There are too many guns in the U.S.!

March 24, 2021 • 12:30 pm

When I write about gun control, I know that I’ll get substantial pushback on either this site or on email. Americans love their guns, and can give many reasons why they should have them (including  semiautomatic weapons).

These reasons include the Second Amendment, which has, in my view, been misinterpreted by the courts to allow nearly anyone to have guns, handguns, assault rifles, and the ability to open carry. All that to ensure “a well regulated militia”!  But we no longer have militias!

I’ve always advocated for strict gun control—along the lines of Britain or even Scotland—as a way to reduce homicides in the U.S. The counterarguments I hear include the famous mantra “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns: the idea that making guns harder to buy will ensure that only criminals will have guns. But there are a slew of other arguments for why loose gun control in America isn’t responsible for mass shootings, some of them addressed in the NYT column below. These include the claim that the U.S. is an especially violent nation, is full of mentally ill people who commit mass shootings, have racial divisions that exacerbate homicides, and so on. Those arguments now appear to hold no water.

We already know that private ownership of guns causes the deaths of far more innocent people than of home invaders or other miscreants. We also know that the U.S. leads the world in per capita gun ownership (see below), with nearly as many guns (270 million) as people (328 million, but that includes kids and the aged).

The column below (click on screenshot) attacks the notion that the ease of gun ownership in the U.S. has nothing to do with the huge number of mass shootings. And it dispels the claims that other peculiarities of American culture are the real reason for mass shootings.

This plot shows the total number of guns per country and how much of an outlier we are in both the number of mass shootings and the number of guns:

Below: the correlation between per capita gun ownership and per capita number of mass shooters. Now if you remove Yemen (which has even more mass shootings per capita) as well as the U.S., there might not be a statistical correlation, but the analysis in the article apparently shows that there is, and it isn’t due to complicating factors like an American “culture of violence”.

Here are some data and citations from the article (quotes are indented). You can check the sources for yourself; I haven’t read them.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

. . . Worldwide, Mr. Lankford found, a country’s rate of gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting. This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating that it could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country. And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that mass shootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by its baseline level of violence.

. . . More gun ownership corresponds with more gun murders across virtually every axis: among developed countries, among American states, among American towns and cities and when controlling for crime rates. And gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders, according to a recent analysis of 130 studies from 10 countries.

Other factors that didn’t correlate with mass homicides included suicide rates (well, there are fewer mass shootings in countries with higher suicide rate), playing video games, racial diversity, general amount of criminal behavior (though American crime is “simply more lethal” than that in other developed countries), or mental health issues.

And here’s a comparison with China, suggesting that the lethality of weapons makes a difference in the homicide rate, at least in this case:

In China, about a dozen seemingly random attacks on schoolchildren killed 25 people between 2010 and 2012. Most used knives; none used a gun.

By contrast, in this same window, the United States experienced five of its deadliest mass shootings, which killed 78 people. Scaled by population, the American attacks were 12 times as deadly.

The authors of the NYT piece,, Max Fisher and Josh Keller, note that even in countries with high gun ownership, like Switzerland—second only to the U.S. among in gun ownership among developed countries—which has a higher than average rate of homicides, it’s still only a fraction of the U.S. rate (in Switzerland it’s 7.7 per million people; in the U.S. it’s 33). The authors add at the end that “The United States is only one of three countries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with. . . . the assumption that people have an inherent right to own guns.”  That’s again pretty scary for us, but many Americans cling to the wonky interpretation of the Second Amendment.  It would be nice if the courts interpreted the amendment as I believe (as do others) it was intended.

According to this article, if you want reduce mass homicides in America, regulate our guns. There’s no sign that pervasive gun ownerships keeps America (or gun owners) safer, and lots of people get killed as a byproduct of “legal” gun ownership (viz., children, domestic disputes, and, of course, the mass killers). Reports of mass killings seem to be almost a monthly event now. Most Americans want stricter controls on guns. It’s only the NRA and the Republican Party that are preventing enacting the will of the people.

The article ends with a sad prognostication:

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

It should not be bearable. When I was a kid, we had “nuclear attack drills”, when we would pretend the Russians were bombing us and we’d hide under our desks. Those days are gone; now they have “mass shooter drills.”

Bret Stephens in the toaster

March 23, 2021 • 9:30 am

For a while, NYT columnist Bret Stephens has had, as the saying goes, “One foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave.” The banana peel is his columns, which are not only semi-conservative in politics, but also against the policies of the paper itself. (For example, Stephens wrote a column criticizing Dean Baquet’s views on the n-word, with Baquet arguing that uttering the word in any circumstance was a grave journalistic misstep, and “intent didn’t matter”.  Stephens’s column got spiked and then was published in The New York Post.) At the time I wrote that Stephens was “bucking for a pink slip” from his newspaper. The pink slip (or a resignation) is the grave.

That pink slip is closer to arrival now that Stephens has published another contrarian column in his paper.  In this case he will anger his editors in three ways:

a. Stephens calls out the ideological bias of casting the Atlanta spa murders as Asian “hate crimes,” saying that there’s no evidence for that. While that’s true, and while federal prosecutors have so far seen no evidence for a “hate” charge, this doesn’t matter. All the protestors seem to already know the motive. It’s a sign of the times that saying we need more evidence for such a motivation, especially when there is none, is regarded as a racist view.

b. Stephens goes against the way his own paper, as well as others, have reported on the crime, emphasizing over and over again its roots in hatred of Asians. While this is likely true for other attacks on Asians, it may well not be true for the mass shooting in Atlanta. As Andrew Sullivan wrote of the NYT last Friday,

Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran nine — nine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny.

I believe the count is now closer to a dozen. Stephens, of course, won’t mention this, as they’d either spike the column or make him leave that out.

c. Stephens notes that many (I estimate at least half, though the media tends to hide this fact) of the recent assaults on Asians were done by people of color, mostly African-Americans (see some data below). This goes against the Critical Race Theory view that now dominates the New York Times.

