Posts Tagged ‘Crime’

On Racial Profiling

May 7, 2010

After Jonah Goldberg wrote in favor of racial profiling in Arizona, and Roger Clegg disagreed, National Review’s Andy McCarthy, a former prosecutor, jumped into the fray:

…you can’t be an Islamist terrorist without being a Muslim, you can’t be the head of the Gambino Family without being Italian, and you can’t be a Mexican illegal alien without being a Mexican. It would be nonsensical not to take into account, for investigative purposes, the racial, ethnic, or religious characteristics of criminal activity if they are inherent in that criminal activity.

This argument is incredibly flawed. Yes, if you define the objectionable activity as “illegal immigration by Mexicans,” then by definition, only Mexicans are going to be guilty of it, but it would be completely unjustifiable and discriminatory to define the crime that way, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, if the “criminal activity” is illegal immigration, then folks other than Mexicans will be among the lawbreakers — indeed, in addition to the many El Salvadorans and Guatemalans and Hondurans you’ll find the occasional Irish, Koreans, Russians, Egyptians, and others who’ve overstayed visas or snuck into the country.

Similarly, it is certainly true that the Gambino crime family is a legitimate target for police and prosecutors, but I am betting that at some point non-Italians were involved in their criminal activity, and besides, organized crime is a type of criminal activity that encompasses folks with lots of different ethnic backgrounds. Count me among the Americans who want law enforcement to stop illegal immigration from any country, organized crime perpetrated by any ethnicity, and terrorism of any kind, not just the Islamist variety. It just floors me that a former prosecutor would offer up these ethnicities as “inherent” in the relevant criminal activities.

And it gets worse:

When I was a young prosecutor in the eighties, this was a lot less controversial than it has become in our irrationally sensitive times. A lot of crime is ethnic. The Westies were Irish, the tongs were Chinese, the Latin Kings were Hispanics, the YACs were Yugoslavs, Albanians and Croatian, and so on. When we were investigating Colombian cocaine cartels, the fact that someone was Colombian was part of the probable cause (and if he was from Cali, even more so).

He goes on:

No one got pinched solely on the basis of his race or ethnicity. The important thing was conduct, not status. But if I had arrested a guy named Clegg or Goldberg and charged him with being the head of the Gambino Family, the defendant would have made his ethnicity a key part of his defense; it can’t be that an race/ethnicity/religion factor is only relevant if it cuts against guilt.

Interesting bit of reasoning — it would be absurd to arrest a non-Italian for being head of the Gambino crime family, therefore the fact of being Italian would lead a reasonably intelligent person to believe that an accused Italian is the head of the Gambino crime family. Or something. It’s hard to tell exactly what Mr. McCarthy means by saying that ethnicity is “part of” probable cause.

The Overreaction to 'Sexting'

December 22, 2009

In my last column for The Daily Beast I wrote about “sexting,” a term I surround with quotation marks because it isn’t sex and it hardly requires text. It’s a topic that’s been covered well by Reason Magazine, and every so often Radley Balko alerts readers of his blog, The Agitator, to new instances of adults over-reacting to the phenomenon.

My column made several arguments (paraphrased below, not quoted):

— In most cases, teens who conceal their sexting from authority figures suffer negligible adverse consequences; they’re hardly the first generation to play “I’ll show you mine.” But tragic stories that begin with “sexting” are all too frequent when principals, police officers, or district attorneys get involved. Specifically, authority figures in at least six states charge teens who send naked pictures of themselves with distributing child pornography!

— These prosecutions make the sex-offender registry less useful for all of us by wasting resources on harmless kids and diminishing what it means to be listed.

— It’s wise to discourage kids from “sexting,” and to punish them if they’re caught breaking that rule, as I’d do if I were a parent. But “sexting” isn’t a sign of a hyper-sexualized generation, or a shocking harbinger of promiscuity, or evidence that a kid needs counseling, or that he or she is bereft of modesty.

Since I regard this as an important subject, I’d like to respond to some criticism of my piece.

Calvin Freiburger writes, “if emailing naked pictures of yourself to others doesn’t indicate promiscuity or a lack of modesty, what does?”

I’d say that promiscuity is indicated by actual sexual contact. Is a 13-year old virgin who hasn’t even experienced his first kiss “promiscuous” if he sends an explicit text of himself to his girlfriend or an object of his puppy love? I think most people would say that he isn’t promiscuous. As for modesty, it depends on the circumstances, doesn’t it? I’ve read about teenage girls who sent topless photos of themselves to boyfriends they trusted. When the photographs spread, the girls were horrified by the prospect of classmates seeing them. Isn’t it clear that these girls aren’t “bereft of modesty”? I think so, and it seems to me that they’re the rule more than the exception.

In the comments section at The Daily Beast, several readers make some variation of the argument, “Oh yeah, well wait until you have kids, and you’re teenager takes topless photos of herself.” I’m confused by this counterargument. I can guarantee you that in parenthood I won’t want my daughter convicted of distributing child pornography and put on a sex offender list. And I am on record saying that I’ll urge my kids against this behavior, and punish them if they break that rule. So what exactly am I supposed to change my mind about?

On Twitter, Ben Domenech writes, “I see Conor Friedersdorf is officially through trying to be taken seriously.” It isn’t clear what particular part of my piece he regards as unserious. I’m genuinely curious, and I’ll certainly air any coherent arguments he has against my words.