Legal Cynicism and Race: Do Black Lives Really Matter?

Legal cynicism is a sociocultural or sociopolitical lens through which members of a community observe, perceive, and interpret their engagement with the legal system or, in this case, enforcement agents of the law. Regrettably, it appears that, too frequently, instead of stabilizing the issue, law enforcement adversely escalates the matter. Legal cynicism erodes the legitimacy […]

Frank Franklin II, PhD, JD

A Tale of Two Narratives: Gender Identity, Mental Health, and the Black Male

Regardless of health behaviors, the inequitable burden of mental health disorders and undiagnosed need borne by the black male is also a consequence of racial discrimination and race-related stressors. The narrative of the African American male can be characterized as a perpetual inquiry of identity permissibility. The narrative exemplifies a lived experience of boundaries and freedoms […]

Tuskegee and HeLa: Flint, Michigan Too?

The water crisis in Flint, Mich. demonstrates yet another flagrant disregard for the health and well-being of America’s urban underclass. A disregard premised on discriminatory indifferences for the black, brown, and the poor. In spite of state officials purporting that Flint’s drinking water was fine, for a year and half, the residents of Flint were […]

Gentrification: Economic Integration or The New Plantation?

The historical definition of gentrification can be attributed to the Urban Geographer, Ruth Glass, who defined gentrification as the process of middle- and upper-class households moving into distressed (i.e., economic) working-class neighborhoods, improving the housing stock, and eventually displacing the working-class residents and, consequently, transforming the social fabric of the neighborhood. More expansive definitions attempt […]

The Cost of Poverty: A Price We All Must Pay

Current research regarding the impact of economic distress continues to establish the relationship between chronic poverty and well-being, and elucidates the biological, physiological, and sociological, mechanisms behind the toxic association. The child pays the greatest price of the poor. Economic distress produces lifelong effects of childhood adversity and toxic stress. Given that racial and ethnic […]

Community-Based Strategies To Reduce Recidivism Among Non-Violent Offenders

Several states such as New York, California, and New Jersey have made efforts to reduce their prison populations. A strategic component of the reduction is the use of community-based services (CBS) to transition adult and juvenile non-violent offenders. Community-based services have been shown to be an important element in reducing recidivism and enhancing reentry. Community-based collaborations generally include public/private/non-profit partnerships aimed at supportive housing development. The programs offer reliable and secure housing to the formerly incarcerated along with comprehensive and individualized services. Services can include education and vocational training, employment assistance and counseling, behavioral health treatment, access to medical and mental health services, family reunification counseling, or other services necessary for promoting independent living and community reintegration.

The poor outcomes associated with retributively driven correctional strategies have not necessarily been the motivating factor behind reducing the prison population. Instead, based on the commentary among some correctional facility administrators, the motivation can be partially attributed to the cost prohibitive maintenance of the current prison population. In spite of the suspect altruism, all seem to agree that the wholesale warehousing of folks, particularly African American and Latino populations, doesn’t seem to work. A major limitation of the custodial approach is that it only focuses on the time served and not what occurs post-detention. Additional social factors can impede resiliency development and successful reentry. Disproportionately, the formerly incarcerated are among the poor and non-white, physically or mentally challenged, under-educated, lacking vocational skills and experience, or suffering from behavioral health issues.

A key to successful reintegration is safe and reliable housing. Although most appear to empathize with the importance of effective community reintegration, the formerly incarcerated individual can face substantial barriers when trying to obtain adequate housing. Federal and local policies frequently prevent access to public housing. On the other hand, if the previous environment was criminogenic or unsafe, why place the formerly incarcerated individual back to an environment that encourages conduct conducive to re-offending. Alternatively, family members, in safer environments, may be unwilling or unable to house the formerly incarcerated. Private housing is often beyond the economic reach or landlords discriminate against those with criminal records.

In light of the apparent consensus regarding the promise of community-based housing to reduce recidivism and enhance community reintegration; the next question is in whose community? The difficulty in locating supportive housing often arises when residents of a community resist against supportive developments. The resistance is from a fear that supportive housing programs will lower property values, undermine community safety, or negatively affect neighborhood amenities. This type of community fear or angst has been termed the “Not in My Backyard” or “NIMBY” Syndrome. Research demonstrates that, even though community members express an understanding of the value of housing and rehabilitative services for the formerly incarcerated, there is a fear driven opposition to locating supportive housing services among most community residents. Fortunately, additional research has also pointed to the usefulness of meaningful community engagement to overcome resistance and move towards acceptance.

Notwithstanding the legitimate concerns of community residents, the problem is and always has been in their backyard; however, there has been a choice to take the ostrich syndrome approach. The systemic mal-distribution of resources has disproportionately driven the development of concentrated poverty, which, in turn, can promote crime-susceptible communities. The public policy response has been to ratchet up retributive correctional strategies by creating harsher sentencing and building more prisons, which is now known to be less effective, counterproductive, monetarily costly, and squanders human capital. The excessive misuse of retributive strategies misplaces the problem out of sight, out of mind, and further eviscerates the social fabric.

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Being McKinney: Legal Cynicism and Race

Frank A. Franklin II, Ph.D., J.D.

The McKinney, Texas, swimming pool incident exemplifies one of the many sources of legal cynicism among minority and poor communities in America. Legal cynicism is a sociocultural or sociopolitical lens through which members of a community observe, perceive, and interpret their engagement with the legal system or, in this case, enforcement agents of the law. In other words, a lens to contemplate Officer Eric Casebolt’s pulling of a 14-year-old bikini-clad girl onto the ground and kneeling on her back to restrain her. Regrettably, it appears that, too frequently, instead of stabilizing the issue, law enforcement adversely escalates the matter. Legal cynicism erodes the legitimacy of the enforcement apparatuses of the law by appearing unavailable or incapable of addressing community grievances.

The poor and persons of color disproportionately experience aggressive policing. A consequence of aggressive policing is the disparate rates of arrest and incarceration. In comparison to one out every hundred American adults behind bars, the U.S. imprisons one out every nine African American men between the ages of 20 and 34 and one our every 36 Hispanic adults. Incarceration rates have been the most dramatic among the under-educated African American male below the age of 34. Although it is unreasonable to categorically suggest that law enforcement as a whole engages in excessive policing; however, a reasonable argument can be made that many of the policing practices of the “post racial” present feel strangely reminiscent of the policing practices of the notorious past.

If a victim of excessive policing attempts to transform the event into a legal claim, his efforts can be frustrated by the legal standards of the laws that are available. Under the Law Enforcement Misconduct Statute, police departments can be held accountable when there is evidence showing a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured under the Constitution of the United States. Establishing an allegation of a pattern or practice of misconduct is not necessarily straightforward and relies on a multitude of corroborative sources, and there is no right of private action under this law. On the other hand, laws that have a private right of action usually require an individual to exhaust all administrative remedies prior to filing a claim. An additional burden of private action claims can be the requirement of establishing discriminatory intent.

Unequivocally, race is at the center of the issue regarding aggressive policing and the use of excessive force, and it seems untenable to suggest otherwise. Regardless of intent, minority communities differentially bear the burden of being over-policed, and to give the idea of race neutrality the benefit of the doubt is disingenuous. Race neutrality is an omission of an adequate response and tantamount to a conspiracy of indifference. Arguably, collective apathy is no more charitable than collective animus. A meaningful engagement to redress aggressive policing or excessive force should not be constrained by the boundaries of race; yet, a meaningful resolution cannot be reached in its absence.