The civil rights movement is dead, RIP

Black leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson criticize racialing profiling in the legal system, but they espouse the same logic in their own politics.

Published September 5, 2000 8:00AM (EDT)

The good news about Al Sharpton's "Redeem the Dream" march to end racial profiling is that it was only a modest affair. Its numbers didn't approach the Million Man March, and the roster of speakers was most notable for its gaps. The bad news is that the event even took place at all. For this was a march that showed just how irrational we have become about race, as a nation, in this fourth decade of the civil rights crusade.

Sharpton held his event Aug. 26 at the Lincoln Memorial with co-host Martin Luther King III, whose attendance was intended to establish a historical link to his father's speech on the same steps decades before. Sharpton's aim was to commemorate the victory over government-enforced segregation in the South -- and to claim, at the same time, that government racism is as big a problem as ever. But one could hardly imagine a more embarrassing caricature of King's triumph than this carnival of sham grievances ("Free Mumia!") and double standards (like the event's implicit message that white racists are bad, but black racists are OK).

But unlike Martin Luther King Jr.'s great march, which deliberately excluded the Nation of Islam, Sharpton's platform embraced its leader, Louis Farrakhan, and other black promoters of racial hatred. Speaker after speaker celebrated a totalitarian unity of black organizations -- the NAACP and Farrakhan, the National Council of Negro Women and the "New Black Panthers." There was even an "I have a black dream" speech delivered by Malik Zulu Shabazz, the "Minister of Justice" of the new Panther Party, whose national chairman is the raving anti-white, anti-Jew, anti-Catholic, anti-gay Khalid Muhammad. The message of Zulu Shabazz's hate-spiked rant? "For every casket and funeral in our community there should be a casket and funeral in the enemy's community."

In addition to the lack of reaction to thinly veiled race war incitements, the day's message was not so different from the thematic slogan of the march: "No justice, no peace" -- a threat of civil mayhem that Sharpton has made his mantra (and even flashes on his Web site, directly above a photo of his Democratic booster, Bill Bradley). Farrakhan emissary Ishmael Muhammad appeared at the podium to do a pale imitation of the master, who had sent his "Queen" to represent him. But it was boxing promoter Don King, introduced as "a philanthropist" who best summed up the event: "Only in America."

Today, this is the "civil rights" movement. The racial arsonists from the Nation of Islam, the Old and New Black Panthers and Sharpton's own National Action Network were joined at the microphone by Kweisi Mfume, the president of the NAACP; Laura Murphy, the president of the ACLU; Gerald Reed, the national president of Blacks in Government (who told the crowd "privatization is nothing but a plan to eliminate a race from government"); the head of the Urban League, Hugh Price (who was clearly uncomfortable, and spoke for less than two minutes); Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee; and Andrew Cuomo, secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And, of course, there was Johnnie Cochran, who told the assembled: "Go and serve on a jury. Somebody who looks like you is on trial and needs you to serve on a jury for them." Get it, whitey?

All in all, it was a disgraceful day.

However deplorable the march may have been, it was not an insignificant event. Its principal theme, the injustice of racial profiling, has become the principal cause of the civil rights movement, extending up to the highest ranks of government. On the eve of his march, for example, Sharpton met with Attorney General Janet Reno and called for an executive order from the White House to block federal funding for cities that engage in a proven pattern of racial profiling. If elected, Al Gore has promised he will make sure that the first civil rights act of the new century will bring an end to racial profiling.

Too bad Sharpton's misguided acolytes have failed to find an honest definition of racial profiling. "Study on this issue should be over," Martin Luther King III proclaimed to the crowd, "the facts are on the table." Well, not exactly. What the facts tell us is anything but simple.

Profiling, in general, is an indispensable tool of law enforcement -- essential in utilizing scarce resources efficiently. The left claims that profiling of African-Americans is racist, but not even Sharpton has accused the police of arbitrarily stopping elderly black women -- at least he hasn't yet.

Sharpton has also forgotten that there are sound statistical reasons why young black males are stopped so frequently. The 1997 FBI Uniform Crime Report shows that one-in-three black males is already a convicted felon. Although African-American men constitute only 6 percent of the overall population, they account for roughly 40 percent of the country's violent crimes. The fact that such profiling sometimes casts unfair suspicion on non-criminal young black males is certainly unfair, but such overwhelming statistics belie simplistic characterizations of profiling as pure racism.

Los Angeles police chief Bernard Parks, who is both African-American and a supporter of racial profiling, offered the following example to a New York Times Sunday Magazine reporter to explain the type of case where profiling is acceptable: "We have an issue of violent crime against jewelry salespeople ... The predominant suspects are Colombians. We don't find Mexican-Americans or blacks or other immigrants. It's a collection of several hundred Colombians who commit this crime. If you see six in a car in front of the Jewelry Mart, and they're waiting and watching people with briefcases, should we play the percentages and follow them? It's common sense." Jesse Jackson, in a rare moment of candor, once conceded an idea much the same: "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life," he said in 1993, "than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved."

