Friday, January 25, 2013

Race and gun regulation

Republicans these days, steeped as they are now in segregationist thinking, always find a way to blame problems on black people. And on loose wimmin' havin' abortions and using birth control, too. And immigrants. But black people are they favorite scapegoats for everything.

Including, of course, gun violence. Cenk Uygur reports on a instance of this in Blaming Black People for Gun Violence 01/24/2013:

Here is the official written commentary on the video:

"Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), the fifth-ranking House Republican, laid the blame for gun violence at the feet of an unusual suspect: the children of "welfare moms" who commit fraud.

In a meeting with constituents earlier this month in Oklahoma City, a woman asked the GOP congressman what he was doing to combat all the children who were committing gun violence because they were high on psychotropic drugs. Lankford replied that he "agree[s] with that" and then went on to blame Social Security disability fraud for the rash of gun violence around the country. "Quite frankly some of the overmedication of kids are because welfare moms want to get additional benefits."*

Rep. James Lankford blames a certain type of people for gun violence, "welfare moms" and their welfare meds. Who do you think he's alluding to? Were any of the recent gunmen in mass shootings from lower-income homes? Is there another agenda at play? Cenk Uygur breaks it down.

*Read more from Scott Keyes/ Think Progress:

Bryce Covert looks at this angle from another perspective in Race, Gun Control and Unintended Consequences The Nation 01/15/2013. These days my concern-troll detector goes on alert whenever I hear "unintended consequences" referenced, because that's a favorite conservative argument against any law that might benefit someone who isn't filthy rich. But I do think Covert raises some important concerns. She points to the racial discrimination that is very much a part of law enforcement in America:

The evidence does seem pretty clear that fewer guns lead to less violence. But we can't forget about the impact expanded criminalization could have as it’s implemented. ...

To understand the racist underbelly of our justice system, look no further than the extreme example of the War on Drugs. As Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, despite similar drug use rates, "African Americans constitute 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison. In at least fifteen states, blacks are admitted to prison on drug charges at a rate from twenty to fifty-seven times greater than that of white men." Meanwhile, the majority of dealers and sellers are white. (Everyone should read the whole book to get the full picture.) What may look like a colorblind law on the books can be interpreted and implemented in incredibly racist ways. So while it’s absolutely necessary that we pass laws that restrict the number and types of guns that are lawfully available, we also have to pay attention to whether those rules are fairly and evenly enforced.

We've seen the ways that gun control gets tied up in a ramped up police state before. The last time there was a significant push on gun control (also helmed by Joe Biden), back in 1994, an assault weapon ban was included in a comprehensive crime package. That package also included an expansion of the death penalty, the building of more prisons and the authorization of 100,000 more police officers. These are all policies that target people of color. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the population but 40 percent of death row inmates and one in three of those executed since 1977. African-Americans and Hispanics make up about a quarter of the population but nearly 60 percent of all prisoners. [my emphasis]
I don't read her piece as a concern-troll argument against better gun regulations. Although I would add that we shouldn't refrain from taking actions that are necessary because not every other significant problem in law enforcement is being fixed at the same time. An effective assault weapons ban would substantially reduce the homicide rate and mitigate the problem of mass gun murders like those in Sandy Hook and Aurora.

And as her description of the 1994 legislation reminds us, the assault weapons ban then was part of a package that included some other, much more questionable anti-crime measures, which were controversial when they were passed.

Still, the gun lobby is eager to promote other, also questionable, crime-control ideas at the same time, like the NRA's proposal to put more armed guards in schools. Covert also reminds us of how this could increase the scandalous "school-to-prison pipeline" that is already occurring far too often. Juliette Hing, in an article Covert cites, describes how the school-to-prison pipeline works, The Shocking Details of a Mississippi School-to-Prison Pipeline Colorlines 11/26/2012.

The Senate Judiciary Commmittee's Subcommittee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held hearings on the problem on 12/12/2012, Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline. Steven Teske, a juvenile court judge from Georgia, testified about what he experienced in his county:

When I took the bench in 1999, I was shocked to find that approximately one-third of the cases in my courtroom were school-related, of which most were low risk misdemeanor offenses. Upon reviewing our data, the increase in school arrests did not begin until after police were placed on our middle and high school campuses in 1996—well before the horrific shootings at Columbine High School. The year before campus police, my court received only 49 school referrals. By 2004, the referrals increased over 1,000 percent to 1,400 referrals, of which 92% were misdemeanors mostly involving school fights, disorderly conduct, and disrupting public school.

Despite the many arrests, school safety did not improve. The number of serious weapons brought to campus increased during this period of police arrests including guns, knives, box cutter knives, and straight edge razors. Of equal concern was the decrease in the graduation rates during this same period — it reached an all-time low in 2003 of 58%. It should come to no one’s surprise that the more students we arrested, suspended, and expelled from our school system, the juvenile crime rate in the community significantly increased. These kids lost one of the greatest protective buffers against delinquency—school connectedness.

I also witnessed an increase in kids of color referred to my court. By 2004, over 80% of all school referrals involved African-American students. The racial disparity in school arrests was appalling and I felt I was contributing to this system of racial bias by not doing something.

It was also frustrating for me as a judge to see the effectiveness of the prosecutor and probation officer weakened by my court system being inundated with low risk cases that consumed the court docket and pushed kids toward probation—kids who made adults mad versus those that scare us. [my emphasis]
No, criminalizing ordinary school conduct problems is really not a good idea. And if armed security or police officers are present full time in schools where there is ordinarily no particular risk of violent crime, they will be looking for something to do. Spending years in an assignment where you don't have crimes to investigate or crooks to arrest isn't going to rack up the kind of statistics police departments use to demonstrate their effectiveness at budget time.

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