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Columnist Often Called 'Racist' Doesn't Think Police Activists Should Use That Word

Don't laugh at New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton (pictured), warns Richard Cohen–that's a sign of an "anti-cop mood." (Photo: James Keivom/Daily News)

"Liberal New York is in a distinctly anti-cop mood," says New York Daily News columnist Richard Cohen (12/2/14)–and he thinks that's a bad thing.

Exhibit A is the fact that members of the audience at a conference laughed when NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton attributed the drop in New York City's crime rate to "the cops." Cohen's account:

"You can laugh," he said–and then he provided the crime statistics to back up his answer. Maybe some people didn't like what he was saying, but it was the truth, he insisted. Maybe so. (In fact, definitely so.)

 "Definitely so"? Well, maybe, if the NYPD was fighting crime not only in New York City, but in numerous cities across the country that experienced very similar drops in crime at exactly the same time.  (See the helpful chart below by Mother Jones' Kevin Drum–11/6/13.) To attribute this long-term, nationwide phenomenon simply to smart police work is, well, laughable.

Violent Crime in 6 large cities

 But it's not really people laughing at Bratton that's got Cohen exercised–it's activists using the word "racism." Or as the headline writer aptly summarized Cohen's column: "Crying Racism No Way to Win Police Reforms."

 As much of the column is taken up with "to be sure" paragraphs assuring us that Cohen does not in fact approve of millions of people being sent to prison for trivial reasons, he doesn't have much space to make the case for the point he's actually trying to make about the excesses of police reformers. There are pretty much two passages that carry the argument. First:

A reasonable takeaway from the various demonstrations regarding what happened in Ferguson, Mo., is that many people think an innocent man was murdered for being black. This is anti-cop sentiment taken to an extreme.


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 Cohen doesn't make clear what he thinks actually did happen in Ferguson: a guilty man, whose race was irrelevant, was justifiably killed, perhaps? Hard to say. On the irrelevancy question, it's worth noting that Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that African-Americans suffer arrest-related deaths at four times the rate that whites do (Mother Jones, 9/10/14).

And then:

The methods of some would-be reformers–and their sometimes loose use of the epithet "racist"–are wrong.

Why do you suppose "would-be reformers" apply this "epithet" to the New York City's police? Could it be because the NYPD stops and frisks African-Americans at a rate roughly eight times as great as whites? (Bear in mind that, based on the NYPD's own figures, nearly nine in 10 of all stop-and-frisk victims are completely innocent, as the New York Civil Liberties Union notes.)

Perhaps Cohen is sensitive to people being called racist because he's been called a racist by many observers (e.g., New York Observer, 11/12/13; Daily Beast, 11/12/13; Think Progress, 11/12/13; Huffington Post, 11/14/13)–and not without good reason (FAIR Blog, 7/16/13).  "The word 'racist' is truly hurtful," Cohen told Huffington Post (11/12/13)–trying to explain a Washington Post column (11/11/13) in which he said that  "people with conventional views must repress a gag reflex" when contemplating New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's interracial family.

If activists don't lay off the "racist" language, Cohen concludes, "the trivially jailed will not only stay precisely where they are but will be joined by countless others." It's hard not to hear that as a threat.

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas

Jim Naureckas is editor of EXTRA! Magazine at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He is the co-author of Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website.

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