By Brett Gillin
Since the Justice Department officially unveiled its report on the investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, the vast majority of opinions have fallen on the side of outrage. Outrage that such institutional racism exists in 2015, outrage that people in authoritative positions could base their decisions solely on the color of someone’s skin, and outrage that nothing has been done about it until this point.
Slowly, but surely, people are beginning to reexamine the Justice Department’s investigation and conclusions, and some of their opinions are painting an entirely different type of outrage. This outrage is directed at the Justice Department and what they feel is a slanted investigation, or at the very least, a slanted view on the findings of said investigation.
One of the most visible of the “dissenters” to the popular opinion has to be John R. Lott, the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a former chief economist for the United States Sentencing Commission. In this article he wrote for the New York Post, Lott spells out his argument that the Justice Department’s report does not prove discrimination in the police department. In fact, he claims that the findings don’t even prove that African-Americans are even treated differently, let alone more harshly, by the police department.
Much like the Justice Department’s report, Lott’s argument focuses on the numbers. The percentages that many say prove racism and discrimination do no such thing, according to Lott. For example, Lott points out a series of statistics from the report, in which “African-Americans account for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of citations, and 93 percent of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67 percent of Ferguson’s population.”
On the surface, that seems to be a damning statistic, and one that would show at least a propensity toward racism from the FPD. But Lott pulls up statistics from the Bureau of Justice’s 2011 Police-Public Contact Survey. These statistics show that blacks throughout the United States were 31 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over for a traffic stop. Because African-Americans are a 67 percent majority of the population, by taking those national statistics and applying them to the FPD, African-Americans would have accounted for 87.5 percent of traffic stops.
So in reality, according to the statistics that Lott pulls together, The Ferguson Police Department is slightly less likely to pull over African-American drivers than the national average. Lott also points out that many people would point to the 31 percent higher likelihood as evidence of nationwide racism, but Lott once again points to data which suggests that African-Americans are almost twice as likely to die in car accidents. Lott draws the line to say perhaps because African-Americans are higher-risk drivers, they might naturally be breaking more traffic laws, thus be more likely to get pulled over by police.
While Lott makes several other points throughout his opinion-piece, his most powerful statement lies at the end, where he writes “The Justice Department’s report reads as a prosecutor’s brief, not an unbiased attempt to get at the truth, with evidence carefully selected and portrayed in the strongest possible light. Differences don’t necessarily imply racism, but the Obama Justice Department doesn’t seem to care.”