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“We’re All The Same Underneath”: When White People Take Drugs, It Stops Being A “War”

Chalk up another piece of evidence for the longstanding notion that the nation’s “War on Drugs” is simply another aspect of institutionalized racism: it seems that now that heroin addiction is raging through white middle-class families, the nation’s appetite for tough-on-crime tactics is waning.

When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.

And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin — many of them in the suburbs and small towns — are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease.

“Because the demographic of people affected are more white, more middle class, these are parents who are empowered,” said Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, better known as the nation’s drug czar. “They know how to call a legislator, they know how to get angry with their insurance company, they know how to advocate. They have been so instrumental in changing the conversation.”

Apologists can try to claim that the racial disparity in understanding and treatment of the problem is due to people with more power having the ability to change the conversation.

But given the history of the enforcement of the drug war in the United States–starkly and painfully exemplified in the hysteria over “crack cocaine”–it’s a difficult stance to take.

The evidence suggests, rather, that American public policy has been centered around harsh punishment of populations that were at first openly and then more quietly assumed to be naturally subhuman and more prone to violence than whites. Racism, in other words. The drug war is another reflection of that same mentality. A large number of Americans harboring racial prejudice have an image of minority communities seething with chaos just under the thin veneer of civilization, with barbarism ready to strike at any moment in a toxic stew of drugs, handouts violence and uncouth music. The response is a war on drugs, tough-on-crime laws, hatred of taxes, and arsenals of guns for “protection.”

It’s no surprise, then, that when white people do drugs it’s not seen as the same kind of threat–because in minds of far too many Americans it’s not really the drug that is the problem, but the ability of the drug to release the supposedly natural tendencies of certain types of people. The same is true of guns: when a white person carries a gun they’re a patriot; when a black person does it they’re a criminal thug. Because it’s not about the gun, it’s about the person carrying it.

Racists don’t see this as a form of racism. They see it as a form of common sense. But it’s racism through and through. And unfortunately even for the racists, their public policy reactions in terms of gun proliferation, poor public safety nets and harsh criminal justice systems hurt not only minority communities but white ones as well.

America will make progress as a society only when we can move beyond these prejudices and realize that we’re all the same underneath, and we need policies of tolerance and understanding that reflect that fact.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, October 31, 2015

November 2, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Drug Addiction, War on Drugs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Badly Misleading And Dangerous”: About Those Rising Murder Rates: Not So Fast

Are the increases in murders in major cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, and New York City indicative of a broader trend in American cities? That’s the conclusion encouraged by a front-page New York Times article, Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities. It’s a scary story, conjuring images of the high-crime 1990s and fueling speculation about an ostensible “Ferguson Effect” — the unsubstantiated notion that, as The Times put it, “less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals.” This is badly misleading and, at a time when criminal justice reform is making notable bipartisan advances, it’s also dangerous.

Of course, The Times isn’t an academic journal, and its story wasn’t meant to be a rigorous analysis of a big database; it was a glimpse into a current conversation with some new numbers. Still, it’s worth taking a closer look at those numbers.

My own analysis of publically available homicide statistics for a broader selection of cities yields conclusions that are rather different from those stated or implied in the Times article. The differences are related to how cities were selected and the way the data were interpreted.

City Selection

It is not clear how the cities examined by the Times were chosen. The article included ten cities with populations ranging from over 8 million (New York) to just over 317,000 (St. Louis). But there are 60 U.S. cities with estimated 2014 populations in that range. The Times included only four of the 20 most populous U.S. cities. The authors do not explain how those cities were chosen, leaving readers to assume that the findings presented are representative of a broader increase in homicides across U.S. cities. That does not appear to be the case.

In just a few hours, I was able to locate publically available data to support similar analyses for 16 of the 20 most populous cities, and the results, summarized below, suggest a much less pervasive increase than one might infer from the Times analysis.

Interpretation of Statistics

First, not all of the increases cited by the Times are statistically reliable; that is, some of them are small increases, or are based on small numbers of cases, such that the observed increases could have occurred by chance alone. Among the 16 top-20 cities for which I found publically available data, only three experienced statistically reliable increases. Only one of the top-20 cities included in the Times’ sample, Chicago, experienced an increase that was statistically significant. Five of the smaller cities included by the Times did experience statistically reliable increases, but what of the other 35 cities with populations in that range?

Even where a statistically reliable increase has been experienced, a single year-to-year increase does not necessarily imply a meaningful trend. Often, such changes fall within the range of normal year-to-year fluctuations. For example, I was able to obtain historical data on year-to-year changes in homicide counts for Chicago, the only top-20 city in the Times analysis that had a statistically significant increase from 2014 to 2015. From 2009 to 2010, homicides increased 5.1 percent. The next year, however, there was a 13.1 percent decrease. The year after that, a 28.5 percent increase, and then decreases of 16.4 and 3.4 percent in 2013 and 2014, before homicides climbed back up 11.3 percent in 2015. Looked at over a longer time period, the numbers do not demonstrate a stable trend.

Thus, neither the Times analysis nor my own yields compelling evidence that there has been a pervasive increase in homicides that is substantively meaningful. It seems premature to be discussing broad explanations and long-term solutions for what may not be a broad or long-term phenomenon. And yet the spike in a few cities has already prompted speculation that the numbers reflect the increased availability of guns, or the demoralization of police.

Of course, the lack of compelling evidence of a broad-based increase does not prove that no such increase is occurring. Trends in homicide rates (and crime rates generally) are extremely important topics that warrant further investigation. But before we begin to speculate about causes and potential remedies, we need a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence and location of increases in homicide rates that actually depart from normal fluctuations. This suggests a need for analyses that span several years, for as many medium- and large-sized jurisdictions as possible. It would also be useful to undertake such analyses for related crimes, such as non-fatal shootings, non-fatal stabbings, and aggravated assaults, since the difference between those and homicides may often be a matter of random luck, the type of weapon readily available, or the distance to the nearest emergency room.

Only then will we be in a position to undertake rigorous efforts to explain the problem and explore potential remedies.

 

By: Bruce Frederick, Senior Research Fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice, The Marshall Project, Brennan Center for Justice, September 4, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Homocide, Law Enforcement | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crime, Fear, And The Republicans”: Moving Toward The Traditional Toxic Brew Of Race, Ethnicity And White Middle Class Insecurity

From Nixon to Reagan to the first President Bush, Republican campaigns were run like campaigns for sheriff. Nixon ran against unprecedented lawlessness and promised law and order to the silent majority. Reagan remained consistent in his view that “the jungle is waiting to take over. The man with the badge holds it back.” And George H.W. Bush rode the menacing image of Willie Horton, the furloughed rapist, to victory over Michael Dukakis. Then, in 1992, Bill Clinton took time out from his chaotic comeback in New Hampshire to preside over the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally disabled man who had shot out most of his frontal lobe.

Clinton not only took the crime monkey off the back of the Democratic party, he also enacted draconian legislation that has been a key driver in making the United States by far the most heavily incarcerated society in the world: 2.2 million men and women behind bars, disproportionately African-American, Latino, addicted and mentally ill, at an estimated annual cost of $73 billion. Yet over the last quarter century, violent crime rates have been falling, dramatically.

Of course, it can be argued that the decline is the product of mass incarceration, but a recent study by the Brennan Center shows that the effect of increased incarceration on crime rates since 1990 has been limited, and has been non-existent since 2000. Although the Times recently reported “a startling rise in murders after years of declines,” Bruce Frederick, analyzing the statistics for the Marshall Project, found that only 3 of 20 cities have a “statistically reliable increase” in homicide rates.

In an age of hemorrhaging costs and declining crime, fiscally responsible Republicans have begun to make common cause with Democrats to start to shrink the prison-industrial complex. The Brennan Center recently published a collection of essays entitled “Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice Reform.” In his contribution, Rand Paul called for investigation of racial disparities in sentencing and argued against imprisonment for non-violent drug offenders, who make up the largest single group behind bars. Ted Cruz decried mandatory minimum sentences, which vests too much power in prosecutors. Marco Rubio declared there were too many federal crimes that were too poorly defined, and too poorly disclosed. Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee all called for compassion for drug offenders and showed interest in drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration.

