The discussion of race during last night’s debate, especially with regard to crime, was disturbing but not surprising, following as it did the standard leftist script. Senator Sanders pointed to the disproportionate number of African Americans in prison and called for “radical reform” of a “broken criminal-justice system.” The solution is less aggressive policing in black neighborhoods, he said, since after all, African Americans use marijuana at essentially the same rate as other groups, but are much more likely to be arrested for drug crimes. Secretary Clinton said, “I completely agree” with all this, called for an end to “mass incarceration,” and added that these and other, noncriminal racial discrepancies are caused by “systemic racism.” And in his response to that, Sanders said that he disagreed with nothing that Clinton had said, adding only that police departments must look like their communities (quotas, anyone?). Later Clinton referred to “systemic racism” again, and Sanders to “institutional racism.”
Three quick points: First, the dog that didn’t bark is that there was no mention, of course, of the fact that 71 percent of African Americans are born out of wedlock, and it is the implosion of the black family that is most to blame for the continuing (and in many cases growing) racial disparities in this country — in crime, poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, you name it. Second, as I discuss in more detail here, all races do not abuse drugs at the same rate and, in any event, this would tell us very little about prison disparities, since hard time seldom results from simple drug use and, besides, most imprisonment is not for drug crimes at all. Third, the simple fact is that imprisonment rates reflect crime rates, and to characterize our police and prosecutors as systematically racist is false, divisive, and demagogic, and a call for less aggressive policing is the last thing that law-abiding people in high-crime areas want.