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Making Black Lives Matter -- a Colorblind Approach

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Explicit racism is a problem. This I do not deny. But explicit racism is a relatively small part of the persecution many blacks suffer under today. We had decades where racism was uncool, an ideology for losers, yet during those decades the black prison population exploded, and driving while black remained effectively a crime is many parts of this country.

The unjust situation has triggered riots. This inspires some to call for criminal justice reform. Others focus on the looters and call for sterner measures.

Meanwhile, Social Justice Warriors have gone over the top trying to root out the last vestiges of racism, creating a sunk cost situation. If being white makes one an a priori racist, why not go for it? Racism is becoming cool again. Not good!

It is long past time to focus on the bigger underlying problems, on the implicitly racist laws and policies still on the books, to turn racism into a bad, but dim, memory, and put the "Us" into U.S.

Some Ugly Positive Feedback Loops

Where should the police spend most of their time? How about areas where there is the most crime? The idea is reasonable, and oft intended to be benevolent. Residents of high crime areas suffer.

Throw in Broken Windows policing and Stop and Frisk: things get ugly. Those who live in the wrong neighborhoods get busted for petty crimes, and are frequently frisked for the lamest excuses for probable cause.

Such injustice inspires resentment towards law enforcement. Cooperation with the police declines. Local kingpins and gang leaders gain respect. Jail time becomes a right of passage. Crime goes up.

And thus calls for even more heavy-handed law enforcement go up.

The police become an occupying army.

And there are yet more feedback effects:

  • When fathers are locked up, children suffer, oft becoming emotionally damaged, semi-feral.
  • Gang ruled neighborhoods are poor places to study; student achievement suffers.
  • Poor student achievement leads to yet more poverty.
  • Poverty makes retail crime more attractive as a career option.
  • High crime drives away potential employers, making crime the only career option.

Thanks to past explicit racism, many of these out of control neighborhoods happen to be heavily black. Thanks to these ugly feedback loops, the scars of past intentional injustice continue to fester a half century after the Civil Rights Act.

One solution is obvious: actually obey the Bill of Rights, even in areas where crime is high. There is much to be said for it, but alas, it is impractical on its own. When crime is out of control, criminals are the primary violators of individual liberty. Bill Clinton signed the largest federal crime bill in U.S. history and yet remained popular among black voters. Protecting the innocent is part of making black lives matter.

To restore civil liberties in poor black neighborhoods, we need to be a bit more strategic and subtle. We need to answer two questions:

  1. How do we reign in heavy handed law enforcement without unleashing yet more crime?
  2. How can we reduce crime without resorting to yet more punishment and/or police harassment?

I could list dozens of answers, but I will focus on two, the biggies. Fix these and the rest is downhill.

Dial Down the Drug War

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Carl Milsted is a physicist by day and dabbles in economics and political activism in his spare time. For a quarter century he was a member of the Libertarian Party, but has since realized that narrowing the wealth gap and preserving the (more...)

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