Saturday, July 03, 2021

The Leadership That's Lacking


In an excellent article in New York magazine, Eric Levitz summarizes

Progressives aren’t going to get the media to ignore crime for the sake of social justice. And we aren’t going to persuade the urban working class to disregard rising homicide. Thus, our best bet for resisting a punitive turn in criminal-justice policy is to convince voters that our approach to public safety is more effective than the pro-carceral status quo.

Levitz might as well have been responding to this tweet from the black journalist responsible for the 1619 project:


He might have been responding to it, but wasn't- or at least won't admit it. He notes

there is no progressive argument for why (relatively) rare episodes of mass violence in places frequented by the white middle class deserve media attention and political concern — but a 30 percent increase in homicide concentrated in low-income Black communities does not. And of course, the trauma suffered by middle-class news junkies who opt into witnessing mass shootings on social media is trivial compared to the trauma suffered by poor children whose every walk to school is shadowed by the threat of lethal violence.

Here, the operative phrase is "the white middle class."   He argues

But a recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey found that concern with crime was significantly higher among the demographic groups that suffer the highest rates of firsthand victimization. Asked whether they considered crime a “very big problem” in America today, 59 percent of Black voters said yes, while just 47 percent of white voters said the same. Similarly, while only 41 percent of voters earning over $100,000 a year called crime a “very big” problem, that figure was 50 percent among those earning less than $50,000.

The urban working class’s acute concern with crime is further illuminated by a Gallup poll taken last summer, in the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd protests. In it, only 19 percent of Black respondents said that they wanted a reduced police presence in their neighborhood — this despite the fact that, in a nearly simultaneous survey, more than 80 percent of Black voters said that they lacked confidence in the police.

Weall  realize "concern with crime was significantly higher among the demographic groups that suffer the highest rate of firsthand victimization," an inoffensive, politically correct way of acknowledging that crime is highest in poor black neighborhoods. Consequently, as Levitz points out, very few blacks want fewer police in their neighborhoods. Realistic perception,  appropriate response.

Levitz recognzies that

Over the past decade, the American left has come to define itself in opposition to our nation’s criminal-justice system — to the aberrant length of its prison sentences, the inhumanity of its penitentiaries, and the racism of its policing. Amid the nadir in violent crime (and high tide of post-2008 budget austerity), reform gained traction. Drugs were decriminalized, prison populations cut, progressive prosecutors elected, mandatory-minimum sentencing rolled back, and police killings in major cities marginally reduced.

Yet, for the first nine years of that decade, such opposition to the arguably inhumane operation of the criminal justice system (and of policing) took place in the context of other major issues with which the left also was identified. But the ability to pursue criminal justice reform largely under the radar was shattered with the murder of George Floyd.  Issues of crime and justice, race and policing inevitably took center stage.

The American left (and most of the mainstream media) vigorously intensified its dedication to criminal justice and policing reform during the protests which erupted in outrage at the murder.  Additionally, support for the black lives matter slogan and for the organization, Black Lives Matter, which spawned it rose in backlash to the horrific images from Minneapolis.

Though- as Levitz emphasizes- blacks have been particularly concerned about urban crime and averse to eliminating police, surveys indicated they were particularly aware of police abuse and especially supportive of the protests and of Black Lives Matter. 

More significantly, there was  from civil rights organizations unilateral condemnation of the murder of Floyd and  nearly unanimous, unwavering support for the ensuing protests.

They were all in.  And the white left joined them, partly out of ideological conviction, partly at the realization that African-Americans now comprise the base of the Democratic Party, its most loyal and dedicated voters, and source of much of its energy. 

Nonetheless, for Levitz and most others, it's now "the American left" or "liberals" or "progressives" who are responsible for neglecting the extent of urban crime and its impact upon the black community.  They clearly imply that the burden for responding to ongoing criminal behavior lies with broad leftist community and especially its white component. 

If white liberals were to speak out against street crime (old term, still applicable) as Levitz justifiably believes they should, they run a huge risk.  To date, civil rights organizations and prominent black politicians have done so rarely and reluctantly. They must take the first step.They must lead the way as they did in elevating Joe Biden, who was obviously over-the-hill and seemingly out of touch with the progressive wave in the party, to the Democratic nomination for President.  


 


 The "American left" can decry crime in poor black communities as much as it does mass shootings. The right would exploit the criticism for its own ideological and partisan gain. However, in this highly polarized time, that would be far less damaging than would failure to gain support from the base of the Party..

That likely would not be forthcoming. If such crime were a priority for the African-American left, we already would know about it. Black politicians, journalists, academicians, activists, and others would be leading the charge against everyday violence and in favor of more police and longer prison sentences to combat it.

But they are not. So members of the larger progressive or liberal community can respondrespond in revulsion to the everyday acts of violence in American neighborhoods. However, they do so at their own peril, risking a backlash of complaints suggesting a lack of sensitivity, or even animus, toward the black community.  And they risk whiplash, abruptly turning their head backward to that limb that is being chopped off behind them.

 


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