Recently in Social Factors Category

Painting the Criminal as Victim

Anyone who spent as much time as I did watching allocution knows how routine it is for defense counsel to try to turn the client into the victim.  In a sense, I don't blame them.  What else are they going to say?  They can't very well just tell the plain truth  --  that the client did it because he gets his kicks hurting people and thinks rules are for suckers.  That's not the world's most persuasive pitch for leniency.

It's thus one thing, and understandable, for defense counsel, and the culture in which criminal defense takes root, to make this sort of argument.  It's another when anyone else buys it, much less makes a fetish of it.  But that's what happened in a fairly prominent case last week in Minnesota, in which six Somali immigrants were arrested for plotting to join the world's most notorious throat-slitters, ISIS.

In a remarkable statement, US Attorney Andrew Luger said that the plot was "a Minnesota problem."  That claim is false, if not absurd; the "appeal" of joining ISIS has nothing to do with, and is scarcely limited to, Minnesota.

The problem is that the US Attorney's statement goes beyond mere absurdity.  It pulls back the curtain on the extent to which the culture of criminal-as-victim has permeated Obama's Justice Department.

Accusing the police of racially-motivated abuse has become a favorite indoor sport. As the title of this entry suggests, the most prominent recent episode by far was the malicious and fake accusation that white police officer Darren Wilson murdered a peaceful and compliant Michael Brown simply because Brown was a teenage African American.  It turns out that the accusation was concocted, but it got plenty of currency, including from the Attorney General (until his own Justice Department, months later, quietly debunked it).

As ever undeterred by the truth, the Cops-Are-Klansmen industry keeps right on going. The latest episode I've learned about was this case, in which a rich Hollywood actress accused the cops of  --  you'll never guess  --  racially profiling her son.

As it turns out, the son is a small-time druggie and made up the story.  The actress at least had the decency promptly to apologize to the police.  Would that some MSNBC hosts had the same scruples.


A Culture of Rape or a Culture of Lies?

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According to multiple sources, including this ABC News piece, the sensational story of a sadistic gang rape by (white, let's not forget that) frat boys is unsupported by any substantive evidence.  In other words, after searching for months, the police couldn't find a single witness or a single piece of forensic evidence to support the story.  Zip. The ABC article begins (emphasis added);

A five-month police investigation into an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, described in graphic detail in a Rolling Stone article, showed no evidence the attack took place and was stymied by the accuser's unwillingness to cooperate, authorities said Monday.

The article entitled "A rape on campus" traced the story from a student identified only as "Jackie," who said she was raped at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on September, 28, 2012. Police said there were numerous discrepancies between the article and what they found in their investigation.

"All I can tell you is that there is no substantive basis to conclude that what was reported in that article happened," Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said.

Longo said Jackie first described a sexual assault in May 2013 when she met with a dean about an academic issue, but "the sexual act was not consistent with what was described" in the Rolling Stone article. When she met with police, she didn't want them to investigate the alleged assault.

She also refused to talk to police after the article was printed in November and ignited the national conversation about sexual assaults on college campuses. 

Ah, yes, our old friend the "national conversation."

Prof. Richard Epstein on Ferguson

To follow up on Kent's post, it's not just the Lt. Gov. of Missouri who sees the disgraceful, race huckstering role played by the Department of Justice in the Ferguson shooting.  There is also the brilliant Prof. Richard Epstein of NYU Law School, who writes:

The DOJ must acknowledge that the killing of Michael Brown was a justifiable homicide. It must abandon its contrived legalisms and defend Wilson, by condemning unequivocally the entire misguided campaign against him, which resulted in threats against his life and forced his resignation from the police force. Eric Holder owes Wilson an apology for the unnecessary anguish that Wilson has suffered. As the Attorney General for all Americans, he must tell the protestors once and for all that their campaign has been thoroughly misguided from start to finish, and that their continued protests should stop in the interests of civic peace and racial harmony. In light of the past vilification of Wilson, it is not enough for the DOJ to publish the report, and not trumpet its conclusions. It is necessary to put that report front and center in the public debate so that everyone now understands that Wilson behaved properly throughout the entire incident...

Narcissism, Parenting, and Crime

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"The root causes of crime" is a phrase made notorious by people who pushed social welfare programs and increased dependency on government as supposed cures for high crime rates way back in the late 1960s and 1970s.  That notoriety should not deter us from looking for the true root causes of crime. 