How long will Stephens be allowed to stay on? (I suspect he’s already a pariah in the newsroom.) And will he move to Substack, the refuge for journalists expelled by the Woke? We shall see. It would be odd of the paper didn’t have any  conservative columnists, though!

Click on the screenshot to read the piece; it’s not long.

And here’s what he says about a) and c), though he doesn’t go after his paper explicitly:

The ideological bias:

And the motive, while still requiring scrutiny, is confessed: The killer claims to have been struggling with a sex addiction at odds with his evangelical beliefs. According to The Associated Press, “All three businesses where people were fatally shot Tuesday have detailed recent reviews on an online site that leads users to places that provide sexual services.”

So how do we get headlines like “The Atlanta Spa Shootings and the Year of Hatred Against Asian Americans” on a news story from U.S. News & World Report? And why has reporting of the incident by so many news outlets emphasized the race of six of the victims when there is, as yet, only one rumored bit of evidence (in a South Korean newspaper) that the victims were attacked on account of their race?

The reason is that we have two things that, separately, are important and true, but that are being dubiously conjoined for reasons of ideological convenience.

The two things are:

1.) Hate crimes against Asian-Americans are on the rise, at least in 16 U.S. cities, and have risen by 149% in 2020 over previous years, while hate crimes in general have decreased 7%. This clearly shows (given that the sample size isn’t terribly small) that there’s a significantly disproportionate increase in hate crimes against Asians during the pandemic.

2.) Donald Trump “stoked anti-immgrant hatreds that very likely contributed to the 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the 2019 massacre at a Walmart in El Paso.” And don’t forget his incessant references to the “China virus” and the “Kung Flu.”

And Stephen’s lesson, which will irritate his editors most:

But if the news media should have learned one thing over the past 20 years, it’s to be exceptionally wary of trying to map one truth onto another for the sake of a compelling narrative.

. . . Now we have a rising rate of anti-Asian hate crimes, and a horrific crime in which the perpetrator is white and most of his victims were of Asian descent (although two were white). The powerful ideological temptation is to treat this as yet another shooting in the vein of Pittsburgh and El Paso — or, as one CNN headline put it, “White Supremacy and Hate Are Haunting Asian-Americans.”

Tempting — but mostly baseless. The same study that found last year’s rise in anti-Asian hate crimes also notes that the overall incidence of these crimes is relatively small, both in absolute numbers (122 incidents in 2020, out of a total of 1,717 hate crimes), and compared with other victimized groups. It should go without saying that one hate crime is one too many, but even though reports of these incidents may be a small fraction of the overall crimes, proportions matter.

And while data about the identity of perpetrators is hard to come by, the New York Police Department did keep tabs last year. It found that out of the 20 anti-Asian hate crimes in which arrests were made, two arrestees were white, five were white Hispanic, two were Black Hispanic, and the rest were Black.

Well, had I been Stephens, I would have left out the argument that the overall incidence of crimes is small, as it looks like an attempt to minimize something that angers a lot of people. Yes, it’s true that hate crimes occur less often than most people think, but that’s not all that relevant here. What is relevant is that more blacks than whites committed hate crimes against Asians, and that the proportion of blacks who commit hate crimes on Asians is twice their proportion in the population. This definitely contradicts the white supremacy trope wielded by CRT, and explains, I think, why it’s hard to find from news reports the ethnicity of those committing hate crimes on Asians.

As I wrote a few days ago:

Here’s some data from 2018 on the proportion of different groups who were subject to violent crime, and the ethnicities of the criminal. These were tweeted by Wilfred Reilly. Now the data are three years old, and don’t reflect the uptick in crimes on Asians that’s said to have occurred. At least back then, Asians were not predominantly assaulted by Whites, but Whites, Blacks, and other Asians assaulted Asians with roughly equal frequency.

In 2019, the total population percentage of these groups from Census statistics were:

White: 76.3%
Black: 13.4%
Hispanic: 18.5%
Asian:  5.9%

Stephens does refer to hate crimes from 2020, but only in New York City:

And while data about the identity of perpetrators is hard to come by, the New York Police Department did keep tabs last year. It found that out of the 20 anti-Asian hate crimes in which arrests were made, two arrestees were white, five were white Hispanic, two were Black Hispanic, and the rest were Black.

What can one conclude from this limited data? Not a lot, except that the idea that white supremacy is what haunts Asian-Americans rests on empirically thin ice. Like so much else in public discourse today, it’s another capital-T ideological Truth in search of lower-case-t factual truths to validate its predetermined, overstretched hypotheses. That it has the laudable goal of “raising awareness” and “combating hate” does not relieve journalists of the responsibility to report facts scrupulously, not play to fears in the service of a higher good.

His indictment of journalism is, of course, an indictment of the New York Times as well, as is his last sentence, which he adds after saying that people also want to know how the perp was able to buy his gun on the day of the killing, how religious fanaticism can lead to such a killing, and why local authorities overlook the sex trade that goes on in spas.

All of this would be journalism in which the public could have confidence. Instead we have morality plays.

The toast is burning. . .

Here: we’ll have a poll.

Is Bret Stephens going to be fired or resign from the NYT this year?

View Results

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h/t: Carl

Sullivan on the Atlanta “hate crime”

March 20, 2021 • 12:00 pm

Yesterday I discussed the murder of 8 people, six of them Asian women working in spas, by accused killer Robert Aaron Long. What prompted me to write was the assertion, against all the evidence, that the crime must be a “hate crime” motivated by an animus against Asians. This, speculated many, was simply another in the rash of assaults on Asians in the last year, many of which seem to come from blaming Asian-Americans for the coronavirus.

What made this crime different was not only the lack of a “hate” motive—the accused perp told the police that he was trying to eliminate the temptation of sex, as he apparently, against his religious beliefs, sought sex from those two spas—but the fact that it was a mass killing. The mainstream media and college administrators immediately sent out messages of solidarity with Asians, as this seemed to be the last straw in a string of xenophobic violence.

