Criminal Injustice

CRIMINAL INJUSTICE….Harvard law professor Bill Stuntz, after noting that the black murder rate is 7x hgher than the white murder rate, writes about the criminal justice system in the black community:

According to the best available data, blacks are 20% more likely than whites to use illegal drugs. But blacks are an incredible thirteen times more likely to be imprisoned for drug crime. (Data source here). In effect, Americans live under two sets of drug laws: the forgiving set of rules that mostly white suburbanites know, and the unfathomably severe rules that govern urban blacks.

If drug crime is overpunished in black neighborhoods, violent crime is underpunished….The bottom line is as simple as it is awful: When whites are robbed, raped, beaten, and killed, their victimizers are usually punished. When the same crimes happen to blacks, the usual result is: nothing. No arrest, no prosecution, no conviction. That is one reason why black neighborhoods are so much more violent than white ones.

In other words, the kinds of criminal punishment that do the most good are undersupplied in black America, and the kinds that do the LEAST good — so far as I know, there is no evidence that the level of drug punishment has any appreciable effect on the level of drug crime — are oversupplied. African Americans live with the worst of both worlds: unfathomably high crime rates, coupled with truly horrifying levels of criminal punishment.

What comes next, though, is odd. Stuntz takes a crack at explaining this state of affairs and says “two points are key — and neither of them flows from white racism.” Here’s point #1: policing in urban neighborhoods is underfunded. And point #2: these same neighborhoods have lost the local control they used to have. “On every front, the power of poor city neighborhoods has declined, and the power of middle- and upper-class suburbs has risen.”

This seems to take an awfully narrow view of “white racism.” Granted, these things are the results of long-term trends, not examples of individual whites mistreating individual blacks. But these long-term trends have been largely driven by, at best, white neglect, and at worst, active white hostility. Black migration to northern cities, white flight to the suburbs, underfunded urban police forces, and drug laws that are far harsher toward blacks than whites — if these things aren’t at least partly the result of white racism, surely the term has lost all meaning? I’m not proposing sackcloth and ashes forever, but at least an acknowledgment that these aren’t impersonal forces that just appeared out of nowhere.

In any case, Stuntz ends strong: “The sum of those trends is a system that produces large-scale racial injustice, and that deprives urban black communities of the power to remedy that injustice. One way or another, Americans of all races need to grapple with those facts, and soon.”

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