How Emphasis on Race Hurts Efforts to Reform Municipal Courts

My story on the Justice Department’s Ferguson report addressed race early. .

So let’s have a little blunt talk about race from a West County white guy’s point of view (which is alway helpful).

Faction A and Faction B #

Whenever race comes up, two large factions shut down. They shut down intellectually because ‘race’ touches an irrational, emotional nerve.

Faction A views every issue as a race problem. They see rain at a picnic as racist. They see horse racing as racist. They see the neighbor’s barking dog as racism, even if the dog and its owner are black. Doesn’t matter. Anything that bothers them must have racism as its cause. This group assumed Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown because Michael Brown is black, and no evidence in the world will change their minds.

Faction B views every problem as a false accusation of racism. If Faction B sees a KKK member burning a cross, it  blame the race-mongers for putting Section 8 housing where some gentleman needed to start a fire. This group believes every time a police officer shoots someone, arrests someone, or pulls over someone, the police action was justified and necessary. No. Matter. What. This tweet, in response to yesterday’s headline, is a perfect example of Faction B reaction:

print it out and use for toilet paper in an emergency. .@whennessy

— LoneStar (@Lonestar357) March 8, 2015

As soon as either faction hears “race,” it exits the conversation. They leave the conversation because the word triggers a default script in their minds. Everything to them is literally black or white.

And these are two really big factions. Both factions are so big that united they can do anything and divided they can stop everything.

If we hope to resolve the problems of police and courts shaking down citizens, we must unite these two factions. But declaring any problem a racial problem divides these two factions.

So what’s the solution?

I don’t have the full answer, but I know it starts with leadership, because all problems are leadership problems.

Leaders must rise above the race card. That’s not to say leaders ignore racial problems. It means leaders accept the racial factors involve, then address the causes of the problem.

Let’s use Ferguson as an example.

Race and Ferguson #

I recognize that race is a factor in Ferguson, and I said as much in yesterday’s post. But gazing at the race problem does nothing but satisfy Faction A (“I told you so”) and irritating the Faction B (“There they go again.") Real leaders must acknowledge the obvious: abusive courts and fine-wielding police in Ferguson disproportionally hurt African-Americans.

And that’s where the racial conversation must end.

Blaming Ferguson’s problems on race is like blaming a cavity on tooth decay. The decay is the thing you can see, but the cavity didn’t cause itself. Bad hygiene and diet and maybe a little genetics caused the problem. While drilling and filling the cavity will stop the pain, the next tooth over will soon rot.

In Ferguson, the problem is government. The people in government who created the problem did not decide “let’s mess with the black people.” They decided, “let’s use the police and courts to pull in more money.” Black people disproportionately got in the way of that money grab. The money grab, not racism, caused distrust of the police and courts. Since the police and courts are mostly white and the people mostly black, race was a factor in the result, not necessarily in the cause.

Put another way, there is no racial remedy for what’s wrong in Ferguson, but fixing Ferguson will disproportionately benefit African-Americans. And that’s a good thing.

Seize the Blessing | Ignore the Curse #

Leaders must want to fix the problem, not be proven right about its cause. Addressing the real problem of overextended municipal government and unprincipled leaders like Judge Ronald Brockmeyer will alleviate the  most obvious race problem of poor blacks going to jail and getting poorer.

The Justice Department’s report on Ferguson was both a blessing and a curse. The blessing was pointing out how corrupt and destructive is the practice of “taxation by citation,” to use Senator Eric Schmitt’s fantastic phrase. The curse of the DOJ report was its over-emphasis on race as a cause.

If our leaders focus on the blessing in the DOJ report, we can unite the factions and do anything that needs to be done. Unity will improve the race problem. But admiring the problem does nothing.