Racism, Poverty and Crime
Monday, 1 May 2000
Raising the quality of life lowers the crime rate
By Stanley Crouch
Because of the chameleon nature of racism, and the
way in which blacks arrived in this country and have
not only survived but prevailed, there is almost
always some crisis when it comes to blacks and the
issue of law and order.
Sometimes this is overblown by white or black
demagogues. But there is the fact that equal
treatment under the law and equal protection under
the law are central to the African-American story.
If we do not get equal treatment, blacks are smacked
with the dirty end of the stick in the legal system.
If we do not get equal protection, blacks suffer the
most from crime.
Representatives of civil rights organizations spoke
in Washington last week about a recent study of
unequal treatment. The study had been compiled by
the FBI, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention and the National Center for
It found that black and Hispanic youths are far more
likely to be picked up by the police. If picked up,
black kids are nine times more likely to be given
time than white kids.
This seems to be a contemporary extension of what
the NAACP Legal Defense Fund brought before the
Supreme Court more than 40 years ago. Then, the
issue was capital punishment and how more likely one
was to get a death sentence if one were black than
Criminal justice was turned around when the Supreme
Court, in a 5-to-4 decision in 1962, decried that
capital punishment was "cruel and unusual
Once again, African-Americans were in the middle of
influencing our sense of democratic fairness.
The question of equal protection, even under
Washington's current black mayor, Anthony Williams,
reared its bloody head once again on the day the
study of youth and crime was brought up.
The day before, a 16-year-old was among some
fighting teens who shot seven youths at the National
Zoo. Thousands of people were there for what had
become a local celebration of the African-American
family over the last 111 years.
Williams said the day after the carnage that while
such shootings are rare in zoos, such mayhem is "all
too frequent in our neighborhoods."
That was echoed a few days ago by Fernando Mateo of
the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers when
he spoke uptown at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National
In no uncertain terms, he made it clear that livery
drivers are being murdered in so-called non-white
Here, then, lies the riddle of the moment. Is there
any effect had on the safety of so-called minorities
by jailing kids from among them at a much higher
rate than whites?
Consider that even when the overall numbers of
killings drop, as they have in this city, murders of
blacks remain around 50 percent of slayings.
So there may be a relationship between taking so
many people off the streets and raising the quality
of life in black and Latino neighborhoods. That is,
there are fewer robberies, burglaries and rapes.
But the trouble with that is the question of just
how many kids who are picked up and put into the
juvenile penal system are there legitimately.
Neither side can be ignored.
Equal treatment means what it says, so should equal
Stanley Crouch is a columnist for the New York Daily
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