By John Klar
For years the liberal media and politicians in Vermont have condemned the state’s police, and entire legal system, as “systemically racist,” based on flawed statistical analysis of incarceration rates of blacks in the Green Mountain State. These “flaws” are by design — the truth has been clouded quite deliberately to fuel ideological division.
A University of Vermont “study” became the fulcrum to slander Vermont’s police when it demonstrated disparities in police stops, arrests, and incarcerations of black and Hispanic drivers. But this effort is embarrassingly biased, even contrived.
The study’s author, Stephanie Seguino, measured police bias by comparing traffic stops of black and Hispanic drivers to the Vermont general population, without regard to residence of the drivers. Seguino’s supposedly revelatory research became the tool to undermine police efforts to combat an opioid epidemic in which inner city gangs (of color) transport fentanyl and other drugs to Vermont. But she has persistently compared out-of-state apples to in-state oranges, perverting results.
The left argues that Vermont has a much higher incarceration rate of blacks than its underlying population, which is true, and so is systemically racist, which is patently false, even absurd. If Vermont police arrest out-of-state fentanyl dealers who are demographically quite distinct from Vermont, of course the incarceration rate of blacks will increase relative to the underlying white demographic — that is drug interdiction, not systemic racism.
Seguino’s study ignores origin, focusing on “stop rates by race compared to racial shares of the population.” How does shoddy research like this get used to craft false conclusions and slander good policing? Answer: easily, with an uncritical Vermont media that refuses to examine the underlying facts.
Thomas Sowell explains this Stalinesque pattern of obfuscation accurately in his book “Discrimination and Disparities.” American progressivism was at the forefront of the eugenics movement, and the deterministic view that genetics was the defining measure of utility. Karl Marx shifted this to economic determinism. Now the American progressives have embraced an equally dogmatic stupidity regarding race as determinant — what Sowell calls a “seemingly invincible fallacy,” and “a non sequitur underlying the prevailing social vision of our time.”
Professor Seguino’s work is just such a non sequitur, drawing outrageous conclusions from skewed statistics. Sowell specifically condemns such “disparate impact” statistics as being ideologically motivated by a “political crusade” to create a “presumption of discrimination.” He explains that facts don’t matter to dogmatists:
Stampedes toward one-factor explanations do not exempt even the leading intellectuals of an era … [from] a default setting in many social theories that regard the absence of equality in outcomes as automatic signs of some sinister influences which have prevented this natural equality from taking place. … The historic consequences of treating particular beliefs as sacred dogmas, beyond the reach of evidence or logic, should be enough to dissuade us from going down that road again — despite how exciting or emotionally satisfying political dogmas and the crusades resulting from those can be, or how convenient in sparing us the drudgery and discomfort of having to think through our own beliefs or test them against facts. (“Discrimination and Disparities” pp. 26-8)
Professor Seguino’s study remains untested against facts. Indeed, her latest updated report again avoids assessing state-of-origin of detained suspects, though she notes: “Given the low percentages of people of color in Vermont, even a small amount of missing race data can distort results.”
This is precisely why she and others love to abuse Vermont statistics, and why they refuse to examine out-of-state origins of defendants. Vermont has seen a 33% increase in opioid deaths in one year — perhaps the drugs are being transported here by “gangs of color” and the police are just doing their job? That possibility is anathema to race crusaders who formed judgments before examining truth. The opioid crisis explains Vermont’s spike in black incarcerations, but it doesn’t fit the party line.
A 2020 study by the Justice Center concluded that “Black people who are identified as residents of other states make up a small number but a larger proportion of non-residents within Vermont corrections populations.” Additionally, 19% of drug offenders were black out-of-staters, versus 5% whites (p. 31).
Vermont Public Radio covered this story in 2018, but noted the absence of out-of-state statistics:
Joy’s next study is looking at something we mentioned earlier: the question of how many African-American inmates are residents of Vermont, versus from out of state. … And according to that new report from the Department of Corrections, just 1.6 percent of Vermont’s prison population in 2017 were black people from out of state.
But Vermont is only 1.4% black: didn’t this just prove that Seguino’s statistics have been warped beyond useful analysis? — “just 1.6%” is “just” 114% of Vermont’s underlying black demographic.
A 2019 study, commissioned to assess the conduct of the Bennington Police Department, noted the shortcomings in Seguino’s work:
[Seguino’s] study … was seriously flawed and its conclusions do not stand up to academic rigor. First, the data used included multiple ticket/warnings for events. This means that if a driver received a warning and a ticket at one stop, the study counted it as two separate stops. And if a search was conducted, two separate searches. Second, it is also not clear from the authors how they resolved data inconsistencies around searches and hit rates. … In the data provided for our study, we find that in 1,000 of the 3,235 stops, the drivers had residences out of state. An additional 246 drivers had residences in Vermont but outside of Bennington County. This means that one-third of the drivers stopped had no relationship to the demographics of Bennington County.
Vermonters won’t hear about that in their media. It doesn’t fit their race mantra.
As Sowell warns: “Two of the monumental catastrophes of the twentieth century — Nazism and Communism — led to the slaughter of millions of human beings by their own governments, in the name of either ridding the world of the burden of “inferior” races or ridding the world of ‘exploiters’ responsible for the poverty of the exploited. While each of these beliefs might have been testable hypotheses, their greatest political triumphs came as dogmas placed beyond the reach of evidence or logic. … Discrimination as an explanation of economic and social disparities may have a similar emotional appeal for many.”
In Vermont, this “emotional appeal” of hate is clouding common sense as well as evidentiary analysis. It is also dangerously undermining police and opening a whole new gateway to drug traffickers from parts unknown, which will kill more citizens.
Reality will defeat dogma, in the end, one way or another.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield.