The Black (or Minority) Crime Myth

Yesterday, I read Why is the N.Y.P.D. After Me? and it brought up a few issues which I’ve thought about before but have never actually put to words. While I’ve not had the same experience as Nicholas Pert, I have had a few of my own. One took place while I was living in Tallahassee. My first weekend living in the city, I’d bought a bike from the thrift store next to my apartment complex and decided to go for a ride that evening to get a feel for what was around me. After riding around in different directions from my apartment, it started to get dark and so I decided to head home. As I’m riding back, I notice a cop car coming up the road behind me and as it approaches me, the lights come on. I pull over and stop to wait for them to go by but the car just stops behind me. A cop gets out (white), walks up to me and asks to see my ID. Even though I had it with me, I felt the whole situation was unwarranted and told him I didn’t have any ID on me. The cop then tells me that he pulled me over because I was riding my bike in the dark without lights (it was dusk, sun was setting yes, but still a good amount of visibility) and that I should make sure to carry ID from now on.

But this hits a bit closer to home because just a couple days ago, I had this experience. I’m heading to my car to go to a restaurant. As I’m about to cross the street to get into my car, I notice a cop driving up the street so naturally I wait. The cop who was previously doing about 30mph slows down to about 10mph as I walk into the street and towards my car. And seems to creep along at a slow pace until I open the door. Fast forward about 15 minutes to when I arrive at the restaurant. I get out of my car and again need to cross the street. I’m waiting for traffic to clear when a police van pulls over two parking spots ahead of me. They remain there while I enter the restaurant, wait for my take-out order, pick it up, walk out, and start crossing the street again.

Ten years ago, I would not have even linked the two in my head or would have just written it off as pure coincidence. But between everything I’ve experienced since my high school junior college tour, even I, who for the most part didn’t grow up with an adversarial relationship with cops and even now feels at ease with casual interactions I’ve had with them while out in Pittsburgh, I still felt a vaugue sense of unease which only got worse. Anyway, reading some of the comments, this one caught my eye. Not that it was exceptional, but that it was predictable. Well, today I address the issues I have with such statements.

This is of course a disappointing story but a the same time as some have argued the statistics show that young Black males may commit a disproportionately bigger percentage of crimes in NYC; Just as White males are more likely to be serial killers.
This does not mean Blacks are congenitally criminals or that white males are genetically inclined to be serial killers.
I think what we need to be asking here is .. why are the young Black males committing these crimes? Lack of opportunity for good schools ? or even more painful… broken families so no role models ? Anyway we need to look at the root cause and not symptoms.
Nevertheless Police needs to be trained to have some good customer service. A few bad apples perpetuates a negative image. Maybe the Police can say they don’t care, but would it not be nice if these young Black males saw you as friends and not enemies.. then they may even help you reach the goal of reducing crime. This could change to a battle of hearts and minds. we apply this in foreign countries but why dont we do this with our own people?

Let us answer this with a simple analogy. Pretend for a moment that people of every race commit crime equally, say 1 in 10. And in my city, there is a population of 1000 whites and 1000 blacks (so 100 of each are criminals). If the only cop in the city arrests blacks at a 2:1 rate to whites, when crime statistics are compiled, it would seem that blacks commit twice the crime. When new crime policy is made, in an effort to “keep it real” and focus on who is committing crime, rather than crime prevention in general, you now get legalized and institutionalized practices which further bolster and sustain the false statistic.
The point is that statistics are based on available data. If there is a bias in the dataset, there will be a bias in the statistics. Even if blacks commit crimes at a rate 100 times less than every other race, if they are arrested at 10 times the rate of others, statistics would show that blacks get arrested more. Anyway, the good thing about this commenter is that he later addresses issues such as crime prevention and improving relationships between law enforcement and the communities with which they have an adversarial relationship. But it is annoying and sad when people make comments which show they just don’t have a clue how past racism can still have significant effects today, even if a lot of that racism is gone.

If I Were Well Off White Man

Yesterday, I read If I were a Poor Black Kid and was immediately blown away by the sheer amount of ignorance contained in the piece by Gene Marks, not to mention his apparent lack of imagination or ability to put himself in other’s shoes, a prerequisite I thought for imagining being something you are not. And while the piece speaks to many things that seem to be wrong with the way parts of society view the poor and minorities, and by parts of society, I refer to what would appear to be mainstream Republican views (at least based on the current front-runners in their contest to nominate a Presidential candidate), I want to first acknowledge one problem which may shed some light on how Marks managed to write this piece while still imagining he maintains any intellectual honesty and furthermore, why apparently, none of the editors at Forbes bothered to squash or send it back for some serious re-working.

When it comes to reflecting about the actions and motivations of others and putting oneself in their shoes, amongst other things, there are two words that come into play. Sympathize and empathize. The two words sound similar and have similar meanings. I’ll even bet a good number of people if asked to define them, would either give the same definition, or if different, have a 50/50 shot of getting it right. So, what do they mean? To sympathize is to agree with a sentiment or opinion. To empathize is to understand or share the feelings of another person. Yes, they seem close, but there is a stark distinction. When one experiences empathy, it means that one has actually experience the same or very similar circumstances or situation that leads to the feelings shared or understood with the other person. When one experiences sympathy, it just means that you agree with their feelings about the situation. You get it in theory (or think you do), but you have no visceral experience that could make you understand why.