The "trunk cause," to continue with the arboreal metaphor, is antisocial attitudes.  Some people have the attitude that they do not have to obey rules, they do not have to respect the rights of others, and they can simply take what they want whenever and from whomever they like.  The "root causes," then, are the influences that cause people to develop such attitudes.

One root cause is bad parenting.  Two main types of bad parents are those who don't give a damn and those who care very much but are misinformed.  Prominent among the latter are parents who have bought into the "self-esteem" nonsense that kids should be lavished with praise at all times whether they have done anything to deserve it or not.

On Monday, an article was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled Origins of Narcissism in Children.  The abstract follows the break.  Lenny Bernstein has this article in the WaPo.

Ferguson, Lies and Statistics

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Bret Stephens has this column in the WSJ with the above headline, a variation on the old joke that there are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.  The subhead is, "Here's a story for the media: a community in which honest people are afraid to tell the truth."

There are two parts to the column, as there are two reports out of Ferguson.  The first part is the exoneration of Officer Wilson and the discrediting of the reports that were so widely reported and believed.  He notes that some witnesses were afraid the tell the truth and contradict "the narrative reported by the media" for fear of reprisal in the neighborhood.

Now there's a story for the media: A community in which honest people can't tell the truth for fear of running afoul local thugs enforcing "the narrative reported by the media." Or is that more of a story about the media?
The second part has to do with the second report about the larger picture in Ferguson, and particularly that report's use of statistics.  Here we run into our old adversary, the fallacy that I call The Fallacy of the Irrelevant Denominator.

The Mask Slips

Most of the mantra supporting the watering down of criminal sentences focuses on what is called the "non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual" offender (actual specifics to be supplied later).  The idea is that we can release such people without any very, ummm, big (specifics supplied later on that one, too) increase in crime.

I have long thought that this was a ruse for the lowering of all sentences, including for violent criminals. The thinking at the base of it certainly supports such a result.

This is what we need to understand:  Our opponents are more radical, shrewd, and ambitious than we usually believe.  Their thinking takes root in the "medical model" of crime, in which the criminal is the true victim, and his crime something of the proverbial "cry for help."  He is a victim in many senses, starting with the structure of the economy (capitalism), history (racism in particular), a wahoo culture (a toxic mix of cowboyism and Puritanism), and a generally more punitive and nativist outlook held by People With Big Hair Who Didn't Go To A Fancy Law School.  He is victimized on the micro level by abusive (or no) parents, lousy schools, inadequate medical care, housing, vocational training, and you-name-it.
Because the person who commits the crime (up to and including murder) is actually a victim  --  and in particular a victim of society's callousness/malice  --  it would be unjust to punish him at all.  The drive toward abolishing punishment, and replacing it with welfare, is actually what this movement is about.

Of course it can't be done all at once; the public would catch on.  But in their zeal to get things going in favor of criminals, sometimes our opponents give us more of a hint than they realize about where all their cover-talk about "non-serious, non-violent" offenders is actually headed.  Today, I am grateful that SL&P gives us the scoop.
The print and electronic media were falling all over themselves to tell the story of the Ferguson, MO shooting last summer:  The narrative, though not put in exactly these words, was simple:  A Klansman-wannabe whose day job was as a policeman shot an unarmed black teenager out of a particularly malignant form of "white privilege."  It was the latter day version of a Jim Crow  --  a quasi-slavery system of white oppression that had never really gone away, although it had (usually) been more cleverly disguised.

The story was made particularly horrible by what became its catchphrase:  "Hands up, don't shoot!"  Brown was portrayed as the compliant, non-threatening and promising black kid (complete in many pictures used at the time in cap-and-gown) gunned down for no reason but racial supremacy by a cop who had been brought up in a culture that told him there was no consequence for taking black lives.

The Ferguson story was leveraged big time to create commissions, both in Missouri and in the White House, to "study" ongoing racist attitudes  --  or, as the more cynical among us might think, to undermine confidence in and respect for law and the means sometimes needed to enforce it.  More broadly, it was used as the newest, biggest Guilt Cudgel in the culture war.

A good deal of time now having passed, and the shaming mission having been well-launched, Eric Holder's DOJ can now afford to tell the truth, as related in today's WSJ story, "US Won't Charge Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson."

