police brutality, while it still exists in rare cases, afflicts everyone regardless of color. If the statistical facts that prove this aren’t enough, consider the case of Kelly Thomas, a white man whose brutal 2011 murder by six very bad apples makes George Floyd’s death look like a picnic.
The true reasons for racially disproportionate outcomes in all areas of social and economic achievement are children growing up in broken homes, in communities where welfare has destroyed incentives to work hard and keep families intact, where the teachers union monopoly shuffles bad teachers to low income neighborhoods instead allowing them to be fired, and where criminals, no longer held accountable, have made life on the streets more dangerous than ever.
It would take courage for a man in Boudin’s position to tell these truths. Not only would someone like Chesa Boudin making these statements alert entire new constituencies to what to-date has only been something a “conservative” would say, but acknowledging this other, bigger half of the explanation for racially disproportionate outcomes might lend a shred of credibility to everything else he’s been trying to do. Or not. Boudin, and his ilk, are so far gone you have to wonder if their genuine, barely hidden agenda is simply to create anarchy.
With respect to police unions, Boudin has ventured one good idea. He is proposing that police unions be banned from contributing money and endorsements to races to elect District Attorneys. Boudin is on to something here, but for once, he doesn’t go far enough. What California needs is to ban any public sector union from contributing money or endorsements to influence any election, either for a candidate or a ballot measure.
Do that, Chesa Boudin, and you may find yourself with some strange bedfellows indeed.
This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
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