Monday, May 28, 2012

School Desegregation and the Fear Years

UC Berkeley Professor David Kirp's powerful op-ed in May 20th Sunday Review section of the New York Times (read it here) restating the overwhelming social science case in favor of school desegregation drew a bevy of weighty and thoughtful letters in this morning's New York Times (read them here). That evidence shows that the educational gap between Whites and Blacks, recently embraced by both parties as the holy grail of reducing the accumulating disadvantages of generations of de jure racial segregation in America, shrank the most substantially during those years between 1970 and 1990 when school desegregation orders were most active in American states. It was in these years that the epic legal campaign to desegregate schools which had achieved a historic Supreme Court victory in Brown v. Board of Education actually began to effect numerous schools around the country due to the increase in federal financial incentives beginning the 1960s and because desegregation orders began to reach large northern urban districts where generations of soft segregation strategies (based on residential segregation and school location) had left public schools almost as segregated as the infamous Jim Crow schools in the South. It was when northern Whites began to actively oppose desegregation orders in their own areas that political support for desegregation in the political parties began to collapse and its legal status come under sustained attack. Milliken v. Bradley, the crucial 1974 precedent that Kirp cites as the fatal wound against effective school desegregation by removing the possibility of metropolitan area wide desegregation strategies involved a northern school district, metro Detroit. By making it impossible for desegregation planners to reach White students whose parents had moved to the suburbs, Milliken guaranteed that White flight to the suburbs would make desegregation and empty gesture and the basic promise of forcing equal effort to educate Black and White children impossible to achieve. Professor Kirp and his interlocutors share a general pessimism about the prospects of reviving school desegregation as a viable national project. Certainly the silence out of Washington D.C. during the nation's first national Administration to be headed up by an African American is no reason for optimism. But there is another reason, a very good reason to be optimistic that a new opportunity to meaningfully desegregate schools is upon us, actually two reasons. The first is that the White suburbs, where two generations of school children have grown up since Milliken secure in their White schools are facing a structural problem as the rising generation indicates in all kinds of ways that they would rather raise their families in cities where higher population densities, more cultural institutions, and the opportunity to reduce or eliminate automobile commuting. The housing bust has intensified this by reducing the appeal of home ownership, a market that pushed marginal buyers toward the most distant suburbs and the new economy seems likely to continue it by emphasizing flexibility and rental housing. These economic trends mean that newly forming middle class families (White, or Asian, or Mixed Race) are potentially available to the very urban school districts cut off from enough of them to meaningfully desegregate schools that became virtually all African-American and Latino in the 1970s. The second, perhaps even more important to the viability of desegregation today, is the great crime decline that since the early 1990s has seen a dramatic reduction in violent crime (and indeed all kinds of crime) which was deepest in the large cities that were so much the fulcrum of white flight back in the 1970s (read Franklin Zimring's two crucial books on the crime decline). Then, in what I call the "fear years", the tripling of violent crime rates since the early 1960s and the violent rioting in African American neighborhoods of the late 1960s and early 1970s undermined any chance school desegregation in the North had of winning consent from Whites. Only the most ideologically committed White parents with means were willing to let their kids go to school with African American kids perceived as angry, undisciplined, and potentially violent. I know because my parents were the kind of ideologically liberal pro-civil rights parents who decided that Chicago's public schools in the late 1960s and early 1970s were just to chaotic and sometimes violent to stay in. Culturally allergic to the suburbs and with ways and means to put my brother and I into the University of Chicago Lab Schools (where President Obama's daughters went before 2009). One can revisit distortions involved in White fear as well as the many failures in the management of desegregation that made things worst. But it is hard to imagine how school desegregation could have worked given the squeeze the crime fear was placing precisely on middle class families to avoid urban schools. But to young families forming now, the fear years of the 1970s are history and even the media shadows of those years that haunted the 1980s and 1990s have largely faded. They are the fertile ground for a new urban school offensive. Interested in living in central cities, and economically sensitive to the cost of private schools, this crime decline parents that is now going on will be well placed and potentially open to integrated public schools. If done well it might not even require race conscious admission criteria as much as investment in new buildings, state of the art technology, and the kind of staff rich and culturally senstive school regime designed to make everyone feel safe and included.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Governing Egypt through Crime

