A panel discussion on CNN’s New Day got rather heated on Monday morning, thanks to a remark made by former NYPD detective Harry Houck. The conversation centered around whether or not there are systemic problems in many police departments across the country, and to what extent those problems have to do with the racial attitudes of some officers.
Host Chris Cuomo starts the conversation by asking CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill what he thinks needs to be addressed in police departments. Hill responds by saying that the first thing is we need to do something about the “blue wall of silence,” the tacit agreement among officers that they “have each others’ backs” when the behavior of one officer is questioned.
Next Cuomo turns to Houck and asks how much of the reluctance for cops to turn in other cops for improper behavior is out of fear that something might come back on the officer who is doing the reporting. Houck says that when he worked in internal affairs, the part of the police department that investigates officer misconduct, “over half the calls we got were from other police officers.”
Houck says that police departments have recognized that they have to make some changes. But he adds, “The black community has got to also understand that they have some issues they have to deal with.” He then stakes out the same position that many conservatives are taking concerning the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. “We don’t know what happened there,” he says. Houck goes on to say that blaming those incidents on racism when it is not yet known whether racism was involved, “has got to stop.” Hill nods in agreement.
But then Houck goes too far. He says that the comparison of the number of whites in jail versus blacks has also got to stop. He then offers these statistics from NYPD:
In New York City alone, blacks are 23 percent of the population. They make up 75 percent of all shootings, 70 percent of all robberies and 60 percent of all violent crime. The whites — only three percent. That is why there are more blacks in jail than there are whites.
He continues by claiming that the statistics he just cited are being used by “racial demagogues” to claim that blacks are being picked on. Cuomo counters that it is possible for “both sides to be true.” He turns to Hill and says that ok, maybe cops have to deal with one community more, but the issue is in how they deal with that community. Hill agrees.
During Hill’s response to Houck’s comments, the conversation gets heated when he says, “Harry just stood on national tv and said that black people are prone to criminality.”
“Well, they are!” Houck exclaims.
Hill is amazed. “You don’t mean to say that. I’m going to give you a chance to correct it,” he tells Houck. What does the former cop do? He doubles down, repeating the statistic that blacks are involved in 75 percent of shootings in New York City.
Harry Houck misses the same point about the issue that Fox’s Bill O’Reilly missed last week. The discussion is about why so many members of the minority community wind up in deadly confrontations with police. And it is not because a higher percentage of African-Americans are charged with or convicted of crimes. In this discussion, that statistic doesn’t matter.
What does matter is the actual number of arrests, because each arrest is an encounter between a citizen and the police. According to FBI statistics from 2014, the last year for which complete data is available, there were just over six million arrests of white people in the U.S. compared to 2.4 million arrests of African-Americans. And here’s where percentages do matter. The number of whites killed by police as a percentage of the number of arrests is much smaller than the percentage of blacks who die at the hands of an officer.
If we want to solve the problem of police killing young black men, we first have to be honest about what the problem is, and stop using bogus statistics to make excuses for the police.
Here’s the video of the conversation, via CNN:
Featured image via CNN screen capture