Then along came Trump, blowing the old Republican dog whistle on race and crime. Ronald Reagan’s “jungle” was encroaching again, this time from the south. Mexicans are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Doubling down when the statistics showed otherwise, Trump said “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” but reiterated that Mexicans coming here “are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.” His website section on issues does not address crime, or indeed any other issue, except one — immigration.

The conservative National Review sees the potential here for a Republican renaissance on fear of crime. In a recent paean to Nixonian nostalgia, “Revive Law and Order Conservatism,” Stephen Eide writes, “So long as the New York Times and anti-cop activist groups continue with their provocations, we can be reasonably confident that more violent unrest is to come. The spectacle of chaos descending on cities long dominated by Democrats obviously plays to the GOP’s advantage.”

He decries conservative attitudes on crime as “notably softer now than they have been in many decades.” Acknowledging that “New York City’s murders hit a 50-year low,” he observes, “there were still more than three times as many as in London, which has about the same population.” Surely that could have nothing to do with robust Second Amendment rights, another cornerstone of the Republican platform. Eide counsels Republicans that a key to victory in 2016 is to “emphasize that we still have a serious crime problem.”

Republican candidates are taking note. On Hot Air, a conservative web site, Scott Walker properly lamented a recent spate of tragic police shootings but blamed them on President Obama. “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.” And Chris Christie threw Bill de Blasio under the bus as well, “It’s the liberal policies in [New York] that have led to the lawlessness that’s been encouraged by the president of the United States,” he said. “And I’m telling you, people in this country are getting more and more fed up.”

Republicans are increasingly positioning the issue as a rift between Black Lives Matter and police unions, between Sanctuary Cities and thousand mile anti-rapist walls. The constructive discourse in recent months about the crushing costs of incarceration, the waste of mandatory minimum sentences, the twin crises of mental health and addiction in prison, the endless cost and delay in enforcing the death penalty has all but ended. In its place, Republicans are moving toward the traditional toxic brew of race, ethnicity, white middle class insecurity and panic about crime.

Get ready for the return of Willie Horton.

 

By: Eric Lewis, Chairman of Reprieve US, a Human Rights Organization; The Marshall Project, Brennan Center for Justice, September 15, 2015

September 16, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Criminal Justice Reform, GOP Presidential Candidates, Race and Ethnicity, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Dangerous Is Police Work?”: Being A Policeman Is One Of The Safer Jobs You Can Have

After the senseless death and tragic funerals of two young New York City policeman, cops have got to be thinking about assassination. “I want to go home to my wife and kids,” said a cop to the New York Post.” I am concerned about my safety.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press,” NYC Police Commissioner William Bratton said that cops across the country “feel under attack”

They have good reason to worry. Getting killed is a hazard in many occupations, but there is one glaring difference between death risks of law enforcement officers and those of other dangerous occupations: only police officers face the threat of murder as a part of their job. No one is out trying to kill fisherman or loggers or garbage collectors.

A cop on the street endures daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled and violent criminals. They endure life-and-death situations on a daily basis.

However, the misconception that police work is dangerous, propagated by the media and police unions, could become a self-fulfilling prophecy— especially, if police believe that they are going into deadly battle when they head out on patrol. They are likely to be nervous and trigger-happy and might affect their decision-making in a stressful situation.

The fact is: being a policeman is one of the safer jobs you can have, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor.

In five years, 2008 to 2012, only one policeman was killed by a firearm in the line of duty in New York City. Police officers are many times more likely to commit suicide than to be killed by a criminal; nine NYC policemen attempted to take their own lives in 2012, alone. Eight succeeded. In 2013, eight NYPD officers attempted suicide, while six succeeded. If police want to protect themselves, a wise move might be to invest in psychiatric counseling, rather than increased firepower.

2013 had the fewest police deaths by firearms since 1887 nationwide.

