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November 26, 2014

Senator Rand Paul links Ferguson tragedy to harms of the modern drug war

Regular readers know I am always interested in Senator Rand Paul's distinctive perspective on criminal justice issues.  This new Time op-ed, headlined "The Politicians Are To Blame in Ferguson," has Senator Paul touching on broader themes as he connects recent events in Ferguson with his belief in the need for systemic reforms to the US criminal justice system. Here are excerpts:

We are witnessing a tragedy in Ferguson. This city in Missouri has become a focal point for so much. The President and the late Michael Brown’s family have called for peace. I join their calls for peaceful protest, but also reiterate their call to action — “channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change.”

In the search for culpability for the tragedy in Ferguson, I mostly blame politicians. Michael Brown’s death and the suffocation of Eric Garner in New York for selling untaxed cigarettes indicate something is wrong with criminal justice in America.  The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and put police in a nearly impossible situation.

In Ferguson, the precipitating crime was not drugs, but theft.  But the War on Drugs has created a tension in some communities that too often results in tragedy.  One need only witness the baby in Georgia, who had a concussive grenade explode in her face during a late-night, no-knock drug raid (in which no drugs were found) to understand the feelings of many minorities — the feeling that they are being unfairly targeted.

Three out of four people in jail for drugs are people of color.  In the African American community, folks rightly ask why are our sons disproportionately incarcerated, killed, and maimed?

African Americans perceive as true that their kids are more likely to be killed.  ProPublica examined 33 years of FBI data on police shootings, accounted for the racial make-up of the country, and determined that: “Young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts — 21 times greater.”

Can some of the disparity be blamed on a higher rate of crime in the black community? Yes, but there is a gnawing feeling that simply being black in a high-crime area increases your risk for a deadly altercation with police.

Does bad behavior account for some of the interactions with law enforcement?  Yes, but surely there must be ways that we can work to prevent the violence from escalating....

Reforming criminal justice to make it racially blind is imperative, but that won’t lift up these young men from poverty.  In fact, I don’t believe any law will.  For too long, we’ve attached some mythic notion to government solutions and yet, 40 years after we began the War on Poverty, poverty still abounds.,,,

This message is not a racial one.  The link between poverty, lack of education, and children outside of marriage is staggering and cuts across all racial groups.  Statistics uniformly show that waiting to have children in marriage and obtaining an education are an invaluable part of escaping poverty....

I will continue to fight to end the racial disparities in drug sentencing.  I will continue to fight lengthy, mandatory sentences that prevent judges from using discretion.  I will continue to fight to restore voting rights for non-violent felons who’ve served their sentences.  But my hope is that out of tragedy, a preacher or teacher will arise — one who motivates and inspires all of us to discover traits, ambitions, and moral codes that have slowly eroded and left us empty with despair.

I will continue the fight to reform our nation’s criminal justice system, but in the meantime, the call should go out for a charismatic leader, not a politician, to preach a gospel of hope and prosperity.  I have said often America is in need of a revival.  Part of that is spiritual.  Part of that is in civics, in our leaders, in our institutions. We must look at policies, ideas, and attitudes that have failed us and we must demand better.

November 26, 2014 at 09:34 PM | Permalink

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"For too long, we’ve attached some mythic notion to government solutions and yet, 40 years after we began the War on Poverty, poverty still abounds."

And this is where he loses all credibility.

http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/welfare_spending

As one can see from the chart in the entire 20th century the total welfare payment per GDP has never exceeded 5% and in most times periods has been at 3% or below. This can be compared to Europe where welfare payments range from 30% to 84%. So how can any honest person claim that the war on poverty has failed when in fact the war on poverty never got off the ground?

One can debate the merits and demerits of the European welfare state. One can debate whether such a model is good for America. But it is plain old fashioned lying to claim that the model has failed here when it was never tried.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 27, 2014 12:55:55 AM

Surprised Rand Paul is part of the "promote marriage" crowd, as a libertarian wouldn't he work to end special privileges for married couples, why should a person who's single pay more in taxes then an unmarried couple? Similarly, married couples should not pay more.

If the government discriminates against folks who decide not to legally marry, then we could argue the government is responsible for that, of course correlation is not causation, wealthy singles or divorced folks may not have those issues. Yes, the war on poverty is a conservative myth, since welfare in the US is not the same as Europe and other countries, in fact it can be a success, because poverty rates could be likely higher.

Education? What is an education, women's studies, black studies, etc. Stem fields are great, but like the free market says, too much supply v. demand means stem grads can be without jobs, is it then there fault if they can't get jobs?

Of course, it is a good start to examine the police state of affairs, and here's the ironic thing, is what happened in Ferguson, MO "washington's fault", I mean isn't it a state and local issue? If so Rand Paul has no right to intervene in a hands off policy.