It may well be true that the previous assaults were indeed “hate crimes”—it’s really hard to judge motive if the perp doesn’t admit it or there’s other evidence—but in this one there’s no hard evidence of bigotry, and pretty strong evidence instead of violence derived from a twisted, religion-inspired cognitive dissonance, with the murdered women being Asian because Asians provided sex in convenient spas. The crime itself is absolutely reprehensible, leaving the families and loved ones of eight people bereft. But it gets worse if the crime is sold as a “hate crime” when it’s not, for that gets an entire community of Americans scared and feeling ostracized. This is why the media needs to report responsibly, emphasizing the difference between what we know and what we don’t.  They did not.

As of now, we don’t have a really solid idea of motive, but what we know goes against the narrative that this was a crime of hatred and bigotry. Nevertheless, as I maintained, some people seem to want it to be a hate crime. In his big piece on the Weekly Dish, Andrew Sullivan goes further and argues that people want it that way because it fits a convenient narrative of “social justice”: oppression, divisiveness, and hatred.

Click on the screenshot to read his column, though it may be paywalled. (I subscribe.) Of all the Substack columns you can subscribe to, I find Sullivan’s and John McWhorter’s the best so far, as Bari Weiss is still finding her feet in this venue. Glenn Greenwald is too splenetic, and also seems to hammer the same few topics over and over.

Sullivan, who follows the “mainstream media” (MSM) far more than I, agrees that Long’s motive was unclear, but doesn’t point towards “hate”. And he uses the MSM’s slant in that direction to indict it for abandoning objectivity:

. . . this story has also been deeply instructive about our national discourse and the state of the American mainstream and elite media. This story’s coverage is proof, it seems to me, that American journalists have officially abandoned the habit of attempting any kind of “objectivity” in reporting these stories. We are now in the enlightened social justice world of “moral clarity” and “narrative-shaping.”

Here’s the truth: We don’t yet know why this man did these horrible things. It’s probably complicated, or, as my therapist used to say, “multi-determined.” That’s why we have thorough investigations and trials in America. We only have one solid piece of information as to motive, which is the confession by the mass killer to law enforcement: that he was a religious fundamentalist who was determined to live up to chastity and repeatedly failed, as is often the case. Like the 9/11 bombers or the mass murderer at the Pulse nightclub, he took out his angst on the source of what he saw as his temptation, and committed mass murder. This is evil in the classic fundamentalist sense: a perversion of religion and sexual repression into violence.

We have yet to find any credible evidence of anti-Asian hatred or bigotry in this man’s history. Maybe we will. We can’t rule it out. But we do know that his roommates say they once asked him if he picked the spas for sex because the women were Asian. And they say he denied it, saying he thought those spas were just the safest way to have quick sex. That needs to be checked out more. But the only piece of evidence about possible anti-Asian bias points away, not toward it.

What the media did, and it’s quite unbalanced, if not mendacious:

And yet. Well, you know what’s coming. Accompanying one original piece on the known facts, the NYT ran nine — nine! — separate stories about the incident as part of the narrative that this was an anti-Asian hate crime, fueled by white supremacy and/or misogyny. Not to be outdone, the WaPo ran sixteen separate stories on the incident as an antiAsian white supremacist hate crimeSixteen! One story for the facts; sixteen stories on how critical race theory would interpret the event regardless of the facts. For good measure, one of their columnists denounced reporting of law enforcement’s version of events in the newspaper, because it distracted attention from the “real” motives. Today, the NYT ran yet another full-on critical theory piece disguised as news on how these murders are proof of structural racism and sexism — because some activists say they are.

That last link, which appears to be a “news” rather than an “opinion” piece, is particularly invidious, as it blithely assumes that the killing was inspired by the intersection of racism and misogyny, when in fact it could have been something completely different.

And the woke weigh in:

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the most powerful journalist at the New York Times, took to Twitter in the early morning of March 17 to pronounce: “Last night’s shooting and the appalling rise in anti-Asian violence stem from a sick society where nationalism has been stoked and normalized.” Ibram Kendi tweeted: “Locking arms with Asian Americans facing this lethal wave of anti-Asian terror. Their struggle is my struggle. Our struggle is against racism and White Supremacist domestic terror.”

When the cops reported the killer’s actual confession, left-Twitter went nuts. One gender studies professor recited the litany: “The refusal to name anti-Asianess [sic], racism, white supremacy, misogyny, or class in this is whiteness doing what it always does around justifying its death-dealing … To ignore the deeply racist and misogynistic history of hypersexualization of Asian women in this ‘explication’ from law enforcement of what emboldened this killer is also a willful erasure.”

In The Root, the real reason for the murders was detailed: “White supremacy is a virus that, like other viruses, will not die until there are no bodies left for it to infect. Which means the only way to stop it is to locate it, isolate it, extract it, and kill it.”

Trevor Noah insisted that the killer’s confession was self-evidently false: “You killed six Asian people. Specifically, you went there. Your murders speak louder than your words. What makes it even more painful is that we saw it coming. We see these things happening. People have been warning, people in the Asian communities have been tweeting, they’ve been saying, ‘Please help us. We’re getting punched in the street. We’re getting slurs written on our doors.’” Noah knew the killer’s motive more surely than the killer himself.

I’m loath to quote too much of Sullivan, as you should read him on his site, not here (only $50 per year), but I’ll give two more excerpts:

What you see here is social justice ideology insisting, as [NYT editor] Dean Baquet temporarily explained, that intent doesn’t matter. What matters is impact. The individual killer is in some ways irrelevant. His intentions are not material. He is merely a vehicle for the structural oppressive forces critical theorists believe in. And this “story” is what the media elites decided to concentrate on: the thing that, so far as we know, didn’t happen.

