Katherine Kersten did her own dance around the truth in “Of race, crime statistics and victimhood” (April 7). In her rush to expose a liberal-lawyer conspiracy, she did exactly what she accuses others of doing. She approached a highly complex issue with simplistic jargon such as “the new victim class,” failed to recognize the irrefutability of some of the facts and glossed over an issue that has profound implications for all of us and how we live together.
Kersten minimizes the impact of the war on drugs, but this “war” has given the United States a rate of incarceration eight times the world average. It has included policies like crack cocaine (used mostly by the poor) having 100 times the sentence lengths for powder cocaine (used mostly by the rich). This has resulted in two-thirds of all persons in prison on drug offenses being people of color, despite the fact that illegal drug use is relatively equal among races.
Unlike responses to most other types of crime, drug law enforcement is proactive, so where we choose to put resources has a major impact. Kersten should consider why her fellow conservatives have come together to form the national “Right on Crime” movement in order to dismantle many of these policies.
Kersten is right that we need to look deeper for the causes of some communities committing some crimes at higher rates. But we may need to go deeper than she would be comfortable with — beyond current social conditions to the systemic and historical racism that has led to some of these conditions.
She is also right that some members of communities of color were part of the drive to increase drug penalties. But she fails to acknowledge the ease with which these penalties were imposed and maintained out of all proportion with penalties for other crimes. It’s hard to imagine calls for such a crackdown on the types of crimes committed by mostly whites meeting with the same “success.”
Perhaps more important, Kersten — and to some extent those focusing on the disproportionate burden borne by people of color — centers attention on only one aspect of a much larger problem that affects us all. We have created a system of perpetual punishment for a large segment of our society — a population including more white people than black. You probably know at least one of them.
While we have been adding new criminal laws and increasing sentences, criminal records for both juveniles and adults now often remain available indefinitely, and thousands of laws and policies prohibit people with records from getting licensed in a profession, gaining access to employment and housing, seeking an education, or being a foster or adoptive parent. One might think this is reasonable, but a deeper look will expose the many clearly unreasonable cases that we hear about at the Council on Crime and Justice every day.
Whether you know them or not, these people are or will be our neighbors, friends and relatives. If they are unreasonably held back, we all lose.
Yes Ms. Kersten, we can (and must) find better ways to help people reintegrate into society.
Mark Haase is vice president, Ebony Ruhland is director of research and Emily Baxter is director of advocacy at the Council on Crime and Justice.