Posted by: Morgan | Nov 27, 2014 8:36:25 AM

Daniel has a point as to "never tried" on some level, but limited as compared to some nations it might be, the social safety net has greatly expanded in the last seventy-five years. This resulted in real reduction of poverty (particularly for the elderly) and at the very least some degree of a safety net that helps many people, including children. It is no panacea and more clearly can and should be done, but let's not ignore what was.

Posted by: Joe | Nov 27, 2014 11:37:28 AM

But so many blacks in prison due to the drug war, has absolutely zero to do with racial bias.

They simply led that kind if a life. Therefore they end up in prison. The Crack Epidemic was a violent turbolent time.

Gangs, crack babies that cried continuous, drive bys. Turf wars. Etc. women with 5 kids, everyone of them with a different man.

This is what brought them tonthe slammer.

But, but, 100 to 1 was racial injustice. Exactly the same that psuedo us 5 times higher conversion to mary jane equiv than meth is. Go figure on that one. Im not hearing anyone crying racial injustice for the whites.

Anyone care to comment on this piece of info.


Posted by: 187Midwest Guy | Nov 27, 2014 4:55:14 PM

Daniel,

You forget that the US GDP is much, much more than those of Europe:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_%28nominal%29

Posted by: Missy | Nov 27, 2014 8:51:45 PM

There is no poverty, with obesity being the nutrition problem. The real value of welfare benefits puts the poor in the world's middle class. So, the War on Poverty has been won. Anyone who cannot pay for the necessities has wasted the benefits on pleasures. Even the homeless go the bathroom indoors in winter in Chicago.

Nor does crime have to do with race. Much darker skinned African and Caribbean immigrants have lower crime rates than whites. They value striving and education. They still have family values. They get married to have children. This is true even if they come from high pollution, high lead level exposure cities.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 28, 2014 10:24:20 AM

@Missy

The absolute GDP is not a relevant measure because Europe also has more people than the USA. The right comparative measure would be welfare payments per capita. However, I did not link to such data because AFAIK there is none that is directly linkable. However, the data I have read indicates that even on a per capita basis the USA lags well behind Europe.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 28, 2014 3:54:01 PM

@SC

You're an idiot. We treat our farm animals better than we treat our homeless. Farm animals get free medical care, free housing, and free food, and free transportation. And as you well know obesity is caused by the low quality of food that most of the poor can afford to eat. The obesity argument in particular galls me. If the poor eat healthy everyone has a snit fit about them having tuna and lobster on the government dime and they cut benefits. On the other hand if the poor eat cheap, trashy food with lots of calories and thus get obese then everyone claims this is a sign the program is working. Gah! Obesity is a sign that welfare is failing because the poor cannot afford to eat healthy food on four dollars a day.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 28, 2014 4:01:48 PM

Daniel: Here is a study of the total value of welfare benefits. Please, remember that these amounts are tax free.

This report also rebuts the distribution of income claim of the left. They are not using these numbers, or else, this nation would have among the smallest disparities in income in the world. The homeless person in New York may go to the Sloan Kettering Institute and get the same $250000 cancer treatment and doctors as the Princes of Saudi Arabia, at no cost, no deductibles, no co-pays. Try to beat that anywhere. In Europe and Canada, he would die on a waiting list.

http://www.cato.org/publications/white-paper/work-versus-welfare-trade

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 28, 2014 6:47:03 PM

@SC

I've read that study before and it's all spin. First, it fails because it is an internal comparison within America and does not compare America with other countries. What we define as "poor" in America would be considered a national embarrassment in the EU. Second, the Cato study conglomerates lots of different government programs in order to raise the apparent wages that welfare represents. This is how they get ludicrous figure that the values of welfare in my state, for example, is 33K. It is the functional equivalent of saying that a tax refund is a government handout--well, technically a tax refund is a government handout because the government had the money and gave it to you. But it's nonsense because its not what anybody else defines as welfare. Welfare has a specific definition and it is not the one that Cato uses. Third, the Cato study takes the welfare benefits that are given to the parent on behalf of children and imputes those to the parent. That's the other way that they inflate the value of the welfare. It may well be that the benefits given to a mother of five children living in public housing on Obamacare runs into the tens of thousands of dollars. But if the mother were to go off welfare it wouldn't be like all of a sudden the kids would be working too. So in effect welfare is paying her to be a mother, something that no private employer is going to do. So by comparing the "welfare wage" with the private sector wage Cato is ignoring that the state and the private sector are paying her for two different kinds of work and thus they are comparing apples and oranges.

Finally, there is one other major issue with the Cato study. It only looks at people who are getting welfare. But many people are not getting welfare because it isn't available. For example, in my state the waiting lists are over a year long in some location in order to receive public housing. In fact, an honest analysis would include these people in the study with a benefit of zero and thereby dropping the average welfare "wage" considerably. Many states have kept within budget by keeping the actual welfare payments high but narrowing the eligibility criteria so that fewer people are on welfare. This is how my state is able to rank near the top in welfare benefits according to Cato and yet rank near the bottom in total welfare expenditures in the link I provided above.

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 28, 2014 8:48:20 PM

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