To address the question “Is racial disparity in Boone County traffic stops cause for concern?,” Shawn Garrison (Today’s Question, Columbia Missourian, March 5, 2009) compares arrest rates in the black and Hispanic communities with those of the white community, quoting data published by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
It is well known that poverty and unemployment are much higher in the black and Hispanic communities than in the white community. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 African-American men, with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate, were considerably more likely to be out of work than Hispanic men (5.4 percent), white men (4.4 percent), or Asian men (4 percent).
The level of education and training is generally lower and, as has been reported in this newspaper, academic success is sometimes frowned upon in the black community. According to the Census Bureau, African-Americans and some other minorities lag behind other U.S. ethnic groups, such as European Americans and Asian Americans, in educational indicators such as test scores, grades, urban high school graduation rates, rates of disciplinary action and rates of conferral of undergraduate degrees.
Fathers are often absent in the black community, contributing to the problem of poverty and lack of family infrastructure and parental guidance in the black youth. Similar circumstances exist in the Hispanic community.
Many concomitant problems go hand-in-hand with poverty and unemployment: People sell drugs and turn to prostitution out of desperation. Gangsterism, theft, rape and substance abuse tend to be high in these communities. These are facts, not racial profiling – see for example an article on Bill Cosby’s crusade: “This is How We Lost to the White Man," (The Atlantic, May 2008), in which he outlines these and other problems in the black community compared with the white community.
So, is it any wonder that arrest rates are higher in the black and Hispanic communities than in the white community? I think not. It is absurdly simplistic to conclude from a comparison of arrest rates that the Sheriff’s Department is doing racial profiling. There are many factors behind the difference in arrest rates. This is a structural problem that has a long history in our society. It is not a problem the sheriff has created.
Law enforcement is an extremely difficult task. We need to support the officers in the Sheriff’s Department. Accusing them of racial profiling is a false accusation when the situation in the various communities is so different. This makes their already difficult task even harder.
We also need to support the poor community. Poverty is a trap, and we need to guide the poor out of the trap.