WASHINGTON – Appearing on “Meet the Press” on Nov. 23, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked why protesters upset about a white police officer’s fatal shooting of a young black man in Ferguson, Mo., this summer don’t pay more attention to violence that blacks perpetrate against other blacks.
“White police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other,” he said.
As mayor, Giuliani was instrumental in implementing and popularizing the “broken windows” theory of policing, which holds that cops should aggressively police even minor infractions to create an atmosphere of obedience to the law. This strategy, many critics feel, leads to distrust and violence between police and citizens. Giuliani faced intense criticism from the black community over accusations of police bias against African-Americans, and he clashed sharply with black leaders repeatedly.
Nationwide, following the Ferguson shooting, a poll found that 80 percent of blacks thought that Michael Brown’s death raised important questions about race, while about half of whites said race was getting too much attention.
To understand why people see this case in such divergent ways, it’s important to keep in mind that America is still a very different place for whites and blacks. For example:
• Blacks are much more likely to be arrested than whites. In Ferguson, police are about three times more likely to arrest blacks than people of other races, according to an analysis by USA Today, which is more or less typical for the thousands of jurisdictions where the newspaper examined arrest records.
• About one in four blacks have been convicted of a felony nationwide, compared to about 8 percent of the population as a whole. Among black men in particular, the fraction is fully one-third.
• Unemployment among blacks is about twice the rate among whites.
• Many whites live in diverse neighborhoods, but blacks are now twice as likely to live in segregated neighborhoods. An analysis of Census data by the Washington Post found that about 28 percent of blacks live in neighborhoods where at least 85 percent of residents are also black.
We could debate the causes of these disparities at length. The important fact is that for whites, both economic opportunity and evidence of racial progress are abundant, and police are largely an unobtrusive, perhaps welcome symbol of security. Many blacks, on the other hand, live in neighborhoods that haven’t changed much in the past 40 years. They interact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system on a regular basis, and work is hard for them to find.
That’s why whites are able to believe that discrimination is now rare but that bias against whites is now a greater problem than bias against blacks – a view that blacks do not share.
These numbers are also part of the reason that Brown’s death is inspiring such passionate and irreconcilably different opinions on both sides.