Why politicians bite so much
Remember what we used to say as kids when we lost a foot race to another kid wearing new Nikes or Pro-Keds? "His shoes made him run fast." It wasn't that he was a fast kid, who happened to have new shoes. It was the shoes that gave him the speed, we thought.
OK, now try this one on: Let's say that I have detected a pattern of single family homes catching fire in the ABC neighborhood. Not every home in the area catches fire. But among those that do, the result of the fires has been that each flaming house was doused with water, which caused severe water damage to each property.
Do you (A) demand an investigation into why houses in the ABC neighborhood are suffering so much water damage? Or do you (B) demand to know what all the damaged houses have in common that causes them to catch fire, and why it is that some houses in the burn zone are unscathed?
Please, please, please tell me your answer is "B." But sadly, if your answer was "A" you are not alone.
A few weeks ago in my former home state of Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle formed a panel to study and investigate why so many state prison inmates are black and why the numbers are disproportionately high to the state's black population.
I'm not naive. I know that this country has had a history of unbalanced sentencing for criminal behavior. I know that there are people in jail today in some places who might have gotten probation for certain offenses if they'd been sentenced in other places. One need only turn to New York City in the mid- to late 1980s to see how crack or rock cocaine dealers were sentenced to lengthy, mandatory prison sentences, while powder cocaine dealers were sentenced to significantly lighter punishments. I know that the criminal justice system has treated black males more harshly in many places than white males who commit the same crimes.
It's not a felony matter. But I remember in college being pulled over by a cop (a black cop, not that it matters) who ordered me to pull what he said were illegal custom tint panels off my tail lights and headlights. I later fought it and won, 'cause like I'd tried to tell him my tint panels had been made to state specs and were very much legal. Anyway, I cut my fingers to shreds pulling those things off my lights. But my alternative at the moment, the cop said, was to leave the panels on and he'd have my truck towed. Fast-forward a couple of weeks. On the same strip of road I'm riding in the passenger seat of a buddy whose vehicle has illegal limo-tinted windows - so dark, it's like they're painted black. After scolding my buddy for the tint, the officer sent us on our way.
The answer, folks, is not to lighten one group's punishment to even things out. If Fred got away with murder, and Joe got 20 to life for murder, don't let Joe go. Give Fred 20 to life and put him in the cell next door to Joe.
But another answer lies in what we study and investigate about the commission of crime. Sure sentencing disparities bother me. But it bothers me even more that so many young guys are doing things that get them locked up in the first place.
I'm sure Gov. Doyle means well with his panel studying sentencing disparities. But I'd much rather see a panel studying why so many young men test the criminal waters at an early age, what are they missing at home, who and what are influencing them as children, what value systems are they being instilled with? I want a related panel to study the kid in a depressed neighborhood who doesn't do crime, and instead gets good grades and goes to college.
I want to see fewer young men end up in gated communities. But it's even more important that before they even get inside we make sure they and their parents have AND use the tools they need to develop a strong sense of right and wrong and good and bad and to be productive and stay on the right side of the law.
OK, I'm done. That's my grandfatherly rant for the day.