Recently in Social Factors Category

It's the Culture, Stupid

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Last month, law professors Amy Wax of U. Penn. and Larry Alexander of U. San Diego published this op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  Their thesis was that the breakdown of "the basic cultural precepts that reigned from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s" was "implicated" in a host of modern maladies, including crime:

Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.
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That [late 40s - mid 60s] culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

This would seem to be self-evident and ought not be controversial.  But Wax and Alexander work in the Bizarro World of contemporary academia.
The battle over criminal justice "reform" can be seen as a struggle between two forces: Some, in the name of increased safety and the better lives and opportunities safety creates, prefer crime suppression as the touchstone of progress. Others see incarceration itself as the problem,  certainly at its present levels. They think that, in a country dedicated to freedom, less incarceration is in order even if it means a degree of increased crime.  (Those claiming we can significantly reduce incarceration without increasing crime simply are not serious.  Fifty years of nationwide data show this proposition is false).

Who has the better of the argument?  I'm in the first camp, for reasons I've elaborated in dozens of posts.

But the debate over criminal justice reform elides a crucial point.  How much crime and incarceration we get depends less on the laws we adopt  --  tough or easy  -- than on the culture we create.  In the 1950's, we had an admirable degree of safety (roughly comparable to what we have now) with a prison population vastly smaller.

This did not happen by magic.  It happened because of what is derisively called "bourgeois" culture.  Astonishingly, and with great courage, two professors, Amy Wax of Penn and Larry Alexander of San Diego, have described what we can achieve when we embrace standards and reject excuse-making.

Q: When Is It OK to Commit Murder?

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A:  When the murder victim is a white frat boy.

If you find that repulsive, good for you.  But that's the reaction of the poisonous, race-obsessed ideology behind much of the radicalized thinking on crime now in vogue in academia and the "entertainment" industry.

I take my cue here from the recent horrible death of 22 year-old Otto Warmbier, formerly a University of Virginia student, who was returned declining and comatose from his captivity in North Korea.  He died a few days ago.  As noted in this Commentary article, "Warmbier's death at the hands of a criminal regime is perhaps the most vicious crime directed against an American citizen by [North Korean] authorities since two U.S. officers were murdered by an axe-wielding mob...in 1976. This is an offense to American dignity and sovereignty--and it is proving a revealing moment in American politics. Warmbier's capture and his fate have exposed again the utter moral perversion of the social justice left."

The following are two examples of reactions to Warmbier's treatment*  normal people could not imagine would be given by anyone with decency.  But that's because normal people don't usually read what passes for intellectual refinement on the "social justice left."

[Ed. note:  I originally said "death," but our first commenter correctly notes that Warmbier, though in captivity, was still alive when the comments were made].


As my last post makes clear, I do not believe religion ought directly dictate secular criminal justice policy.  I am very much of the view, however, that it is the moral anchor of many people's view of wrongdoing, error, punishment and redemption.

One of the most insightful thinkers on these subjects is my friend Will Haun, a certain leader in the next generation of conservative legal analysts.  I want to bring you his keynote remarks at the Napa Institute Symposium on "Public Policy and our Catholic Faith," held last March.  It was sponsored in part by the Koch Foundation, an organization I often oppose on policy specifics but greatly admire for its consistent stand for freedom.

Will started out:

Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this excellent symposium on such an important topic.  And thank you, Jenny, for such a kind introduction.  It reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons.  Pictured in the cartoon is a towering statue of a well-dressed man boldly pointing toward the horizon.  Below the man is an inscription that says "Solider, Statesman, Author, Patriot," and then, in smaller font below, it, "But Still a Disappointment to His Mother." 

Just How Warped Is Legal Academia?

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I ask this question because, at random, I looked at the two most recent entries on Sentencing Law and Policy.  Here they are:


Kent recently noted the numerous and flagrant fabrications by an organization supporting a version of California "sentencing reform."  In the News Scan entry just before his, CJLF's staff discussed the legal settlement Rolling Stone magazine had been forced to cough up as a result of its wonderfully detailed fabrication of a rape at the University of Virginia. The made-up rapists were made-up white males.

That same day, I read a short introduction to a new book, "From Retribution to Public Safety: Disruptive Innovation of American Criminal Justice."  Its first paragraph asserts:

Over the past fifty years, American criminal justice policy has had a nearly singular focus -- the relentless pursuit of punishment.  Punishment is intuitive, proactive, logical, and simple. But the problem is that despite all of the appeal, logic, and common sense, punishment doesn't work.  The majority of crimes committed in the United States are by people who have been through the criminal justice system before, many on multiple occasions.

A better example of mendacity displacing argument would be hard to conceive.
Kent noted that an unrepentant terrorist will be honored in this year's NYC Puerto Rico Day parade (with Mayor de Blasio proudly marching in step).

Along those same lines, and also from the "you-can't-make-this-up" department, it now seems that Sydney plans to honor Black Lives Matter with a "peace" prize.


The Black Lives Matter movement will receive the Sydney Peace Prize, an award given by the Sydney Peace Foundation -- part of the University of Sydney -- and be honored at an event in the city in November, the foundation announced this week.

Black Lives Matter was chosen for allegedly "building a powerful movement for racial equality, courageously reigniting a global conversation around state violence and racism. And for harnessing the potential of new platforms and power of people to inspire a bold movement for change at a time when peace is threatened by growing inequality and injustice," the foundation's website states.

I registered my dissent.

Why Baltimore Is a Murder Vortex

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It's no longer disputed (if it ever was) that Baltimore has seen a staggering increase in murder at least since the politically-staged Freddie Gray prosecutions of six police officers.  This was the city where the then-Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, told us that rioters and arsonists should be given "space to destroy."  (Ms. Rawlings-Blake later went on to fame when she was chosen to open the Democratic National Convention).