And an analysis:

But notice how CRT operates. The only evidence it needs it already has. Check out the identity of the victim or victims, check out the identity of the culprit, and it’s all you need to know. If the victims are white, they don’t really count. Everything in America is driven by white supremacist hate of some sort or other. You can jam any fact, any phenomenon, into this rubric in order to explain it.

The only complexity the CRT crowd will admit is multiple, “intersectional” forms of oppression: so this case is about misogyny and white supremacy. The one thing they cannot see are unique individual human beings, driven by a vast range of human emotions, committing crimes with distinctive psychological profiles, from a variety of motives, including prejudices, but far, far more complicated than that.

There’s much more, including data suggesting that assaults on Asians in general do not reflect white supremacy (there are slightly more Blacks than Whites who assault Asians despite the numerical predominance of Whites), and a summary of how the media has degenerated:

But the theory behind hate crimes law is that these crimes matter more because they terrify so many beyond the actual victim. And so it seems to me that the media’s primary role in cases like these is providing some data and perspective on what’s actually happening, to allay irrational fear. Instead they contribute to the distortion by breathlessly hyping one incident without a single provable link to any go this — and scare the bejeezus out of people unnecessarily.

The media is supposed to subject easy, convenient rush-to-judgment narratives to ruthless empirical testing. Now, for purely ideological reasons, they are rushing to promote ready-made narratives, which actually point away from the empirical facts. To run sixteen separate pieces on anti-Asian white supremacist misogynist hate based on one possibly completely unrelated incident is not journalism. It’s fanning irrational fear in the cause of ideological indoctrination. And it appears to be where all elite media is headed.

Given the kind of coverage I’ve read, which made me angry, I have to say that Sullivan is right. This is one of his better pieces, and I don’t see much to disagree with. The fact is that this one crime hasn’t fit the narrative that people demand it to fit (something I didn’t say yesterday), and so they try to force it into the Procrustean bed of the CRT narrative.

 

The rush to judgment in Atlanta

March 19, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Everybody knows that Robert Aaron Long killed 8 people in Atlanta on Tuesday, 6 of them Asian women who worked at two spas. He apparently was on his way to Florida to engage in more murders, but was fortunately caught by the cops before he could kill again. As far as we know, he wasn’t motivated to kill by hatred of Asians (see below), but it’s early days.  We also know that there are reports that genuine hate crimes against Asians have increased dramatically, said to be a form of “retribution” for the coronavirus.

In this climate, people are already characterizing the Atlanta shooting as a hate crime, even though there’s evidence that if there was hate involved, it wasn’t against a “protected group” per se, but towards women at spas whom Long paid for sex. If this is the case, the murders were not attributable to the victims being Asian per se, but to their involvement in Long’s violating his strict religious upbringing and church membership, which forbad extramarital sex.  Long had reportedly been treated for sex addiction, and, at least to the cops, said he was trying to “eliminate the temptation.”  (If this is true, it would be a case of “religion poisoning everything”, since the killing would likely not have taken place without those prohibitions).  Under Georgia law, this probably wouldn’t be a hate crime, though of course sex addiction is NOT an excuse for mass murder! What’s at issue here is whether Long was motivated by anti-Asian bias or by a twisted cognitive dissonance caused by religion and sex—or both, or something else.

As I said earlier, it seems that many people are eager to cast this as a hate crime. I’m not going to engage in psychologizing about this because that leads one down some unsavory roads. But let me say that HuffPost, at least, has managed to cast Long’s visit to Asian spas as a form of racism (see article below)—even if he wasn’t biased against Asians. (He was “fetishizing Asian women”.) But it’s not clear whether Long even did fetishize Asian women or had sex with them because they were the only ones available at spas (perhaps he abjured prostitutes working the streets).

On the NBC Evening News the night before last, they interviewed an Asian woman, and asked her, as I recall, how she knew that the crime was based on bias when there was no hard evidence for that yet. She replied that it was based on “unconscious bias” that is part of systemic racism. In other words, she claimed that a hate crime was committed when the perpetrator didn’t even know he was motivated by hatred—but she apparently did!

These are not helpful claims, since all we know so far is what Long told police and what his friends say about his religious commitment.  It’s way too early to judge this as a hate crime, much less to send out alarms about a mass murder based on anti-Asian bigotry. If that’s not the case, it’s not helpful to scare people unnecessarily.

Here are the questions I asked about this, but haven’t yet answered and probably won’t. I’ll wait for the news to answer them for me (if they ever will!).

A. Is there really an increase in the proportion of hate crimes against Asians? We know that assaults and murders of Asians have increased, but have they increased disproportionately to similar crimes committed on non-Asians? As we all know, there’s been a huge increase in violent crime, including homicide, during the pandemic. I have seen no data on the proportionality in the news, though I’m prepared to believe whatever the data say.

B. What is the racial makeup of those who attack Asians? Long is white, but we’re not sure what his motivations were. I know that some of those who have killed or assaulted Asians are Black, but it’s actually surprisingly hard to find data on this. For several reasons, though, one wants to know who, exactly, is attacking Asians. The most important is that the attacks are said by some to be motivated by “White supremacy.” Yet if most of the crimes are committed by people of color, you can’t make that claim. Further, there’s a well-known animus against Asians among many poor Blacks, for the same reason that many blacks disliked Jews—they were merchants in underserved communities and thus were perceived as exploiting people of color.

C. If there is an increase in the proportion of assaults on Asians, is it because they are Asian per se, or because they are perceived to have money and property? But I am not sure if this question is relevant to the issue of a “hate crime”, and I don’t know how one could answer it except by taking the word of a criminal.

By the way, if you know the answers to questions A and B, by all means weigh in below.

Finally, and this isn’t related to the above but did strike me: are Asian women disproportionately concentrated in sex work in spas? This seems to be the conventional wisdom, but I don’t know the data. But if it’s true, I’d like to know why. Are they driven to this by poverty, is there really a fetishization of Asian women that would cause this, or is it some custom based on where immigrant Asians have found work, perhaps based on those women being exploited?

