About . . . . . . Classes . . . . . . Books . . . . . . Vita . . . . . . . Links. . . . . . Blog

by Peter Moskos

October 18, 2018

Progressive Misbelief

For well over a century, "progressives" have a proud tradition of not only exposing what is best for other people (often correctly, I might add) but also thinking they know what other people believe (often incorrectly). There's a paternalism inherent to the progressive movement that can come awfully close to racism (or at least a white-savior complex) when it comes to policies that impact non-white people.

A recent article points out how white liberals (of which I count myself) have, on issues of race, moved to the left of black Americans.

If you, like me, hang around mostly with a liberal white set, you might believe 1) the greatest problem in poor black neighborhoods is the risk of being shot by police; 2) crime is down everywhere; 3) black neighborhoods are over-policed and 4) any attempt to apply policing solutions to neighborhood problems of crime, violence, and fear is part of a right-wing plot to throw more blacks in prison. There are other crazy things I hear as well, like, for instance, proven crime-reduction strategies -- take hot spots policing and Broken Windows (minus the zero-tolerance) -- are racist because they disproportionately impacted African Americans.

I've seen this for a while now on issues of policing issues, and it frustrates me to no end. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but white liberals and "progressives," particularly the woke set, seem to have a certain fondness for thinking they know what other people should believe. That is a privilege you should check.

So if, like me, you read the New York Times and listen to NPR, here are some things that might surprise you:
  • Blacks want more police presence more than whites want more police presence. Only 10% of blacks want less police presence. Read that again, if you have to. I remember having a discussion about this fact with a nice editor at a major national magazine. At first she simply didn't believe it. It didn't fit her worldview nor the view of her (mostly white) coworkers. It didn't fit the narrative.
  •  Almost 70% of lower-income nonwhites have "confidence in local police."
  •  Over 70% of Americans feel safe walking alone at night in the area where they live. For very low-income non-whites, it's just over half. This is on par with residents of Nicaragua and Zimbabwe! Sigh. What a country.
So if a majority of lower-income blacks feel unsafe and generally want more (and also better!) policing, why do so many of my well-off white liberals friends keep telling me that "their" problem  is over-policing? And yeah, some of my best friends are black. And they tell me they don't like your paternalistic BS either.

On Tuesday 11 people were shot in Baltimore. Eleven! In one day. It made the local paper. 6 more yesterday. And perhaps another 4 or 5 today (the day isn't over). Think of the trauma that comes from this violence. The impact not just on victims but on family, friends, kids, and the entire community. It's hard to imagine. When I brought this bad day to somebody, the response was responded "there are not jobs." No shit! But there were no jobs in 2014 before violence doubled. There were no jobs on Monday. There will be no jobs tomorrow. Public order and safe streets are preconditions to fixing society's greater problems. If you don't feel safe leaving your house, very little good is going to happen.

I know there are things police cannot do. But some problems -- from squeegee boys right up to murder -- can be mitigated and even solved by good policing. And we've moved away from that in some of our cities. And that has happened, in part, because people with influence and power -- the liberal elite, if you will (a term I do not like because by most definitions I'd be part of it!) -- have bought drunk the Kool-Aid with regards to issues of policing, race, and crime.

October 5, 2018

Van Dyke Guilty in Chicago

Former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting of Laquan McDonald. This isn't surprising. I think Van Dyke was found guilty because, get this, he was.

I wrote this in 2015:
The video is out. Finally. After long attempts to sweep it under the rug failed.
It's a bad shooting.... The officer who killed McDonald fits the pattern of bad cops: high activity, drug work, too many complaints. Sure, all the complaints weren't justified, but some of them were. And undoubtedly he did a lot of bad shit that people didn't file formal complaints about.
Now of course I know that in a court of law anything Van Dyke did in the past is irrelevant to his guilt or innocence is this criminal case. Whether he was a "bad" cop or not is irrelevant and inadmissible in a court of law. But I'm mentioning it because I'm not a court of law.

And second-degree murder seems correct. It meets these conditions:
Intended to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual (or knew that the act would do so); or

Knows that the acts create a strong probability of causing death or great bodily harm to the individual.
Combined with this mitigating factor:
At the time of the killing, he/she believed that the killing would have been lawfully justified but the belief was unreasonable.
Van Dyke had options not limited to A) doing nothing, B) not shooting, and C) not continuing to pump rounds into McDonald after McDonald was down. As judged by this former police officer, I say Van Dyke was not reasonable.

