Driving while black, blogging while white


TCF Bank vice president Scott Johnson

is one of the Twin Cities more prominent starboard voices. He is a co-proprietor of the popular pro-war blog Powerline, writes columns for the Daily Standard, and serves as a board member at the Minnesota-based right wing think tank, the

Center of the American Experiment.

Johnson generally devotes his considerable energies to garden variety blog-and-destroy missions. The target is usually the same: those nefarious forces of liberalism which seek to despoil our great nation.

And who can blame him for the outrage? After all, liberals do run everything these days--that is, aside from such piddling institutions such as the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the White House, etc.

The other day, in his Daily Standard column, Johnson took a break from his tireless defense of Karl Rove and other matters of international gravity to venture into decidely local territory: the great Minneapolis crime wave of 2005.

For a banker, Johnson is surprisingly hysterical in his assessment of the city's troubles. "Downtown sidewalks," he reports breathlessly, "have become daytime hangouts for gang thugs" and Minneapolis is, once again, "Murderapolis." The explanation for these horrific developments? According to Johnson, they are a product of the liberal elite's "opposition to racial profiling."

That's right. By bullying police departments such as the MPD into examining racial disparities in traffic stops, Johnson argues, the government has unleashed a tsunami of violence upon the hapless citizenry. If only cops were given free reign to round up the usual suspects--and we all know who they are, don't we?--Minneapolis could be purged of evil-doers overnight. While Johnson doesn't say it outright, you get the feeling he might like to take matters one step further: ship those "thugs" to Gitmo, where interreogators might be able to establish the inevitable ties between the Gangster Disciples and Al Qaeda.

Interestingly, Johnson does not see fit to make much mention of some of the more significant factors in the Minneapolis crime problem: the ever increasing numbers of guns on city streets, the gross disparity in income levels between races, and a fairly astonishing reduction in the size of the MPD. Of course, the latter matter--to which Johnson does devote a total of two sentences in the penultimate pararagraph of his windy screed--is largely a product of constant drumming from anti-tax agitators. In other words, people like Johnson--affluent white folk who, if they ever heard the phrase "driving while black," have no idea what it really means.

ADDENDUM:It turns out that I wasn't the only reader to gag after encountering Johnson's Daily Standard column. David Brauer, editor of the Skyway News and The Southwest Journal, posted a pointed, stat-laden retort on the Minneapolis Issues listserv. I couldn't find a ready link, but with Brauer's permission reprint his evisceration below:

In his article, "Return to Murderapolis," Scott Johnson laments the "destructive effects of one-party liberal rule" to explain the city's 2005 murder rate.

However, Johnson conveniently omits the culpability of a second party: the state GOP, which in 2003 and 2004 pushed through a $24 million state-aid cut to Minneapolis's general fund. That buys a whole lot of cops.

I know burden-sharing is unpopular in some circles, but the state sliced 10 percent off the city's general fund, three-quarters of which pays for the basics: police, fire and roads. Swallowing such a cut while confronting rising health-care costs (a problem not unique to Minneapolis City Hall) could only result in fewer boots on the street.

Other crimes of omission:

Johnson cites two "high-profile" 2002 murders to "suggest gangs had retaken the streets and that Murderapolis had returned."

Uh-oh. Murders rose from 43 in 2001 to 46 in 2002 - and then fell to 44 in 2003, the second-lowest year since the 1995 peak. Even last year's 54 were fewer than the 58 in 1998, after the "Giuliani" reforms Johnson credits for a "virtually immediate" Minneapolis crime drop. Logicians should beware of anecdotal "suggestions" in place of data.

While Johnson laments the "deterioration" in city crime-fighting between 2000 and 2005, Minneapolis Part I crimes - the most serious, driven by citizen reports, not police - fell EVERY YEAR from 1997 to 2003, rising by five incidents in 2004. Such a crime wave! Even the 2004 number is a stunning 40 percent below 1997, and 19 percent below 1999, Johnson's last "pre-deterioration" year.

Aggravated assault numbers might rise this year - from a decimated base. In, 2004, there were 2,026 agg-assault reports - 10 percent fewer than 1999 (2,387) and 15 percent below 1998 (2,691).

The rise in murder and aggravated assaults in the past several months is real and worrisome - but the "trend" is so short term as to defy Johnson's pat analysis. Aside from statistical anomaly, a reasonable person could identify many causes besides alleged liberal turpitude: a continuingly sluggish economy (is it only Bush who gets off blaming the "triple whammy?"), more felons getting out of jail (in a state with no Democratic governor since 1990), or, as police say, the emergence of new, younger gang members who take time to remove.

And besides, blaming "lakeshore liberals" smacks of class warfare, which no conservative supports, right?

Much of Johnson's case rests on the claim that a 2000 racial disparity study reduced enforcement. But while traffic stops fell, suspicious vehicle stops rose - probably a better way to find criminals.

The article contains other crimes against intellectual honesty.

Johnson writes that Downtown businesses that sought police help this spring were told to hire private security guards. He provides no source or link. However, downtown Minneapolis's Skyway News (which I edit) reported that police told businesspeople they wanted to work more closely with Downtown's private security guards to cost- effectively extend public safety. It's called a public-private partnership, and Johnson would applaud it in other circumstances if he didn't have an ideological axe to grind.

By the way, about the "Murderapolis" headline: Johnson credits it to the New York Times, but it was actually coined by a local gun dealer. Call that offense a misdemeanor.

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