Myth Master Barack Obama is responsible for many myths about the criminal justice system in America. While these are myths believed by a whole lot of people, they originated as lies told by Obama in speeches he made at prisons in front of the press. Referring to the people he saw in prison Obama repeatedly pulled this line out of his repertoire: “These are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made.” Sycophant reporters stopped humping Obama’s leg long enough to eat this up and digest every word of it.
Another line Obama echoed frequently was, “The bottom line is that in too many places, black boys and black men, Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated differently under the law. Incarceration disproportionately impacts communities of color. African Americans and Latinos make up 30 percent of our population; they make up 60 percent of our inmates.”
Throughout his 8 years of wreckage Obama sought to set in stone the notion that the only reason blacks and latinos make up a disproportionate percentage of prison inmates is racial bias by police, prosecutors and judges. This is not a mistake on Obama’s part. It’s an unscrupulous lie of which he will be forever remembered by all whole can think clearly about such things. Obama never said anything about the crime rate among blacks and hispanics because that, and not racism, is the entire explanation for the disproportionately high number of them in prison.
Heather MacDonald is one who thinks deeply and clearly. The following is from her recent piece at Frontpage Mag, The Decriminalization Delusion:
The biggest myth about the criminal-justice system is not that it mindlessly metes out overlong sentences but that the disproportionate number of blacks in prison reflects [racial] bias by police, prosecutors, and judges.
It is not marijuana-smoking that lands a skewed number of black men in prison but their elevated rates of violent and property crime. A 2011 study of California and New York arrest data led by Pennsylvania State University criminologist Darrell Steffensmeier found that blacks commit homicide at 11 times the rate of whites and robbery at 12 times the rate of whites. Such disparities are repeated in city-level data. In New York City, blacks commit over 75 percent of all shootings, according to the victims of and witnesses to those shootings, though they are only 23 percent of the city’s population. They commit 70 percent of all robberies. Whites, by contrast, commit under 2 percent of all shootings and 4 percent of all robberies, though they are 34 percent of the city’s population. In the 75 largest county jurisdictions in 2009, blacks were 62 percent of robbery defendants, 61 percent of weapons offenders, 57 percent of murder defendants, and 50 percent of forgery cases, even though nationwide, blacks are 12 percent of the population. They dominated the drug-trafficking cases more than possession cases. Blacks made up 53 percent of all state trafficking defendants in 2009, whites made up 22 percent, and Hispanics 23 percent, whereas in possession prosecutions, blacks were 39 percent of defendants, whites 34 percent, and Hispanics 26 percent.
Repeated efforts by criminologists to find a racial smoking gun in the criminal-justice system have come up short. If the prison population were not a reminder of a reality that the political and academic establishment would rather cover up—the black crime rate—it is unlikely that the deincarceration movement would have generated the same momentum. After all, the nearly fourfold rise in the prison population since the early 1980s played a major role in the record-breaking crime drop since the early 1990s. That prison buildup represented a backlash against the anti-confinement ideology of the 1960s and 1970s that had lowered the incarceration rate, as crime was exploding in cities across America. Many of the same alternatives to penal custody that are now being proposed had been put into place in the late 1960s and early 1970s to keep criminals out of prison. But these alternatives lost support as crime spun out of control. Legislators started lengthening sentences, especially for repeat felony offenders, and pressing for a greater confinement rate. During the 1980s, crime rates fluctuated as the prison population steadily grew; it was only in the early 1990s that crime began a steady downward trajectory, ultimately to be cut in half by the mid-2000s. Anti-incarceration advocates point to the divergent paths of crime and imprisonment in the 1980s to argue against the role of prison in the 1990s crime drop; University of California at Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring, however, has argued that it was not until the 1990s that the prison buildup reached its most effective incapacitative strength and kicked in as a sustained antidote to lawlessness.
Statistical war continues to be waged over incarceration’s role in the last two decades’ crime decline, with all activists and many academics still denying that incarceration contributed to the crime drop. Given the nonstop pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement, we may be embarking on another real-world experiment testing the relationship between incapacitation and crime. If the country is really serious about lowering the prison count, however, it is going to have to put aside the fictions about the prison population. The legendary pot-smoker clogging up the rolls is long gone, if he were ever there. Cutting the prison population will require slashing the sentences of violent criminals and property offenders (many of whom have violent histories) and keeping more of them in the community after their convictions. The problem is not the “Michelle Alexander story that we have too many harmless people in prison,” says New York University public-policy professor Mark Kleiman. “Most of the problem is that we have too many murderers in prison.”
As the decriminalization movement marches onward we can expect another repeat of the past. Higher crime rates will be our future if this is not stopped.