Michael Dunn shot ten bullets into a car filled with four teenagers after a dispute over the volume of their music. He claimed self-defense, though the gun he said he saw was never corroborated by anyone or found. This weekend he was found guilty of attempting to kill the three teenagers who survived, but not of murdering the one he shot dead, 17-year-old Jordan Davis.
When George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin, I put up a post reviewing a study on stand your ground laws. The research found that these laws increase the likelihood that a homicide will be considered “justified,” but only in cases where a white person is accused of killing a black person. Here is the data:
At the previous post, I argued that these data — made to feel real by decisions like these — show that we are “biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim.” Stand your ground laws make it worse, but the far right column shows that:
…white people who kill black people are far more likely to be found not-guilty even in states without SYG and black people who kill whites are less likely to be found not-guilty regardless of state law.
Or, to put it more bluntly, we still value white men’s freedoms more than black men’s lives. On average, of course.
In the wake of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s sad death, many are calling for various “harm reduction” approaches to substance use. Proponents of harm reduction have identified lots of ways to reduce the social and personal costs of drugs, but they often require us to shift our focus from the prevention of drug use itself to the prevention of harm. Resistance to such approaches often hinges on the notion that they somehow tolerate, facilitate, or even subsidize risky behavior.
This tension emerged clearly in my new article with Sarah Shannon in Social Problems. We re-analyzed an experimental jobs program that randomly assigned a basic low-wage work opportunity to long-term unemployed people as they left drug treatment. In some ways, the program worked beautifully. The job treatment group had significantlyless crime and recidivism, especially for predatory economic crimes like robberies and burglaries. After 18 months, about 13 percent of the control group had been arrested for a new robbery or burglary, relative to only 7 percent of the treatment group. Put differently, 87 percent of those not offered the jobs survived a year and a half without such an arrest, relative to 93 percent of the treatment group who were offered jobs.
A randomized experiment that shows a 46 percent reduction in serious crime is a pretty big deal to criminologists, but the program has still been considered a failure. In part, this is because the “treatment” group who got the jobs relapsed to cocaine and heroin use at about the same rate as the control group. After 18 months, about 66 percent of the control group had not yet relapsed, relative to about 63 percent in the treatment group. So, there’s no evidence the program helped people avoid cocaine and heroin.
From an abstinence-only perspective, such programs look like failures. Nevertheless, even a crummy job and a few dollars clearly helped people avoid recidivism and improved the public safety of their communities. So, did the program work? From a harm reduction perspective, a jobs program for drug users surely “works” if it reduces crime and other harms, even if it doesn’t dent rates of cocaine or heroin use.
Immediately after the Seattle Seahawks beat the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Richard Sherman gave an intense, boastful post-game interview. This triggered the always-present racism, as illustrated by many tweets that followed. Here is just a sample from Public Shaming:
These are obviously cruel and full of hate, but the ones in which he was called a “thug” got somewhat less attention:
In interviews about the racist response, Sherman made some really nice points about what this means about the state of America and the specifically racial insults. In a press conference, for example, asked about being called a “thug,” he argued that it’s just “the accepted way of calling someone the n-word these days.” He points out that, in no way was what he was doing thug-like:
Maybe I’m talking loudly, and doing something… talking like I’m not supposed to, but I’m not… there’s a hockey game where they didn’t even play hockey, they just threw the puck aside and started fighting. I saw that and I said, “Aw man, I’m the thug? What!? What’s going on here?”
In another video, he expands on this point, saying: “I’m not out there beating on people, or committing crimes, or getting arrested, or doing anything; I’m playing a football game at a high level and I got excited.”
Sherman’s making two points. First, that there was nothing thug-like about his behavior. Thugs are violent criminals. He’s just playing a game. And, second, the term is decidedly racial, applied to him largely because of the color of his skin. Meanwhile, hockey players, who are overwhelmingly white, as well as other white athletes, don’t as often get these sorts of labels even if they are physically violent in ways that exceed the demands of their sport.
Young black adults are less likely than whites to use marijuana, but extraordinarily more likely to be arrested for its use, according to a new report by the ACLU. This is old news, but the data never fails to stun.
First, notice that arrests for marijuana possession have grown over the past 15 years, even relative to arrests for other types of drugs. The first chart is total marijuana possession arrests, the second is the percent of all drug arrests that were for marijuana (note that in neither chart does the vertical axis start at zero and truncated axes tend to make data look more dramatic, as if that were necessary here).
