The fact that New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the Rev. Al Sharpton represent the opposing points of view in today’s renewed debate over policing and race is a fitting reflection of the nationwide racial divide on this issue: It would be difficult to cast more extreme spokespersons for the competing viewpoints, but it would also be difficult to find an issue about which whites and minorities more fundamentally disagree.

Yet for all the rancor that divides Giuliani and Sharpton, they are seeking the same goal: legitimacy in law enforcement. Both men have identified a critical element of that legitimacy. The very racial divide they personify, however, makes acknowledging the truth in both men’s views especially difficult. The concerns at the center of this racial divide are not new. Were it not for some of its dated rhetoric, the following excerpt from the 1968 Kerner Commission report, discussing the causes of the riots that befell many American cities in the late 1960s, could well be a description of New York City today: Negroes firmly believe that police brutality and harassment occur repeatedly in Negro neighborhoods. This belief is unquestionably one of the major reasons for intense Negro resentment against the police.