Warts and All, ‘No Tolerance’ Policing Has Made America Much Less Segregated


A New Orleans shopkeeper reports a robbery to police.

Die Zeit, German

“Police conduct is especially ruthless. Police intervene first and ask questions later. For Europeans, this often leaves the impression that the United States has failed as a multicultural society. But the opposite is the case. This police force is the glue that holds multicultural America together.”

Helen Hill was a leftist filmmaker. She lived in New Orleans with her husband Paul, a doctor who felt that it was his duty to serve the poor. Helen was murdered by a burglar she surprised one morning. Paul, who carried the couple’s baby in his arms, barely survived [after being shot three times by the intruder].  (The hand that feeds them was murdered by them. — conservativejock)

In New Orleans, dozens of people are murdered every year. Most of the victims are young Black men who die in gang wars. But it was the violence inflicted on Helen Hill that plunged the city into a rage. Thousands demonstrated for more police. Her murder was an affront against the unwritten rules of American society: Helen and Paul lived in a Black neighborhood – and Helen’s killer was Black. They were the area’s only White couple.

This murder also made headlines because it’s the exception to the rule. America today is in fact relatively safe. In many cities the murder rate has declined by as much as a third over recent decades. In New York alone, the number of murders fell from over 2,000 in 1990 to roughly 500 today. And 90 percent of today’s murders involve family members and acquaintances. Murders of strangers in the street or in subways are extremely rare in New York. Across the nation as well, the majority of crime victims are either Black or Hispanic gang members who shoot one another, or Black and Hispanic children murdered by their fathers.

 With the drop in crime rates, America has been functioning much better as a multicultural society than it did in the sixties and seventies. While there is (marginal) hostility toward Muslims – which is due to wars in the Middle East, Muslims in the U.S. are generally well-integrated and successful. while there are complaints about Hispanic communities being not integrated enough, those are most likely temporary.

 America is similar to Europe in its demographic composition: A Caucasian majority with a darker-skinned minority (a somewhat larger group than in Europe). But while the minority in Europe consists of immigrants, in the U.S. the situation is reversed. Here, the immigrant hierarchy is turned on its head. The immigrants who today govern the country, the majority of whom immigrated between 1880 and 1924, are White Europeans. On the other hand, those with darker-skin usually belong to the indigenous population or are descended from Black slaves who arrived before 1807, when the slave trade [in Europe] was abolished.

 And that’s how White Americans see themselves: even if they were born in Europe – as the “real” Americans. By contrast, many young African-American men, although their ancestors came to America centuries ago, feel almost like “emotional immigrants.” Like many Muslim immigrants in the French suburbs or the troubled neighborhoods of German cities, they contribute more than average to the unemployment figures, lead in terms of crime statistics and do not identify with a country from which they feel excluded.

Not only has America become “Whiter” during the course of its history, but the immigrants who weren’t initially considered “White” fought to be considered such: First it was the Irish, then the Poles, then the Southern Italians and finally the Jews. The state had to help them assimilate to such an extent that immigrants were forced to adopt anglicized names, and languages other than English, like German, were periodically banned. But Blacks were not only excluded from this forced assimilation, they were subjected to a legalized racial segregation that existed since slavery ended – in the Army, in schools, in factories and in churches. It was not until the civil rights movement, from 1948 and 1967, that legal segregation was repealed.

 Desegregation was paid for with hundreds of deaths; the federal government even sent troops to escort Black children into White schools. But it wasn’t until the “rollback” of the Reagan years that integration became acceptable to Whites as well. The reasons for this were threefold: The virtual abolition of social welfare; the extensive privatization of schools; and as mentioned earlier; the extremely successful battle against crime in the inner cities.

When Reagan publicly denounced “welfare queens,” he was referring to Black women who illegally collect welfare. This was acceptable to the White majority. Whites were also supportive under Clinton, when his administration combined social welfare with a requirement to work. A similar trend existed in the schools. Busing (White children were bused to Black schools and vice versa) led to the near total-flight of Whites from the public school system and subsequently to a drain in funding. In response, most states took a step back: today, communities support “charter schools,” which are semi-public schools children can choose like private schools.

Ultimately, the core of U.S. integration is its zero-tolerance policy toward criminals, which was advocated by New York Mayor Rudolf (or actually, more by his police commissioner,  William Bratton). In essence, it was about making inner cities in the most ethnically-diverse cities – their public parks, squares and transportation – more habitable for the White middle class by the massive augmenting of police and judicial power. Whites who had lived there in the sixties and seventies fled in droves for the suburbs.

“Zero-tolerance” involves not only harsh penalties for minor infractions and first-time offenders, but also quick judicial rulings. But even critics – and there are many – cannot deny that in the end it was a success. And that success is evident not only in the crime figures, but in the prevailing coexistence of Blacks and Whites (and Hispanics).

Large cities where police intervention is particularly effective are far less segregated today then they once were. And that’s not just on paper. You can see it in the streets, restaurants, theaters and even (at least partially) in the churches. That is particularly true in New York; but to a lesser extent Los Angeles, Chicago, or Boston. By contrast, in cities like Washington D.C., Detroit or New Orleans, where police are ineffective and corrupt, there isn’t only more crime but more segregation. And the proportion of Whites that have fled to gated communities or suburbs is much higher.  

Of course, the American system also has its disadvantages: A large proportion of the population – one percent of adults, an increase of two million people – sit in prison thanks to “No Tolerance,” many for drug violations. There are a disproportionate number of Black men amongst them. Punished particularly severely, the legal system is still prejudiced against them.

 Although it isn’t all one-sided: even crimes against Blacks or other ethnic minorities are classified as “hate crimes” and perpetrators are severely punished.

 Particularly in New York, police conduct is especially ruthless. Police intervene first and ask questions later. For Europeans, this often leaves the impression that the United States has failed as a multicultural society. But the opposite is the case. This police force is the glue that holds multicultural America together.

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