Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On Racial Disparities in the Justice System

I attended the Governor's Commision on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System public hearing yesterday at Gateway.

After listening to two hours of testimony, I felt compelled to speak. This is because only one perspective was being offered. That perspective was that the racial disparity was caused by crooked cops, racial profiling, institutional bias, all white juries, and of course, the catch-all, racism.

Another possible explanation, I offered, was that perhaps blacks were committing more crimes, and that if so, we should explore the possible reasons. Perhaps it is the glorification of criminality in music and fashion that is so evident among young black men.

As I was concluding my comments, I indicated that I was willing, even eager, to engage with anyone who thought I was wrong or misinformed. I am still waiting.

21 comments:

eric said...

Denis, I wish I had gone to the meeting too. Publicity about the meeting had got me to thinking (dangerous). 1.)It seems that people in poverty find themselves in criminal situations more often than those more affluent, and that there is a racial disparity in poverty, therefore ... So this begs the questions why are blacks disproportionately poor (US history seems to provide an obvious answer) and how can that situation be rectified? 2.)Many of the crimes the poor commit involve threatening and physically injurious behavior to others - these crimes are vivid in our minds, they're scary and could lead to the victim's death. I wonder about 'white collar crime', how much of this goes un-noticed or un-policed? Until the Enron episode we didn't hear that much, and yet these crimes affect the lives of many.

So I'm thinking we humans are suspectible to criminal impulses no matter our personal situation, but we seem to enforce laws against street crime a lot better than we do white collar crime. Since there's a racial disparity in poverty, and street crimes are more enforced, therefore ...

I know I'm meandering, but I wanted to bounce these ideas off you.

Preachrboy said...

How about adding to the list of factors...

The many excuses given for such criminality on the part of the leadership, and the lack of voices calling for personal responsibility. We need more Bill Cosbys!

Oh, and the breakdown of the family and growing scarcity of two-parent homes, while many black children are raised by mother only while fathers are a non-factor. This has been statistically documented as well.

Anonymous said...

Denis, why should someone feel compelled to discuss these issus with you?
What type of solutions do you bring to the table besides more finger pointing? The lack of response you receieved should be an indication of your relevancy regarding these issues.

Anonymous said...

Eric, you raise some very important points. Points I have attempted to discuss on this blog as well as my own at consciousthoughtworld.blogspot.com. There are many disparities in sentencing that punish violent crimes more heavily than white collar crime. Money laundering, tax evasion, discrimination of all sorts, investment fraud, among a host of other white collar crimes that go undetected for years. But a crime is a crime. Let me ask this what's worse, an investment banker bilking his clients out of millions of dollars of their hard earned money for his own personal use, or a person selling dime bags on the street? In our legal system, the investment banker will get a slap on the wrist, a negotiated plea deal that basically exhonerates him and will be back in business in another state in no time while his clients sit too broke to sue him and the firm. A dime bag pusher will receive months if not years in jail for $10, costing taxpayers tons of money to incarcaratehim over $10 bag that is readily available in every single municipality of Racine county. So who should our legal system be lenient to? CT

Denis Navratil said...

Well anon, if one is truly interested in the problem of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, one must be willing to seek and accept the truth. One possible truth is that blacks commit more crimes than members of other races. Racism, profiling, white juries etc... should also be considered as possible reasons for the problem. But the crowd at Gateway preferred to believe that racism is the primary cause of the problem rather than criminal activity. If we will not even consider the possibility that criminal activity may lead to increased incarceration rates, then we are burying our heads in the sand and avoiding the real problem. What is wrong with asking the question: Are blacks committing crimes at greater rates, and if so, why? By my way of thinking, one is not helping the black community if one is afraid of the truth.

Anonymous said...

Of course criminal activity leads to incarcaration. The question is why does the low level $10 dope bag pusher get incarcarated and the slick talking investment banker who's cleaned out his clients retirement accounts does not? I understand your unwillingness to answer my previous question because of your allegiance to you and your readers' ideology, but when ideology prevents the use of rationality, then i no longer begin to take one seriously.

You state that one "must be willing to accept the truth". Is selective sentencing by conservative judges also a possible truth?

Issue avoidance is your strong suit, but it can only take you so far.

Denis Navratil said...

anon, it sounds like you think that drug dealers are black and investment bankers are not black. Could you be any more stereotypical?

Nick said...

I do agree that there should be incredibly harsher penalties for people that commit white collar crimes. But I don't think that the $10 drug pusher should get off lightly either simply because its a mere $10. People are being shot daily over drugs and gangs, and this is a problem that affects everyone, its on the streets and in our schools.
I agree with what Eric has said, but Preacherboy has it right too. Its easy to sit around and blame others for your problems. Maybe its time to stop making excuses, start addressing the reasons (realizing that its not all about racism), and take action to fix it! Nobody owes anybody anything. Stand up, be responsible, and help yourself!!

