Category: common peace consensus

Money, morals, and mass incarceration

by Dr. Charles Kiker

This post is in affirmation of and response to Dr. Alan Bean’s blog on the Friends of Justice site, “‘The Power to Make Us One’: Heather McGhee’s One-People America.” In that post Dr. Bean acknowledges that racially charged language only serves to make white people defensive regarding the plight of black people in America, and thus is counterproductive in bringing about either racial reconciliation or the end to mass incarceration.

In the February 10th edition of The New York Times two entries caught my attention. One was an article by Sabrina Tavernise, “Education Gap Grows Between Rich and Poor, Studies Say.” The finding of those studies, in a nutshell, is that the education gap between the children of well-off families, regardless of race, and poor families, regardless of race, is widening, while the education gap between the children of white families and black families is narrowing.

And it is well known that the level of education is a reliable predictor of income success or lack thereof.

The other was an op-ed piece by Paul Krugman, “Money and Morals.” Not surprisingly, Krugman argues that the big problem for working class families is not moral decay, but “A drastic reduction in the work opportunities available to less-educated men.” Krugman states that “entry-level wages of male high school graduates have fallen 23% since 1970” when adjusted for inflation. To make matters worse, benefits have been drastically reduced. (more…)

Pastor W.G. Daniels waged peace in Fort Worth, Texas

PASTOR 4By Alan Bean

No one can account for the dramatic drop in violent crime.  According to the Washington Post, in 2011 the DC homicide rate reached its lowest point since 1963.  But just across the county line, the homicide rate is experiencing an upswing.  When violent crime drops there is always a reason.  When gang-related violence plunged in Fort Worth, TX, a big part of the reason was the Rev. W.G. Daniels. 

Daniels died this week.  Marty Sabota’s obituary shows that Daniels grasped many of the principles criminologist  David Kennedy outlines in his excellent book Don’t Shoot:

America has four inextricably linked problems that converge in its most troubled communities.   There’s the violence that terrorizes many of its, especially, black and minority communities. There’s the chaos that comes with, especially, public drug markets.  There’s the devastation being wrought on, especially, troubled black and minority communities by our criminal justice in response to the first two problems.  And there’ the worsening racial divide that’s causing.

In Fort Worth, Pastor W.G. Daniels stopped the violence by forging a creative dialogue between law enforcement and the communities most affected by violent crime.  A former police officer who understood the law enforcement mindset, Daniels made the perfect peacemaker.  He knew why his neighbors didn’t want to talk to the police, but he also understood why law enforcement will always concentrate on high crime communities.  Daniels didn’t want the police to ignore the hot neighborhoods; he just wanted them to show more respect and professionalism.  

Getting gang members, community members and the police on the same page isn’t easy, but it can be done.  As Daniels once told the Star-Telegram:

You had gangs like the Crips and the Bloods fighting against each other, but after we conducted a survey, we found that there just needed to be somebody to bring a truce to stop the madness and no better people to do it than pastors who meet every Sunday. We needed to send a message that it would not be tolerated, and by the help of God and Christ we were able to bring about peace.

When people are talking to one another behavior changes.  Open air drug markets move underground, police officers feel more appreciated and behave with a higher level of professionalism, residents of high crime neighborhoods gain a new sense of confidence and self-respect.  Criminologist David Kennedy and pastor W.G. Daniels heal communities because they understand the spiritual nature of the war they are fighting.  (more…)

Progressives should be wary of Ron Paul

There is a lot to like about Ron Paul.  He opposes the war on drugs; he is anti-war, and he doesn’t like the Patriot Act.  Who could ask for anything more?

If you believe Adele M. Stan, progressives should be asking for much, much more.  Ron Paul’s libertarianism may overlap with the progressive agenda at important points, but it flows from a entirely different source.  Stan associates Paul with the anti-civil rights John Birch Society as well as the modern Reconstruction movement.  My research has reached similar conclusions.

