This is Not Helping

Occasionally, someone will suggest that that the best way to address the persistence of racism is to begin adopting a “race-blind” analysis that abandons the use of racial categories. As it turns out, this doesn’t help eliminate racism and racial inequality, it merely obscures the reality of it. Here’s a case in point.

The NYPD recently collected and released a quite extensive dataset on police shootings over the past 11 years (image from Flickr Creative Commons). The data included such details as the number of shots fired, the reason for each shooting, and how many bullets hit their target. Yet, after 1997 there was no data on the race of people shot by police. Today, the New York Times published a partial explanation for this curious omission of data, which emerged as a result of a lawsuit filed against the NYPD by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Here’s the relevant bit:

“Testimony by a former police chief now offers an explanation. The former chief, Louis R. Anemone, said that while the data on people killed by officers were being compiled in 1998, the police commissioner, Howard Safir, ordered the department not to include the race of those killed by officers.

The testimony by Mr. Anemone, a former chief of department, did not say why Mr. Safir made his decision, but the shift appeared to have occurred during a public furor over race and the police’s use of deadly force in the shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, in February 1999. Mr. Diallo was killed in a barrage of 41 police bullets in the Bronx.”

Here, the former police commissioner intuitively understands what many social commentators on race fail to grasp. Namely, that if you bury knowledge about racism and racist practices (such as the NYPD’s abysmal record), then you effectively subvert efforts to combat racism.

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