As Egyptians went to the polls Wednesday in an historic first ever free presidential election, David Kirkpatrick reports in the NYTimes that prominently on their minds is the rise of crime since the fall of the dictatorship (read the story here).
On the eve of the vote to choose Egypt’s first president since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, this pervasive lawlessness is the biggest change in daily life since the revolution and the most salient issue in the presidential race. Random, violent crime was almost unheard-of when the police state was strong.
With politicians competing on how to restore security, it is tempting to compare Egypt with the United States. The differences are too important to leave to second. Crime became a prime theme for political legitimation in the US after the 1960s when the US was already a mature democracy with well established law enforcement institutions and a highly developed economy. Egypt in 2012 is a developing economy (at best, perhaps a failing to develop economy) with no history of democracy and law enforcement institutions that lack credibility both in terms of effectiveness and human rights. Popular fear of crime in the America of the 1960s took the form of moving to the suburbs and purchasing handguns. In Egypt of 2012 it has resulted in mob lynchings. But while the differences are profound the commonalities are more than coincidence. In both places, police have been flawed institutions. In Egypt of 2012, the police remained deeply discredited by their history of petty corruption and fealty to the Mubarak dictatorship. While American cities in the 1960s had long established and by the standards of the developing world relatively professional police forces these police forces were also highly corrupt and deeply racist, they lacked legitimacy and credibility particularly in the minority neighborhoods. Indeed the relationship between white police and African American neighborhoods in cities like Oakland and Philadelphia remained so toxic through the 1980s that it approximated conflict zones like Northern Ireland. The crime wave the rocked America in the 1960s has never been adequately explained (the usual culprit being the oversized delinquency cohort of the post-war baby boom) but I believe it was bound up with the breakdown in the prevailing racialized system of public space in which police played a role in enforcing different norms in different parts of town, isolating certain rackets in minority areas, while keeping youth of color from congregating in elite parts of town. The civil rights movement and the cultural tide it brought to northern cities in the '60s helped sweep away that regime, but recalcitrant racist police forces (abetted by politicians)resisted the construction of an effective inclusionary regime to police public spaces in the large cities. The crime wave in Egypt is clearly related to the breakdown of the social control imposed by the dictatorship and the uncertainty as to the new forms of public order that will replace it. The use of lynching by mobs in some Egyptian locales suggests some residual identification with regime's methods of violent repression, a dynamic sociologist Angelina Godoy traced in post-genocide Guatemala. In Egypt in 2012 crime and insecurity are abetted by terrible poverty and the humiliations that poverty in urban conditions promotes. While we often consider crime in America in the 1960s to represent a paradox of deviance in an affluent society, the rapid deindustrialization of northern cities in the 1950s and 1960s was already leaving many inner city minority communities largely cut off from viable economic opportunities, a pattern that would grow markedly worst through at least the early 1990s. From these early reports the political competition around crime in Egypt today appears more promising than one might think from the American example where both major parties soon aligned behind mass incarceration. The leading Islamist candidates have tempered their promises of security with a commitment to reform and recast the police, and have made economic development for the poor the center of their political agenda. In contrast, the candidates most linked to the old regime are promising to unleash an unreformed police and no doubt fill Egypt's notorious prisons with yet more prisoners. Not surprisingly the candidates most likely to be welcomed by US media and political elites are the ones most likely to pursue US style governing through crime.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hunger for Hope: Solitary Confinement and Administrative Detention in California and Israel