In many instances, it's common sense for police to include race along with other factors in creating a profile of possible perpetrators. It makes everyone -- especially law-abiding citizens in high-crime areas, who are disproportionately black -- a lot safer. The courts have already ruled sensibly in these matters.

"Large groups of our citizens should not be regarded by law enforcement officers as presumptively criminal based upon their race. [However], facts are not to be ignored simply because they are unpleasant," the 8th Circuit of the Federal Court of Appeals ruled in U.S. vs. Weaver.

But common sense is the last thing to guide high-minded "progressives." On June 4, the American Civil Liberties Union ran a full-page, accusatory ad about racial profiling on the inside cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. The ad, which cost approximately $80,000, featured head shots of Martin Luther King Jr. and psychotic killer Charles Manson. The ad copy read: "THE MAN ON THE LEFT [Martin Luther King] Is 75 Times More Likely To Be Stopped By The Police While Driving Than THE MAN ON THE RIGHT [Charles Manson]. The stated reason: "Police stop drivers based on their skin color rather than for the way they are driving." The same false claim is made in "Driving While Black," a 1999 ACLU report. "No person of color is safe from this treatment [racial profiling and traffic stops] anywhere, regardless of their obedience to the law, their age, the type of car they drive, or their station in life," the report claimed.

But the "explanatory" text of the ACLU ad reveals just how far an organization of "civil liberties" lawyers is prepared to go in manipulating falsehoods to hoodwink Americans into believing that racism is rampant in every police department and on every highway. Too bad the only evidence actually offered by the ACLU is that "in Florida, 80 percent of those stopped and searched were black and Hispanic, while they constituted only 5 percent of all drivers." The use of a Florida statistic might not have been so bad if the ACLU weren't trying to use a single set of statistics to implicate every law enforcement agency in America. Too bad, then, that the figures were both misleading and inaccurate.

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 11 percent of the state's drivers are Hispanic or black, more than twice as many as the ACLU claims in its ad. (But even the official figure is probably low, since Florida authorities count Mexicans and Cubans as "white.") But the ACLU's most egregious error, giving it the benefit of the doubt that the mistake was unintentional, is that it overlooked the fact that, according to the Florida Department of Corrections, 85 percent of the convicted drug dealers in Florida (likely targets of road stops in a state where drug trafficking is a major trade) are Hispanic or black. And though black males constitute only 6 percent of Florida's population, they commit 50 percent of all serious crimes. These sad statistics ought to be the factual -- and defensible -- basis of the state's law-enforcement policies. In other words, the state ought to be focusing its prevention efforts on the communities and groups where crimes are most likely to be committed.

Sadly, they don't. Under the threat of legal harassment from politically correct organizations like the ACLU, Florida's Highway Patrol has taken steps to enforce its laws, as much as possible, within the racial and ethnic parameters of the population census rather than the criminal census. According to its own statistics for June, 17 percent of traffic stops were of Hispanics, who constitute 12 percent of the population; 19 percent of the stops were of blacks, who constitute 14 percent of the population. Statistics for the preceding six months were similar.

Further undercutting the ACLU's allegations is the fact that many of the traffic stops conducted in Florida were by officers who are themselves Hispanic or black. Twenty percent of the Florida Highway Patrol is black or Hispanic -- a fact that seems crucial to any consideration of potential racial prejudice in law enforcement.

The failure of the left and civil rights organizations like the ACLU to scrutinize these facts demonstrates a sure sign of the presence of an ideological force disconnected from reality.

During the months leading up to Sharpton's march, a number of politicized universities and left-wing think tanks issued reports critical of racial disparities in the legal system. The reports were eagerly picked up by papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which ran stories about them with cautionary headlines such as "Justice is Not Color Blind, Studies Find," or "Study Finds Racial Disparity in 'Zero Tolerance' enforcement."

A common and disturbing thread throughout these reports was the conspicuous absence of statistics stating the actual crimes that were committed. It is true, for example, that more cocaine "offenders" (e.g. customers) are white, but more blacks are in jail for cocaine offenses. But unless the nature of these offenses is described, any claims about punishments being "disparate" are meaningless. (Remember, it was liberal lawmakers, supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, who formed the consensus that removed the penalties and lifted the pressures on drug consumption, while at the same time stiffening penalties for violent and organized drug trafficking. Right or wrong, conservatives went along. But now it has become apparent that the violent and career criminal felons who conduct the drug business are mainly black and Hispanic. That is a problem, but it is not a problem created by a racist justice system.)

Professional drug dealers are often involved in criminal gangs -- another reason why so many black and brown criminals fill the nation's jails. There are an estimated 31,000 gangs in the United States that have a combined membership approaching 1 million. Eighty percent of these gang members are Hispanic and black. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the violent juvenile defendants in criminal courts are black males; 60 percent of the juvenile murder defendants in criminal court are black males; as are 72 percent of the rape defendants, 78 percent of robbery defendants, 61 percent of assault defendants and 65 percent of defendants charged with other types of violent crime, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention. These facts alone account for a good deal of the disparity in prison statistics.

