Race Card: New York Times Distorts NYPD Commander's Words

Race Card: New York Times Distorts NYPD Commander's Words

In a front page story, The New York Times intimated that race was a deciding factor in how the New York Police Department determines whom to stop in it’s proactive stop and frisk policy, which has helped drive crime down to its lowest rate in many decades. The Times reports the words of a police commander secretly recorded during an evaluation with a patrolman, but “the paper of record” distorts his words and leaves key parts of the recording out of its analysis, making the commander seem to be basing his criteria solely on race.

In the March 21 piece, the Times sonorously informs readers that, “a recording suggests that, in at least one precinct, a person’s skin color can be a deciding factor in who is stopped,” and goes on to selectively report what is on that recording, leading readers to think the policy is all about race.

This recording was played during a class action lawsuit questioning the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy, a tactic that NYC officials in both the police department and city government credit for the huge drop in crime across the Big Apple. The suit also alleges that there are racial quotas in the policy that “encourage officers to stop people unlawfully.”

The Gray Lady reports that the police commander, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, urged the officer, Patrolman Pedro Serrano, to stop and frisk “the right people at the right time, the right location.”

The criteria for this policy, the Times leads readers to believe, is race-based. 

“Officer Serrano, 43, testified on Thursday,” the Times says, “that he believed his supervisors used the expression to pressure officers to stop blacks and Hispanics without reasonable suspicion.”

Further driving home the race angle, the Times focuses on the “ambiguity” of the policy.

“The ambiguity in how the phrase ‘stopping the right people’ is used by police commanders, and how it may be interpreted by patrol officers, was evident in the recordings played in court,” Times reporter Joseph Goldstein writes.

But there are several mitigating factors that the paper leaves out of its coverage of the story.

Firstly, the officer that “surreptitiously recorded the conversation,” Officer Serrano, is not just some innocent party suddenly thrust into the limelight. Previous to the recording, the officer had joined the Center for Constitutional Rights lawsuit against the department and, during the recording, it seems obvious that he was attempting to goad Inspector McCormack into a confrontation.

The Times doesn’t report it, but the only person raising his voice and getting hysterical on the tape is Officer Serrano. Inspector McCormack stays calm and collected the whole time, and at one point even notes that Serrano is putting words in his mouth just to get a rise from him.

From the tone of the recording, it seems evident that Serrano is baiting his superiors in order to get them in a compromising position and that the secretly recorded tape was made to help support Serrano’s position in the lawsuit.

But more importantly, the paper leaves out all the things that Inspector McCormack says on the tape that would tend to obviate from the Times’ chief accusation: that the NYPD is racist in its stop-and-frisk policy.

Heather MacDonald of City Journal has a more complete account of what Inspector McCormack says on the same tape played in court last week.

For instance, Serrano tries to goad the Inspector into admitting that he is telling the officer to harass people of color simply because they are minorities. But on the tape McCormack and another supervisor in the room at the time attempt to disabuse Serrano of that notion.

As Mac Donald points out, “Serrano had seemed to suggest that he regularly moved whole groups of young people along if he saw them loitering. In response, an unidentified supervisor on the tape rebukes Serrano for overly broad enforcement actions.”

Serrano is corrected on this notion by the unnamed supervisor who says, as Mac Donald reports, “An officer needs to suspect that a crime is in progress before making a stop, he tells Serrano: ‘You just don’t randomly go up and tell people to move. In your mind, there’s an infraction there. They’re committing a crime… be clear on that . . . you are stopping these people and addressing them… because they are doing something wrong.’ McCormack adds that the department only stops and summons ‘the right people at the right time, the right location.'”

Serrano goes on to put more words in his supervisors’ mouth, claiming that they are telling him to “stop every black and Hispanic.” But neither McCormack nor the other supervisor had mentioned anything about race as a criteria for stops up to that point on the tape.

Inspector McCormack then repeats the department’s policy saying, “You’re telling me you’re going to stop everybody? You want to stop all black and Hispanic?… This is about stopping the right people, [at] the right place, [at] the right location.”

In other words, McCormack is telling Officer Serrano that there has to be some threat or some suspicion of a threat–not just a racial reason–before the police are to roust any group of people.

Despite McCormack’s continued insistence that it has nothing to do with race, though, Serrano starts yelling about racism on the tape, prompting McCormack to wonder just what Serrano’s motive is in the meeting.

“He was adding on that I wanted him to stop every black and Hispanic. He’s adding on that we wanted him to stop everybody in the street and to summons everybody in the street… That’s wrong,” McCormack says on the tape.

MacDonald makes an important point about the NYPD’s policy, one the Times ignores:

That argument means that if police target their enforcement activity at high-crime areas, they will necessarily be accused by the Times of racial profiling. The 40th Precinct is 26 percent black, but in 2011, blacks committed over 52 percent of all violent crime there, according to victims and witnesses of those crimes. Neither the Times nor the advocates have ever said what they think police stop ratios should look like in light of such crime figures. In fact, blacks made up 53 percent of all stops, 43 percent of which were made on suspicion of weapons possession.

With its intense focus on portraying the NYPD policy as a race-based issue, all the facts about this tape recording are not being reported by The New York Times.

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