Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The "they're going to anyway" fallacy

Mary Mitchell of the Chicago Sun-Times takes Hillary Clinton to task for pandering to a Black audience (specifically National Association of Black Journalists conventioneers) by lamenting the "black male crisis":

I can't say with certainty that Clinton doesn't ever mention "It takes a village to raise a child" when addressing white audiences, but the African proverb is usually tossed out at least once when she's speaking to a black one.

In fact, the speech she delivered during what was billed as "A Conversation with America's Candidates" was Clinton's urban manifesto.

The former first lady lamented the crisis of 1.4 million young black males between the ages of 16 and 24 "who are out of school and out of work and too often out of hope," and pointed out that nearly one out of every three young African-American men are not "earning legal wages or learning marketable skills.

"They grow up without fathers, wind up in prison, or end up losing their lives, or taking lives due to guns and violence," Clinton said. "We've been wringing our hands and listening to this exact same conversation for years. Well, I reject that conversation. I reject a conversation that paints with a broad brush 1.4 million young men as a threat, as a headache, or as a lost cause. I reject it as a string of disappointments, failures, casualties of a broken system. It is not who they are and not what they can be. I think it is time we shifted the conversation."

I wholeheartedly agree.

This is a conversation that should be shifted to the white establishment across America where jobs, resources and political clout are controlled.

Both Mrs. Clinton ("it take a village") and Ms. Mitchell ("the white establishment") look for explanations outside the African-American community for crime in that community, which is overwhelmingly Black-on-Black crime. Mrs. Clinton fails to understand that the programs of the Great Society have stripped many of the the "villages" in the African-American community of their male elder role models and left their female elders to deal on their own with feeding and raising the young folks. Ms. Mitchell, for her part, thinks that Black folks can't help themselves when "the white establishment" controls jobs, resources and political clout: she desperately needs to re-read Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington.

But it's obviously that Ms. Mitchell thinks that Mrs. Clinton's shame ought not to lie in her reliance on tired old liberal slogans rather than effective programs to combat crime in the Black community. No, Ms. Mitchell blames Mrs. Clinton's husband for making the laws unfair.

So it was pandering on Clinton's part to show up and paint herself as the possible savior of 1.4 million lost black souls. Because the truth of the matter is the root of the "black male crisis" can be traced back to the Clinton era.

In a rare private interview with a group of black columnists from across the country, Clinton was reminded that the explosion in the prison population -- which has led to a whole host of social ills in the black community -- was spawned, in part, by Bill Clinton's decision to sign a bill that created the wide disparity in the way people are punished for crimes involving crack cocaine, compared to those who are prosecuted for powder cocaine.

This is a classic illustration of the "they're going to anyway" fallacy. Since young Black men are going to deal crack cocaine anyway, why punish them disproportionately to powder cocaine dealers, if not out of sheer racism?

The truth is, something that incurs severe penalties generally is practiced less than if it incurred light penalties, or none. If young Black men are somehow culturally prone to dealing crack cocaine, then subjecting crack dealing to Draconian penalties ought to disproportionately benefit the Black community by getting its young men away from the crack trade.

But are all the young Black men in U.S. prisons there for crack dealing? What about murder?

The U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that murder rates -- victims and perpetrators -- vary greatly between whites and Blacks.

In 2005, homicide victimization rates for blacks were 6 times higher than the rates for whites.

In 2005, offending rates for blacks were more than 7 times higher than the rates for whites

The race distribution of homicide victims and offenders differs by type of homicide
For the years 1976-2005 combined -

Black victims are over represented in homicides involving drugs. Compared with the overall involvement of blacks as victims, blacks are less often the victims of sex-related homicides, workplace killings, and homicide by poison.

Race patterns among offenders are similar to those among victims.

From 1976 to 2005 --

86% of white victims were killed by whites
94% of black victims were killed by blacks

Stranger homicides are more likely to cross racial lines than those that involve friends or acquaintances
For homicides committed by --

-- a friend or acquaintance of the victim, less than one-tenth (8%) were interracial
-- a stranger to the victim, one-quarter were interracial

You know what related aspect of the criminal justice system shows a racial disparity? Capital punishment, according to the BJS.

Of persons executed in 2006:
-- 32 were white
-- 21 were black

Of persons under sentence of death in 2005:
-- 1,805 were white
-- 1,372 were black
-- 31 were American Indian
-- 34 were Asian
-- 12 were of unknown race.

Let's see. Black perpetrators made up 52.2% of all homicide perpetrators from 1976 to 2005, but represent only 42.2% of Death Row inmates and about the same percentage of persons executed. Since most Black murderers killed Black victims (as most white murderers killed white victims), the prima facie conclusion would be that juries and judges just don't sentence the killers of Black people to death as often as they do the killers of whites.

Maybe if Black victims got the same degree of justice -- that is, prosecutors seeking the death penalty in their murders as often as in the cases of white victims -- the rate of homicide of Blacks would drop. Again, that might result in fewer Black men going to prison -- unless you believe that Black men are going to kill people anyway, regardless of consequences.

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