Growing older, though at times a challenge, is not without its amusements. Among these is living to see ideas discredited in one’s youth being dredged up and given a fresh coat of paint, then trotted out before an audience whose memories may not extend as far back as one’s own. Witness the economic prescriptions now in place and those put forth by the incoming Obama administration. It’s as though John Maynard Keynes himself has been exhumed and propped up in an Armani suit and Gucci loafers. “The government will fix it,” he would assure us, “always trust the government.” Those beyond a certain age have seen this show before, and they know it does not end well.
And so it is with current notions among our sophisticated betters about crime. A January 6 editorial in USA Today ran under the headline “How to turn Obama’s success into gains for black boys.” The reader of ordinary caution feels the hand reaching for his wallet — and indeed, the article lists recommendations to improve educational outcomes for young black males, all paid for by the taxpayers. “Obama’s success notwithstanding,” says USA Today, “the American dream remains a more distant hope for black boys than it does for any other group. Taken as a whole, their eighth-grade reading and math scores are scales below those of other students.”
Yes, the statistics are grim, but what is most frustrating about the editorial is its blithe acceptance of the breakdown of the American black family. The editors point out the achievement gap between black boys and black girls, who “are doing far better than black males, outdistancing them by wide gaps in high school graduation and college enrollment rates.” They ascribe this difference to the fact that“[t]he girls have mothers for role models; the boys lack fathers.”
In my experience as a police officer, I’ve found this achievement gap lies more in the inherent differences between boys and girls (the mere mention of which brands me as a Neanderthal in some quarters) than in the presence or lack of “role models.” And just how worthy of emulation are women who become grandmothers at age 30 and great-grandmothers at 45? But rather than examine how this state of affairs came to be and how it might be improved, the editors at USA Today accept it as a fact of life, and look to increased federal involvement in education as a way of ameliorating the predictable consequences.
Even more obtuse was an editorial in the New York Times of December 29, “A Job or a Gang?” Citing a recent Northeastern University study on the black murder rate, the Times editors fear that worsening economic conditions will mean the reduction or elimination of government programs aimed at keeping young people out of trouble. “Federal and state programs that are supposed to provide jobs, services and counseling have been poorly financed for years,” says the Times. “They are likely to suffer further as cash-strapped states look for ways to save money. The timing couldn’t be worse.”
Unlike USA Today, which at least gives passing mention to the role of parents in the development of children, the Times ignores parents completely, entrusting to the government alone the task of keeping young people in school and out of gangs. The editorial concludes:
It is too early to say whether the numbers represent a long-term trend. But the economic crisis has clearly created the conditions for more crime and more gangs — among hopeless, jobless young men in the inner cities. Once these young men become entangled in the criminal justice system, they are typically marginalized and shut out of the job market for life.
President-elect Barack Obama’s administration and Congress will need to address the youth crisis as part of the country’s deep economic crisis. That means reviving the federal summer jobs programs that ran successfully for more than 30 years. It also means directing more federal money at proven programs that keep young people in school and out of the clutches of the gangs.
Note how the Times relieves young criminals of moral culpability by use of the passive voice. Young men do not, as the Times says, “become entangled” in the criminal justice system. Rather, they engage in behavior that their fellow citizens have agreed must not be permitted, and so invite attention from authorities charged with arresting that behavior. I am not that old, but I am old enough to remember when it was parents’ responsibility to keep their kids in school and out of trouble. As with repairing the economy, the New York Times would have you believe such a herculean task is beyond the abilities of ordinary citizens and therefore best left to the government.
It has been more than 43 years since Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. He was pilloried by liberals for bringing attention to what he called the “tangle of pathology” affecting black families, chief among which was the number of births to unwed mothers. At that time the rate was about 25 percent, which back then was considered appallingly high. Today that rate is 70 percent, and even higher in some inner cities, yet few people — certainly none at the New York Times — seem particularly appalled or even mildly disturbed by it.
If Barack Obama really wants to bring the kind of “change” to America we’ve been hearing so much about, let’s see him try to reduce that number.
– Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.