October 4, 2018

Why they carry illegal guns in Chicago

There an interesting study by the Urban Institute on young men carrying guns in Chicago. This has already been misrepresented in the Chicago Sun-Times as "1 in 3 young people surveyed in four Chicago neighborhoods say they carry a gun." Factually true... but meaningless because they're trying to survey people who carry a gun. 100% is the goal. It's not trying to be a representative sample (even of a high violence neighborhood) or figure out how many people carry illegal guns. Rather, they tried to figure out why people carry guns (and what will make them less likely to do so).

Not surprisingly, most people who carry a gun illegally do not do so all the time. Of gun carriers (n = 97), 7% say they always carry; 16% say they often do; 32% say sometimes; 45% rarely. Most who carry say they do so "for protection," which also isn't surprising. (What is surprising is the 6 people who said they carry a gun to commit crime.) Fear is real. So is the chance of being shot. So either we work to arm everybody who is afraid, or -- better -- we deescalate the streets and work to reduce fear by reducing violence and number of people carrying illegal guns.

Of those who carry a gun, 37% say they have been the victim of a shooting or attempted shooting in past year. 85% know somebody who has. That figure is important and perhaps not well known enough. Instead of complaining when certain politicians call Chicago a disaster or a war torn -- "oh, it's not all neighborhoods," say some -- perhaps we should focus on making sure some neighborhoods aren't so lethal!

Most respondents say it’s easy to get a gun, and they could get one in a few hours from a street dealer, a friend or family member, or steal a gun. 84% of gun carriers say they’re not likely to get caught carrying. That percentage is lower (by a little) for those who don’t carry. Still, this indicates some potential for a deterrent effect.

The sample of those who have illegally carried a gun is, not surprisingly, not pro-police. 75% of those who have carried say police have stopped them “for no good reason.” This in kind of ironic, since illegal gun carriers are exactly whom we want police to stop.

And there's an odd bit of data presentation. Either they're not being great at the stats game or are trying to mislead. I think it’s the former. Two groups are compared over and over again: “those who have carried” and “entire sample.” But why include the first group in the 2nd group and then compare differences? Separate them. Also, "entire" implies it's representative of something, but it's not. It's a non-random targeted sample.

The groups are easy to separate. Or at least I did so based on their figure 9. And when I did so, for instance, 71% of the sample says police “often stop people for no good reason.” But of those who don't carry guns, that figure goes down to 60%. Even for this sample, it’s surprising to me that of those who don't carry, as many as 40% cannot agree with the statement "police stop people for no good reason."

I would like to see a sample in the same neighborhood of those who have nothing to do with carrying illegal guns or those who do. What are their opinions of police? That’s the group I would care about, in terms of police legitimacy.

Do tell us what illegal-gun carriers think of police. But criminals aren’t supposed to like the police. And as this is an intentionally non-random sample, the part of the sample that doesn’t carry (or says they don’t) is an odd group from which one should not generalize.

Their attitudes on police will be used to question police “legitimacy,” but that seems like abit of a distraction. The carriers of guns say they are carrying because of fear of victimization. More violence decreases legitimacy. Fewer stops by the Chicago Police Department haven’t increased legitimacy. And after having a “well paid job,” the top 5 leading preventative factors, according to those who carry illegal guns, are “none of their friends did,” “knew they would be arrested,” “more police on the street,” “guns cost more," and “knew they would end up doing time.”

To me those are all clues. I do want to know why gun carriers carry guns. And I also want to know what those don't carry avoid doing so. The study concludes by stressing non-police "holistic" solutions “outside the criminal justice system” (which are no doubt needed). But based on gun-carrying respondents, four of the top six solutions involve police.

Fear of getting caught can give people an out, a good excuse to not carrying a gun. Even though people don’t want to admit it, arrest, prosecution, legal stops, and legal frisks are *part* of the solution. And while others get holistic, police can focus on the police side. Police can reduce violence by reducing fear by getting people to leave their guns at home. De-policing to reduce encounters in Chicago (and elsewhere) hasn't worked. "Holistic" needs to include police.