Sunday, March 23, 2014

Race and Incarceration in America

In November 2012, the 47-year old Michael Dunn murdered 17-year old Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida. Dunn is white, Davis was black. Dunn killed Davis because of loud music. His defense claimed that he believed Davis to be armed. On February 15, 2014, there was a verdict: A mistrial on the murder charge (hung jury) and a guilty verdict for attempted murder. This is clearly another Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman type case. It is about the explosive mix of crime and race.

Once again many people are calling for “a discussion of race.” Of course. MSNBC and other progressives are in the forefront of this. And of course they are right. There is no way that this country is “post-racial” yet, even after electing a multi-racial president. The only problem I have is that there is a little bit of a cacophony on the Left. Let me give two examples of this:

#1. On Feb. 10, MSNBC complained that when Jordan Davis’ parents appeared in court during Dunn’s trial, they had to show that they had been good parents, which is shameful, considering that THEY are the victims.

The argument is akin to the familiar (and correct) argument that the court has no business delving into the sexual history of a victim of rape who, after all, is NOT the one on trial.

At the same time, MSNBC complained that the prosecution in the Michael Dunn case was NOT allowed to present evidence that Jordan had been a good boy (good student, etc.).

This is inconsistent. If it is demeaning for the court to examine whether or not Davis’ parents were “good parents,” then isn’t it the same with Davis himself? After all, Davis is truly the victim.

My position is that - unlike rape - in this case it would have been useful to present good character evidence on Davis’ behalf, along with the same for his parents.

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 #2. More importantly: There is the frequent allegation that America has more black men in prison than in college. However, this is not true, as guest speakers on MSNBC recently reminded us. We were told that this allegation is not only false, but that it is also racist, because it contributes to the media-induced false stereotype of the dangerous and criminal black male.

The allegation is indeed incorrect, but if it is racist, then why did President Obama mention it in a campaign speech in 2007?

To be sure, here are the facts: There are about 740,000 black men incarcerated in America, vs. 1.4 million in college (See: Black Men in Prison and in College)

However, even though there are, thank God, more black male college students than prisoners (although certainly not in elite universities), that figure of 740,000 is an outrage. Blacks make up 13% of the country’s population, and 36% of its prison population. Non-Hispanic whites make up 66% of the country, and 34% of all prisoners - There are more black prisoners than white prisoners: 740,000 vs. 700,000.

Although the “more black men in prison than in college” claim is in error, the claim that there are FAR TOO MANY blacks behind bars is not.

Remember also that the US incarceration rate is the highest in the world: We lock up 750 people per 100,000, for a total of two and a half million prisoners. We are ahead of Rwanda, China, Iran, Russia and EVERYBODY else. We lock up TEN TO TWENTY times more people than other civilized places such as Canada, Japan and Europe.

“Harping” on our excessive prison population, especially prisoners of color, is a good thing to do. Some criminologists view our racial incarceration policies as a form of genocide.

The exaggeration comparing the black prison and college populations is not important. What IS important is (1) the fact that far too many blacks get locked up, and (2) the REASONS for this.

This is not the place to rehash the whole litany of well-know racist and discriminatory habits embedded in our institutions and in our social fabric. They include the war on drugs and racist laws such as heavier penalties for blacks’ drugs of choice than other drugs; racist law enforcement such as discriminatory surveillance practices (DWB - “driving while black”); institutional racism in jury selection; a tremendously strong correlation between race and class, so that blacks are overwhelmingly among those who lack the resources to defend themselves.

Far from having achieved post-racialism, new hurdles are being erected as we speak, for example stand-your-ground laws such as Florida’s, which lead to cases such as Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

I merely wanted to remind progressives that they must remain logical and not use arguments in a pell-mell and flailing fashion. leave comment here