Last month I wrote a somewhat sarcastic post called “Commissioner Bratton Is Off His Damn Rocker,” where I criticized Bratton’s statement about how “cop haters” who post videos of cops arresting to social media were making officers’ jobs needlessly difficult. I suggested that he take a vacation to clear his head. But after reading this interview with the The Guardian, in which Bratton said, “we have a significant population gap among African American males because so many of them have spent time in jail and, as such, we can’t hire them,” I don’t think vacation is enough. I think he might need psychiatric help, because his grip on reality seems seriously shaky. He seems incapable of reflection, which is a problem for an organization that needs to take a cold, hard look at itself and its policies.
A little background: Bratton’s comments were made as part of a Guardian investigation into the experiences of black NYPD officers. This year, the police academy is graduating its smallest class of black officers since the 1960s. Black men account for only 6.86% of the graduating class, and black women 4%. In 1970, 7.3% of the graduating class was black. Black people make up 22% of New York’s population. 57% percent of New York City’s inmate population is black. In his interview, Bratton was addressing the challenges the NYPD faces in recruiting black officers. He blamed that difficulty on the fact that black men go to jail so much. Whoa.
Does he hear himself when he speaks? Commissioner Bill Bratton, I ask you, who plays a big role in creating that problem? Who is arresting all of these black men in New York City? I honestly don’t know if Bill Bratton would answer “the NYPD, which I am the leader of,” because he’s so out of touch with reality. He blames part of the shrinking of the talent pool on stop-and-frisk. Because that policy targeted young men of color, the “population pool [of eligible non-white officers] is much smaller than it might ordinarily have been.” This is accurate, but citing it is such a huge deflection of responsibility for the systemic racism endemic to the justice system, and a dig at the administration of former commissioner Ray Kelly.
Gawker’s Andy Cush observed Bratton’s attempt to make a straw man of stop-and-frisk:
Let’s briefly and unscientifically run the numbers on his claim. Black people make up roughly a quarter of New York City’s 8.4 million-person population, and across all ethnicities, roughly 78 percent of New Yorkers are over 18. Even if half of all black adults had been sufficiently ensnared by the law to prevent them from becoming cops, that leaves more than 800,000 black people living in the five boroughs who are eligible to fill spots on a roster of about 34,000 NYPD officers, or will be eligible in a few years (The minimum age to become a cop is 22). And with no policy requiring NYPD officers to live in the city they serve, those figures entirely leave out cops who live on Long Island or in Westchester. In attempting to gently repudiate stop-and-frisk—a policy that a federal judge called unconstitutional and discriminatory in 2013—Bratton has essentially overstated rates of black criminality by two or three orders of magnitude.
Bratton isn’t 100% wrong, but he’s diagnosing a symptom as the cause, which amounts to him being very wrong. Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project, got much closer to the truth: “We’re certain the disfavor and the antagonism in the black community toward the police is a principal factor in why so few black men want to become police officers,” he told The Guardian. In other words, black people don’t want to be police because police don’t like them. The police call them “savages” and “animals” and target them for low-level crimes. And then, with records, they wouldn’t be able become cops even if they wanted to.
Bill Bratton needs to sit down with a mental health professional and get to work on whatever it is that’s preventing him from seeing clear, simple facts.