"Root Causes," the Insane Asylum Version

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Complacency about crime typically expresses itself in the same phrases, year after year.  Perhaps the most shopworn is the phrase, "root causes,"as in, "You Neanderthals should quit being so heartless and try to understand the root causes of crime." It inevitably turns out that the "root causes" have nothing to do with greed, selfishness or lack of morals.  Instead, they're always about something for which the hoodlum du jour is not responsible, such as poor education, bad parenting or unemployment.

The "root causes" theory of thuggish behavior just hit the jackpot.  The inimitable Ms. Marie Harf of the State Department had this to say about the world's most notorious and mind-bending criminals, ISIS terrorists:

MARIE HARF, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I think there are a few stages here, right now we are trying to take their leaders and their fighters off the battlefield in Iraq & Syria, that is where they really flourish.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Are we killing enough of them?

MARIE HARF: We're killing a lot of them. And we're going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians and Jordanians, they're in this fight with us. We can not win this war by killing them. We can not kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium and longer term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups, whether it is lack of opportunity for jobs...

It would be wrong, even perverse, to blame the criminal defense bar for this stultifying nonsense.  That said, however, what struck me right off when I read it was its eerie similarity to the allocution I heard again and again from defense counsel:  "Your Honor, we can't do any good by imprisoning my client.  We cannot incarcerate our way out of drug abuse.  We need in the medium and longer term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these gangs, whether it is lack of opportunity for jobs..."

Moral of story:  Once personal responsibility for your behavior goes out the window, there's no telling where it will stop.

Race, Race Huckstering, and Crime

Jason Riley, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, tells the grim and unpopular truth:

The shooting death of a young black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last year touched off a national discussion about everything except the aberrant behavior of so many young black men that results in such frequent encounters with police....

Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men in the U.S., and around 90 percent of the perpetrators are also black. Yet for months we've had protesters nationwide pretending that our morgues are full of young black men because cops are shooting them. Around 98 percent of black shooting deaths do not involve police. In fact, a cop is six times more likely to be shot by someone black than the opposite. The protestors are pushing a false anti-cop narrative, and everyone from the president on down has played along.

Any candid debate on race and criminal justice in this country would have to start with the fact that blacks commit an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes. Blacks constitute about 13 percent of the population, yet between 1976 and 2005 they committed more than half of all murders in the U.S. The black arrest rate for most offenses--including robbery, aggravated assault, and property crimes--is typically two to three times their representation in the population. So long as blacks are committing such an outsized amount of crime, young black men will be viewed suspiciously and tensions between police and crime-ridden communities will persist. The U.S. criminal justice system, currently headed by a black attorney general who reports to a black president, is a reflection of this reality, not its cause. If we want to change negative perceptions of young black men, we must change the behavior that is driving those perceptions. But pointing this out has become almost taboo.

Riley's entire essay is worth your time.

Correlation, Causation, and Education

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How many times have we heard "correlation does not prove causation"?  Too many to count.  How many times have we heard that elementary truth recited and then ignored, as people proceed to argue for policy changes based on correlation alone.  Almost as many.

Charlie Wells has this article in the WSJ on financial education of kids and their financial behavior as adults.  It has nothing to do with crime, but it sounds a cautionary note about the argument we hear all the time.  "Studies show that educational program X is correlated with positive outcome Y.  Therefore we must spend more on X to produce Y, and that is more important and more cost effective than the solution only you ignorant rednecks believe in, Z."  It does not follow.

Race Huckstering at Its Finest

I won't even try to characterize the depth of contempt for America and the extent of the guilt-mongering going on in this article from the Economic Policy Institute.  The title is, "Where Do We Go from Here:  Mass Incarceration and the Struggle for Civil Rights." So far as I can make out, its thesis is that no one, and in particular no African American, is responsible for his criminal behavior, and that it's only Jim Crow Amerika, now and forever, that causes people to be imprisoned:  Prison, you see, is merely the midwife of racist oppression.

If readers think that's an exaggeration, I invite them to read the piece and describe how else it might fairly be characterized.

My reason for posting something like this is to alert those who have a better opinion of the country and of the criminal justice system about what, exactly, we are up against. 
A:  He didn't.  It wasn't an oversight.  His absence was a deliberated decision.  Byron York in the Washington Examiner explains why, and I'll get to that, but I want to say just a word first about how the White House has handled this.

Essentially, there has been no explanation.  The press secretary said it was a mistake, and has kind-of-sort-of suggested that arranging security quickly would have been a problem.  But to say it was a mistake is not to explain why it happened, and the notion that security could not have been arranged is preposterous (which the traveling press corps knows, accounting for the fact that it isn't really being pushed).

