I’ve always found it hard to understand why people from minority communities often seem to be more concerned about police misconduct than about crime. Like the victims of police misconduct, crime victims are disproportionately likely to be black or hispanic, and they are far more numerous and include a far higher percentage of women, children and the elderly. For both of those reasons–and also because crime has such harmful collateral effects on minority communities–on the face of things, crime would appear to be a much more urgent problem than police misconduct.
Much to my surprise, a recent piece by Bloomberg columnist Megan McArdle about the #MeToo movement has helped me understand this seeming paradox. Here’s the part that opened my eyes (emphasis added):
The pontificators (… including me) are struggling to articulate solutions. …
[We know] that whatever lines are drawn and penalties are applied could wreck the lives of our friends, our relatives, our spouses, ourselves. And yet, if they aren’t applied, people like us will also suffer. Perhaps we are getting an inkling of the complex attitudes about crime and policing in minority communities that are eager to reduce crime, but also, somewhat paradoxically, to protect the lives of the husbands and brothers and sons who commit it.
It’s an opportunity for a sheltered elite to make a broad reassessment of how we think about all sorts of malefactors. The discussion of sexual harassment and campus rape neatly inverts the normal ideological stances on justice: Conservatives suddenly become very worried about what overzealous enforcement might do to the lives of the accused, while feminists — who in all other areas can be counted on to defend the rights of the accused against the power of the state — suddenly forget tedious niceties like due process. In both cases, these positions are driven by empathy, which is commendable. But in both cases, the empathy remains one-sided; they have merely switched the side they care about.
People who live among both criminals and victims don’t have the abstract luxury of hoarding all their empathy for one side of the discussion. And as it turns out, we all are those people.