My point is not, of course, to excuse the accused killer, but to argue that we shouldn’t rush to judgment about why he killed—especially when the evidence we do have does not point towards bigotry. That knowledge is useful in judging the extent of bigotry-based crime, which is the first step in trying to stop it. It’s also important in making sure that we don’t unnecessarily escalate fears, making those of foreign descent feel extra scared or unwelcome.

_____________________

UPDATE: Here’s some data from 2018 on the proportion of different groups who were subject to violent crime, and the ethnicities of the criminal. These were tweeted by Wilfred Reilly. Now the data are three years old, and don’t reflect the uptick in crimes on Asians that’s said to have occurred. At least back then, Asians were not predominantly assaulted by Whites, but Whites, Blacks, and other Asians assaulted Asians with roughly equal frequency.  (h/t: Luana)

In 2019, the total population percentage of these groups from Census statistics were:

White: 76.3%
Black: 13.4%
Hispanic: 18.5%
Asian:  5.9%

 

Should we retain the category of “hate crimes”?

January 19, 2021 • 12:00 pm

I’ve recently read several books on free speech, all of which emphasize a fairly strict construal of the First Amendment. That means that expressions that offend people, including “hate speech”, bigotry, and so on, while they may be offensive, are legal.

But while the verbal expression of bigotry is legal, the physical expression is not—not when it’s the motivation for a hate crime. And that got me thinking about the justifications for giving extra-harsh punishments for hate crimes. When I mention “hate crime”, I’m not referring to crimes that wouldn’t be crimes at all without the bigotry, so I’m not including Holocaust denialism or blasphemy (neither crimes in the U.S. but both in many other lands). I’m using the definition of hate crime given on the FBI website:

A hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias. For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

And here’s the FBI’s explanation of what’s considered a hate crime:

Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s civil rights program because of the devastating impact they have on families and communities. The Bureau investigates hundreds of these cases every year, and we work to detect and prevent incidents through law enforcement training, public outreach, and partnerships with community groups.

Traditionally, FBI investigations of hate crimes were limited to crimes in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin. In addition, investigations were restricted to those wherein the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity. With the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, the Bureau became authorized to also investigate crimes committed against those based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender.

We see here that the high priority for investigating hate crimes rests not on the motivation alone, that is, it’s not an explicit attempt to eliminate feelings and expressions of bigotry, which are protected by the First Amendment, but because of the higher impact such crimes are said to have on communities. They are seen as more serious crimes.

The American Psychological Association asserts that hate crimes have a disproportionately large effect on the victims themselves:

People victimized by violent hate crimes are more likely to experience more psychological distress than victims of other violent crimes. Specifically, victims of crimes that are bias-motivated are more likely to experience post-traumatic stress, safety concerns, depression, anxiety and anger than victims of crimes that are not motivated by bias.

Hate crimes send messages to members of the victim’s group that they are unwelcome and unsafe in the community, victimizing the entire group and decreasing feelings of safety and security. Furthermore, witnessing discrimination against one’s own group can lead to psychological distress and lower self-esteem.

But when thinking about hate crimes just in terms of the three valid rationales that I, as a determinist, see for punishing someone (deterrence, sequestering someone from society, and reformation), I see no obvious justification for punishing someone differently whether they, say, kill someone because he’s a Jew or kill someone because they don’t like him for non-religious reasons. Does a higher punishment for the same crime, but one motivated in part by bias, deter an offender? I doubt it, but I’m not sure we have good data on that.

In terms of sequestering someone from society, a higher punishment for hate crimes assumes that those who commit the are more dangerous than those who commit the same crime but with a non-“hate” motivation, and thus more likely to do damage if paroled at the same time. Again, I’m not aware of data on this, which this bears on the third rationale: reformation.

Is it easier to reform someone who commits a murder based on bigotry than someone who kills, say, simply for the thrill of killing? Who knows? Perhaps through treatment you can wean someone from bigotry more easily than a sociopath who simply hates people in general. Again, I’m sure we lack data.

The other issue is that for some “hate crimes” you must judge the motivations of the criminal, and ascertain that they play a significant role in the crime. Sometimes that might be easy, as in the case of a person who hates Muslims burning down a mosque (especially if you have a documented history of bias). In others that’s no so easy, but clearly we need to use a “beyond reasonable doubt” criterion for ascertaining motivation.

That might not always be easy. For example, all 20 of Ted Bundy’s victims were women. He sometimes had sex with the corpses. Other serial murderers rape women before they kill them. Is this because they are biased against women, or because part of their motivation is sex, or because they find it easier to overcome women, who are usually less powerful than men? In other words, did Bundy commit “hate crimes”? Well, in his case it hardly matters, for he was electrocuted. But for other crimes it may be hard to suss out a motivation, and we all know of criminals whose motivations are unclear.

It becomes even more difficult when bias is part of a pathology—as Bundy’s may have been. Mental illness, which can manifest itself as bigotry, is a mitigating factor for punishment, mandating psychiatric treatment instead of straight incarceration. Do you use the concept of “hate crimes” with criminals who have mental problems?

When thinking about whether an offender should be punished more strongly because he or she is motivated by bigotry, I don’t see a clear justification based on rehabilitation, sequestration, or deterrence. But that’s irrelevant to how many people think about hate crimes. In effect, they are saying that hate crimes are more serious crimes than the identical offense committed without obvious bigotry. In other words, burning a synagogue because you hate Jews is seen as a different crime from doing the same amount of damage by burning a building because you don’t like landlords. Behind the “hate crime” rationale, then, is the psychological damage that is said to be attendant on both victims and society.

I’m prepared to believe that this is the case, and understand that there are data supporting the excess damage, at least in terms of victims. But of course there’s more psychological damage caused to a person and a community when you insult their race, religion, or gender than when you simply call them a jerk. Offense is the price we pay for free speech. In light of that, is “excess fear” or “trauma” in victims a reason to increase the punishment for a crime, or create a new class of crime?