This rise in arrests has disproportionately affected African Americans. The arrest rate for blacks has consistently been substantially higher than that of whites, but it increased, even so, over the 2000s.
According to the report:
…in every state the Black arrest rate is disproportionate to Blacks’ percentage of the population. In fact, in 42 states the Black percentage of marijuana possession arrests is more than double the Black percentage of the population, while in 18 states Blacks account for more than three times the percentage of marijuana possession arrests than they do of the population. In four states, the difference is a factor of at least four.
Most of these arrests are of young people. Almost half (46%) involve 18 to 24 year olds:
The black arrest rate cannot be attributed to different rates of use. Overall, blacks and whites have very similar rates of marijuana use (the first figure below), but among 18 to 25 year olds — the population being arrested the most — whites have slightly higher rates than blacks (second figure): This is a long-standing, well-documented Civil Rights issue. The war on drugs is a war on black people. These practices are harmful to individuals, their families, and their communities. It functions to further the disadvantage faced by black Americans in a society rife with institutions already stacked against them.
New survey data shows that the average person overestimates the diversity of the American population, both now and in the future. Today, for example, racial minorities make up 37% of the population, but the average guess was 49%.
Many Americans fear rising diversity. Over half worry that more minorities means fewer jobs, nearly half think that it means more crime, and almost two-thirds think these groups strain social services. If people think that minorities are bad for America and overestimate their prevalence, they may be more likely to support draconian and punishing policy designed to minimize their numbers or mitigate the consequences they are believed to bring.
Not all Americans, of course, fear diversity equally. Below are the scores of various groups on an “openness to diversity” measure with a range of 0-160.
For the future, Americans are still strongly divided as to what to do about diversity and the racialized inequality we currently see.
We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in. The original of this post can be found here.
Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of sexual assault. Note: The opinions expressed in this post belong to Sezin Koehler alone and should not be attributed to anyone involved with Project Unbreakable.
Robin Thicke’s summer hit Blurred Lines addresses what he considers to be sounds like a grey area between consensual sex and assault. The images in this post place the song into a real-life context. They are from Project Unbreakable, an online photo essay exhibit, and feature images of women and men holding signs with sentences that their rapist said before, during, or after their assault. Let’s begin.
I know you want it.
Thicke sings “I know you want it,” a phrase that many sexual assault survivors report their rapists saying to justify their actions, as demonstrated over and over in the Project Unbreakable testimonials.
You’re a good girl.
Thicke further sings “You’re a good girl,” suggesting that a good girl won’t show her reciprocal desire (if it exists). This becomes further proof in his mind that she wants sex: for good girls, silence is consent and “no” really means “yes.”
Calling an adult a “good girl” in this context resonates with the the virgin/whore dichotomy. The implication in Blurred Lines is that because the woman is not responding to a man’s sexual advances, which of course are irresistible, she’s hiding her true sexual desire under a facade of disinterest. Thicke is singing about forcing a woman to perform both the good girl and bad girl roles in order to satisfy the man’s desires.
Thicke and company, as all-knowing patriarchs, will give her what he knows she wants (sex), even though she’s not actively consenting, and she may well be rejecting the man outright.
Do it like it hurt, do it like it hurt, what you don’t like work?
This lyric suggests that women are supposed to enjoy pain during sex or that pain is part of sex:
The woman’s desires play no part in this scenario – except insofar as he projects whatever he pleases onto her — another parallel to the act of rape: sexual assault is generally not about sex, but rather about a physical and emotional demonstration of power.
The way you grab me.
Must wanna get nasty.
This is victim-blaming. Everybody knows that if a woman dances with a man it means she wants to sleep with him, right? And if she wears a short skirt or tight dress she’s asking for it, right? And if she even smiles at him it means she wants it, right? Wrong. A dance, an outfit, a smile — sexy or not — does not indicate consent. This idea, though, is pervasive and believed by rapists.
And women, according to Blurred Lines, want to be treated badly.
Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you.
He don’t smack your ass and pull your hair like that.
In this misogynistic fantasy, a woman doesn’t want a “square” who’ll treat her like a human being and with respect. She would rather be degraded and abused for a man’s gratification and amusement, like the women who dance around half naked humping dead animals in the music video.
The piècede résistance of the non-censored version of Blurred Lines is this lyric:
I’ll give you something to tear your ass in two.
