I was prepared to dislike this piece by Orlando Patterson on Jena, O.J., and the Jailing of Black America. But that was before I'd read the story. Let that be a lesson!
Patterson recounts the various sins of racist America and its effects on its black population. But the, about halfway through, Patterson's piece takes an unexpected turn:
Part of the answer is a law enforcement system that unfairly focuses on drug offenses and other crimes more likely to be committed by blacks, combined with draconian mandatory sentencing and an absurdly counterproductive retreat from rehabilitation as an integral method of dealing with offenders. An unrealistic fear of crime that is fed in part by politicians and the press, a tendency to emphasize punitive measures and old-fashioned racism are all at play here.
But there is another equally important cause: the simple fact that young black men commit a disproportionate number of crimes, especially violent crimes, which cannot be attributed to judicial bias, racism or economic hardships. The rate at which blacks commit homicides is seven times that of whites.
Patterson uses several incidents as examples of the breakdown in relationships between black men and women and says that it is this breakdown in relationships and families that has led to the sorry state of black America.
Black relationships and families fail at high rates because women increasingly refuse to put up with this abuse. The resulting absence of fathers — some 70 percent of black babies are born to single mothers — is undoubtedly a major cause of youth delinquency.
The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face — the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children’s care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods — all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.
Patterson doesn't mention that welfare and various other programs for the poor are a large part of the reason black women aren't married to the fathers of their children. This isn't, btw an endorsement of marrying one's abuser, but a fact that single-parent households almost always make far less than two-parent households. And two parents are better able to care for their children than one parent.
There's a lot of talk about how to "fix" the problems of black America. The crime rate is too high and opportunities too low. But most organizations that deal with poverty will tell you that the most important criteria for getting out of poverty is the desire to do so.