Progressives contend that we’re all in this thing together; Libertarians say we’re all on our own.   Progressivism is consistent with religious altruism; libertarianism logically tends toward the moral nihilism of Ayn Rand. A philosophical difference that great can’t be mended with duct tape and baling wire.  Friends of Justice endorses a Common Peace Agenda that embraces the legitimate rights and needs of all people.  We aren’t satisfied with simply ending the war on drugs or reducing the size of the prison population; we seek what Martin Luther King Jr. called The Beloved Community. 

Those in search of the common good must choose their coalition partners with great care.  We don’t have to agree on every point, but we must be working toward the same broad goal.  What kind of America are we trying to create?  AGB (more…)

“Both sides are us”: Stuntz and Kennedy unpack the spirituality of criminal justice reform

By Alan Bean

In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels.  Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.

 If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium.  Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it.  We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.

In 2011, two books by white males revealed that Michelle Alexander is not the only American scholar in search of a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration.   The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz, and Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy are not books written in response to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Stuntz and Kennedy are white male academics who see mass incarceration and the war on drugs as unmitigated disasters.  These authors tackle America’s racial history head on.  Most importantly, they agree with Alexander that a movement to end mass incarceration must begin with a new moral consensus.    (more…)

Arlington ISD turns thumbs down on Cesar Chavez holiday (yet again)

By Alan Bean

To the surprise of no one, the students of Arlington were once again denied a May holiday honoring civil rights legend Cesar Chavez. 

Last night’s meeting of the Arlington ISD school board reminded me of the climactic scene in To Kill a Mockingbird.  An all-white jury convicts the black defendant even though the case against him has crumbled to dust.  As the article below suggests, last night’s decision was a foregone conclusion.

Last year, the statements of support for a Chavez holiday, mine included, were polite and deferential.  This year was different.  

I used my five minutes to address the elephant in the room.  The school board trustees are both politicians and public servants, I said.  There is no political upside to voting to rename a generic “May holiday” in honor of Chavez.  The majority of voters in Arlington have little interest in honoring a Latino icon, and many would staunchly oppose the move.  This is, after all, one of the most conservative demographics in America. 

On the other hand, 65% of the students (and therefore a solid majority of the parents) are people of color who would love to see Chavez honored.  There is a disconnect between the political imperative to please the voters and the moral imperative to do what’s best for the children.  The heart sides with the kids; the head craves political security. (more…)

The day Elizabeth and Hazel were dissed by Oprah

By Alan Bean

I have been inspired by the story about how Elizabeth Eckford (the black woman walking stoically into Little Rock’s Central High School in 1959) and Hazel Bryan (the white woman in the rear screaming, “Go home to Africa, nigger!”) had bridged the racial divide and become best friends.

Not surprisingly, it isn’t that simple.

Racial reconciliation comes hard.  Everybody needs to feel good about their people, their heritage, their roots.  At least Sir Walter Scott thought so:

Breathes there there the man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!

Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,

As home his footsteps he hath turned

From wandering on a foreign strand!

If such there breathe, go, mark him well;

For him no minstrel raptures swell . . .

African Americans and American whites, particularly in the South, have a hard time feeling good about their ethnic heritage.  Few Black Americans chose to come to this country.  In most cases, their ancestors were hunted down like dogs, manacled, separated from family, culture and religion, stowed into the hulls of slave ships, transported across the Atlantic ocean, and put to work under the lash beneath a blazing son.  The Emancipation Proclamation hardly improved their lot.  In its own strange way, Jim Crow was every bit as degrading as slavery.  (more…)

Movement building in an age of scarcity

By Alan Bean

How do we organize in a world of steadily declining resources?  It isn’t just that non-profit organizations are struggling to stay afloat; the economy of the United States has entered a period of decline that will not end in your lifetime or mine.  Dissidents are good at critiquing what is; we aren’t always adept at anticipating what will be.  We can no longer proscribe solutions rooted in the assumption of ever-expanding national wealth.  Storm clouds are gathering on the economic horizon. (more…)