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February 23, 2015

Urging more media coverage of the "truly guilty and violent"

Via consistently helpful Marshall Project, I came to see this interesting recent piece by Steve Bogira titled "Guilty As Charged" at the Social Justice News Nexus site. Here are extended excerpts:

The mainstream media and “social justice” journalists treat criminal justice subjects compassionately at times, but the beneficiaries of their compassion diverge. The mainstream media focus on the victims of crime, while social justice journalists focus on victims of the criminal justice system.

The former task is easier, because readers are quick to sympathize with crime victims. The latter task is commendable, because it involves telling the stories of outcasts.  Yet, even those of us who take on the latter task still tend to stick to the easier parts of the topic. Our favorite subjects are innocent people who are wrongly convicted.

When we do write about the guilty, we prefer they be nonviolent offenders.  We’re particularly partial to petty drug offenders. Among violent offenders, we prefer juveniles.

We fear our readers can’t possibly develop compassion for anyone who robs, beats, rapes, or kills.  We ourselves have trouble feeling compassion for such offenders; to do so violates a taboo.  Only if the violent offender has the mitigating factor of youth, or sometimes mental illness, are we likely to take on his or her story.

But this means we neglect much that is immensely significant.  There are too many drug offenders in prison, but prisons are not mainly holding drug offenders or the nonviolent. Seventeen percent of the 49,000 inmates in Illinois prisons were serving terms for controlled substance crimes, and another 1.6 percent had violated the cannabis control act, as of June 2013 (the most recent figures), according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.  That’s less than 19 percent in all who were doing time for drug offenses–compared with 54 percent who’d been convicted of violent offenses. Nationally, the proportion of prisoners serving sentences for violent crimes in 2012 was also 54 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Stories about the wrongly convicted, and about the drug war, and about juvenile and mentally ill offenders, can lead to much-needed reforms of the criminal justice system. But stories about the truly guilty and violent can have a larger target: our nation’s structural inequality, and the wounds it inflicts every hour, every day, on African-Americans more than any other group, in segregated cities throughout the nation.

Concentrated poverty – resulting from the virulent mix of poverty and racial segregation – yields many poisoned fruits, not the least of which is violence. Children growing up amid concentrated poverty are more likely to witness violence in their neighborhoods, and to experience it in their homes, than children in more advantaged areas. And children growing up amid violence are far more likely to become violent themselves.

There’s a crying need for stories that make the crucial connections between concentrated poverty and violence, and that shift the focus from individual responsibility to our collective culpability. In the context of criminal justice stories, it’s not a connection journalists can make when their subjects are innocent or nonviolent.

February 23, 2015 at 09:39 AM | Permalink


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The word, truly, and the criminal law, are not compatible. Over 95% of adjudicated charges in prison are fictitious. As to non-violent drug offenders, whom do you think caused the murder to skyrocket defending drug sales turf. And as to juveniles, holding their Nines sideways. Try to get between one and some money. See what happens, report back.

The wrongly convicted should be investigated and treated as catastrophes are, with a view t changing systems to minimize error.

First, there is no poverty. Find the poorest person in the USA. Richer than 6 billion people in every way. Better off than rich Europeans, freer, with more health care available, and having to go on a diet, instead of starving. There cannot be a connection with crime and poverty, because there is no poverty. If there were, immigrants who are poor would be criminals, when they are less often criminals than white kids.

I can make serious left wing arguments if asked to switch sides, being a whore. However, I would seek argument that are not blatantly ridiculous, and obviously untrue, just because they represent the rent seeking orthodoxy of the left.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 23, 2015 7:43:19 PM

Who or what determines the "truly guilty?" If lawyers would take the time to go thru prisoners files, I'm sure they would find a lot of "not guilty" people. Lawyers lie and juries believe them. Who would ever believe that a person got an enhanced penalty because someone else's paperwork was used? Even the defense attorney didn't catch it.

Posted by: Linda Wright | Feb 25, 2015 8:42:42 PM

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