Cross national comparisons in penology are notoriously tricky, all the more so when the practices involved are the highly problematic one of holding prisoners in solitary confinement especially under "administrative" rather than legal judgment (meaning it is up to prison officials if or when the prisoner will be released). Comparing California and Israel is especially problematic since the former is a sub-national state and the latter is involved in an ongoing civil conflict over the identity and boundaries of the national state. Those caveats aside it is interesting that rare sustained political protests within prisons are have taken place in recent months (and in the case of Israel is happening today) direct specifically against solitary confinement under administrative control; in both cases the struggle is taking the shape of the classic weapon of the weak, a hunger strike. In Israel, Palestinian hunger strikers have refused food for over seventy days and are at risk of dying if they do not take food soon. The strikers are protesting hardships imposed by the Israeli Prison Service in the later stages of the imprisonment of the Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, held hostage by Hamas forces, but which have been maintained despite Shalit's release last year, including a ban on academic study and receiving books, as well as the denial of family visits from Gaza and the larger issue of solitary confinement under administrative decision (read Jack Khoury's reporting in Haaretz here). According to the AP some 1600 prisoners are observing a hunger strike including 2 for over seventy days. Jack Khoury's latest reports as of Monday, am, suggested Israel might be ready to sign an agreement: "Included in the reported deal was the demand to cancel the policy of solitary confinement as well as granting visiting permits to the families of imprisoned Palestinians from Gaza." (read this story on Haaretz here). In California, hunger strikes by prisoners throughout the system were directed against the practice of solitary confinement in permanent "lock-down" prisons known in California as "Secure Housing Units" or SHUs. These prisons follow a regime widely known as "supermax" in which solitary confinement is reinforced with procedures that prevent even casual contact between prisoners and other prisoners or even staff including as many as 23 hours a day within the cell or cell like environments whether for meals or showers. Compared to traditional solitary as a disciplinary punishment for prison misbehavior, California prisoners are often assigned to the SHU on the basis of a judgment by administrators that they are involved in a prison "threat group" or gang, and pose a threat to other prisoners and staff. Such assignments, never litigated before a judge, can last the entire sentence (which may be life). The hunger strikes last summer ended with a promise by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to review their SHU assignment policy and to consider humanitarian changes in regime such as permitting weather appropriate hats. In March CDCR released a report suggesting they would move toward a new assignment policy in which prisoners could earn their way out of the SHU without the paradoxical requirement that they prove their non-threat by becoming an informant or "snitch" (paradoxical because it results in spoiling any possibility of return to a general population prison for the snitch who becomes a subject in need of protective custody by virtue of informing). (For the latest on the prisoners' perspective see California prison Focus). Despite the very different political logics in which prison authorities in both Israel and California have found themselves deeply dependent on administrative discretion over solitary confinement suggests some common themes and cautions. While they may have come to rely on administrative segregation (as this practice was known in a more benevolent form in the 20th century) through different routes, both prison services would do well to continue on recent indications of reform. 1. Wherever it exists, this kind of long term widespread administrative segregation reflects on a prison system that has largely abandoned in any hope of legitimacy in the eyes of its subject population. Given the widespread circumstances under which carceral institutions in different places and times have relied at least in part on legitimacy---consider the different ways in which the Big House prisons of the first half of the 20th century and the correctional institutions of the second utilized parole and mutual logic of institutional order---both Israel and the California should think long and hard before accepting this as inevitable. Prison orders that win even partial legitimacy in the eyes of their subjects, for example through procedural fairness even where the substantive justice of incarceration is contestable, operate better in every measurable way. This is a proposition that has been most significantly researched inside prisons in the UK, see the original work of Richard Sparks, Antony Bottoms, and Will Hayes, Prisons and the Problem of Order (Oxford University Press 1995); as well as Alison Liebeling, Prisons and Their Moral Performance: A Study of Values, Quality, and Prison Life (Clarendon Studies in Criminology) (Oxford 2005). 2. The historical experience of parole suggests a horizon of hope is an essential precondition for legitimacy in prisons. Prisons that cannot offer prisoners realistic hopes for going home, or at least returning to a dignified and manageable life, has little hope of achieving any more than a temporary ceasefire with its charges. This is a problem whose solutions lie well above the pay grade of prison managers. The politicians in both societies that have sold mass incarceration as a stable security strategy to nervous and racially skewed electoral majorities need to be held to account by a better more inclusionary politics and perhaps someday by their own truth and reconciliation commissions. 3. Prisoners represent a sleeping giant of an issue in the civil order of both societies. Palestinian national leaders who have staked their international prestige on limiting security threats to Israel from the occupied territories, have sounded openly alarmed at what might happen in Palestinian civil society, even one as discouraged by the past results of violence. In the US, riots like those that broke out last summer in the UK could well emerge in the summer of 2012 or 2013 if the re-election of Barack Obama, and continued quiet on the streets of urban America does not result in some significant efforts to retrench the twin indignities of aggressive policing and liberal doses of prison time that are accorded so many men of color in these United States.

