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by Peter Moskos

May 31, 2013

Hospital care and gunshot wounds

A contributing factor to declining homicide. Some more details about what's gotten better about medical treatment over the past decade. In the BBC.

May 29, 2013

"It's Torching" -- A Traincrash of Speech

There's a a video on youtube of a guy and his friend (and baby, in babyseat in the back seat) driving toward a fire and then explosion of a train blowing up just outside Baltimore (don't worry... according to authorities it's just "toxic" but nothing to worry about).

So I'm watching this video thinking, "These guys are likely candidates for The Darwin Award."

Regardless (and these guys seemed to survive just fine), I also couldn't help but notice how these two were speaking to each other. They were speaking, well, the way these two African-American guys speak to each other while stupidly driving towards a cool fire (and subsequent explosion). I'm not here to judge. They're probably very nice guys.

The Baltimore Sun has about 12 videos of recordings and people describing what they saw. Many of them are worth watching just for the great Baltimore accents. I love Baltimore accents.

But my point isn't to make of accents or the way people speak. I couldn't care less. I like when people talk like where they're from. I think people should talk like where they're from. (I wish I had more of a Chicago accent; but I'm from Evanston and my parents were too middle class, I suppose.) One time I asked a white guy in the police academy (who had a thick Bawl'mer accent) why he was making fun of how black people in our class talked. I thought it was ironic because to my ears his accent was more strange sounding than ghettoese (more politely known as African-American Vernacular English). 

My point is this: there are about a dozen videos on the Baltimore Sun website. And this is the only one where the audio has been silenced. It's the same one. These guys weren't hamming it up for the camera. It wasn't just that the "bad" words were bleeped (and by my count there 20 in two minutes, not including "damn"). The entire audio is just silenced. To rough for tender ears, I suppose.

Or is it just too black?

What does it say about our culture (or the media) that the way some Americans speak in casual private conversation--Americans whose ancestors have been in this country and speaking English longer than my family--still can't be broadcast for public consumption?

May 24, 2013

End Mass Shootings? The Four-Percent Solution.

Of the twenty-five worst shootings in the US since 1994 only one was committed by an African American. The vast majority of shootings, twenty-two of twenty-five, were committed by whites and Asians. And these are the two groups most underrepresented in our criminal justice system.

It’s entirely conceivable that African-Americans are underrepresented in the annals of mass murders because of mass incarceration. If you’re dangerous, emotionally disturbed, and a young black man, there’s a very good chance you’re already behind bars. Prisons are already the largest provider, albeit an extremely incompetent one, of mental health services in the US. More massive incarceration could prevent mass shootings because, well, if you cast a wide-enough net, you’re bound to catch a fish or two.

President Obama recently said, “if we can save the life of even one child, then we have a responsibility to act.” Indeed, so let us be bold and incarcerate five million white men.

All we would need to do is identify, through police and the courts, the poorest, most desperate, and most troubled four percent of white men — roughly the percentage of black men presently incarcerated — and lock them up. Thanks to drug prohibition, law breakers are not in short supply. It’s just a matter of cracking down on whites like we’ve done to blacks.

The cost of keeping the rest of us safe, by housing five million prisoners, is but $150 billion per year, or the equivalent of the budget of the US Navy. But spent wisely, by focusing incarceration on the jobless, as we do, overnight we could cut the unemployment rate in half!

Along with taking five million potential criminals off the streets, one million new correctional officers would be needed to guard so many white men. Think of the boost to poor, rural, prison-hungry communities. And this doesn’t even count the additional jobs in court, police, and probation related fields.

Of course… even if it would reduce mass shootings and provide jobs, we won’t and shouldn’t lock up four percent of any population. The moral and financial devastation of such a gulag far outweighs any possible benefit. But, so why then do we lock up four percent of African-American men and have the largest prison system in the world?

Even without locking up one more person, we already have the largest incarceration system in the world. In rate and numbers, we lock up more people than any country in the world. Ever. We have more prisoners than China, and they have one billion more people.

Were we to expand our incarceration levels to, in effect, level the playing field for whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, the incomprehensible failings of the status quo would be readily apparent.

Are Americans such an evil people that we need to lock up so many? Are so many prisons necessary for public safety? Of course not. We got into this mess after 1970, when we decided that the war on drugs and longer sentences were the answer. Historically our country has had its fair share of moral failings, often related to race. More than two million people behind bars reflects American society — all of America — no less than did slavery and segregation.

This is not about “them,” the prisoners; it is about us.