One might wonder why, exactly, Baltimore has become a murder vortex to an even greater extent than in the past.  I can't say for sure.  One reason is likely to be the handicapping of the police, most vividly on display with the aforementioned Freddie Gray prosecutions, and more recently backed up by the consent decree engineered by Obama administration lawyers in order to benefit drug dealers insure civil rights.

A second, more deep-seated and in a way even more appalling reason is captured by the news story whose first line is:  "A Project Baltimore investigation has found five Baltimore City high schools and one middle school do not have a single student proficient in the state tested subjects of math and English."

The Life and Death of Comic Books

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I'm happy to report that I know almost nothing about pop culture.  One of the things I was lucky enough to miss out on was a comic book series, now defunct after just two weeks of dismal sales. backed by anti-police activist Ta-Nehsei Coates.  The comic portrayed police as sadistic villains who earn the contempt of virtuous people.

LifeZette has the story, quoting Heather Mac Donald:

Ta-Nehesi Coates may be the darling of the liberal elites in publishing houses and college campuses, but comic book readers have a better BS detector for separating fact from fiction... 

I also took a turn:

It would be a good thing if black lives actually mattered to Black Lives Matter, but apparently this is not to be," Otis told LifeZette. "BLM ought to know that the leading cause of death among young black males is murder. What the movement should be doing, then, instead of the comic book business, is advancing programs that reduce the murder rate."

Hatred of Police Becomes More Brazen

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Fatal shootings of police officers increased in 2016 to the highest level since 2011. I don't know all the reasons for this.  Certainly the overall murder increase and the surge in the deadly heroin trade are part of the mix.

But there's another part:  Hate.  It's just that simple.  When you breed hate, as the Black Lives Matter movement does, arm-in-arm with Obama's Justice Department and its allies in Congress, you get the outcroppings of hate.

When Donald Trump won the election, 20 year-old's at prestigious colleges demanded "safe spaces," as if their whining consternation at the results amounted to a loss of "safety."  When dozens of policemen get gunned down in the street, the problem we hear trumpeted is not a lack of safety, but  --  ready now?  --  that cops are pigs and have it coming.

This kind of poisonous thinking gets displayed and honored in the Capitol building.

Think that exaggerates things?  Keep reading.

School Discipline & Juvenile Crime

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Mall violence, usually caused by roving gangs of teenagers, has been in the headlines over the holidays.  in most of the news stories on this issue, law enforcement and security officials speculated that social media had contributed to these incidents, presumably by allowing perpetrators to quickly alert other teens where and when to gather and riot.  Manhattan Institute scholar Heather MacDonald  suggests that a larger contributing factor is the Obama Administration's years of pressuring schools to stop suspending unruly students in order to prevent racist teachers from disproportionately disciplining black students.  This practice, called "restorative justice", seems to have caused significant increases in school violence in districts which have fully embraced it.  With little or no discipline at home or at school, who is surprised that teen mobs are beating people and damaging property at shopping malls?   

Exhaustive Reporting on Black Lives Matter

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Commentary Magazine has come out with the most thorough reporting on Black Lives Matter I have ever read.  It's not short, but what it lacks in brevity it more than makes up for in the depth, diligence and insight of its account.

Racial Preference Explicitly Enters Criminal Law

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It's bad enough that racial preference has entered numerous areas of civil law, including employment quotas and college admissions.  But once the premise of racial preference took hold in those areas, it was likely  --  some might say inevitable  -- that it would seep into criminal law.  Indeed, some might say it was intended all along.

In Massachusetts, it has.  The Supreme Judicial Court in that state has held that circumstances that would warrant a Terry stop of a white person do not necessarily warrant the same outcome for a black defendant.  The latter, so says the Court, would have reason to run from the cops that a white defendant lacks.  Therefore, what would count as a valid component of reasonable suspicion (see Illinois v. Wardlow) to detain a white man would fall short in the case of the black one, even if all the non-race based circumstances are identical.

The story is here on CNN.

I could write a long entry about how poisonous this decision is, and I may yet.  For now, I will only say that I see no principled reason black defendants in prosecutions for crack distribution or violent crime should not argue  --  and, in Massachusetts, should not win  -- shorter sentences than similarly situated white defendants solely because drug and mugging laws are "disproportionately" enforced against blacks.

Affirmative action for college applicants has turned into affirmative action for muggers. And race mongering has taken a giant leap forward. This is where we are.  
In comments to Bill's post on incarceration rates there is discussion of the issue of whether the higher (although shrinking) incarceration rate for African Americans is due to higher offending rates or discriminatory enforcement.  I did a quick search for research on this subject.

NeverJohnson

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Some libertarian-leaning and independent voters have been taking a look at Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, as an alternative to the vulgar, reckless Trump and the mendacious, hard-Left Clinton.  I understand their angst, but Johnson disqualified himself in my view by recently embracing Black Lives Matter.

The conservative journal RedState understands what's wrong with BLM, but, oddly, says it's "not worried" about Johnson's warmth toward it.  The magazine correctly describes BLM thusly:

Black Lives Matter is more concerned with retaliation for any wrongdoing, than it is solving the problem. It continuously uses intimidation, lawlessness, violence, and story fabrication to push its brand of racism as the result of being a victim. Like any other social justice group, the solution to the problem isn't as important as maintaining that victimhood. Any elements that are seeking peaceful solutions, or even achieve them, are soon disavowed by BLM.

Why then is RedState unconcerned with Johnson's alliance with BLM?

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