I read the same story every year.
The headline earlier this week — “Boone County deputies search blacks and Hispanics during traffic stops more than whites” — could have been the one written a year before. And a year before that. It could have been written for a story about Columbia’s officers.
Every year, it’s the same formula. The statistics, compiled on orders from the state, say that minorities get stopped or searched more often than whites. Police officials say they are simply going where there’s more crime. The NAACP or other civil rights organizations decry racial profiling. An expert or two gives us considered opinion. Then the story goes away until, like Christmas, we start unpacking the statistics all over again.
Think I’m overstating? Missourian librarian Nina Johnson looked up the headlines for me:
- “Stats: Blacks searched more,” March 6, 2007
- “Race profiling stats show disparity,” March 7, 2006
- “Data: Blacks at higher risk to be stopped,” May 28, 2004
- “Police: Profiling isn’t an issue in traffic stops,” Feb. 20, 2003
2005 is missing, but not because the story was an anomaly. The archive system just didn’t want to give it up.
I’m not even sure what most frustrates me. I see the points of view from police organizations and from minority groups. The competing values are compelling. We want to feel safe, and to know police are actively searching for the bad guys. Profiling — OK, let’s call it targeting — high crime areas might be fine. But profiling people for the color of their skin? It offends several American concepts, including fair play. Everyone should be treated equally, and not stopped for Driving While Black, or even Driving While Poor.
The problem: If the same parties are using the same arguments over statistics that are remarkably similar each year, does the story become so much wallpaper? From a traditional standard for news, does the news media simply stop covering the annual release because there’s nothing new worth reporting?
There has to be more worth talking about. Doesn’t there?
Put on your collective editor hats, dear reader. What am I missing? What do you need to know in order to have a better conversation about this issue? You have a reporting staff — what stories would you assign?
Or, as one reporter last fall asked on the Missourian’s local government blog “Watchword,” is this hill a mountain or a molehill?