Anonymous said...

AMEN Nick! Halalujah! Now are you preaching to all criminals including the suburban white collar ones or just the dark-skinned, street criminals?

Remember, a crime is a crime and all criminals should be held accountable for their actions, not just dark-skinned street criminals.

Nick said...

Anon, crime is not limited to color. I'm speaking about everyone, white and black. Just as I am accountable for my actions, so should everyone else be accountable for theirs. Its all about choice.

Anonymous said...

Nick, you are absolutely right, it is about choice. White collar criminals have choices in how they're punished (if at all). Street level criminals don't.

Anonymous said...

"Former media tycoon Black guilty of fraud"....the headline on USA Today's website reads.

This wouldn't happen to be another white collar criminal the Free Racine crowd loves to exonerate is he?

Denis Navratil said...

Anon, what have I said or written that suggests that I want to exonerate white collar criminals? You do a disservice to a discussion when you assign imagined/fictitious attitudes towards others in a debate. Feel free to criticize what I write if you disagree, but try to refrain from making things up. That is the classic straw man argument.

Conscious Thought said...

Denis, well let's see. You said blacks commit more crimes. More than white collar criminals?

You also state..."If we will not even consider the possibility that criminal activity may lead to increased incarceration rates, then we are burying our heads in the sand and avoiding the real problem"...Does white collar criminal activity lead to increased incarceration rates? I would venture to say with strong affirmation, no. This would also mean we are burying our heads in the sand in prosecution of these crimes, would you say so?

Let's see if Mr. Black gets incarcerated, i won't be holding my breath on that one.

RAG said...

Oprah Winfrey said it best: The vast majority of white people in America don't wake up thinking "How am I going to stick it to some black person today?"

Of course, purveyors of the victim mentality don't want to hear the truth.

Anonymous said...

What people need to understand is the days of a black and white society are gone. It is now a black and brown society with whites incresingly becoming more insignificant by the day. It is estimated that by the year 2050, whites in the US will become the minority population, the first time in the history of the country that whites are no longer the majority. Spanish has easily taken over English and affluent areas across the country are less lily-white, filled with black and brown immigrants and natives.
You can change policy to prevent or minimize these events from happening, but the truth is you can't stop progress. These are the truths.

Denis Navratil said...

anon writes, regarding demographic changes in the Us, "It is now a black and brown society with whites incresingly (sic) becoming more insignificant by the day" and "You can change policy to prevent or minimize these events from happening, but the truth is you can't stop progress."

Your racism is showing anon as you delight in the supposed insignificance of white people and in describing these demographic changes as "progress". I would not describe decreasing numbers of blacks, Hispanics, or Eskimos, were it happening, as progress.

eric said...

Interesting turn in the discussion. Once upon a time to be "lily-white" you had to be a white, anglo/saxon, protestant (WASP)- this of course ruled out the Irish, Greeks, Armenians, Italians and others that are today considered "white". It would be interesting to know whether they found themselves disproportionately in the justice system when they were considered visible minorities - I honestly don't know though my guess would be they were.

Demographics are changing. My guess is that the most immediate political impact is that African-Americans are loosing influence as they shrink as a percentage of the total population. Therefore it is incumbent on the black community and its leaders to move much more quickly for help for their community. Wallowing in victimhood won't ever get you too far, but especially when your demographic voice is shrinking. Between the civil rights acts of the 1960's and subsequent affirmative action blacks have as level a playing field as any group is going to get today in America, and it can be reasonably argued they have it far better in America than many people have in other countries. It is time African-America take a hard look in the mirror and realize they have the responsibility, right, and power to improve their lives. Some leaders in the black community are recognizing and vocalizing along those lines. It's too bad they waited till their position within the total population waned.

The rest of us need to honestly recognise blacks as a group have had an exceptionally bad experience in the USA. Its incumbent upon us as neighbors, citizens, and fellow humans to help where we can. We must learn from the well-intentioned but counter-productive 'Great Society' programs. I believe it means finding a way to get black America to engage and fully participate in the education system. Efforts like the San Juan Diego School come to mind. Finding ways to provide incentives to get the majority of African-Americans to embarce education is the key.

Conscious Thought said...

