Conservatives such as David Brooks claim that the real problem of poor black people in cities such as Baltimore is not poverty, unemployment or police abuse, but bad moral character.
It is too bad that Freddie Gray died in custody of Baltimore police, but he would have been a loser no matter what, Brooks argued in a recent New York Times column.
Now it is true that there are Americans who are so completely demoralized that they couldn’t thrive even in a high-wage, full-employment economy. I don’t know how many such people there are. The way to find out is to create a high-wage, full-employment economy and see what happens.
I’m thinking of people who work full-time at minimum wage, some at multiple jobs, and still are in poverty. I’m thinking of working people who don’t get paid sick days, can’t afford child care and have no transportation to work.
Not all are black and not all are in big cities, although black people in poor city neighborhoods are targets of abuse by virtue of living where they do.
Radley Balko wrote an excellent article in the Washington Post in which, among other things, he profiled a hard-working black man named Antonio Morgan who operates a car repair and body shop Hazelwood, Missouri. He started out by fixing cars in the driveway of his mother’s house until he saved up enough money to offer the shop.
He did this, Balko pointed out, under unremitting police harassment, including one arrest for trespass because he walked on the lawn of his neighbor’s house (the neighbor didn’t object). Morgan spends a great deal of his life making a video and photo record of everything he does in anticipation of having to prove his innocence of some charge.
Balko wondered whether he could keep his equanimity under such circumstances as Morgan does. I wonder whether I could, too.
In the same article, Balko pushed back against writers such as Richard Cohen and Lloyd Green who claim that the killings of unarmed black men are a regrettable, but understandable, reaction to violent crime.
As he pointed out, violent crime is at its lowest point in 50 years, and police work is safer than it every has been. Violent crime was a serious problem in 1968, when the Presidential election hinged on the issue of law and order, and it peaked in 1991, during the administration of George H.W. Bush. But it has been coming down ever since. Police work is safer than it has been during the past 50 years.
I remember 1968 well. Whatever the divisions in the United States today, they were nothing compared to what was going on back then.
Bottom line: Equal justice for all won’t solve all problems, but it will make all of them easier to solve.
Poor People Need a Higher Wage, Not a Lesson in Morality by Greg Kaufmann for The Nation.
David Brooks Is Not Buying It, Poor People by Annie Lowrey for New York magazine.
This isn’t 1968. Baltimore isn’t Watts. And Hillary Clinton isn’t Michael Dukakis by Radley Balko for the Washington Post. Hat tip to Rod Dreher. I give Dreher credit for linking to this because it goes against his normally moralistic grain.
Antonio Morgan by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative. Read this for the comment thread.