On balance, I think it is, but my mind isn’t fully made up on this issue. The same “harm” that attends legal free speech (and let’s face it—some people’s feelings are hurt by free speech) is also the same kind of harm that attends individuals and communities victimized by hate crimes. If someone calls you a “dirty Jew” rather than a “jerk”, you may be much more offended, even though no crime is committed. But if someone punches you because you’re a Jew as opposed to punching you because you’re a Republican, does the former crime, even if it causes more offense and trauma, warrant more punishment?

Weigh in below: do you think the concept of “hate crimes”, with the attendant higher punishment attached to them, a good one?

Who will get pardons from Trump?

January 18, 2021 • 6:14 pm

In only two days Trump will be gone, to a massive sigh of relief across America as well as to the groans of Deplorables.

There are reports that Trump may issue up to 100 pardons tomorrow, though the recipients are said not to include himself. But the list will surely include many who don’t deserve this leniency.

Whom do you think he’ll pardon?  Although this isn’t a contest, I’ll give a prize of my choosing to the first person all of whose guesses are all correct, so long as they are four or more. Any wrong guesses disqualify you, and if you guess fewer than four but they’re all correct, you also don’t get a prize. There’s only one way to win, and if nobody wins, no prize. But guess away if you don’t care about prizes, and of course you can give fewer or more than four names.

I’m not qualified to guess, but I know that many readers are. Who do you think will be the recipient of Trump’s largesse?

Remember, Trump can pardon people convicted of or who will be accused of federal crimes, not state ones.

Why “defunding the police” won’t work

November 19, 2020 • 10:45 am

Since the summer, there have been increasing efforts to “defund the police” (DTP), both in cities like Seattle and Minneapolis, and on many college campuses. This mantra can mean different things: reducing the money given to police departments, paring the size of the force, diverting some police funds to social workers who could do some police-related tasks, or getting rid of police completely, replacing them with either a brigade of mental-health specialists or “citizen patrols” (i.e., vigilantes and posses). The latter has been suggested in several places, including for the campus police at my school. (The Provost has already declared that this is a no-go.)

The DTP movement came from the poor treatment, including possible murder, of some black suspects like George Floyd by white policemen. It’s clear that black people are, overall, treated more poorly by police than are whites (more per capita traffic stops, etc), but there are no convincing data that the rate of murder of black suspects by cops is higher than that of whites when one controls for encounter rates.

But I have no objection to examining police departments for the behavior of their officers and, if there’s more than one or two bad apples, to mandate some kind of reeducation or remediation program.  And I favor including social workers or mental-health professionals being involved in policing, but they should always be riding along with officers—as in the case where these programs are already in place.

Defunding is another matter. Clearly, those who favor elimination of entire police departments, whether in cities or on campuses like the University of Chicago, are uninformed chowderheads. Without cops, crime would skyrocket. One bit of evidence, often cited by Steve Pinker, is the Montreal Police Strike of 1969, which is also known as the Murray-Hill Riot. Because of poor working conditions, the cops went on strike for just one day. The results were chaos. Wikipedia quotes Steve from The Blank Slate:

“As a young teenager in proudly peaceable Canada during the romantic 1960s, I was a true believer in Bakunin’s anarchism. I laughed off my parents’ argument that if the government ever laid down its arms all hell would break loose. Our competing predictions were put to the test at 8:00 a.m. on October 7, 1969, when the Montreal police went on strike. By 11:20 am, the first bank was robbed. By noon, most of the downtown stores were closed because of looting. Within a few more hours, taxi drivers burned down the garage of a limousine service that competed with them for airport customers, a rooftop sniper killed a provincial police officer, rioters broke into several hotels and restaurants, and a doctor slew a burglar in his suburban home. By the end of the day, six banks had been robbed, a hundred shops had been looted, twelve fires had been set, forty carloads of storefront glass had been broken, and three million dollars in property damage had been inflicted, before city authorities had to call in the army and, of course, the Mounties to restore order. This decisive empirical test left my politics in tatters (and offered a foretaste of life as a scientist).”

It’s the recurrent calls from “progressive” leftists to “defund the police” (and its ancillary mantra ACAB: “all cops are bastards”) that, I think, turned many voters against Democrats in general, turning the vaunted “blue wave” into a “blue trickle.” No American wants to feel unsafe, or have nobody to call if there’s a crime or home invasion. You may not want Trump around, but you do want the cops.

After the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to the article below in the Washington Post, the city council voted to “defund and dismantle the department and replace it with a new agency focused on a mix of public safety and violence prevention—a move that could go before voters in 2021.”

In the meantime, we have a taste of de-policing in Minneapolis already, as the police are bleeding officers (they’ve lost 100 because of the situation there), with the expected surge in crime.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Some quotes (George Spann is a community activist):

The police are not as much a presence as they used to be, Spann said, noting that sometimes when neighbors call 911, officers are delayed in responding or don’t come at all.

“If you want to talk about pandemics, we’re dealing with a pandemic of violence,” Spann said on a recent afternoon, just as word came of two more nearby shootings. “We’re under siege. You wake up and go to bed in fear because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. . . . And our city has failed to protect us.”

. . .Homicides in Minneapolis are up 50 percent, with nearly 75 people killed across the city so far this year. More than 500 people have been shot, the highest number in more than a decade and twice as many as in 2019. And there have been more than 4,600 violent crimes — including hundreds of carjackings and robberies — a five-year high.

Most of the violence has happened since Floyd’s killing on Memorial Day, and some experts attribute it in part to the lingering anger over the slaying and the effects of the coronavirus, including job losses and the closure of community centers and other public spaces.

. . . Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said over 100 officers have left the force — more than double the number in a typical year — including retirements and officers who have filed disability claims, some citing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder linked to the protests over Floyd’s killing.

