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In this special edition of Frontpage Symposium, we have assembled a distinguished panel to discuss the question: Why do progressives love criminals? The discussion will be based on Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, which has just recently been released in paperback. Angela Davis’ Are Prisons Obsolete? will also serve as a specimen for analysis.
Our guests today are:
Christian Adams, an election lawyer who served in the Voting Rights Section at the U.S. Department of Justice. His bestselling book is Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department Visit his website at ElectionLawCenter.com.
Dr. Paul Hollander, the author or editor of fourteen books in political sociology and cultural-intellectual history. His books include Political Pilgrims, Anti-Americanism: Critiques at Home and Abroad, 1965-1990, and The End of Commitment.
FP: Christian Adams, Theodore Dalrymple and Dr. Paul Hollander, welcome to Frontpage Symposium and our discussion on the Left’s love affair with criminals.
In thinking about Michelle Alexander’s and Angela Davis’ books, let’s start the discussion in this way: Leftists regard the system itself as criminal and therefore regard criminals as “primitive rebels” against an unjust system.
Christian Adams, correct?
Adams: Correct Jamie, that’s the essence of Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow – that the criminal justice system is just another example of structural racism.
The Left resurrects Jim Crow so frequently to advance unpopular ideas, that it has lost all meaning. Alexander’s book takes this to a whole new, and absurd, level. She argues, in short, that the criminal justice system is a racial segregation scheme, where blacks are now warehoused in prisons instead of on plantations. She provides a dangerous intellectual framework for dismantling perhaps the last mighty keep of our culture – the notion that evil and crime carry consequences. The Left has attacked every other aspect of western civilization, and now Alexander goes after the very concept of criminal culpability.
One unintended consequence of Alexander (and her fellow travelers) trotting out “Jim Crow” so regularly is that it diminishes the evil of Jim Crow. Reasonable people simply do not believe that people being in prison for committing crimes compares with the political disenfranchisement of the black minority and de jure segregation across the South.
Reasonable people would find Alexander’s thesis laughable, but her audience isn’t comprised of reasonable people. Reasonable Americans in middle America will never hear of The New Jim Crow. Instead, her audience is comprised of the academic crackpots eager to teach her theories to the children of the reasonable people a decade from now. Her audience also includes the grade-A race hustlers anxious for the next generation of poisonous grievance.
There was a time when the civil rights movement appealed to the moral core of reasonable Americans. Those who have inherited the legacy, like Alexander, now appeal to irrational fears and zealots.
One of the most dangerous and deliberate campaigns of the Left is to divorce actions from consequences. Divorcing actions from consequences is the condition precedent to accepting the Great Society. Divorcing actions from consequences is a condition precedent to accepting the premise of “The New Jim Crow.” The criminal justice system is not, as Michelle Alexander suggests, the descendant of slavery and Jim Crow. Divorcing evil actions from the consequence of prison allows her to reach this conclusion. Slavery was an evil system. So was Jim Crow. But the prisons are largely populated by individuals who themselves engaged in evil acts.
Criminal actions have consequences, and Alexander necessarily must uncouple this relationship. Uncoupling the relationship between criminal acts and incarceration is her aim. Further decay of the culture and the rule of law would be the result.
There are so many problems with Alexander’s book, I don’t want to lay them all out here and leave nothing for the others in the forum. But I will close with this thought. Authors usually hope their books get widespread attention. Already, many on the Left are attaching inflated descriptions of grandeur to The New Jim Crow. They better be careful what they wish for. This next installment in the moral collapse of the civil rights industry might be too much for Americans to take. A bridge too far, if you will. Americans cherish a criminal justice system which they think is both fair, and keeps their families safe. Widespread popularization of the book’s thesis is certain to provoke a backlash, and further marginalize the already marginalized civil rights radicals on the race grievance left. The book presents a laughable thesis to most Americans. And it’s no fun to be laughed at.
Dalrymple: That leftists regard the criminal justice system as criminal and therefore regard criminals as “primitive rebels” against an unjust system is, I suppose, right, though few of them would openly admit it. They tend to see the proper function of the criminal justice system as being the promotion of what they call social justice, by which they mean equality – and not equality under the law, but equality of outcome between identifiable groups. (Equity and equality they almost always assume to be the same.) And they think that if there were justice, equality would result, naturally and inevitably; there is no equality, therefore there is no justice. I think you can read for quite a long time before you find an unequivocal statement that there could be no greater injustice than equality of outcome.