Here is an example, a friend loses a parent. A person who sympathizes hasn’t experienced loss at that level. They have read about loss, they know what society expects loss will do to a child, they have seen how a few other people have gone through loss, they have imagined what they’d do if they were in that situation. But, they have not actually experienced a loss themselves. A person who empathizes on the other hand has lost someone close to them as well. They understand what their friend is going through because they have actually gone through it as well. Another example, watching your team play a football game. A sympathizer is essentially an armchair quarterback. An empathizer is the actual quarterback.

So, what does this have to do with Marks? Well, from reading the article, he clearly sympathizes with poor black kids, but he doesn’t empathize with them. Not even with just poor kids. And as a result, his opinions about what they should be doing, what should be done, how society should respond are based solely on his own experiences and idealism about people and the world. . . none of which seems to be versed in the reality of someone who actually grew up poor or black or both. This is not to say that you need to have been a poor black kid to be able to generate ideas for how things can be changed for those who are poor and black, but for solutions grounded in reality, you need to have some personal experience. Experience working in such a community, seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Trying to help someone, succeeding and failing.

Engineers (and others) have been designing flying machines on paper for hundreds of years – what really advanced us to the point of having actual airplanes were the work of those who went as far as to actually build them. Chemists and physicists predicted then fought over what elements should be in the periodic table – but only by actually trying to either isolate or create those elements did we vastly increase our knowledge of them and make so many of the advances seen in the past 200 years.

I’d initially planned on going through the article, highlighting some of the more egregious misstatements but as it turns out, Louis Peitzman beat me to it in the aptly titled If I Were A Middle Aged White Man. Instead, I’m going to focus on another aspect of this, which is that the same kind of sentiment both stated in the article and not stated is quite similar to what I feel is the typical or mainstream Republican view of poor people and minorities. And for those of us on the other side, it can be easy to write off some policies or statements with the pen of racism when it turns out the brush of ignorance paints with a much larger stroke.

Pretty much, it goes that based on my life and experiences, black people, minorities, or poor people, disadvantaged as they may be, are pretty much equally equipped to work their way out of their particular situation. And given that I can easily think of ways that a poor black kid can succeed, even in spite of systematic social disadvantages, it begs the question, why doesn’t the black kid or minority do better on average? And since we’ve already established that they have every opportunity to succeed, there is perhaps only one logical conclusion – that there is something about the minority that keeps them from succeeding.

Going back to the periodic table reference, knowledge about how electron orbitals are filled and that elements next to each other on the table are similar and elements in the same column (or group) tend to be similar, scientists expected that one could exchange nearby elements on the table for each other without much change in how they acted chemically or biologically. And it turns out that regardless of how similar elements can look on paper, over even from a certain level of depth, they can still be very different because of information that just wasn’t known. It turns out that there is an effect due to how the nucleus is formed and lots of other factors. Even now, I’m not sure we fully understand the elements.

Though for most of us, the effects of centuries of racism, decimation of family structure, lack of significant positive examples, shortage of communal resources to name a few, are all things that obviously contribute towards the general success or failure of children from a given community. Yet to others, none of those things matter. Because they can point to one person they know who beat the odds. And so if that one person can do it, everyone else can. I like the example that Peitzman gives – that apparently because one person could come up with some world changing invention, all of us could do it too, if only we cared enough about our success. The history of science up until even 50 years ago is totally contrary to this idea and most of what Marks writes in his article. Pretty much, only the rich or well off had the free time to actually pursue the sciences. Advancing one’s knowledge of the world, languages, science, had always been a pursuit of the idle rich. Everyone else was concerned with work to ensure survival.

I’d like to tear into Newt Gingrich in this post as well, but perhaps we’ll save him for another time.

An Interesting Catch-22

Congress is deadlocked between the Democrats and Republicans over the issue of the budget. Essentially the Democrats are calling for closing loopholes in the tax code, which would lead to increases in taxes among corporations and the wealthy. The Republicans are calling for cuts in spending, which will severely reduce Medicare and drastically alter Social Security.

While the Democrats have been willing to negotiate on some issues, they have managed to stand ground on the need for actual tax increases. The Republicans feel that they can pressure the Democrats by walking out. As things currently stand, there doesn’t seem to be a way that both sides of Congress can get together to pass a new bill authorizing more debt, taxes, and spending (or reduction thereof).

So, what’s the problem. Well, without increasing our current debt “ceiling”, the United States cannot borrow more money. If we can’t borrow more money, then we have to start cutting back on our monetary obligations. The government would only be able to pay it’s obligations based on the revenues it has. This means a stall in new government programs, and given that we already are running a deficit and have to service debt on money borrowed, as well as things needed for daily life – payroll, utilities, social security, medicare, etc, drastic measures will be needed. First, a halt to new programs, cutting back on existing programs, furloughing government workers, and even starting to default on debt or obligations -ie only paying out 70% of someone’s social security benefits.

However, there is talk of a “nuclear option”. Essentially, there is an interpretation of the 14th Amendment where Congress is not actually needed to authorize new debt for the Federal Government. Exercise of this by the Executive could go virtually unchallenged, except by perhaps a joint resolution of Congress.

And therein lies the catch-22. See, if Congress were in a position to authorize joint resolutions pertaining to the national debt, the nuclear option would not be in play. Which kind of suggests that regardless of what happens, we will continue to borrow more money. So the real fallout from this will be what it has always been about – politics.

Today, I weighed in at 213.4lbs. It was expected that I’d go up a bit today, and likely tomorrow. But come Tuesday, we go to war against carbs to tear down my glucagon forcing it to use fatty acids for energy instead of glucose.