Well, you can attribute it to whatever, but the same violence happened in Montreal, and there was no pandemic or police murder there. It’s simply common sense to surmise that if the police force is cut way down—to the point that police don’t even respond to 911 calls—then crime will go up.

More police are planning on leaving, and last week the city council allocated half a million dollars for “temporary hiring of police officers.”  But the situation may get worse. The article quotes a personal-injury attorney who is representing 175 officers who have left the force or are firing disability claims:

Meuser said his firm recently met with an additional 100 officers who are considering leaving the force, some citing mental exhaustion and fears of further unrest, including protests linked to the trial of the four former police officers charged in Floyd’s killing, which is scheduled for March. The officers have expressed a fear that the city will suffer “Portland-style riots during the entire trial,” he said, referring to extended unrest in the Oregon city.

Low morale is rampant, Meuser said, and he expects the exodus could extend to hundreds more officers by summer, perhaps as many as a third of the department’s positions. “You have a lot of officers come in and say, ‘Why am I doing this?’ They sit there with their spouses and say, ‘Is this worth it?’ ”

The reasonable solution was voiced by a black resident of Minneapolis, Spann:

Among some Black residents, she said, there have been conflicted feelings about the push to abolish the police. Many have been harassed by officers, but they also live in a neighborhood that on some nights feels like a war zone.

“Why can’t I have police reform? Why can’t I have law and order? Why do I have to pick and choose? I should be able to have both,” Spann said.

Indeed. Another resident described the surge in Minneapolis crime as “a sociology experiment that obviously doesn’t work.” So now we have TWO inadvertent experiments in reducing policing: Montreal an Minneapolis. Both suggest that police inactivity or attrition will lead to more crime.

The solution is training police, not firing them. (I’d of course like more stringent gun laws for citizens as well.) In view of this, and the common sense view that less policing means more crime, or more unsolved crime, I’m led to respond to “defund the cops” calls with Hitchens’s razor:

“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Or maybe the cop-defunders care more about getting rid of the cops than about boosting the crime rate.

 

h/t: Enrico

The humane prisons of Finland

November 11, 2020 • 2:00 pm

I’ve maintained that becoming a determinist leads many people to promote criminal-justice and prison reform. This comes from realizing that people have no choice in their actions—including committing crimes—and so criminals should be treated as if they were broken machines to be fixed (if possible) rather than as “people who made the wrong choice.” Readers have responded that promoting prison reform can also come from non-deterministic world views, and that’s true. But I believe that “hard” determinism, not sullied by the semantic taints of compatibilism, leads more automatically and naturally to criminal justice reform.

Well, you might disagree, but that’s not important for today’s post. I think most of us will agree that American prisons are cruel, inhumane, and do a lousy job of rehabilitating prisoners. That’s largely, I suspect,  because American prisons are directed more toward punishment than rehabilitation, and what you learn in prison is how to commit more crimes.

But here’s a country where prisoners are treated much more humanely: Finland. And here’s the story of one Finnish murderer who’s serving a long sentence but appears to be on the path of reformation. As the video claims, the recidivism rate in Finland (re-imprisonment within two years after release) is half of what it is in America. If you see the environment experienced by Finnish prisoners, and the efforts made to treat them humanely and reform them, that makes sense.

If someone can really be turned into a good and useful citizen, very unlikely to do any more crime, why should they be kept in jail under horrible conditions? You may say—and some will—that “the U.S. is not Finland.” But why can’t it be in the ways shown below?

Steve Bannon among four people indicted in New York for fraud

August 20, 2020 • 9:45 am

Athough Steve Bannon was scheduled to speak here a while back, that never took place, though the University refused to ban him. Now it looks as if he won’t be here for a long while.

Hot off the press (click on screenshot for details):

Bannon, of course, was Trump’s former campaign manager. He and three others face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each count carries a maximum of 20 years in prison!

A few details from the report:

Bannon is among four people indicted for allegedly defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors to the online “We Build the Wall” campaign.

Manhattan federal prosecutors allege that Bannon, campaign leader Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea “received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donor funds from We Build the Wall, which they each used in a manner inconsistent with the organization’s public representations.”

“We Build the Wall” began as a GoFundMe campaign in late 2018, designed to raise money directly from the public to build a border wall in the face of Congressional opposition.

While Kolfage publicly guaranteed that he would not take salary or compensation, and that 100 percent of funds raised would go toward the wall, the indictment alleges he actually took more than $350,000 for personal use and took steps to conceal it.

It’s both ironic and horrific that a campaign designed to keep poor immigrants out was actually used to enrich the promoters.

h/t: Ken

The insanity defense: is it sane? Thoughts from the Leopold and Loeb case.

August 17, 2020 • 10:30 am

I’m reading the book below, which I found in a free book box, about the famous Leopold and Loeb murders of 1924.  The murders took place in Hyde Park/Kenwood, just a few blocks from where I sit. Nathan Leopold (left on the cover below) and Richard Loeb, once University of Chicago students, 19 and 18 respectively, decided to commit the perfect crime—a murder. There was no obvious reason for it except for for their hubris, especially Leopold’s, for he was a fan of Nietzsche and thought he was exempt from ordinary moral strictures. That gave rise to the book’s title. (Click on the screenshot to go to the Amazon site, and I do recommend the book as a historical page-turner.) They planned the murder for six months, confident that they could kill someone (they planned to abduct a random child from a nearby school) and never get caught.

In May of that year, the pair abducted and brutally murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks, Leopold’s second cousin. They drove his body to Indiana and sequestered it in a railroad culvert. The pair then sent a ransom note to Franks’s family, though the child was already dead.  They probably would have pulled off the crime, too, except that Leopold dropped his glasses near the body, and they had a special frame that had been sold to only three people in Chicago. The cops quickly traced the glasses and zeroed in on the pair, who promptly confessed everything in great detail. And they confessed without ever having talked to a lawyer, which of course is a serious mistake.

