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July 29, 2002

Racism 101 for the Unconvinced

I am sometimes flabbergasted that conservatives can argue that racial profiling is overblown or that racial equality is even a near-achievement for our society. Just see this Bob Herbert story on Kafka in Tulia where 10 percent of a town's black population was jailed some for 300 years, on the say-so of one racist cop. (Thanks to Tim Dunlop).

Posted by Nathan at July 29, 2002 03:18 PM

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"I am sometimes flabbergasted that conservatives can argue that racial profiling is overblown or that racial equality is even a near-achievement for our society."

Do conservatives argue that, about racial equality? I would think that the conservative position is that more laws are likely to be redundant and/or ineffective. For example, think of the weird debate about the Hate Crimes bill in Texas that Bush opposed. The NAACP linked this bill to the dragging murder of James Byrd, and criticized Bush for not signing it. Bush's position was that two of the killers had been sentenced to death, and the additional penalties under the Hate Crimes bill were unlikely to represent a further punishment or deterrent. I don't think anyone argued that hate had been eliminated in this country and was no longer an issue.

Another example of prosecutorial hysteria would be the Amirault child abuse case in Masschusetts, which the WSJ has covered for years. No rednecks, no racists, just public hysteria. I am not defending what happened in Tulia, but hysteria over our war on drugs has certainly contributed to the current mess.

Anyway, this situation in Tulia is appalling. What do you suggest we do?

Posted by: Tom Maguire at July 30, 2002 10:10 AM

A lot of conservatives downplay racism-- just look at the Ward Connerly program to eliminate statistics by government about race and government actions. The rhetoric is that there is no need to track how government treats different races since we have de facto achieved enough equality to make it unncessary.

Hate crimes legislation is about targetting private prejudice, which can be important, but the sharper critique in the criminal justice system is the government-led racism-- yes in the war on drugs but in the whole prison-industrial system.

How to change things? Drug reform groups are making strides in places like California. But you can't escape the issue in police brutality. How many more videos of cops brutalizing black or latino arrestees before serious oversight of police is instituted. The issue is not that most cops are bad, but that given a badge and a gun, it only takes a few to terrorize a community. That is the lesson of Tulia; it's the lesson of Diallo, and of Ramparts out in LA.

Posted by: Nathan at July 30, 2002 09:02 PM

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