Right, Trunk. I’d missed this column, which adds nothing constructive to the generally depressing public discussion of race. Johnson and Ellis complain that “Minnesota’s criminal justice system imprisons blacks at 21 times the rate of whites,” as though the “criminal justice system” were some mysterious entity that maliciously sweeps people off the streets and deposits them in prison. Actually, of course, people go to jail because they are convicted of a crime by a court and jury. They are convicted because they are guilty. And in Minnesota, given our liberal sentencing guidelines, most people who go to jail have been convicted of crimes not by one, but by a series of courts and juries. Johnson and Ellis argue that the “disparity” is what is important, and “the issue is not whether these are technically legitimate arrests.” This is nonsense; if a particular group of people commits 21 times the number of felonies, they should go to jail 21 times as often. Such a disparity is clearly a sign of a problem, but why would anyone conclude it is a problem in the criminal justice system, if the arrests and convictions are proper? The problem would appear to reside with those who commit the crimes; sending them to jail is not the problem, it is the solution, or at least a part of the solution. It is hard to take seriously these authors’ suggestion that police stop arresting offenders who commit “low-level offenses.” It was exactly the opposite approach–strictly enforcing the laws against low-level offenses–that made New York and other large cities habitable once again. And, in view of the fact that no one in Minnesota goes to jail for low-level offenses, it’s hard to see how letting them go will cut down on anyone’s incarceration rate. Worst of all is that the authors appear to endorse–garbled syntax creates some ambiguity–the view that “Caucasians…use the criminal justice system to intimidate, inconvenience and incarcerate people of color.” Yeah, we just love to inconvenience those convicted felons. Pathetic.
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