News & Politics

The Deadly Cost of Racial Bean Counting

Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via AP

Beware the racial bean counters, nothing good comes of their efforts.

I refer to an Oct. 4 column on The Atlantic website, ominously titled “America Is Losing Its Black Police Officers.” In the piece, Atlantic staff writer David A. Graham laments what he perceives as the vanishing diversity in the ranks of America’s police departments. “[S]ome of America’s largest police forces are suddenly—and quickly—getting less diverse,” he writes, “as two trends converge: A wave of Black officers is reaching retirement age, and recruitment efforts to replace them are sputtering.”

Graham goes on to cite the declining numbers of black officers in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. “The LAPD has seen a 24 percent drop in Black officers, from 1,175 in 2010 to 885 today,” Graham writes, “though the department’s ranks have also shrunk.”

I won’t speak on the issues facing Chicago and the cities in the East Graham names, but I am familiar with the workings of the Los Angeles Police Department. As noted in the Atlantic piece, despite the recent losses, blacks still make up 9 percent of the LAPD, slightly more than the black share of the city’s population. Does Graham’s definition of “diversity” demand an overrepresentation of blacks in the department, and if so, at whose expense? Hispanics make up about 50 percent of the department, slightly above their number in the city’s population, and the number of white LAPD officers closely mirrors the white population. Which of these groups should be underrepresented to ensure the level of “diversity” Graham finds desirable?

More troubling is the willful blindness Graham demonstrates regarding the difficulties police departments across the country are having in hiring and retaining officers of any ethnicity. He cites a survey by the Police Executive Research Forum that found a 45 percent increase in retirement rates among police officers, and a “significant jump in officers resigning preretirement.” In a parenthetical, Graham adds, “The reasons for this phenomenon are not well understood.”

Not well understood? By Graham, perhaps, but the reasons are very well understood among America’s cops, who for the last several years, but most especially since the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have seen their profession unrelentingly vilified among the country’s political, academic, and cultural elites, among whom one would find most readers of The Atlantic. In a time when millions of job openings go begging, what would induce a young man or woman to become a cop in this environment? And among those cops old enough to retire, what incentives are there to stay?

Then there is the article’s stunning implication—it’s actually more than an implication—that only black officers are qualified to patrol black communities. Graham quotes Charles P. Wilson, chairman of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers. “We police differently than our [white] counterparts do,” he said. “There’s no question about that. We come on the job for a different reason than they do. When we’re on the street, we treat people differently.”

Differently how? A police officer’s job is to enforce the law fairly and impartially, regardless of his ethnicity or that of those he deals with on the job. Would Wilson suggest this is not the ideal? And if not, what should the ideal be?

Echoing this mindset is Captain Frederick Thomas, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. “When we don’t have the right face, you can’t get the right results,” he told Graham. “You’ve got to have the right face in the right community.”

By the “right face” he of course means the right skin color, which would seem to imply that the cultures of certain ethnic neighborhoods are so distinct, so foreign, so impenetrable to outsiders, that policing them can only be accomplished by cops sharing the same ethnicity. The American melting pot? Equality under the law? Such notions are regarded as anachronistic and indeed racist under the new racial Balkanization as espoused in Graham’s column.

The American criminal justice system, its foundations having been eroded by such thinking, is collapsing before our eyes, with the most tragic result being the sharpest rise in murders in the country in 50 years. I would speculate that few readers of The Atlantic have been affected by this crime wave. Those who have been, those who have lost a loved one or who hear the gunshots outside their windows every night, just want it to stop, and they don’t care about the skin color of those who will make that happen.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly alleged that Atlantic writer David A. Graham had failed to note that the Los Angeles Police Department’s number of black officers was proportional to the city’s population. We regret the error.