What better way to show a woman who’s in charge than violent, non-consensual sodomy?
Ultimately, Robin Thicke’s rape anthem is about male desire and male dominance over a woman’s personal sexual agency. The rigid definition of masculinity makes the man unable to accept the idea that sometimes his advances are not welcome. Thus, instead of treating a woman like a human being and respecting her subjectivity, she’s relegated to the role of living sex doll whose existence is naught but for the pleasure of a man.
In Melinda Hugh’s Lame Lines parody of Thicke’s song she sings, “You think I want it/ I really don’t want it/ Please get off it.” The Law Revue Girls “Defined Lines” response to Blurred Lines notes, “Yeah we don’t want it/ It’s chauvinistic/ You’re such a bigot.” Rosalind Peters says in her one-woman retort, “Let’s clear up something mate/ I’m here to have fun/ I’m not here to get raped.”
There are no “blurred lines.” There is only one line: consent.
At MetroTrends, John Roman and Mitchell Downey report their analysis of 4,650 FBI records of homicides in which a person killed a stranger with a handgun. They conclude that stand your ground “tilts the odds in favor of the shooter.” In SYG states, 13.6% of homicides were ruled justifiable; in non-SYG states, only 7.2% were deemed such. This is strong evidence that rulings of justifiable homicide are more likely under stand your ground.
But which homicides?
Ones similar to the one decided in favor of George Zimmerman today. A finding of “justifiable homicide” is much more common in the case of a white-on-black killing than any other kind including a white and a black person. At PBS’s request, Roman compared the likelihood of a favorable finding for the defendant in SYG and non SYG cases, consider the races of the people involved. The data is clear, compared to white-on-white crimes, stand your ground increases the likelihood of a not-guilty finding, but only when a person is accused of killing a black person.
Notice, however, that white people who kill black people are far more likely to be found not-guilty even in states without SYG and black people who kill whites are less likely to be found not-guilty regardless of state law.
It’s simple: We are already biased in favor of the white defendant and against the black victim. Stand your ground laws give jurors more leeway to give defendants the benefit of the doubt. This increase even further the chances that a white-on-black homicide will be considered justifiable because jurors will likely give that benefit of the doubt to certain kinds of defendants and not others. Stand your ground may or may not be a good law in theory but, in practice, it increases racial bias in legal outcomes.
We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in. Enjoy!
Hip-hop music is frequently described as violent and anti-law enforcement, with the implication that its artists glorify criminality. A new content analysis subtitled “Hip-Hop Artists’ Perceptions of Criminal Justice“, by criminologists Kevin Steinmetz and Howard Henderson, challenge this conclusion.
After an analysis of a random sample of hip-hop songs released on platinum-selling albums between 2000 and 2010, Steinmetz and Henderson concluded that the main law enforcement-related themes in hip-hop are not pleasure and pride in aggressive and criminal acts, but the unfairness of the criminal justice system and the powerlessness felt by those targeted by it.
Lyrics about law enforcement, for example, frequently portrayed cops as predators exercising an illegitimate power. Imprisonment, likewise, was blamed for weakening familial and community relationships and described a modern method of oppression.
Their analysis refutes the idea that hip-hop performers are embracing negative stereotypes of African American men in order to sell albums. Instead, it suggests that the genre retains the politicized messages that it was born with.
Steinmetz and Henderson offer Tupac’s “Crooked Nigga Too” (2004) as an example of a rap that emphasizes how urban Black men are treated unfairly by police.
Yo, why I got beef with police?
Ain’t that a bitch that motherfuckers got a beef with me
They make it hard for me to sleep
I wake up at the slightest peep, and my sheets are three feet deep.
The authors explain:
Police action perceived as hostile and unfair engenders an equally hostile and indignant response from Tupac, indicating a tremendous amount of disrespect for the police.
Likewise, Jay-Z, in “Pray” (2007), raps about cops who keep drugs confiscated from a dealer, emphasizing a “power dynamic in which the dealer was unfairly taken advantage of but was unable to seek redress”:
The same BM [‘‘big mover’’—a drug dealer] is pulled over by the boys dressed blue
they had their guns drawn screaming, “just move or is there something else you suggest we can do?”
He made his way to the trunk
opened it like, “huh?”
A treasure chest was removed
cops said he’ll be back next monthwhat we call corrupt, he calls payin’ dues
Henderson offers Jay-Z’s “Minority Report” as a great overall example: