Political Super-Predators

Let’s travel back to the wondrous age of the early 1990s. The Cold War had ended and the culture wars replaced it. It was the End of History and this entailed a sense of anxiety, even moral panic. Change was in the air. One of the changes was seen in the 1970s and even more in the 1980s. A decade after that, it felt like a crisis. There had been a wave of violent crime. That led to a number of crime bills being proposed in the 1990s, although by that point the violence was on the decline, not that anyone was paying attention to such minor details.

We now know it was the result of a twenty-year lag of lead toxicity rates from the rise of post-war mass industrialization and car culture. Basically, lead fucks up brain development of the young. This results in stunted IQ combined with problems of impulse control and aggressive behavior. But the lag time comes from the results not being fully seen until the brain-damaged children reach adulthood. None of this was understood at the time, though. There was simply a sense that something had gone terribly wrong and something must be done about it.

Listen to the fear-mongering of Joe Biden from back in 1993 in his talking about criminal ‘predators’ and realize that Republicans sounded far worse at the time. It was an era of ruthless scapegoating. And reactionary authoritarianism had become bipartisan. Maybe the lead toxicity was impairing the brain functioning of old people too. Such cruel, ignorant words do sound a bit aggressive and lacking in impulse control. Here is Biden ranting:

“We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created…they are beyond the pale many of those people, beyond the pale. And it’s a sad commentary on society. We have no choice but to take them out of society….a cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally … because they literally have not been socialized, they literally have not had an opportunity….we should focus on them now….if we don’t, they will, or a portion of them, will become the predators 15 years from now.”

It was far from limited to Biden. Ignoring Republicans, other Democrats were talking this way. Bill Clinton gained power through racist dog whistles, such as his giving a public speech about the racist crime bill with black convicts chained up behind him and a Confederate/Klan memorial in the background. Even more famously, Hillary Clinton as first lady was just as dehumanizing and demonizing as Biden:

“But we also have to have an organized effort against gangs. Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.”

So, who were they talking about? In early 1990s, I was in high school. That label of predators or superpredators was describing my peers, Generation X. Many people may have forgotten that time or else are too young to have any memory of it. Millennials and Zoomers might be shocked by the kind of language used about the youth back then.

They think they have it bad these days because old people make accusations that they are poor because of eating avocado toast and that smartphones have made them socially stunted. That’s nothing. Back in the day, old people thought my generation was the spawn of the Devil, ridden with soulless sociopaths. Watch some of the movies from that era. Children and youth were commonly portrayed as not only violent criminals but also as monsters, demonically possessed, and other dark fantasies.

Those old white people, Biden a Silent and Clinton a Boomer, were not only yelling at kids to get off of their lawn but to get out of their society and locked away in prisons. That is exactly what followed. It was mass incarceration that targeted the young. The United States prison population was already the largest in the world and it then grew larger still. The schools went into lockdown with security guards and metal detectors. No tolerance policies were put into place and the school-to-prison pipeline was established. Young people were enemy number one.

Here we are still ruled by these hateful neocons, cranky old white people who have become even older and crankier. They won’t just go away and die. Hillary was the last Democratic nominee for presidential candidate. And now it’s creepy Uncle Joe. Of course, Clinton lost to Donald Trump, yet another hateful neocon and cranky old white person, not to mention an old family friend of the Clintons. In that same era during a rape case, Trump pushed for the death penalty of the Central Park Five, the young minorities who turned out have been innocent.

In projecting their own sociopathy, these heartless assholes attacked others as being threatening social deviants. In the decades since that time, these narcissistic authoritarians have done far more damage to our society than all the incarcerated poor and minorities combined. If we wanted to improve the world, I have an opinion about which super-predators should be locked up. Instead, we are discussing which one of these corrupt plutocrats is the lesser evil to be put into the ultimate position of power, president of the United States. So many decades after history supposedly ended, that dark era of history still haunts us.

Reckoning With Violence

The crime debate is another example of how the ruling elite is disconnected from the American majority. Most Americans support rehabilitation, rather than punishment. This support is even stronger among victims of crimes because they understand how tough-on-crime policies have destroyed their communities and harmed the people they care about.

But the ruling elite make massive profits from the privatized prisons and, if nothing else, it is highly effective social control in keeping the population in a permanent state of anxiety and fear. The purpose was never to make the world a better place or to help the average American, much less those struggling near the bottom.

The system works perfectly for its intended purpose. The problem is its intended purpose is psychopathic and evil. And I might add, the ruling elite promoting it is bipartisan. It’s time that we the American people demand justice for our families and communities and refuse anything less from those who attempt to get in our way. Let’s save our righteous wrath for those most deserving of it.

* * *

Reckoning With Violence
by Michelle Alexander

As Ms. [Danielle] Sered explains in her book [Until We Reckon], drawing on her experience working with hundreds of survivors and perpetrators of violence in Brooklyn and the Bronx, imprisonment isn’t just an inadequate tool; it’s often enormously counterproductive — leaving survivors and their communities worse off.

Survivors themselves know this. That’s why fully 90 percent of survivors in New York City, when given the chance to choose whether they want the person who harmed them incarcerated or in a restorative justice process — one that offers support to survivors while empowering them to help decide how perpetrators of violence can repair the damage they’ve done — choose the latter and opt to use the services of Ms. Sered’s nonprofit organization, Common Justice. […]

Ninety percent is a stunning figure considering everything we’ve been led to believe that survivors actually want. For years, we’ve been told that victims of violence want nothing more than for the people who hurt them to be locked up and treated harshly. It is true that some survivors do want revenge or retribution, especially in the immediate aftermath of the crime. Ms. Sered is emphatic that rage is not pathological and a desire for revenge is not blameworthy; both are normal and can be important to the healing process, much as denial and anger are normal stages of grief.

But she also stresses that the number of people who are interested only in revenge or punishment is greatly exaggerated. After all, survivors are almost never offered real choices. Usually when we ask victims “Do you want incarceration?” what we’re really asking is “Do you want something or nothing?” And when any of us are hurt, and when our families and communities are hurting, we want something rather than nothing. In many oppressed communities, drug treatment, good schools, economic investment, job training, trauma and grief support are not available options. Restorative justice is not an option. The only thing on offer is prisons, prosecutors and police.

But what happens, Ms. Sered wondered, if instead of asking, “Do you want something or nothing?” we started asking “Do you want this intervention or that prison?” It turns out, when given a real choice, very few survivors choose prison as their preferred response.

This is not because survivors, as a group, are especially merciful. To the contrary, they’re pragmatic. They know the criminal justice system will almost certainly fail to deliver what they want and need most to overcome their pain and trauma. More than 95 percent of cases end in plea bargains negotiated by lawyers behind the scenes. Given the system’s design, survivors know the system cannot be trusted to validate their suffering, give them answers or even a meaningful opportunity to be heard. Nor can it be trusted to keep them or others safe.

In fact, many victims find that incarceration actually makes them feel less safe. They worry that others will be angry with them for reporting the crime and retaliate, or fear what will happen when the person eventually returns home. Many believe, for good reason, that incarceration will likely make the person worse, not better — a frightening prospect when they’re likely to encounter the person again when they’re back in the neighborhood. […]

A growing body of research strongly supports the anecdotal evidence that restorative justice programs increase the odds of safety, reduce recidivism and alleviate trauma. “Until We Reckon” cites studies showing that survivors report 80 to 90 percent rates of satisfaction with restorative processes, as compared to 30 percent for traditional court systems.

Common Justice’s success rate is high: Only 7 percent of responsible parties have been terminated from the program for a new crime. And it’s not alone in successfully applying restorative justice principles. Numerous organizations — such as Community Justice for Youth Institute and Project NIA in Chicago; the Insight Prison Project in San Quentin; the Community Conferencing Center in Baltimore; and Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth — are doing so in communities, schools, and criminal justice settings from coast-to-coast.

In 2016, the Alliance for Safety and Justice conducted the first national poll of crime survivors and the results are consistent with the emerging trend toward restorative justice. The majority said they “believe that time in prison makes people more likely to commit another crime rather than less likely.” Sixty-nine percent preferred holding people accountable through options beyond prison, such as mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation, community supervision and public service. Survivors’ support for alternatives to incarceration was even higher than among the general public.

Survivors are right to question incarceration as a strategy for violence reduction. Violence is driven by shame, exposure to violence, isolation and an inability to meet one’s economic needs — all of which are core features of imprisonment. Perhaps most importantly, according to Ms. Sered, “Nearly everyone who has committed violence first survived it,” and studies indicate that experiencing violence is the greater predictor of committing it. Caging and isolating a person who’s already been damaged by violence is hardly a recipe for positive transformation.

The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1

This is about public opinion and public perception as it relates to public policy (see previous posts). I also include some analyses of the opinions of politicians as it relates to public opinion or rather their perception of what they think or want to believe about the public (for background, see here and here).

I’ll begin with a problematic example of a poll. Here is an article that someone offered as proving the public supports tough-on-crime policies:

There were stunning findings in a new poll released Monday on crime in New York City. Keeping crime down is way more important to voters than reforming the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program…

a new Quinnipiac University poll…reveals that public safety is uppermost on the minds of voters…

Asked which was more important, keeping crime rates down or reforming stop and frisk, 62 percent said keeping crime rates low and 30 percent said reforming stop and frisk.

The article itself isn’t important. There are thousands like it, but I wanted to use it for the polling data it was using.

I don’t know of any bias from Quinnipiac, beyond a basic mainstream bias, and so maybe the wording of the question was simply intellectual laziness. It was phrased as a forced choice question that implied choosing one negated the possibility of the other and it implied those were the only choices for public policy.

I looked further into data related to stop and frisk. It isn’t as simple as the forced choice presents it. For one, a number of studies don’t show that stop and frisk actually keeps crime rates low, as the question assumes. Secondly, when given more information and more options, Americans tend to support funding programs that either help prevent crime or help rehabilitate criminals.

The general public will favor punishment, when no other good choices are offered them. Still, that doesn’t say much about the fundamental values of most Americans. I’m not just interested in the answers given, but also the questions asked, how they are framed and how they are worded.

The Court of Public Opinion: Part 2

I’ll highlight one issue. It is a chicken or the egg scenario.

The political elites are fairly clueless about the views of the general public, including their own constituents. At the same time, the average American is clueless about what those in government are actually doing. This disconnection is what one expects from a society built on a class-based hierarchy with growing extremes of inequality. In countries that have lower inequality, there is far less disconnection between political elites and the citizenry.

It isn’t clear who is leading who. How could politicians simply be doing what the public wants when they don’t know what the public wants? So, what impact does public opinion even have? There is strong evidence that public opinion might simply be following elite opinion and reacting to the rhetoric heard on the MSM.

Populations are easily manipulated by propaganda, as history shows. That seems to be the case with the United States as well.

As such, it isn’t clear how punitive most Americans actually are. When given more and better information, when given more and better options, most Americans tend to focus away from straightforward punitive policies. Imagine what the public might support if we ever had an open and honest debate based on the facts.