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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 and drunk the Kool-Aid with regards to issues of policing, race, and crime.


Unknown said...

I'm curious about your "there are no jobs" assertion. I too listen to NPR, and just tonight listened to a piece lamenting the fact that there is no one willing to take good paying trades jobs across the country. There may be no jobs in the shitty neighborhood people are living in, but okay, people have moved towards better jobs since there have been herds to hunt. We need to get out of this mindset that our ghettos are too vibrant and alive to abandon and actively recruit youths, likely early in life, for a decent job even if it is in New Hampshire.

Moskos said...

When I say there are no jobs, I mean both that there are no jobs in these neighborhoods and also that jobs that exist elsewhere wont' hire these. They don't have good resumes or high-school degrees. And then even leaving aside (very real) transportation issues, there are cultural and racial factors. Most employers, especially for public-facing job positions, don't _want_ to hire people from the ghetto. Some of that is racism; but even without that, employers want workers with working- or middle-class demeanor and speech. And why shouldn't they?

Another factor is age. Some kids (not the majority, but definitely some) need to support their family because the everybody of legal working is dysfunctional. But it's illegal for them to work. Then what?

Moskos said...

See, for instance, https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2018/10/18/job-growth-is-found-to-be-no-cure-for-a-communitys-poverty/

"no association between job growth and economic mobility for poor residents of the affected areas."

Why? Because of the reasons I stated above.

David said...

The Gallup report is interesting, as always. I've gotten the same incredulous reaction as you when I've brought these data up.

If I'm reading the "police presence and treatment by police" table correctly, the subgroup that's *most* likely to say they want a larger police presence is blacks who think that police treat them unfairly. 44% of that group wants a bigger police presence, compared to 33% of the black respondents who think police treat them fairly.(The plurality opinion is almost always "keep police presence the same"; very few people want less police presence.)

Those numbers make me suspect that a good chunk of the people who say "police treat my group unfairly" mean "they don't give me *enough* protection", at least in part.

Moskos said...

I hadn't thought of that. I assume more like, "even though police treat people me unfairly, I still want more police. Because I can handle a little unfair treatment. I more need police to handle those kids down the hall that terrorizing the building." That's what I've heard more than one student. They'd prefer better treatment, but in the list of priorities, better treatment way is below more policing. But it could also be what you're saying. At least of chunk of that response.

It's interesting how few people want less police. Especially given driven media/activist/academic police-are-the-problem narrative of the past few years. Over-policing, biased/disproportionate policing, and use of lethal-force has been exclusive focus of police reform. Less policing in the form of less interaction has been the explicit solution. And yet who exactly wants less policing except for loud "reformers"? And how has that narrative been accepted by so many people as the solution to impose on others? (And only on others)

Andy D said...

Prof, I know you are, for good reasons, not in favor of incarceration for long periods as punishment for crimes. However, I'm interested in what you think the effect of the push to shorten sentences for crimes, even violent crimes, is in a place like Baltimore. The push for the last few years in Maryland has been for shorter sentences, more good time credit, more crimes that disqualify citizens from gun ownership, etc. In addition, the push has been for bail reform--very few people charged with anything but the most horrible crimes get held before trial. And look at the people being arrested for murders in and around Baltimore. Most are either a)awaiting trial on another serious crime or b) got released after just a few years for a very serious crime and now are re-offending. It often feels like these "reforms" are hurting the very people that they were proposed to help.

Sure, pushing addicts charged with simple heroin possession into treatment instead of jail sounds great, but how many times does a robbery get plead down to possession of the small amount of dope in the suspect's pocket when caught by the police (maybe because the victim doesn't show for court, or the victim has a record too and doesn't seem credible, or whatever) and now we push that armed robber into a drug diversion program instead of prison because "it's just drug possession."

Unknown said...

Around here in Los Angeles, the 'minorities' who complain about policing seem to say most of the time that they want better policing.

I think when people talk about over-policing they are really talking about stop-and-frisk, driving-while-black, school-to-prison pipeline, racial profiling, shooting unarmed people in the back and so on. The absolutely DO want less of that sort of policing and they say so.

At the same time, they know there's a lot of crime in their neighborhoods. And they'd probably like more police help. But if the police aren't helping, thanks, no, they don't want more of it.

Moskos said...

I think the idea that people who live in high-crime neighborhoods don't want more policing is a false narrative pushed by people who don't like policing and also have basically no risk of being a victim, because of where they live. I understand the logic. I'm saying it's not a majority opinion among minorities who live in high-crime neighborhoods.

Unknown said...

how do you feel about the role of the 2A in the crime rate in the USA?

Moskos said...

More guns = more violence and more death. That said, I don't think the problem is the second amendment (though it doens't help) as much as our political inability to regulate guns up the limits of the second amendment. The 2nd amendment does not limit gun control in this country. Politics does. And existing laws against criminal possession and use are not well enforced.