Tag Archives: Ben Peterson

Monday Morning Moment – Steps Forward in “We the People” Becoming True for All Americans

Photo Credit: Flickr, gnuckx

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it…”from The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson

We are coming off a very different 4th of July (Independence Day) weekend here in the US. Protests are continuing into a second month following the killing of George Floyd. Violence erupting, in cities like Atlanta and Chicago, has taken more lives.

Confederate monuments in our city are coming down, but until they do, they are the focal points of what is going on here. Public reaction to George Floyd’s death and the racial injustices of decades past.

What can we do? What can be done in our country to right these wrongs or, at the very least, prevent future wrongs? With more than sad and angry words spray-painted on signs and statues. [Please don’t hear me say anything other than that…the change may need to start right here…right here on Monument Avenue…but it has to continue from here to wherever we all live, work, and go to school…]

Ben Peterson, a brilliant doctoral student in political science, recently published a definitive essay on this topic, entitled Social Control and Human Dignity.

I quote heavily from his article below, but if you can tackle the whole of his scholarly piece, please do. If you don’t have the time or choose not to take time to read the quotes below, then please read my own bullet points on his take (and that of Dr. Glenn Loury). Dr. Loury, by the way, is an esteemed educator, a professor of social sciences and economics at Brown University. He writes prolifically on both economy and on race. I am thankful to have found his voice recently.Photo Credit: Dr. Glenn Loury, Wikimedia Commons

My takeaways from Ben Peterson’s article:

  • Violent crime is a serious social problem, but punishment alone (especially through mass incarceration) will not alter our course as a country…or keep all our communities safer. In fact, such punishment with no other provision/recourse is damaging to those communities who bear the brunt of mass incarceration.
  • We must hold people accountable for criminal behavior, but with dignity and humanity. We have responsibility in this to assure laws and punishments are fair, and to search out any elements of racism in our laws and punishment.
  • We can strive for the perspective of “we, us, and our” in thinking of persons and communities, instead of “they, them, and their”. In so doing, we press for laws and punishments that we can morally support for our own brothers, husbands, and sons…and that of our neighbors.
  • If a community is struggling, we must treat it as our own, not seeking only punishment for crime, but also developing pathways for restoring those previously incarcerated fully back into their families and neighborhoods. Listening to the leaders in these communities is priority. They live there; they know the strengths; they know the needs.
  • We put reforms in place for law enforcement and education, such that we all benefit from the best our country has to offer. No matter how vulnerable our community is.
  • Racial indifference is not an option for us, if we truly care for our neighbors and this country.

Those were my takeaways. Below you will find some of the powerful and salient quotes from Ben Peterson’s article. I hope I get to vote for him some day.

“…young black men commit a disproportionate amount of the violent crime that persists in this country. That fact surely helps explain why police disproportionately apply force against black men and interact with black men. It also helps explain why our prisons disproportionately house black men. That’s a critical point, but I don’t think we can stop there.”

“…we as a society have chosen to deal, or perhaps not deal, with the persistence of crime in poor black communities.”

“…violent crime is a much greater threat to black lives than police violence, by the numbers.”

“[Loury] argues that our method of social control has damaging effects on many of our communities and the people whose lives the criminal justice system touches, effects disparately borne in poor black communities. These effects are such to make the method of social control we have adopted a systemic injustice that demands the attention of policymakers and leaders around the country. Loury’s analysis is distinguished from others in that he insists on applying moral categories and acknowledging personal agency. He sees the problem in its multidimensional entirety: not simply as a crime or mass incarceration problem, but a problem of social control and ultimately human development. He calls us to a greater sense of social responsibility than our policy since the 1970s has exhibited. We should heed his message.

“…part of treating people with respect and dignity is to hold them accountable for their behavior. One theme in [Loury’s] analysis of race and inequality is that black people have agency and are not mere victims of systemic racism. This is a deeply humane argument, for to deny a person’s agency is to deny his humanity. Loury argues that black leaders and communities have to exercise this agency and find a way to effectively condemn and control immoral behavior in their own communities.”

“While he insists on personal agency and accountability for behavior in black communities, he does not absolve the larger polity of responsibility for the ills of high-crime black communities. He insists that Americans need to shift our thinking, so that we don’t treat the problems of poor black communities as the problems of “those people.” He argues that racism played a role in the development of our policy of social control.”

“…systemic injustice, or a social injustice, [is] a legal and accepted social practice that fails, on a wide scale, to render to each person his or her due…our incarceration system and treatment of people formerly incarcerated, fails to adequately respect the human dignity of prisoners, former prisoners, and their families and communities.

“The charge of injustice is based not on the fact of punishment, but on the reality that the total result of our method of social control is a failure to prevent crime in many communities, a failure to rehabilitate offenders and integrate them back into society, and a failure to leave poor minority communities better off…That argument is certainly debatable, but I would at least submit that many white people don’t see struggling black communities as our own communities.

Racial indifferenceThe problem is not so much with what we do as what we fail to do, which is to allow for the human development of many people and communities, overly relying on a punitive justice system to control the results of social dysfunction.”

“First, we need reforms in the justice system to encourage more dignified treatment of suspects, prisoners, and the communities who the system affects.”

“…find and amplify what’s working well in high-crime communities, offer models for consideration. We may need public funding and more involvement on the part of community members, especially churches and other institutions, in similar efforts aimed at strengthening those bedrock institutions in struggling communities.”

“We need to give more attention to our educational institutions and finding real solutions for lagging academic performance.”

“While we cannot ignore the behavioral problems of the so-called black underclass, we should discuss and react to those problems as if we were talking about our own children, neighbors, and friends. It will require adjusting ways of thinking on both sides of the racial divide. Achieving a well-ordered society, where all members are embraced as being among us, should be the goal. Our failure to do so is an American tragedy. It is a national, not merely a communal, disgrace. Changing the definition of the American “we” is a first step toward rectifying the relational discrimination that afflicts our society, and it is the best path forward in reducing racial inequality.Glenn Loury

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Finally, I want to close with a story about a person very dear to me who found himself on the wrong side of the law. As a young man, he got swept up into drug addiction (naive in ways at the recreational use of drugs and then too soon addicted). Without details, he would make some choices, affecting no one but himself, that would lead to him being charged with a felony. Even with the best legal counsel money could afford, he ended up with a felony conviction. He served some jail time, but he never had to go to prison. Again, thanks to financial support that allowed for a drug rehab program rather than incarceration. He benefited greatly from the rehab program where he was treated with dignity and respect. Unless the laws in his state change, he will be considered a felon the rest of his life…not right. There’s too much “not right” in our country, but not so much that “we the people” can’t work toward change.

The Glenn Show – Glenn Loury and John McWhorter and Others“make space for serious people of all races interested in understanding and discussing problems of race, police, and crime in a holistic way that does not force them to deny obvious facts.”

Embrace Communities – “strengthening and empowering communities from the inside out” – love this organization’s ABCD methodology of community development [What organizations can you recommend to us? Comment please.]

[Below is a short video on anti-racism. I found it helpful.]