Eric, my response to your initial question about the other ethnicities is that its a difficult comparison because all of those ethnicities you cited, were provided opportunities to become successfully employed, attain and retain decision-making roles in business and life. The Irish immigrants created some of the country's first organized, paid, police forces. The Italians dominated big city business and the mob, in addition to creating and financing the entertainment mecca we know as Las Vegas, as well as Atlantic City. Jews started and operated Hollywood and built it to the machine it is today by implementing strong business development processes. Blacks were provided none of these opportunities as a general population of people. They're were a select few who were able to break the mold, like Madame CJ Walker, the first black woman millionaire, a century before Oprah hit the scene but overall, they weren't. So within that context, to me, it's hard to validate that comparison.

Your second point. I would loosely agree that progress from the previous areas have improved dramatically. Opportunities and educational attainment are abundant. Wisconsin is an island compared to the rest of the country ,in terms of racial make-up, in other parts of the country, whites are the minority and people of color are the majority where they hold positions such as mayors, CEO's, police chiefs, school superintendents, fire chiefs, governors and other high level decision makers. So in Wisconsin, their is a strong stereotype that blacks are un-interested in formal education because people don't generally see these types of highly educated individuals in Wisconsin. Throughout history, blacks have made significant technical innovations that have changed the world for the better, and Historically Black colleges have churned out, not just a ton of Hall of Fame athletes, but a ton of highly decorated and educated business executives, scientists, and inventors, just for starters. So black america is fully participating in the educational system and has been for centuries.

I do agree with you 100% about every citizen having an obligation to be socially responsible. The rag poster on this blog pointed out an Oprah quote in an earlier post, however, he forgot to mention another very strong proverb that Oprah reminded us of as well..."it takes a village to raise a child". People have to remember, their are bad apples in every bunch, but the bad apples don't make for a bad batch. In the news, one constantly hear's about the bad apples, but i noticed not a single word on the succesful ManTalk program where successful Racine men have a face to face conversation with young role model-less boys to show them what it really means to be a man, ACT-SO, which promotes educational attainment, or the church basketball league that the city helped to operate that puts hundreds of inner city kids in a positive, community-minded environment where not one single incidence of violence occured. So if we each did our part, particularly as entrepreneaurs, by helping to change the life of one less fortunate youth, you've already made a world of difference in that child's mind and most likely change the course of that young person's life forever.

Good discussion though Eric, i think you're the most sensible blogger i've come across on Free Racine so i commend you for actually having a discussion.

eric said...

CT, I think citing Italian opportunity in the mob and Vegas probably proves there was an Italian disparity in the justice system for a while. The Irish may have been in some big city police forces, but they also dominated big city gangs, mining work, and rail gangs - not exactly glamour opportunities and the brawling Irish probably landed in jail more often than others. The British treated the Irish in Ireland very much like America treated the black man during Jim Crow. To me the big difference has always been that America proclaimed as a country to be something better and we grossly failed in the case of the black race. History provides an obvious explanation for why African-Americans are so disproportionately represented in poverty, and in-turn street crime. Within 3 generations most immigrants assimilated and enjoyed the opportunities America offered. Black Americans were precluded by law until the 1960's, and by practice longer.

I am glad you point to the accomplishments of black America. For so long black leaders have acted as negotiators, insisting their plight was totally rotten in order to try to leverage greater gains out of government leaders. The glass may never have been close to half full, but the 5% of African-Americans who had special accomplishments deserved positive recognition and instead they were ignored or marginalized, often also by their own. That percentage of accomplished blacks has grown, up to 10, 15, or 20% in some places.

I've had a chance to travel around the country a bit myself, and have had some interest and experiences in education. Both my broader experiences and the data I see from time to time indicate black America is still well under represented in educational achievement (high school and college graduation rates). This is not to discount the accomplishments that are occurring, but to recognise a glass 20% full still has a good ways to go. I read from time-to-time of studies that indicate education is not as highly valued in black communities compared to other racial communities. So for now I remain convinced the lack of valuing education is still a mjor problem in the African-American community. If blacks make-up 10%+ of a nation's population that numbers over 300M what citizenry in their right minds gives up on that number of people?

Conversley, explain what is happening on the north side of Milwaukee? We watch the nightly news report that now shows the daily murder count as routine as a baseball box score. We get the minor league report on the same game being played in Racine. CT, you mentioned some good things are happening - but this recipe of x-generations of single Moms, drugs, and guns makes for a lot of disastrous lives. Education yields well-rounded people that can get good jobs. All races have access to good jobs today. Education is free to grade 12, and scholarships and aide can finance practically anyone through college who qualifies. How do we get black America to fully participate in education?

Justice said...

Seems to me that all of you miss the point. Of course, a crime is a crime and all criminals should be held accountable for their actions, but the problem is - they are not all treated equally within the justice system for the same crime as the non-black criminals. I think I've made my point but I'm sure this will escape a lot of you. J