by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The latest edition of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis features Jason Riley, editorial board member and senior editorial page writer at The Wall Street Journal. He explores themes from his recent book, Please Stop Helping Us.
Any candid debate on race and criminal justice in this country would have to start with the fact that blacks commit an astoundingly disproportionate number of crimes. Blacks constitute about 13 percent of the population, yet between 1976 and 2005 they committed more than half of all murders in the U.S. The black arrest rate for most offenses—including robbery, aggravated assault, and property crimes—is typically two to three times their representation in the population. So long as blacks are committing such an outsized amount of crime, young black men will be viewed suspiciously and tensions between police and crime-ridden communities will persist. The U.S. criminal justice system, currently headed by a black attorney general who reports to a black president, is a reflection of this reality, not its cause. If we want to change negative perceptions of young black men, we must change the behavior that is driving those perceptions. But pointing this out has become almost taboo. How can we even begin to address problems if we won’t discuss them honestly?
“High rates of black violence in the late twentieth century are a matter of historical fact, not bigoted imagination,” wrote the late Harvard Law professor William Stuntz. “The trends reached their peak not in the land of Jim Crow but in the more civilized North, and not in the age of segregation but in the decades that saw the rise of civil rights for African Americans—and of African American control of city governments.”
The Left wants to blame these outcomes on racial animus and poverty, but back in the 1940s and ’50s, when racial discrimination was legal and black poverty was much higher than today, the black crime rate was lower. The Left wants to blame these outcomes on “the system,” but blacks have long been part of running that system. Black crime and incarceration rates spiked in the 1970s and ’80s in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia under black mayors and black police chiefs. Some of the most violent cities in the U.S. today are run by blacks.