Moreover, the false images cooked up by the left, and so casually promoted by the working press, have tragic consequences for the very communities they purport to defend. Only 79 percent of juveniles convicted of violent crimes are sent to prison -- a fact that is decorously explained in the above cited report that under "the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act states must determine whether the proportion of minorities in confinement exceeds their proportion in the overall population. If overrepresentation is found, states must demonstrate efforts to reduce it ..." And the "racist" state governments do so, these days, by releasing convicted violent criminals back to the streets where they will be free to commit even more mayhem.

The idea that black youth are the targets of a racist system that is indifferent to their fate is a monstrous libel against those in the criminal justice system, white, black and brown, who work against impossible odds to keep these youngsters on the right side of the law. Of the 1.5 million cases of juvenile delinquency and crime processed in 1994, for example, only 55 percent resulted in legal action. Of these, only 1.4 percent -- the most severe cases -- were handled in criminal court, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. These statistics reflect the scarcity of law enforcement resources and the overly tolerant view of the system itself, which in metropolitan areas where these crimes are concentrated is largely administered by "progressives" and liberals.

Large metropolitan law enforcement agencies are now multi-ethnic and multi-gendered rather than white and male (the much-despised Los Angeles Police Department, for one prime example, is a 53 percent minority force). But in the rhetoric of ideologues like Sharpton and Jackson, "white supremacy" is always the demon that oppresses. Both men have even gone so far as to invent racist crimes by whites in order to sustain their lucrative hatreds. The Tawana Brawley incident, which would have terminally discredited any public figure other than Sharpton, is well known.

More recently, however, Jesse Jackson launched his own campaign of racial accusation, in an effort to transform the tragic suicide of 17-year-old Raynard Jackson in Mississippi into a white "hate crime." Following the news of Raynard's death in June, Jackson hopped on a plane to Mississippi, where he led 1,000 marchers chanting "stop the lynching now; stop killing our children," and announced that "some man or men did this evil." But when the investigation was concluded, it was clear that there had been no lynching. Instead, investigators discovered that Raynard's white girlfriend had recently broken up with him, a plausible catalyst of his depression. But Jackson's trip was a partial success -- which coverage do you think the public remembers? The investigation or the Jackson's allegations of a lynching?

Just two months before Jackson descended on Mississippi to accuse unnamed and unknown whites of lynching Raynard, 8-year-Kevin Shifflett was attacked by a black racist in Alexandria, Va., a suburb of the nation's capital. The racist attacker was a 29-year-old parole violator, who had been previously incarcerated for a hammer attack on an unarmed white male, whom he did not know, and whom he referred to only as "whitey." This time the attacker used a knife to slash Kevin's throat. According to an eyewitness, the attacker shouted a racial epithet at the third-grader as he went in for the kill. Later, police found a note in the suspect's hotel room: "Kill them raceess [sic] white kidd's [sic] ..."

For three months, the Virginia authorities concealed the racial identity of the suspect, as well as the fact that it might have been a racial attack. Eventually, the Washington Post did run several stories describing how police had withheld the facts and how they had found the note in the suspect's apartment. But the rest of the media ignored the case.

If Kevin had been black and his attacker white, consider the national media coverage that would have attended this case. Moral edicts and blanket charges would have been hurled from the Capitol rotunda at an anguished national audience; a presidential press conference would have devoted itself to extravagant mea culpas denouncing the outrage. Instead, the media engaged in the same kind of racial profiling Jackson, Sharpton, the NAACP, the ACLU and other members of their vanguard have imposed on our moral discourse.

Any person not in the grips of a racial ideology can plainly see that racist profiling does not, in fact, characterize the institutions of the American polity. But it does define the agenda of the political left. After all, what is the "civil rights" movement, as articulated by the left, but race profiling? It is the left that demands racial boxes in the U.S. Census. It is the left that defends racial preferences in admissions policies and government job contracts. It is the left that requires political positions and judicial appointments to conform to a quota system based on skin color. It is the left that agitates for a race-conscious (as opposed to a color-blind) system of government and laws -- a reversal of the entire meaning of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, which were fought specifically to outlaw such systems in the segregated South. And, ironically, it is the conservative opponents of race profiling, led by University of California regent Ward Connerly who have spearheaded the campaign to end legal discrimination by government bodies and restore a single standard based on an individual merit and achievement not ethnicity and skin color.

Racial profiling in the name of racial justice and equality has its own catalog of victims -- both black and white. Every inner-city youngster killed by a black criminal who has been released from jail because of the "disproportionate minority confinement" requirement is a victim of Jackson and the progressive race profilers. Every law enforcement officer (black and white) unjustly targeted for suspicion is a victim of left-wing racism. And every false seed of doubt sown in minority communities about the fairness of law enforcement bears bitter fruit in increased power for the predators who terrorize those communities and fill the lives of their inhabitants with fear.

Before Americans give further credence to racial arsonists, they may want to ponder these facts and the awful implications of the silence that still engulfs the murder of an 8-year-old Virginian, who happened to be white, and who was brutally slaughtered because of the color of his skin.

By David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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