Friday, July 17, 2020

Is There Systemic Racism within American Law & Justice?

This is a current event topic that has been highly politicized. This post is a commentary on a statistical analysis of police shootings published by Prager U. Their presentation of the facts about crime and police shootings among US populations was most likely posted to counter an almost complete blackout of factual data among major US media outlets. My commentary of this presentation of fact has the primary intent to illustrate that a correct understanding of current data and a solid historical context for that data can help us weed through the arguments presented in media and arrive at more solid conclusions about causes of current racial tension brewing into violent eruptions throughout our nation.

I realize the facts on this subject are highly unpopular largely because the emotions are so raw. Blacks have suffered under the oppression of injustice and violence in many respects throughout our history. This is not an imagined experience. That Black Americans feel unsafe is not without grounds. That they feel unequally targeted is not merit. These feelings have foundations in the disparities between the living conditions of black populations and other ethnic groups within the United States.

This Prager University video, does not provide the context for which the fears and desperation of black America come and the presentation of the "cold hard facts" may further inflame that desperation that is so sincerely felt. I do not wish to be the cause of broadening the racial divide, but neither do I wish to be blind to the facts. Facts can help us to discover underlying truths. Without and understanding of these truths we will be helpless in affecting lasting change and progress. 

Unfortunately, statistical facts outside the proper context can be used to bolster false ideas. One example is how the statistical facts presented in this video have been used by some to make the case against American institutions of law and justice, such as, the fact that black Americans are charged with a disproportionate amount of violent crimes.


Some have said that this is evidence of institutional racism and bias in law enforcement and justice departments nationwide. When I hear the data used to substantiate an position such as this one, I naturally ask, "Where is the data that would prove such bias exist?" Evidentiary support for the claim would have to include evidence that white Americans are committing violent crimes at the same rates (per capita) but are simply not being arrested or charged. Unless there is indeed proof of this the data clearly doesn't indicate institutional racism, it simply reveals that there is a greater presence of violent crime within many urban communities.

I am fully aware of the nuances of the arguments that it is institutional racism that drives crime rates among desperate black populations trapped in urban slums. The argument goes like this: Institutional racism, which can be found in every corner of American society from justice departments to educational institutions to the workforce, denies equal opportunity to black populations which results in a disproportionate number of black Americans living in poverty. As poverty is viewed as the primary factor in educational failure and crime, in this line of thought it follows that the perpetual cycle of generation poverty is caused by institutional racism.

Here's my problem with the argument. The black community in the United States has a long history of suffering discrimination that prevented equality of opportunity in many areas of American life, including barriers to educational attainment and career development, yet the rise in the crime rates among black Americans is a relatively new condition. Black crime and incarceration rates spiked in the 1970s and ’80s in cities such as Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington. Despite the presence of institutional racism and the conditions of poverty among black Americans throughout a century of post-slavery American life, the black family and community remained remarkably strong, complete with inspiring and triumphant stories of success in the face of torrential struggle.

It should cause us to pause in our deliberations over the causes of black crime rates when we can clearly observe that crime rates among blacks spiked decades after the great strides in civil rights began to be realized. So if slavery, racism, and discrimination are indeed the primary cause of crime rates in black communities today, why weren't these same social conditions part of the black community during the days intervening between emancipation and the civil rights movement? Why did this condition develop after the gains of the civil rights era during a time when great strides in social equality were achieved?

These are substantive questions that provide justifiable reasons for questioning the narrative that the violent crime, murder, drugs, and poverty pervasive today in many urban areas are caused by institutional racism and that as such American police are systematically targeting black Americans for incarceration and wantonly murdering black citizens with calloused disregard for black lives.

Despite what you may think of a middle class white woman speaking her mind on an issue of great racial tension, I am not dismissive of the terrible living conditions and dangers that poor urban populations live with everyday. It is tragic and sickening. I live less than a half hour from the most dangerous neighborhoods in one of the most dangerous inner cities in America. I am outraged when I see excessive force, corruption, and sometimes even murder among those sworn to protect, and I certainly believe that swift justice should come upon all law enforcement officers who abuse their power and breech the public trust in any way. I expect that in those cases of injustice officers will be tried, convicted, and punished for their crimes.

While I am concerned about the number of instances of police misconduct and criminal activity, I believe the facts are being ignored and that the overwhelming majority of police men and women in America are brave selfless civil servants.Furthermore, I am concerned that a preoccupation with blaming poverty, white people, past injustices and the rare incident of criminal activity among police prevents our society from discussing and ultimately solving the true underlying causes of such dysfunction. What are the underlying causes? Well, I have thoughts on that too, but that's a topic for another day.

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