To bring our incarceration rate back not just to world standards but to where it was for most of American history, eighty percent of all prisoners would need to be freed. That won’t be easy, but again, the norm in America was to lock up one person per 1,000, not, as we do, seven.

The good news is that prisons can be closed without increasing crime. Take New York City: Last year there were 414 murders in the city; in 1990, there were more than two thousand. Were all the potential murderers locked up? Quite the contrary. During these two decades, while the city’s population increased by more than a million, the number of incarcerated New Yorkers actually substantially decreased.

Of course my four-percent proposal is a Swiftian ploy. Luckily the solution of fewer prisoners could also reduce shootings. More palatable options are, in fact, plentiful. We can provide mental health services for those in need. We can restrict gun possession while fully respecting Second Amendment rights. We can expand punishments that don’t involve jail. We can establish a social safety net for all. If we want to stop violence and prison, these are exactly what we have to do. Anger, fear, and retribution only make the problem worse. They’re also not in the best spirit of our exceptional national character.

Originally published by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in ACJS Today, Vol 38(2), March, 2013

May 17, 2013

Tic-Toc Like Clockwork

Jeanmarie Evelly of DNAInfo.com writes about a "massive drug sweep" in the Queensbridge* and Ravenswood Homes in Astoria/Long Island City. 28 people indicted; 23 others arrested for selling drugs to undercover cops on "hundreds of separate occasions over an eight month span from 2012-2013."

Well, slap my back and declare victory.

Just like we I wrote about in 2009.

And happened before in 2005.

If drugs were so bad, one might logically wonder why police didn't simply arrest those who sold them drugs back in 2012 before they could peddle their addictive wears to other innocent people. The answer, of course, is you need to shut down the whole operation. Get the kingpin. And, you know, make the projects drug free. Just like we did four and eight years ago. In the war on drugs, we're always behind enemy lines. The depressing part is that the goal of the drug war isn't even to win. It's to keep fighting in perpetuity.

We can win a battle or two every four years. But I suspect today some other "entrepreneur" is already gleefully taking the place of those arrested. And he'll get paid and live large till he's arrested four years from now. And then we'll all pay to lock him up for five or twenty years.

Ask yourself, do you think one addict can't get drugs today because of this operation? If you think the answer is yes, you're very very naive. People want to get high. The only question is how. There are certainly more and less harmful drugs as well as more and less harmful ways of distributing them (liquor stores seem to work pretty well). So you then might wonder, couldn't there perhaps be a better way of reducing use and the harms of public drug markets than swooping down every four years and imprisoning "many vicious characters"*(at a cost of $30,000-$70,000 per man per year)?

Of course there is. We could reduce drug use (the US has the highest rate of illegal drug consumption in the world). We could drastically reduce the violence and effed-up culture that goes along with illegal selling. We could regulate the drug trade. But that won't happen with a prohibitionist mindset.

Meanwhile, I'm marking my calendar for 2017. Because this will happen all over again.

*Here's a nice video about the Queensbridge Homes. It's the largest public housing project left standing in America. And it's not as bad as you might think.

**New York Police Superintendent Pillsbury, in a 1859 quarterly report. Pillsbury wrote about “[Youthful immigrants,] many vicious characters, and a still larger number of needy and ignorant persons, who, under the influence of over ten thousand grog-shops become recruits to the army of law-breakers.” In 1859, 84% of arrests were drug related (alcohol). (And 80% of those arrested were foreign born.)

May 5, 2013

Good Cop

The Reese Witherspoon arrest on video.

You know what I like?
Reese: "I have to obey your order?!"

Officer: "Yes, you do.
Well done, officer. Well handled. Grace under pressure.
Witherspoon: "Do you know my name... You're about to find out who am I."

Officer: "That's fine. I'm not really worried about you, Ma'am."
Witherspoon: "I'm an American citizen, I'm allowed to do whatever I want to do."

Funny she should think that.

Honestly, Witherspoon didn't embarrass herself too much. But she was wrong. And she got arrested. And Reese was also wrong about it being national news. It is international news.

As a side note, I'm always amazed when I see a solo officer arresting somebody. I patrolled without a partner, but I was taught never to arrest without backup. The one time I didn't follow that advice, I ended on the pavement of Eager Street wrestling with a handcuffed suspect.

That's right. He was handcuffed. I wasn't. What could I do? I couldn't mace him. I couldn't hit him. He was in handcuffs, for crying out loud! He had not one but both hands tied behind his back! And I still couldn't get that SOB under control.

Never was I so happy to hear sirens coming.

And never again did arrest anybody without backup.