Michelle Alexander and Ruth Wilson Gilmore spent more than 800 words in the June 5th Sacramento Bee to make the point I just made in my headline with eight. But whether laid out pithily in eight words or belabored for 800 — or 8,000 for that matter — twaddle is still twaddle.
The authors begin their piece as follows: “The fearmongering responses to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring California’s prison system ‘cruel and unusual’ in violation of the Eighth Amendment were predictable.”
My most recent piece concerned this very topic, and indeed I struck a note of concern — “fearmongering,” in the authors’ view — over the ramifications to California that might follow in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Plata. And if my reaction was predictable, no less so was that of Alexander and Gilmore, both of whom have written books (here and here) in which they condemn the American criminal justice system as racist.
Yes, I admit to being less sanguine than are Alexander and Gilmore at the prospect of 46,000 convicted felons being loosed upon an unwary populace, but contrary to their assumptions (and is there any doubt what they would assume about me?), I am unconcerned with the melanin content of these criminals’ skin. Rather, I am concerned with seeing these criminals remain behind bars for the period of time the law prescribes as a consequence of their misdeeds. Whatever significance I attach to their skin color is derived solely from the fact that the majority of California’s felons have been sent to prison for victimizing people whose complexion matches their own.
But Alexander and Gilmore see sinister motives in my desire to see felons do their time. They write:
Any student of anti-racist civil rights struggles — against slavery, Chinese exclusion, Jim Crow, race-based immigration controls — finds in the historical record similar reactions to decisions perceived to benefit poor people of color. The prognosis is always perpetual disorder.
Thus in just a few words do the authors distill what is perhaps the favorite rhetorical device from the leftist handbook, to wit, to insinuate that anyone who opposes them on any issue is morally deficient, in this case racist. If you favor taking a hard line on crime, if you think felons deserve to do a proper stretch in the big house, you are no better than the reprobates from America’s past who argued for slavery and the other moral failings cited above.
Alexander and Gilmore argue that the impending release of such a large number of felons should be of little concern, as “nearly everyone sentenced to prison leaves.” And they point out that the average California prison term is just 54 months. True enough, but if compliance with the Brown v. Plata decision results in the worst-case scenario of wholesale early release and permanent reduction in the prison population, it will mean that at any given time there will be 46,000 felons roaming the streets of California who otherwise would be behind bars. If Alexander and Gilmore believe this will have no significant impact on crime in the state, I’m keen to learn how they think those 46,000 miscreants will be spending their time if not by practicing the same craft that got them locked up in the first place.
And if it is the welfare of “people of color” Alexander and Gilmore are concerned with, they should be aware that about 55 percent of California’s state prison inmates are incarcerated for “crimes against persons,” i.e., everything from murder to assault to sex crimes, the vast majority of which were committed against members of the offender’s own ethnic group. Like the majority in Brown v. Plata, indeed like nearly everyone on the left, Alexander and Gilmore are more sympathetic to criminals than to those who suffer at their hands.