Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Priorities & Competence in Criminal Justice

I remember one day, years and years ago, when I unfortunately let a few snide comments about criminal justice, the drug war, and budgeting turn into a full on argument with an individual who has worked in law enforcement for most of his adult life.

My contention was that over-enforcement of non-violent drug offenders was wasteful and counterproductive; and that when selective enforcement happens it was often based on the race of the non-violent offender. Such were my beliefs, and such was my experience.

Not hearing what I was saying, or perhaps operating on the belief that I was saying such things only to make him angry, he produced endless portfolios and textbooks that demonstrated that, once caught, most non-violent drug offenders of all races plead "guilty," and that the majority of all drug offenders were from a certain demographic.

He was not pleased when I told him that none of that refuted anything I was saying. It took me years to realize that, coming out of my mouth, any criticism of policy or enforcement was not a question of priorities or competency or even government waste. It took me years to realize that he wasn't even arguing with me or anything I said, he was arguing with other people and what they said. He was yelling at imaginary people in the room, saying things he had been trained to refute. He associated any critique of policy as criticism of the police, and any mention of race as exoneration of crime based on skin color alone.

While I said "we should reexamine our priorities, our costs, and our enforcement techniques" he was hearing "police are always wrong, and black people shouldn't be prosecuted for crimes."

I was thinking about that argument the whole time I was reading this article, and I wonder what the imaginary people inside C Ray and W Riley's heads are saying to them as the people of their city - of all races - cry out for some sort of relief from crime.


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