Zeller response to Minneapolis City Council member Blong Yang on lurking law and crime

On Monday (Oct. 24) Minneapolis City Council member Blong Yang responded to my earlier Star Tribune op-ed that discussed the council’s politically correct repeal of their lurking ordinance and the likely connection with recent downtown shootings.  Here’s my response to his arguments:

He says I suggested “that the repeal of the lurking ordinance in MInneapolis (sic) has tied the hands of law enforcement.”  This isn’t my original idea, I was quoting Minneapolis police union leader Lt. Bob Kroll who pleaded with the City Council not to take away this “very useful tool” as reported by the Star Tribune May 7, 2015 (Minneapolis argues repeal of spitting, lurking laws).  Yang also dismisses the law as insignificant, like “a drip in my kitchen sink.”  But that’s the point cops are trying to get through to him, it’s not inconsequential.  Here’s what one cop says about how losing the lurking ordinance has tied his hands (“By ignoring facts – who commits crime, and how policies support it – we make policing impossible,” Star Tribune, Aug. 7):

It used to be, if a homeowner called at 4 a.m. about a guy in his back yard or a furtive person peering in car windows, I could stop and ID him.  Often, I’d find a warrant for his arrest, or he might run and throw drugs or a gun. That probably meant one less robbery or assault, one less gun on the street.

Aggravated assault is up 18% this year (citywide through October, compared to last year).  I doubt council member Yang, or his constituents, think that is insignificant.

Then council member Yang says I shouldn’t cite something, namely the lurking ordinance, that I know nothing about.  Again it’s not about me, I’m quite a humble guy (actually humbler than most) and my argument rests on experience of three veteran police officers, who may know more about the practical aspects of controlling crime than the freshman council member.

Next law school graduate Yang tries to cover the Council caving to political correctness by claiming the lurking ordinance was unconstitutional.  That is very easy to say, but if true, why hasn’t that opinion prevailed in the courts?  Of the 400 lurking arrests made in a recent five year period, not one defense attorney, who are sworn to provide the best defense possible for their clients, ever successfully argued that the ordinance used to arrest their client was unconstitutional.

Finally council member Yang disputes that blacks are committing crimes at rates significantly higher than their percentage of the population and blames racial profiling.  I concede that there is some bias in the system and that blacks face challenges while driving as evidenced by conservative U.S. Senator Tim Scott’s recent remarks on the Senate floor in which he describes his experience being pulled over seven times in one year.  But the overwhelming number of black victims of violent crime and other crime facts make Yang’s mistaken belief untenable.  The six young male gang members who were recently shot downtown had 110 contacts with police that likely weren’t racial profiling.

For more on crime, race, and policing I want to quote Heather Mac Donald, perhaps the leading expert in the country on these issue.  [Heather will be in Minneapolis December 8 to lead an American Experiment forum on these issues and we hope many community leaders will attend and be part of the event.  The lunch program runs from noon to 1:15 pm at Hilton Minneapolis, cost is $30.]  Here are stats that Heather Mac Donald published in the Washington Post that will give us a more accurate picture of what is really happening:

[A]s of July 9, whites were 54 percent of the 440 police shooting victims this year whose race was known, blacks were 28 percent and Hispanics were 18 percent, according to The Washington Post’s ongoing database of fatal police shootings. Those ratios are similar to last year’s tally, in which whites made up 50 percent of the 987 fatal police shootings, and blacks, 26 percent. (The vast majority of those police homicide victims were armed or otherwise threatening the officer.)

Does the actual distribution of police victims confirm the Black Lives Matter allegation that policing is lethally biased? That depends on the benchmark chosen for assessing police actions.

Typically, activists and the media measure police actions against population ratios. Given that blacks are 13 percent of the nation’s population, a 26 to 28 percent black share of police gun fatalities looks disproportionate. But policing should be measured against crime rates, not population percentages, because law enforcement today is data-driven. Officers are deployed to where people are most being victimized, and that is primarily in minority neighborhoods.

In America’s 75 largest counties, comprising most of the nation’s population, blacks constituted 62 percent of all robbery defendants in 2009, 57 percent of all murder defendants, and 45 percent of all assault defendants — but roughly 15 percent of the population in those counties. In New York, where blacks make up 23 percent of the city’s population, blacks commit three-quarters of all shootings and 70 percent of all robberies, according to victims and witnesses. (Whites, by contrast, commit less than 2 percent of all shootings in New York City and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are nearly 34 percent of the population.)

New York City’s crime disparities are repeated in virtually all American metropolises. … Blacks commit homicide at nearly eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Black males between the ages of 14 and 17 commit gun homicide at nearly 10 times the rate of white and Hispanic male teens combined. Should police stops, arrests and those rare police shootings nevertheless mirror population ratios, rather than crime ratios? The answer is not forthcoming from Black Lives Matter activists.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.