Richard Cohen, Walter Williams, and lying with statistics

As I mentioned yesterday, Richard Cohen has written in the past that it’s perfectly reasonable to ban black men from a shop for no other reason than race. He likewise argued that Zimmerman’s reaction in stopping a black teenager purely for being a black teenager was just realistic about who commits most crimes—black men (so I take back what I said about his views changing since the 1980s).
Similarly, right-wing pundit Walter Williams wrote after the Trayvon Martin shooting last year that it’s perfectly reasonable and accurate to profile people based on race or, say, Islam (when Tim McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building, Williams’ column discussed how Evil Big Government drives good white guys to commit acts of terror. Apparently his standards are very different when it’s terrorism not committed by right-wingers). He’s previously claimed that as random automobile stops based only on race turn up more black criminals than whites, that proves racial profiling works.
Taking the last point first, the actual percentages of black criminals and whites turned up by “random” stops is even (some studies find slightly higher percentages of whites). The reason more black criminals get caught is simple: more blacks get stopped.
Second point: even if the store owners Cohen talked to were right (they claimed most shoplifters were black males), it doesn’t therefore follow that most black males are shoplifters. Most of them aren’t, the same way that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. Treating all blacks (or any other group) as criminals because of the actions of a few isn’t just or logical—and if the same logic were applied to some group Cohen or Williams didn’t approve of, they’d freak. Take rape, for example: Most rape is committed by men, so it should be perfectly reasonable, by their logic, to stop any man, take a DNA sample and compare it to what’s on file. Or for female cabbies to refuse to transport men, just in case they’re rapists (Williams wholeheartedly approves of cabbies who refuse to pick up black men).
I seriously doubt either Cohen or Williams would be so keen on being accused of even possibly being a rapist (Williams, a rape apologist who compares rape to losing your wallet in triviality, definitely not). I suspect they’d insist that was totally different and doesn’t disprove their views on racial profiling at all (speaking of rape, This Ruthless World points out how much the criticism of Martin resembles how rape victims are slimed)
Also to consider:
•Stopping and searching someone with no reason to suspect a crime is a violation of the Fourth Amendment (though I know the courts have poked huge holes in that). And frankly, it’s just wrong. Law-abiding people should be free to walk the streets without being hassled by cops, even if they’re black.
•Profiling is quite frequently bullshit. The book Profiles in Injustice shows, among other things, that profiling is infinitely flexible. One police unit cracking down on Asian teen gangs busted kids in gang colors but also Asian kids in ordinary clothes (clearly in disguise!). A judge threw out one drug bust after a review of drug-courier profiling showed a Latino could be red-flagged for being first off a plane; last off a plane; getting off in the middle; traveling alone; traveling with a companion. In short, pretty much anything.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

4 responses to “Richard Cohen, Walter Williams, and lying with statistics

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