Can you judge a police officer's abilities by the color of his skin?
When Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis earlier this month promoted five officers to sergeant, the commotion it generated had everything to do with the officers' race. All five happened to be white, even though the pool of 21 officers eligible for promotion on the basis of their Civil Service test scores had included nine nonwhite candidates. The commissioner was blasted by a minority officers' advocacy group, which accused him of making a "conscious effort" to keep minorities from moving up.
Boston's mayoral hopefuls jumped on the issue. "How can we have a city of Boston that's 53 percent people of color," demanded City Councilor Charles Yancey, "and not have one person of color heading up any of the 11 police districts in the city of Boston?"
Davis pleaded in vain that there is more to police leadership than color. "I'm not going to promote every single time based on race, which is what they want me to do," he said. "I'm going to pick the best people for the positions." Nevertheless, he quickly added two black officers to the promotion list, and vigorously affirmed his commitment to a "diverse" police force. If his hands weren't tied by state law, which restricts most promotions to candidates who score well on the Civil Service exam, "our police force would look much more like the city in terms of diversity," the commissioner insisted.