Engulfed by crime, many blacks once agitated for more police and harsher penalties

150914_r26992-320Kelefa Sanneh at The New Yorker:

Coates’s two books show how twinned fears of crime and punishment can be mutually reinforcing: how the historic failure of the police to keep African-Americans safe from violence can make police excesses all the more appalling. The police killing of Prince Jones was, surely, that much more disturbing to a man who remembered that when he was a boy the police had failed to protect his friend Craig. For some reformers, the key is retraining police officers to minimize violence. But Coates and Alexander warn against this kind of meliorist thinking. “A reform that begins with the officer on the beat is not reform at all,” Coates has written. To many Black Lives Matter activists, the phrase “state monopoly on violence” probably sounds more like a threat than like a reassurance.

Crime statistics in Baltimore are complicated: in the decades since Coates was a boy, murders declined, but so did the city’s population. In general, though, American crime rates have fallen since the early nineteen-nineties, and the nation’s imprisoned population—while extraordinarily high, by global standards—seems to have stopped increasing. As for police killings, each one is tragic, and each unjustified one is outrageous; police departments in Europe, for instance, are vastly less likely to kill. But there is no evidence that we are living through a modern epidemic.

more here.