So Can We Really Not Hold Two Ideas In Our Heads Simultaneously?

Two statements:

  • Police do an important job and sometimes face real dangers in performing this job
  • Police sometimes abuse their authority and are sheltered from accountability for these abuses

I don't understand why so many folks seem to be unable or unwilling to hold both these beliefs at the same time.  I certainly think both statements are easily demonstrated as true.  Why do so many treat them as mutually exclusive?


  1. mlouis:

    Most major issues are like this. Or else they wouldn't be major issues. People demand tribal solutions to complex problems.

  2. Nehemiah:

    I must move in different circles. I know many people who would declare both statements to be true.

  3. mlhouse:

    While both are true, the real issue is the MAGNITUDE of the second proposition. The real fact is that such abuse is few and far between. Yet, if you listen to BLM or "progressives" it is common.

  4. joe - constitutional scholar:

    Last sentence of Warren's post - l"I certainly think both statements are easily demonstrated as true. Why do so many treat them as mutually exclusive?"

    Mutual exclusive arguments are very common from both the right and the left. Take the second amendment - The left claims 2A provides for the state to create a militia ie a "national guard" (the individual right is only when serving in the national guard - The right claims the Militia clause in not relevant except to explain one of the purposes of the individual right.
    Ie both rights are MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE - its either or - not both.

    A well regulated Militia, (xxxxx), the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    1) the right of the people to form militias shall not be infringed and
    2) the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed

    Apologies for being somewhat off topic - but Warren pointed out the mutual exclusive issue

  5. morganovich:

    i think that is a far from a forgone conclusion. i, for one, would argue that it is the second is the far bigger and further reaching issue.

    before the very recent spate of sniper attacks, police deaths are way down. "enemy action" is just not that big a danger to cops. they are far more likely to die in a traffic accident or from obesity related disease (the biggest killer of cops btw).

    even with those risks, being a police officer does not even make the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the US. it's far more dangerous to be a roofer or a truck driver.

    this is not to say being a cop does not have its dangers, but they are far, far less than the cops make them out to be. the best thing a cop can do to avoid dying is drive more safely and up the miles jogged to doughnut ratio.

    but the instances of racism, stop and frisk, and the needless dangers police create with no knock warrants and over aggressive policing are widespread.

    this is admittedly anecdotal, but i have a good friend who is Haitian. he's ivy educated, lives in park city, and works as a venture capitalist. he gets pulled over 2-3 times a month just doing his daily commute. it's not for speeding. it's for being black in a nice car in salt lake city. police have approached him with a drawn weapon on multiple occasions after pulling him over for some trivial issue that no one gets pulled over for. (eg not signaling long enough before changing lanes)

    we're i him, i'd be absolutely livid at the harassment. it's epidemic in scale.

    try living in a "stop and frisk" neighborhood.

    it's easy to discount this sort of police antagonism when it works for you. i get pulled over for speeding, have a nice chat with the cop (including once about the gun i was carrying (legally, i have a concealed carry permit though you do not need one to carry a loaded handgun in your car in utah)) and then drive off with a warning.

    but watching my friend go through that over and over was eye opening. he ultimately moved out of state over it.

    i don't think such abuse is few and far between. i just think it's either aimed at you and yours, so you notice, or it isn't, so you don't.

  6. Joe:

    Anecdotal - As a young white driver (teenage year through college) I likewise was pulled over frequently 10-20 times a year. I was a moderately decent driver as a teenager.

    The most logical reason is that young men commit the vast majority of crime and tend to be the worst drivers - so they get pulled over much more often.

    Ideally, the rate of being pulled over by the police should roughly correspond to the rate of crime and/or bad driving done by each demographic group. Young blacks males should get pulled over at higher rates than young whites for the simple reason that the crime rate among the demographic group is higher. That being said, I suspect that young black males do get pulled over at a rate higher than the corresponding rate of crime by that demographic group, though the gap is likely much smaller that is depicted.

