Tuesday, July 21, 2015
It is often noted that prosecutors allow defendants to plead down from their real offense to a minor one in order to avoid the costs of trial, which has the effect of making crime statistics less reliable. Police do the same thing. This quote from an interview with Jill Leovy, author of the recent Ghettoside: A True Story Of Murder In America, talks about that. Is it efficient? It has the effect of increasing the probability of punishment but reducing the penalty.
"LEOVY: Yes. This is a nuance that doesn't get talked about enough because there's I think a general impression that the police are just arbitrarily hammering, for example, drug crimes, possession crimes, probation and parole violations - petty stuff that doesn't do a lot of harm, and yet there's a lot of penalties built behind them and so they must be racist. They must be just trying to give people a hard time. What you see on the ground is that there's a tremendous amount of violence. There's a tremendous amount of impunity, and it's, as I say, semi-furtive. It's well known to everybody in this small enclave who's doing stuff, who's boasting about it, who's dangerous. The police are part of that enclave. They're part of that community. They hear the street rumors, too. They hear so-and-so's a shooter and so-and-so's a rider, and they're frustrated because they cannot put a case on so-and-so for that assault or that homicide. So they think, well, we can get them on a drug offense. He's in a gang. He's selling drugs. If we can just get him on possession with intent to sell, at least that gets him off the street. And so you see certain amount of enforcement that's shaped by a reaction to the impunity for the serious crimes.
It's almost - when you make the prosecution of some crimes very difficult and very expensive, as we have with homicide, it almost pushes the bubble. It's - the cops naturally gravitate towards places where they have more discretion and where it's easier to do the work and stopping and searching and possession and probation, parole - that is low-hanging fruit. It's easy, cheap stuff to prosecute. And so they are seeing these victims. They are seeing people who are paralyzed or in comas for the rest of their life, and they can't make an arrest. But they know that clique from such-and-such gang has been doing this stuff, and everyone knows it. And the graffiti on the wall says it, and they can't make a case. So if we're going to focus a drug-enforcement project tonight somewhere, why not focus on them? It's a compensatory strategy that I think ends up being counterproductive but is also somewhat understandable."