Friday, May 11, 2012

From Civil Rights Confrontation to Crime Commission: Nick Katzenbach's 60s

If you agree with me that 40 to 50 year spans are an important generational break point for social trends (see my previous post this month) you'll be a regular reader of the obituaries, for that section of the newspaper is full of interesting stories about the people who were powerful and important 40-50 years ago (well if they were lucky enough to live into their 80s, more or less 40 years past their powerful 40s). If you are such a reader, and a reader of this blog you must have noticed the prominent obituary of Nicholas Katzenbach, a "key figure" (as obituaries like to put it) in the political events of the 1960s as a top legal adviser for both Presidents Kennedy, and Johnson, and to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, before serving himself as Attorney General for two years at the crux of the Johnson administration (read the Douglas Martin's comprehensive treatment in the NYTimes here). Then, after resigning as AG in the midst of a fight with J Edgar Hoover over the FBI's treatment of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Katzenbach largely disappeared from the public side of public life, steering the fortunes of large corporations at an elite law firm as if knowing in his own gut that the gateways of history had shut for the time being. One of his final tasks for Lyndon Johnson, heading up the President's Crime Commission (or as it was formally known, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice) provides a telling bookend to Katzenbach's Sixties. While the Commission does not figure prominently enough in his biography to have made the Times obituary, it may have helped convince Katzenbach that the gates were indeed shutting (read the report, now available online here). Katzenbach came from significant social and cultural capital and his career, interrupted as for so many in his generation by Pearl Harbor, marked an unbroken ascent into it.
Nicholas deBelleville Katzenbach was born on Jan. 17, 1922, in Philadelphia, the younger of two sons of Edward Lawrence Katzenbach and the former Marie Louise Hilson. His father was a corporate lawyer and New Jersey attorney general from 1924 to 1929. He died when Nicholas was 12. His mother was a member of the New Jersey State Board of Education for 44 years and its president for a decade.
After the war he studied law at Yale and Oxford, and then taught law at Yale and the University of Chicago. He moved into the new Democratic administration of John Kennedy's in 1961 through his Yale connections with Byron "Whizzer" White, a deputy attorney general under Robert Kennedy, who would be given Kennedy's first seat on the Supreme Court. In the Justice Department, Katzenbach took part in perhaps the most iconic confrontation of the Kennedy administration's civil rights enforcement efforts, ordering of Alabama Governor George Wallace to remove himself from the doorway blocking the entrance of the first African American students to be admitted (through federal court order) to the University of Alabama. It was Katzenbach, apparently, who advised Johnson of the importance of appointing a national commission to investigate the assassination of JFK in Dallas; writing to Johnson aide Bill Moyers:
“The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that the evidence was such that he would have been convicted at a trial.”
Conspiracy theorists would read in the memo (released in 1994), traces of a cover up, but perhaps even more saliently, of person adept at helping top leaders navigate the shoals between electoral democracy and the rule of law. As AG, Katzenbach fought to keep the Johnson administration if not supporting at least not directly frustrating the goals of Dr. King's wing of the civil rights movement, as the FBI, with Johnson's approval moved from wire tapping the civil rights leader to determine whether communists were influencing his movement, to using surveillance of King's marital infidelities in a plot to encourage his suicide. Katzenbach resigned when he realized his power as AG was insufficient to back down his nominal subordinate, J. Edgar Hoover. The Crime Commission that Katzenbach headed represented the Johnson administration's effort to get ahead of the growing wave of political concern about crime in America; one which Barry Goldwater had unsuccessfully invoked in the ,64 campaign, but whose salience would grow with each riot and uptick of the closely discussed homicide rate. Readers of this blog will know how that history turned out, but what is noteworthy here is that under Katzenbach's leadership the Commission represented the best that legal and social science expertise, wed to social democratic criminological assumptions could bring to bear on a problem that would ultimately politically eclipse the civil rights movement. Harvard Law's James Vorenberg was the Commission's operational head and he recruited a research team including many of the stars of 1960s sociology, political science, criminology, and law. Katzenbach's strategy of expert and evidence led crime policy would be swamped by a more ideologically driven demonization of urban criminals (mostly young men of color). Having grown up in those years, and very much identifying with that wave of liberal legalism and social democratic criminology, I will always wonder if they could have been more effective or whetheer the ideological cards were just too stacked in favor of a war on crime.