  7. morganovich:


    i'm not sure i understand you here. if your point is that young men are more likely to speed/break driving laws etc, then yes. when you get pulled over it should be for committing a driving infraction (and not some trumped up one that's just an excuse).

    if your point is "x demographic commits more crime" so they should be pulled over more often in cars, then i disagree. the 2 have no bearing on one another and statistical analysis is not a basis for a stop and search. that's not how innocent until proven guilty works. you have to actually do something, not looks like a group that does.

    part of the difficulty with the "blacks males commit more crimes" argument is the data to support it is circular and can support multiple conclusions. such claims tend to be based on arrest rates, but arrest rates are not an independent variable of racism. if police are racist, they might arrest a black kid while letting a white kid go with a warning or in the care of parents.

    this gets far, far worse in terms of skew if one looks at conviction. you get the justice you can afford. a good lawyer will get charges dropped, dismissed, or pled out. a public defender will get you far less. socioeconomic status has a HUGE effect on justice system outcomes.

    so, when we say "blacks commit more crimes" we have to be very careful how we measure that and that we are not measuring racism and poverty instead.

    there is also a skew toward black arrests because they live in cities. country kids can go smoke pot in the woods. city kids have a harder time finding a spot to be unobserved.

    it may well be that, per capita, blacks commit more crimes, but i suspect the difference to be overstated. drug use is not higher among blacks, nor drug dealing. it's just done in less protected environments.

    the stats here are really hard to normalize.

  8. mlouis:

    Since when is poverty an excuse to break the law. I've been poor in the past...i would argue I was less likely to commit a crime because I spent many more hours working.

  9. mlhouse:

    The flip side of the coin about the so called racism of "stop and frisk" is that the vast majority of the victims of crimes in these neighborhoods are minorities. So, if the cops motivation behind these activities is racists, why bother? I am sure that they have more enjoyable activities to do, like eat donuts to contribute to their heart disease, than to go through the physical exertion of stopping and frisking some minority youth.

    So, it the racism behind the actions only depends upon looking at it from one direction.

    AS far as police stops, to claim that the races do not commit crimes at different rates is counter-factual. If one race committed crimes at a higher rate, logic would present that they would be stopped by the police at higher rates. IT is that simple.

    Lastly, most of the physical, including lethal, actions taken by police are caused by people who resist arrest. If you resist arrest you are going to really escalate the level of force used against you. There is a video circulating showing some Philadelphia cops beating hte crap out of some inner city kid. But, he resisted. The other dude that the police were arresting did not resist. He stood motionless with his hands against the wall just as the officer left him. The kid was a scrawny guy. The Philly police officers looked like people that advertise for anabolic steroids. Only a total moron would resist arrest against them but this kid did. He made his choice. But if it was just about "racism", why wasn't the other black kid beaten?

  10. joe - the economist:

    The number one cause of poverty is not working (excluding retired/inherited wealth)

  11. CC:

    The problem is that people treat "police" as a category, just like they treat "whites" or "men". Any failures by one X mean all of X is tainted. On the one hand, it is true that some experience on the job probably teaches cops that certain groups are more dangerous to interact with than others, making them trigger happy.
    On the other hand: a) the personality types attracted to policing include the bully type and b) many police forces do NOT teach how to de-escalate situations. This is especially true with drunk/crazy/stoned people. The cops yell hands up and want instant obedience but these people are unable to respond. It is also very dangerous to not speak English, to be deaf, or to be disabled if you interact with cops.
    The worst problem in my mind is that once they shoot someone, they make no effort to stop the bleeding or get help (in some cases). Example was that huge shootout with bikers (in Waco?)--victims bled to death who could have been saved.

  12. NormD:

    If you averaged work-related deaths of the entire military if might sound like being a soldier is a safe occupation. But if you happen to be located on a lonely firebase in Afghanistan, this statistic may not be comforting.

    I wonder if your averaging of death rates over all police hides some problems. I assume some types or places of policing are more dangerous. Big cities, for example, but perhaps undercover work, maybe even a county sheriff who operates where drug gangs grow marijuana.