Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Mostly Good

If as songwriter Steve Steinman claimed, two out of three ain't bad, Elizabeth Warren's response to a question at her CNN town hall meeting Monday evening wasn't bad.

Actually, it was quite good because she deftly avoided answering a fairly bad question while making the points she wanted to.  She was asked by St. Anselm College senior Jackson Dwyer

You have often been a vocal critic of police and the criminal justice system, both at the state and federal levels. As a Massachusetts voter and aspiring police officer who has lived through countless tragedies… how can you assure me that you will support legislation that keeps law enforcement safe?

Individual police departments throughout the USA prioritize the safety of their officers by equipping them with body armor and other equipment. There is little the federal government itself can do to enhance the safety of officers.

As the video posted by Think Progress indicates, Warren responded

You know, I talk with a lot of people in different parts of the criminal justice system, people who are law enforcement, people who are in the judicial system, people who are incarcerated … and what all of them tell me is we’ve got a problem. Our criminal justice system is broken, and right at the heart of that problem is race, and we have to address this head on.....

Study after study after study shows us that African Americans compared with whites are more likely to be — for exactly the same crimes — they’re more likely to be arrested, they’re more likely to be arraigned, they are more likely to be taken to trial. They are more likely to be wrongfully convicted and they are more likely to receive harsher sentences. That is a criminal justice system that is not only locking up too many people, it is a criminal justice system that has a problem of race right at the heart of it, and we need to call it out for what it is.

Racial disparity is probably at work if blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for the same crime or if they are more often wrongfully convicted. They may be receiving harsher sentences because of racial bias. Sentencing, however, takes into account not only the offense but only the offender, such as his criminal record and likelihood of remaining out of trouble if not incarcerated.

If blacks are more likely to be arraigned, that, too, suggests racial disparity- but in the opposite direction. If someone arrested for an indictable offense is not arraigned, he may have been arrested unjustifiably or at least unnecessarily.

But this doesn't suggest a weakness in a candidate's response because the audience isn't eager to be bored by statistics, and too much detail or even explanation would brand a candidate- as Warren already has been- by the mainstream media as obsessively concerned with policy.

It's unfortunate, however, that neither Warren nor any other individual interested in reform ever dares to mention that injustice- especially racial disparity- in the criminal justice system varies markedly from one state to another. (That might hurt feelings.) Think Progress added

Warren closed the loop on the student’s question by responding that the best way to make police safer is, in fact, to make the criminal justice system more colorblind.

“No one is safer in a world where we have a broken criminal justice system… We need to make sure that everybody is entitled and gets good legal representation. Throughout the system we want to make sure the right people are incarcerated and not the wrong people because they couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer,” she said.

“Justice is not just for those who are rich, justice is for everyone and the only way we’re able to get that in America is if we’re able to put the resources into it. Third part of this is we should get rid of for-profit private prisons. It is an outrage in America.”

Private prisons often are owned by a company which has contributed to a judge's election or re-election, thus encouraging a judge to imprison a defendant.   Nothing would do more to end mass incarceration than eliminating private prisons.

If there is anything at the core of criminal justice malfunction, it is economics, of both the defendant and the system.  Once arrested for a serious offense, any person and any sandwich can be indicted, at which point a poor individual must rely on a (usually) overworked public defender, possibly hand-picked by the Court. A middle-class individual may be chancing bankruptcy to pay for a private attorney. The system isn't rigged, but it's close.

So Warren got two out of three right, failing on the third only as all others fail, refusing to acknowledge that not all states are born equal. That not only puts her far ahead of President Trump, but ahead of most of her Democratic rivals at present.

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