Debunking the Decriminalization Delusion
On May 24, 2018, Frontpage Magazine reprinted an important article by Dr. Heather Mac Donald titled "The Decriminalization Delusion" that she wrote three years ago. The importance of awareness of her work is increasing because decriminalization is happening, and many Republicans are supporting it. Mac Donald's article debunks the propaganda and misleading statistics of the left on the issue.
The delusion Dr. Mac Donald refers to is composed of three beliefs. The primary belief is that the reason America has so many black people in prison is because of racism against blacks. The second belief is that blacks are disproportionately locked up for casual drug use. The third belief is that rehabilitation programs are a more effective way to deal with drug crime than prison.
In her article, Dr. Mac Donald points to Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, as having promoted this delusion. That is an understatement. Michelle Alexander's views have received tremendous publicity and support. She receives standing ovations when she speaks about her book. Her book was quoted passionately on stage at the Academy Awards. It became required reading for freshmen at Brown University. Her views are becoming policy.
Inculcating this delusion does not reduce racism; on the contrary, it leads to more racism, and it hurts blacks. Instead of protecting blacks by teaching them that drugs are harmful, this delusion incites black racism against whites by teaching them that the war on drugs is a war against blacks.
One of the arguments Dr. Alexander's book makes is that American leaders who declared war on drugs like Reagan and Bush did it out of racism toward blacks. In assessing this statement, it is worthwhile to look at what they said were their reasons. Ronald Reagan explained:
Drugs are menacing our society. They're threatening our values and undercutting our institutions. They're killing our children[.] ... Five hundred thousand Americans are hooked on heroin. One to 12 person smoke marijuana regularly. ... Today there is a new epidemic. Smokable cocaine, otherwise known as crack. It is an explosive, destructive, and often lethal substance which is crushing its users. It is an uncontrolled fire[.]
President Bush explained his motivations when he said:
This is crack cocaine seized a few days ago by Drug Enforcement agents in a park just across the street from the White House. It could easily have been heroin or PCP. It's as innocent-looking as candy, but it's turning our cities into battle zones, and it's murdering our children. Let there be no mistake: this stuff is poison. Some used to call drugs harmless recreation; they're not. Drugs are a real and terribly dangerous threat to our neighborhoods, our friends, and our families.
Even Michelle Alexander wrote:
No one should ever attempt to minimize the harm done by crack cocaine and the related violence. As David Kennedy correctly observes, "Crack blew through America's poor black neighborhoods like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse," leaving behind unspeakable devastation and suffering.
It doesn't occur to Dr. Alexander that if American leaders were racist against blacks and wanted to hurt blacks, they would not wage war against drugs and allow the Apocalypse to continue.
The main argument Dr. Alexander makes to defend her position that racism is behind arrests of blacks for drug crimes is that there are disproportionately more blacks in prison for drug crimes than whites.
There is an alternative explanation to racism for this disproportion. Former New York police commissioner Lee Brown explained:
In most large cities, the police focus their attention on where they see conspicuous drug use – street-corner drug sales – and where they get the most complaints. Conspicuous drug use is generally in your low-income neighborhoods that generally turn out to be your minority neighborhoods. ... It's easier for police to make an arrest when you have people selling drugs on the street corner than those who are [selling or buying drugs] in the suburbs or in office buildings. The end result is that more blacks are arrested than whites because of the relative ease in making those arrests.
David Olson, chairman of Loyola University Chicago's criminal justice department, also expressed this opinion but added that police are going to spend most of their time in high-crime areas and will make arrests where they are located. Likewise, John Gettman, a criminal justice professor at Shenandoah University, wrote that:
I think it may have a lot to do with where police patrols are more frequent and where policing is more aggressive – and that may very well be because there's more crime in particular regions.
This raises the question of why is crime so high in minority areas. Walter Williams argues that welfare is to blame because it inadvertently promotes breakup of the family structure. In his article "The Welfare State's Legacy," he wrote:
Children from fatherless homes are likelier to drop out of high school, die by suicide, have behavioral disorders, join gangs, commit crimes and end up in prison.
Statistics bear out Dr. Williams's statements. One of the most important predictors of criminal behavior is being from a single-parent family.
The welfare state undermines the family structure because the state becomes a substitute for the father. There is no need for the mother to stay married in order to get money for the children. In addition, there is a financial incentive to have more children and get more money from the government.
Lowering incarceration rates has been tried. Dr. Mac Donald documented in her article that lowering incarceration rates had disastrous effects when tried in California.
The solution to crime is not decriminalization. The solution is welfare reform.