Their approach to the criminal justice system is not that its faults should be corrected, and individual instances of injustice righted (there does seem much to criticize); but rather that the whole of society must be transformed into something completely different from what it is now. Alexander’s book has at least the merit of acknowledging this, though she evaluates the supposed necessity differently from how I would evaluate it.
The fundamental thesis of Alexander’s book is not new. Let me quote from El Raheem, a character (a black convert to the Nation of Islam) in a Broadway play, Short Eyes, by a former convict, Miguel Pinero, that won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for the best play, 1973-1974:
“You still expect the white man to give you a fair trial in his court? Don’t you know what justice really means? Justice… ‘just us’… white folks.”
Now as it happens, from a foreign viewpoint, there are deficiencies in the American criminal justice system, among them its vulnerability to local political pressure and the iniquitous system of plea bargaining, which can so easily turn justice into a game of poker.
But for all that it takes a great deal of credulity to believe that completely innocent men are routinely incarcerated in the US, and in large numbers.
I want to point out something that is so obvious that I should be ashamed to mention it were it not so repeatedly overlooked. Recidivist criminals are very productive, in the sense that they commit many crimes – in England, for example, one every 2-3 days. Most criminals victimize those close to them, geographically and socially. Thus the class of victims is many, many times the size of the class of perpetrators. In short, imprisonment, in so far as it prevents one crime per prisoner committed against neighbors ever two days, is a benefit received by the community and not an imposition upon it or an injustice against it. And the majority of the cost falls elsewhere.
When recently I pointed this out in an interview in Brazil, there was an outpouring of relief by poor but respectable Brazilians, that someone had acknowledged that to be poor was not ipso facto or ex officio to be criminal.
I will leave it to later to explain why intellectuals are so incapable of or unwilling to grasp this most obvious reasoning.
FP: Thank you Dr. Dalrymple.
Dr. Hollander, what do you make of this phenomenon?
Kindly begin on the theme of leftists regarding the system itself as criminal and therefore regarding criminals as “primitive rebels” against an unjust system.
Hollander: It does depend on who the “leftists” in question are. Not all leftists consider criminals “primitive rebels” but more likely to consider them victims of the system. It also depends on what type of criminals we are talking about. Surely white collar criminals, rapists or psychopathic serial murderers are not likely to be considered primitive rebels or even victims of the system.
I think there is a greater temptation to consider criminals “primitive rebels” when they come from underprivileged strata of society — poor, uneducated, ethnic minorities etc. and their crimes can be interpreted as an effort to put bread on the table, so to speak.
Overall, the question of this symposium and the proposition it entails needs modification or rephrasing. I would substitute “have a soft spot for” instead of “love.” More important, “progressive,” (i.e. leftist or PC attitudes) towards criminals are multidimensional, or selective depending on the type of crime involved and the social (including racial, ethnic, sexual) background of the criminal. These attitudes are highly patterned. Thus, as I just noted, not all criminals and types of crime are viewed with sympathy or empathy in these circles. “Progressives” have no sympathy for white collar criminals, rapists and those who commit “hate crimes.” Angela Davis would not consider their imprisonment “obsolete” or lament a “judgmental” a “judgmental” disposition toward them. A wealthy, middle aged, white male’s crimes would be perceived and judged very differently from those of a poor, young black male.
Sympathy or its absence toward different types of criminals and crimes is guided by certain assumptions about the nature of society we live in, by conceptions of human nature and the determinants of human behavior. Most important are the beliefs about the extent to which behavior (of different groups of people) is socially (or perhaps otherwise as well) determined. Allowing for, or denying, individual choice, or free will is selective. Those assigned to the victim groups, the underdogs (as defined by politically correct criteria) are supposed to have little choice, or free will – social forces hold them in their relentless grip. It is a different matter with white collar criminals or hate criminals whose reprehensible actions are apparently freely chosen and supposedly motivated by greed, racism, sexism, or homophobia.
Those in the victim populations are either a) altogether innocent, accused of crimes they did not commit (mainly on the basis of racial profiling); and/or b) were convicted because they could not afford to pay for good legal defense; or c) their crimes were determined by social forces and conditions over which they had no control: i.e. poverty, broken homes, childhood abuse, lack of education, racial, sexual or gender discrimination. In the politically correct perspective crime, esp. against property is often seen as a desperate effort to gratify basic needs unmet in legal or legitimate ways.
The exact connection between these social conditions or determinants and criminal acts are difficult to demonstrate. Many people who experience such disadvantages and deprivations do not become criminals.
