Thanks for the thoughtful comments on yesterday’s post. A few responses:
1. Several posts suggested that high crime in urban black neighborhoods might be due to the “don’t snitch” movement and to rising levels of jury nullification. I think this gets causation backward. Jury nullification became a serious problem in a lot of poor city neighborhoods in the 1990s, and it was clearly a response to mass imprisonment in those neighborhoods – especially, mass imprisonment for drug crime. The contemporary “don’t snitch” movement is, in part, a response to the same thing, and in part, a reaction to the fact that the police can’t protect witnesses – because there aren’t enough police officers.
2. Drug dealers and users: Several commenters pointed out, rightly, that I compared the black and white drug prisoner populations to the black and white drug user populations – not to the numbers of black and white drug dealers. This is a problem, I grant, but it’s unavoidable: no one knows the number or the demographics of the drug dealer population; the relevant data simply don’t exist. Everyone familiar with American drug markets assumes that the dealer population is more racially skewed than the user population – but not nearly enough to explain the gap in black and white imprisonment for drug crime. There is simply no way around the fact that, in America today, blacks and whites are subject to different rules for drug crime. It could be that blacks are punished, not ten times more often and more severely than whites for comparable crimes, but “only” five times more often and more severely. Whatever the correct number is, there is no way that the playing field is level, or close to it.
3. Re drug legalization: No, I don’t support it – and neither do most residents of poor city neighborhoods. I DO support applying the same rules everywhere. Drug crime in well-off suburbs is treated too leniently, and drug crime in poorer areas – white and black alike, as a couple of the comments noted – is punished too severely. We need equality and the rule of law, not legalization. At least, so it seems to me.
4. But even more than that, we need more cops on city streets – lots more. Policing is one of the few public policy areas where spending more money demonstrably produces good results. It’s both amazing and appalling that we don’t spend more. Especially so, since hiring more cops, over time, tends to reduce the prison population – which SAVES money in the long run. Easily the best anti-crime initiative of the last generation was Bill Clinton’s proposal to put another 100,000 cops on city streets. Congress funded fewer than 20,000, and the funding was shifted to homeland security after September 11. If we actually did what Clinton proposed, I bet we would see the public policy nirvana in this area: less crime, with smaller prison populations. I keep waiting for one of the current presidential candidates to suggest this, but surprisingly, none of them seems interested in the subject.