Supporters of criminal justice and sentencing reform tell us that prisons are overloaded with minority inmates, proving that the criminal justice system is racist. President Obama talks about it repeatedly, as do the sponsors of legislation pending in Congress which would retroactively reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug traffickers and other violent felons.
Because minorities – blacks and Hispanics – make up a disproportionate part of the prison population, their reasoning goes, it must be the police, prosecutors, judges, and juries whose innate racism prohibits minorities from fair treatment, resulting in their incarceration.
Liberal politicians, pandering to minority voters, echo these sentiments, as do the mainstream media in story after story about the awful racist criminal justice system. Black Lives Matter, based on the lie that the police are a bunch of bigots who shoot black men indiscriminately, has earned an honored spot among leftist politicians – including Obama and both contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. To skew their reasoning even further, the same crowd claims that even though crime rates have dropped precipitously over the past twenty years, the fact that more people are in prison has little to do with the decline, but further demonstrates nothing more than the racism inherent in the system.
Facts – surprise! – don’t matter, and are simply ignored by those whose ideology they don’t support. In his book The Rise and Fall of Violent Crime in America, Barry Latzer, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the eminent John Jay College at the City University of New York, concludes that high black incarceration rates “are best explained not by race bias, but by exceptionally high African American crime commission rates and the imposition of prison sentences for conduct previously punished by jail or probation.” The book is meticulously researched and accessibly written by an author with the highest credentials and credibility, and is one of a few, if not the only book to synthesize questions of criminology with social history.
You would think that such a study would be warmly welcomed, written about and reviewed widely. But you would be wrong. Professor Latzer’s book has all but been ignored.
I spoke with Professor Latzer at length last week, who told me that many people simply do not want to deal with black crime – such answers as there are simply defy the liberal worldview, and critics find it easier to blame the problem on racism and bigotry on the part of criminal justice officials than on the perpetrators. Trying to ignore the problem is not a new phenomenon. In his book, concerning the growth of violent crime in the 1960s, Latzer writes:
[S]ome elites – public figures, experts and academics, even the news media –were reluctant to discuss the racial dimension of the crime problem. To acknowledge the high rate of black crime, they thought, would give aid and comfort to bigotry… some of the analysts were scared of being branded racists… Whatever the explanation, the result was the same – a denial of reality.
Latzer’s book should put an end to this denial of reality. It discusses all aspects of the tremendous increase in crime rates in the 1960s through the 1990s and the subsequent decline in those rates, and documents, with a thorough review of academic and government studies, FBI statistics, and much else, including the question of black-on-black crime and its consequences.
Refusal to come to grips with the racial aspects of crime, and instead to accuse the criminal justice system of being racist is to sentence a great many black victims to the consequences of violence.
Although African Americans have an inordinately high crime rate as compared to other ethnic groups, they are much more likely to be victims than criminals. Most African Americans do not commit serious crimes; study after study has shown that in all demographic groups, a relatively small percentage – usually lower than 10 percent – commit over 80 percent of all crime. And that relatively small group of offenders often commits hundreds of crimes, many of which go unsolved. Latzer points out that 3.3 out of 100,000 white males were murder victims in 2010, but among black males the rate was ten times as high (although that murder rate is nearly 50 percent lower than it was in the 1950s and 60s).
The murder rate started to decline in the early 1990s and reached an all-time low by 2013, largely because of stricter and longer sentences, particularly for multiple offenders, an end of the crack cocaine epidemic, and better policing practices, such as New York’s broken windows and stop-and-frisk campaigns.
In the last two years, however, the crime rate has started to increase, particularly for murder. In the 56 largest American cities, the murder rate was up 17 percent from 2014 through 2015, and up another nine percent so far in 2016. In the ten largest U.S. cities, all with large black populations, it was up 33 percent in 2015 and is up 60 percent so far in 2016. The increase is certainly at least partially a result of the so-called “Ferguson Effect” or a reluctance of police officers to put themselves in jeopardy for making arrests as a result of the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri last year.
But the Obama White House is still in denial. In response to a recent news conference where FBI Director James Comey commented on the increase, attributing it to the “Ferguson Effect,” White House press spokesman Josh Earnest accused Comey of being” irresponsible and counterproductive,” saying he was “drawing conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.”
Much of the increase in the murder rate, Latzer told me, is attributable to black gang members killing each other. Although the high crime rates in the 80s and 90s were driven by the crack cocaine epidemic, Latzer says that the high rate of heroin addiction is not nearly as violent and probably causes relatively few murders, although it is responsible for plenty of other crimes.
As for the solution, Latzer believes there is no silver bullet, and whatever the solution may be is a very long term proposition. In the meantime, he believes the only remedy is to lock up the perpetrators for as long as we can. Any downside to the prisoners’ freedoms will be far offset by the benefits to the potential victims.