So why did Obama stay put while the heads of state and prime ministers from 40 other countries took part?  As York writes:

The administration no-shows were not a failure of optics, or a diplomatic misstep, but were instead the logical result of the president's years-long effort to downgrade the threat of terrorism and move on to other things.

"The analogy we use around [the White House] sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn't make them Kobe Bryant," Obama told the New Yorker magazine in a January 2014 interview. The president was referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria but was also suggesting in a broader sense that a number of post-9/11 offshoot terrorist organizations aren't worth the sort of war-footing mobilization that took place in the George W. Bush years.


Fast forward to January 2015. The attackers at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher market in Paris would undoubtedly qualify as JV-level terrorists under Obama's new classification. But their work was enough to shock Europe and motivate more than a million people to gather behind dozens of heads of state at the unity rally Sunday. 

Looking Inside the Bubble from the Outside

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I've noted more than once (for example, here, here and here) that there exists in some precincts of the literati and academia such an unhinged anti-American attitude that it's hard for normal people to grasp.  Every now and again the public gets a glimpse (as when some Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown law students loudly announced they felt too infuriated by America's awfulness in the Ferguson and Staten Island cases to take their scheduled exams), but generally it remains out of public view.

One of the reasons I follow ideologically diverse legal blogs is that I like to see just how into the Twilight Zone this anti-American, anti-police attitude extends.  Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy does us the favor of giving an illustration today by noting this new piece at The Nation by Willie Osterweil.  As Doug says, it "serves as a review of sorts of a book by historian Naomi Murakawa titled The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison in America."  Here is the first excerpt from the article, as quoted by Doug:

In her first book, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison in America, historian Naomi Murakawa demonstrates how the American prison state emerged not out of race-baiting states'-rights advocates nor tough-on-crime drug warriors but rather from federal legislation written by liberals working to guarantee racial equality under the law.  The prison industry, and its associated police forces, spy agencies and kangaroo courts, is perhaps the most horrific piece of a fundamentally racist and unequal American civil society.  More people are under correctional supervision in the United States than were in the Gulag archipelago at the height of the Great Terror; there are more black men in prison, jail or parole than were enslaved in 1850. How did this happen?

And that is where I get off the ship.  America, the "prison state" (when 0.7% of the population is incarcerated, virtually all because of their own greedy or violent choices; 99.3% of the population is not).  "Race-baiting" conservatives (when essentially all of the race-baiting and its allied race-based bullying is done by Mr. Osterweil's buddies).  "Spy agencies and kangaroo courts" (when spying has next to nothing to do with criminal convictions, and the courts provide process to the point that it's overtaken substance).  "The most horrific piece of a fundamentally racist...society" (It's not just that Amerika stinks, it's that it's horrific).

I don't know if liberals/libertarians take this stuff seriously, but I thank Doug for putting it up on his blog to remind us once more of just what a bunch of unhinged so-called thinkers we have to deal with.  That it even gets noticed by people at, say, the top of the Justice Department is astonishing.  And ominous.

Wars Have Casualties

On August 9 this last summer, police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, a 6'4" 292 pound unarmed 18 year-old who had just forcibly robbed a convenience store of some trivial items.

From that day to this, there has been a media and cultural war on the police. They are, we are variously told, racist, thuggish, unaccountable and over-militarized. You will have missed it only if you've been living in a cave.  C&C has covered it extensively.

Wars have casualties.  Today we heard about some in the Washington Examiner.  Its story is headlined, "Police deaths soar 24% in 2014 with ambush attacks leading cause."  It starts:

Law enforcement fatalities in the United States rose 24 percent in 2014 to 126 and ambush-style attacks were the No. 1 cause of felonious officer deaths for the fifth straight year, according to preliminary data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

The NLEOMF report said 126 federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officers were killed in the line of duty this year, compared to 102 in 2013. The number of officers killed by firearms in 2014 -- 50 -- is up 56 percent from the 32 killed last year.

Fifteen officers nationwide were killed in ambush assaults in 2014, and the recent shooting deaths of New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos have attracted national attention and contributed to tension between police and the city's elected leaders.

The total of 15 ambush assaults matched 2012 for the highest total since 1995.

The hate war against the police is not directly responsible for most, or perhaps any, of this.  At the same time, those insisting that hate has no consequences are lying to themselves and to us.

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