09 February 2012

The Racism of the Legal System

I think Chuck misses some of it:

If we look at Paul as strictly a viable option for the Presidency, this would pose a problem.  But if we look at Paul as a messenger – which is how I view him – then we should not be surprised or taken aback by his strategies to leverage various alliances to spread his core message of fiscal stability, liberty over equality, limiting bureaucracy, ending wars, and, most importantly, auditing/ending the Federal Reserve.  Whether we accept the entire package that Paul offers – and I don’t (characterizing the justice system as racist is a political ploy and ignores statistics) – we have to recognize that he is injecting arguments into the debate that nobody would be discussing. [Emphasis added.]

I’ve heard Ron Paul make two claims regarding the racism of the legal system. The first is that the legal system is racist for putting a disproportionate number of black criminals to death.  Of course, blacks commit a disproportionate amount of capital crimes, so it is not racism that explains why blacks face a disproportionate number of capital punishments.  Ron Paul’s claim on this matter is simply wrong and indefensible.

However, Paul’s second claim is that blacks are too often charged with violating laws not tied to property rights (i.e. drug laws).  Given how often blacks are charged with violating drug laws, particularly relative to whites, it is reasonable to say that this law (though not necessarily the prosecution thereof) is racist.  To a libertarian, there is no reason for the state to regulate people’s personal lives if their actions do not in any way directly infringe on another’s property rights.  In a sense, drug laws (or laws regulating sex between consenting adults) are immoral.  If no one’s rights are being harmed, then the law is immoral.  And, given that these immoral laws are used to prosecute blacks, it is reasonable to conclude the legal system is racist.

Personally, I’m inclined to say the law is classist in nature, for most people who are convicted of violating drug laws strongly tend to be lower class.  (Of course, blacks are disproportionately lower-class, so it stands to reason that they would be disproportionately represented in drug-related arrests and prosecutions.)  But, it does seem that drug laws are used to prosecute poor people whose private behaviors disgust the middle class majority.  Whenever poor proles get out of hand, the middle class sends their elected sheriffs to clean up the riffraff, usually by arresting them on drug charges.

Of course, it is difficult to determine whether drug law prosecutions correspond better with a theory of racism or a theory of classism, and so until it is clear which is the case, Ron Paul should at least be given the benefit of the doubt for his assertion that the enforcement of drug laws is racially motivated.  After all, it’s not like there weren’t ever any racially-motivated laws on the books at some point in America’s past.

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