Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Who Justifies the Means?

Ta-Nehisi Coates hits back against the idea that the hyper-tough on crime approach has been vindicated by events.
I'm less certain that the "tough on crime" approach has been "largely vindicated" by events--mostly because I think a large part of the events include the moral costs, and the real costs to communities where alarming numbers of men are under the watch of the state. One should consider the numbers here--blacks make up a third of all drug arrests, and black men are 12 times as likely to be imprisoned on a drug conviction. Four in Five of these arrests were for possession, not sale. Perhaps this is because the drug epidemic has run rampant through black communities, but probably not. The difference in illicit drug usage is slight (9.5 percent of blacks have used illicit substances, 8.2% of whites). Those are the sort of numbers that feed an intense distrust of the justice system in many black communities. I think Ross (though I can't be sure) sees the ends justifying the means. But the means are disproportionately born by people who live far away from those "Nixon to China" conservatives.

Coates goes on to tell about a college friend of his who was pursued on suspicion of being a drug dealer for no other reason than he was Black. For this man (who ended up being killed by the officer), the price of Blackness was death. The officer was not punished in any way, and still remains a cop.

I don't bring this out to be cheap or try to shame my colleague, but to say that when you live close to that line, when you've been stopped by the police several times, when you know innocent people who are dead, when you know kids who are coming up fatherless because of our obsession with drugs, it becomes difficult to say that events have vindicated our strategy. Cases like Prince's wear on an essential thread in our democracy--a belief that the people who are charged with protecting you, actually care about protecting you. We've paid a heavy price for our crime policy. I'm heartened that some conservatives are starting to see that.

The norms of policing have gotten to be such that being Black makes you automatically suspect to the police. Some departments are more explicit about it than others, but nobody who has to bear the costs of over-policing is under any illusion about what is going on.

1 comment:

Jack said...

Not relevant, but have you seen this...