Leopold and Loeb’s families were wealthy, and engaged three lawyers to defend them, including Clarence Darrow, the most famous lawyer in America. (The next year he was the major defense attorney in the Scopes “Monkey Trial”.) Darrow, who also lived near me in Hyde Park, is a hero of mine: dedicated to fighting for the underdog, fiercely smart and eloquent, and an outspoken determinist and atheist.

Left to right: Loeb, Darrow, and Leopold. Source.

The boys changed their plea from “not guilty” to “guilty”, therefore giving up a jury trial as well as the possibility of a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity”. The only courtroom proceedings, then, were the lawyers’ arguments before the judge to determine what sentence the boys got (hanging, life without parole, or 14 years or more in prison).

Even Darrow admitted that the boys should be in jail until they died, but argued fiercely before the judge that the boys had no choice but to commit the crime—they were conditioned by their genes and environment to murder Bobby Franks. Darrow considered this mitigation, and was arguing for a prison sentence rather than hanging. Much of the book is devoted to the testimony of neurologists and psychologists who argued whether or not the boys were mentally ill, even though they couldn’t plead insanity. Darrow argued that both had mental disorders, and these played a major role in the crime.

In his summation and plea that the judge impose prison rather than the noose, Darrow made a famous twelve-hour argument, some of which you can read here. It was heavily deterministic, to wit:

This terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some ancestor … Is any blame attached because somebody took Nietzsche’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it? … It is hardly fair to hang a 19-year-old boy for the philosophy that was taught him at the university.

. . . Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood. Mr. Savage, with the immaturity of youth and inexperience, says that if we hang them there will be no more killing. This world has been one long slaughterhouse from the beginning until today, and killing goes on and on and on, and will forever. Why not read something, why not study something, why not think instead of blindly shouting for death?

Darrow won. To everyone’s surprise, the judge gave them both life sentences. In 1936, Loeb was murdered in prison with a razor by a fellow inmate who claimed that Loeb made homosexual advances (Leopold and Loeb had a homosexual relationship). Leopold was actually paroled in 1958, moved to Puerto Rico, and died in 1971 at the age of 66.

I’ve digressed, but the story is a fascinating one, seen at the time as the crime of the century, with worldwide interest and publicity. Thousands of onlookers tried to rush the Chicago courtroom to hear Darrow’s summation, and finally had to be beaten back by the police.

When reading the book, I discovered that the standard for “insanity” at the time, which if proven by the defense would get you a “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict (and likely a shortish stint in an asylum) was that the defendant did not understand that his conduct was criminal. That is, he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong (in the law).

That is in fact still the law in Illinois: here’s from the criminal code of our state in 2012:

Darrow argued that although Leopold and Loeb were not “insane” by these standards (he knew that such a plea wouldn’t fly), they were nevertheless suffering from mental illness, and it is on this issue that his speech centered.

While thinking it over, I realized, as I’ve said here before, that understanding that your crime was against the law is a lousy criterion for “insanity” mitigation in these cases. That’s because, as a determinist, I think that to some extent everyone who commits a crime is “insane” in the sense that they could not help themselves. As for Illinois’s insanity defense,  there may be those, including some serial killers, who know that their deeds are criminal and illegal, but are under such delusions or compulsions that they cannot help themselves, even though they know about conventional and legal morality.

Is “a knowledge of criminality”, then, to be the line that divides a gentler, more rehabilitative punishment from one that throws you into jail with other criminals, a dreadful fate if you’ve committed a capital offense? I can’t see why.  Why is “mental illness that blinds you to criminality” so different from “mental illness that compels you to do murder, even though you know it’s wrong?”  In fact, as a determinist, I don’t think that the criminal, at the moment of the crime (and oftentimes before, as with Leopold and Loeb) could have chosen to behave differently. Regardless of your views on punishment, if you agree with me—and I think all science-minded people must)—then you have to take determinism into account when weighing punishments.

My own view, which I’ve expounded here over and over again, is that even “hard” determinism mandates punishment for three reasons: to keep a dangerous person out of society (sequestration), to rehabilitate them if possible (so that sequestration can end), and to deter others (deterrence). But none of this justifies any punishment, like the prosecutor in the Leopold/Loeb case argued repeatedly, based on the fact that the criminal made the wrong choice. (The State’s Attorney repeatedly argued for the death penalty because Leopold and Loeb, not being insane, could have realized the criminality of their act and refrained from it.)

And although both Darrow and I are determinists, he went even further than I, arguing that prisons were superfluous. But perhaps we do agree on this: “prison” shouldn’t be an exercise in horror, but a removal from society (which is punishment itself and a deterrent), combined with whatever therapy necessary to ensure that the criminal can be returned to society. If there is no such therapy, then sequestration for life is mandated. In Norway, you’re examined for rehabilitation every five years, and if you’re judged un-rehabilitated, you stay in jail for another five years. But Norwegian prisons are far less brutal than American ones.

In other words, I don’t like the insanity defense, which offers true rehabilitation only to those deemed “insane”.  My view of criminal trials is that there should be two phases:

A. Was the criminal “responsible” for the deed? That is, did he do the act, period? That can be decided by a jury.

B. What is the best way to treat a convicted criminal in light of the three rationales for punishment given above? What sequestration is an appropriate deterrent? (That is something that can be decided empirically.) Is there a form or rehabilitation that will allow the criminal to return to society and pose no more danger than that of an ordinary citizen? If there is, that therapy should be given. The sentence, then, should be imposed not by judges or juries, but by a panel of experts, legal, medical and psychiatric.

I know that this mandates an extensive reform of the American penal system, and will be costly and will involve trial and error for a long time to come. And many people who are libertarian free-willers, and who think that criminals could have decided otherwise, will oppose reforms that take determinism into account.  But I can’t see any good argument for keeping the present system, which is cruel, retributive, and yields a high rate of recidivism.

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CODA:

Here are Leopold and Loeb’s mugshots taken when they entered prison (Leopold is at the top

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