The national figures vary widely from year to year. In 2014, police deaths in the line of duty, including heart attacks, spiked upward from 100 in 2013, to 126 in 2014.

But the trend has been clearly downward in the last 40 years. Police work is getting progressively safer compared with historical averages:

  • From 1970 to 1980 police deaths averaged 231 per year.
  • 1980 to 1989: police deaths averaged 190.7
  • 1990 to 1999: police deaths averaged 161.5
  • 2000 to 2009: police deaths averaged 165
  • 2013 to 2014: police deaths averaged 113.

Statistics are drawn from the police friendly National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund which also show that felony killings of police dropped by 50 percent from 1992 to 2013 from 10,000 to 5,000 annually per 100,000 residents.

Statistics are notably unreliable both from the federal government and from law enforcement friendly sites. The best statistics come from the New York City Police Firearms Discharge Reports.

The Report for 2013 noted the following:

—- In 1971, 12 officers were killed by other persons and police shot and killed 93 subjects.

—- In 2013, no officers were shot and killed and police killed 8 subjects.

To put the risk of policing in perspective: fisherman and loggers are 10 times more likely to be killed on the job than a police officer, a farmer is 2 times more likely to die on the job, according to national figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A logging worker is eight times more likely than a police officer to die on the job, and a garbage man is three times more likely to die while working.

The 10 Deadliest Jobs: Deaths per 100,000

  1. Logging workers: 128.8
  2. Fishers and related fishing workers: 117
  3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers: 53.4
  4. Roofers: 40.5
  5. Structural iron and steel workers: 37
  6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors: 27.1
  7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers: 23
  8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers: 22.1
  9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers: 21.3
  10. Construction laborers: 17.4

Out of approximately one million police and law enforcement personnel, with 126 deaths per year, the death rate for police is 12.6 per hundred thousand.

The most dangerous job in the U.S. is being president. Eight out of 44 presidents died in office, about 18 percent. Four were assassinated, just over 9 percent.

Most policemen killed on the job die in accidents (mostly auto), not from firearm assault, according to the FBI.

According to FBI figures (which are slightly different than other tabulations), 14 of the 76 police deaths in 2013, nation-wide, were due to auto accidents —- when the officer wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Tragic for sure.

Of the 76 cops who died in the line of duty in 2013, 18 of them were from gunfire. The rest were traffic fatalities or slips and falls.

Assailants used personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.) in 80.2 percent of the incidents, firearms in 4.3 percent of incidents, and knives or other cutting instruments in 1.7 percent of the incidents.

About 40 percent of officers (30) who die in the line of duty are homicides, which would give police a murder rate of 3 per 100,000, compared with the average national murder rate for the general population of 5.6 per 100,000.

The average citizen of Chicago had a murder risk of 18.5 in 2012, more than three times the murder risk of policeman. Police killings are almost always classified as line-of-duty.

In reality, police don’t draw or fire their guns very much.

Many NYC cops never draw their weapons in their whole career. In New York City, only one cop in 755 fired his or her gun at a suspect intentionally in 2012. In 2013, only one of 850 officers fired a weapon at a suspect intentionally.

In 2012, 80.2 percent of officers who were assaulted in the line of duty were attacked with personal weapons (e.g., hands, fists, or feet).

4.3 percent of the officers were assaulted with firearms.

The reason a policeman’s job is getting safer is simple. There has been a dramatic drop in crime in the last two decades. Less crime means safer working conditions for the people who try to stop it.

The act of policing needs to be safer. Use body cameras. Cut down on the number of traffic accidents. Mandate the use of seat belts on duty. Enforce better and more professional training to avoid dangerous situations, and offer better counseling to deal with the stress of the job.

Attacks on police are a great media story, but if the false narrative — that policing is getting more dangerous — continues to spread it will have a significant effect on how police do their jobs —- making them more fearful than they already are, with increasingly deadly results for the general public.

 

By: Blake Fleetwood, Ten Miles Square, The Washington Monthly, January 15, 2015

January 18, 2015 Posted by | Crime Rates, Dangerous Occupations, NYPD | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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