More elaborate rationalizations of the allegedly unjust treatment of criminals is offered by these two authors focusing on Blacks and Hispanics. They suggest that such victimization has broader social-political functions, namely to divert public attention from major, serious social problems, defects and injustices and to intimidate those who might take action against the status quo. Most important, the unjustified incarceration of these minorities is designed to perpetuate a racial caste system, or create a new one, Michelle Alexander argues.
Criminals (excluding the politically incorrect ones noted above) are also viewed with sympathy by “progressives” because their “transgressive” behavior is treated as form of rebellion or social protest against a repressive and inherently unjust social system. Bank robbers don’t just take the money from where it is, they also challenge the unfair distribution of privilege, they make a statement.
Norman Mailer’s essay about the “The White Negro” is a notorious and extreme example of such sentiments as he glorifies individual violence as redeeming and authentic as opposed to the dehumanizing violence inherent in the system. As may be recalled some years ago, Mailer used his influence to have a convicted murderer released who soon after his release committed another murder in New York City.
It should also be noted that there is also an American tradition of romanticizing the outlaw who defies society and its conventions that found expression in popular movies such as “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Thelma and Louise” – the latter had a feminist twist. This tradition has little to do with political correctness.
Adams: When I read Mr. Dalrymple’s recounting of his conversation about criminals in Brazil, I was reminded of the Trenton chapter of the New Black Panther Party, and the general glorification of criminal activity among some segments of the country, but lack of recognition that the effects of crime fall disproportionately on minority communities. Yet too often the same minority communities have members willing to embrace violent thugs.
As I mention in my book Injustice: Exposing the Racial Agenda of the Obama Justice Department, the New Black Panther Party has high profile members which actually glorify and advocate murder. The Trenton Chapter has a video called “bang out.” From Injustice: in the music video, the panthers “conjured dozens of people, including women and children that advocate the murder of whites” and burying the “white devil” down by the river. The New Black Panther Minister of War, Najee Muhammed, appears in another panther “training” video advocating the murder of DeKalb County police officers by lying in wait behind shrubbery and attacking with AK-47s. Of course the infamous panther King Samir Shabazz was looped endlessly on Fox News calling for the murder of white babies.
These sorts of monsters are the most incendiary audience for Michelle Alexander’s book, because once you believe that the criminal justice system is truly a racist plot to warehouse innocent blacks, advocacy for violence isn’t far behind.
Consider how even Eric Holder’s Justice Department has a small role to play in this sordid mess. The Obama DOJ and Department of Education are now going after school districts, claiming that school discipline policies are racially discriminatory. From Injustice:
“In January 2011, [Assistant Attorney General] Perez announced that the DOJ would use a ‘disparate impact’ analysis on school discipline cases to determine whether discipline policies were racially discriminatory. Thus, if blacks were disciplined in higher percentages than their share of the population, the DOJ would bring a lawsuit to stop the discipline policy.”
Ponder the significance of this policy and how it reflects the world view of The New Jim Crow. Structural racism must be to blame whenever black students comprise a greater percentage of suspended students compared with their share in the general population. To the racialists like Alexander, Eric Holder and Tom Perez, individual responsibility has taken a back seat to racist structures that produce results that dispense discipline in ways they don’t like. Given the patient march of the progressive racialist agenda, one can foresee this rancid theory gaining acceptance in the criminal justice system shortly. One can almost imagine Alexander wishing some defendants could introduce evidence of structural racism in the criminal justice system to lessen their prison terms.
Mr. Hollander is spot on that Leftists have selective sympathy depending on the crime the criminal commits. Rape, indeed, doesn’t usually gain the racialist pardon. Murder, theft, assault and narcotics trafficking, however, can earn a great deal of sympathy from the left under the right circumstances.
Sympathy overflows when political crimes are involved. Consider the murderer Marylin Buck, a Marxist terrorist who helped the Black Liberation Army acquire weapons which were used in murders. Holder’s Justice Department released her from prison after the Bush DOJ refused to do so. Some defend the release because she had a terminal disease, but there is no rule that says you can’t die in a prison infirmary after you participated in the deaths of multiple people. When the criminal is fighting the “racist system,” sympathy is acute.
But such sympathy for someone like Buck is dangerous. Sympathy for political murder is a species of sympathy right out of Stalin’s purges of the 1920s. Crimes which benefit the favored ideology are excused, while imaginary crimes earn political opponents a bullet in the head. This is precisely the madness our Constitutional system was designed to avoid.
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