Sunday, March 22, 2015

Racism and a Broken Justice System

Source: The Economist
I quote from The Economist review of Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. By Robert Putnam:
Robert Putnam is a former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the author of “Bowling Alone” (2000), an influential work that lamented the decline of social capital in America. In his new book, “Our Kids”, he describes the growing gulf between how the rich and the poor raise their children. Anyone who has read “Coming Apart” by Charles Murray will be familiar with the trend, but Mr Putnam adds striking detail and some excellent graphs (pictured). 
College graduates are shown to have vastly different average life experiences than people with no more than high school education in the USA. The fourth graph -- showing that kids from families in the upper quarter of the income distribution have much better chances of graduating from college than do kids from the lower quarter, with comparable pre-college grades -- is especially disturbing.

I recently watched a Book Discussion on The Political Roots of Racial Tracking in American Criminal Justice. Nina Moore in that talk focused on the racism that is structured in our criminal justice system, leading to a number of serious national problems in the USA. She described four categories of research (to which I do not do justice in the following bullets):

  1. Deliberate of subconscious discrimination on the part of lawmakers and law enforcement officers;
  2. The way the legal system applies the laws, especially the way the criminal justice system functions (e.g. mandatory sentencing laws);
  3. The way racism is reflected in socio-economic disadvantage to Black and Hispanic people in the USA, leading to more criminal acts by Blacks and Hispanics (e.g. if one can not get a good job, one is much more likely to seek income and opportunity via criminal activity)
  4. A culture of violence in these minority communities -- community values that are more accepting of criminal behavior than those of the White and the more affluent communities.
Moore goes on to suggest that the politicians create the laws that they do, because those laws are responsive to public opinion, and the public opinion is formed by a media that overstates the risks of drugs and crime and that portrays the general public as being at risk from the Black and Hispanic communities. She points out that the poorer Black and Hispanic communities themselves are much more victimized by crime than are White and more affluent communities, and that crime rates have actually been low and decreasing.

I find it persuasive that kids brought up by single mothers (who are often working very hard to keep bodies and souls together under conditions of poverty), in communities where the schools are bad, are more likely to be denied decent jobs and are more likely to commit crimes.

It also seems likely to me that police tend to police more where crimes are more likely and more likely to be detected. After all, it is hard to see how many crimes have been prevented, but easy for police to see how many people have been arrested and convicted.

I hate to see another generation of American Blacks and Hispanics suffer the lack of opportunity that stems from this racism. It is not just, but it is going to hurt everyone in the country as its people will on average be less ready to compete in a global economy than they might be.

I suspect that "the War on Drugs" is wrong-headed, and that better means should be used to deal with addiction. I suspect that mandatory sentencing laws are dysfunctional, and should be eliminated. But I suspect the real effective action would be to take on racism directly, and that a first step would be to improve schools for Black and Hispanic kids in the USA.

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