Hi everyone, I’ll be traveling for most of today to Phoenix, and won’t be able to check the blog and approve comments. I’ll get to them when I can. I would like to draw your attention to this long Radley Balko blog entry about criminal justice policy and a black man from St. Louis named Antonio Morgan.
Balko starts by criticizing a couple of conservative pundits for trashing Hillary Clinton as soft on crime for her comments on the Baltimore riots, and saying that we are back in the fever days of 1968. Balko says this is demonstrably nuts:
There are lots of other reasons why the 1968 comparison is off. The crime rate was much higher in 1968 than it is today. Here’s a mind-blowing statistic: There were 500 fewer overall murders in 2013 than there were in 1969, despite the fact that the population increased by 115 million people. And while Green tries to contrast Nixon’s tough-on-crime agenda with that of bleeding heart reformers, it’s worth noting that crime continued to go up through both of Nixon’s terms. Homicides continued to climb until 1974 and 1975 before dropping, then soaring again in the 1980s. The all-time homicide high came in 1991, after 11 years with a Republican in the White House.
More stats: In 2013, there were nearly 9,000 fewer homicides, about 27,000 fewer rapes, and about 368,000 fewer aggravated assaults than there were in 1991, even though the country’s population increased by 64 million people.
In fact, all crime, violent and property, increased dramatically during the term of Green’s one-time boss, George H.W. Bush. I don’t know that Michael Dukakis would have done better. But I bet he couldn’t have done much worse.
People only vote on criminal justice issues out of fear. People aren’t in fear today. It’s true that white people have largely had a decidedly different reaction to the Baltimore riots than black people. But white people are not scared of crime today like they were then. While most people continue to erroneously tell pollsters that crime is getting worse nationwide, on the more pertinent question — whether Americans fear walking alone in their own neighborhood — the percentage answering yes hasn’t been above 40 percent since the early 1990s. The riots are unlikely to have much effect on how people vote.
Balko goes on to say that the two columnists’ positions are “crassly political,” in that they dismiss serious questions about race and justice for the sake of making politically useful points. What, says Balko, would these guys say to a black small business owner named Antonio Morgan, who has been the target of constant harassment by the law? Excerpt:
Morgan is no one’s definition of a “thug.” He’s a guy who breaks his back to keep up the business that supports his family, despite obstacles that, frankly, most white business owners don’t have to endure. For all he’s been through, he is remarkably composed. He deals with the daily harassment in a remarkably manner-of-fact way. He takes photos of his business and the cars outside it. He records all of his phone conversations and most in-person conversations he has with public officials. He has a laptop filled with nothing but photos, documents, and recordings should he ever need them as evidence. Engaging in such defensive preparations on a daily basis would drive a lot of people insane — or perhaps be an indication that they’re already there. He does it because he has to. As he put it, “You have to struggle just to catch up.”
I wonder how many people who rioted in Ferguson and Baltimore were carrying the same load Morgan was, but simply lacked his will to withstand it all. I also wonder what would have been said about Morgan if during one of his many arrests he had somehow died in the back of a police van as Freddie Gray did. Certainly we’d hear about all of those arrests. We’d probably hear about how he once abandoned his children in a parking lot. We’d definitely hear that police had to Tase him on two separate occasions in the past, and that he had once been arrested for assaulting a cop.
This stuff is hard. It’s hard for all of us, because it’s complicated, and tangled, and we all react out of emotion. I’m not responsible for the emotions and biases and logical errors of liberals. I’m responsible for my own, and trying to see past them, to see more clearly. The Antonio Morgan story helps me do this. Thank you, Radley Balko. This is not the only story we need to know to understand the Baltimores all over the country, but it’s a story that people who come from my own perspective especially need to understand.
You know what I would like to see? This comments thread fill up with people telling stories about race, crime, social chaos, and all of it — not making arguments, just talking about things that you or people you know have seen and lived through, that inform your perspective. Just talk — don’t yell at others, just talk.
I’ll be back with you after I get to Phoenix.