Baltimore’s Problems–And the Nation’s

Baltimore’s Problems–And the Nation’s

by George W. Liebmann

According to the President and the media, the disturbances here are the product of gratuitous police brutality, the elimination of which is “the great civil rights cause of our generation.” This agenda is one with which the civil rights establishment is comfortable. But, as Arthur Schlesinger pointed out fifty years ago, that agenda is a Southern agenda with limited relevance to the North.

The wrongs committed by the Baltimore police, now 40% black with black commanders, are not founded on a purpose to preserve a racist and outworn social order. They arise in no small measure from the fact that failure to deal with other problems has given the police something close to a “mission impossible.” A generation of youth that is uneducated, unemployed and embedded in the drug culture is sought to be controlled by a bending of rules, and sometimes by low grade terrorism. Misconduct must be curbed, but no one should be under the illusion that doing so will make our communities more secure.

What are the ‘underlying problems?’ We need not discuss family breakdown and the ‘culture’ wars, though urban populations have not benefitted from a climate in which situation ethics has become a principle of constitutional law and prominent judges renounce history, custom, morals, religion and popular will as legitimate sources of law. For there are less intractable problems that something should really be done about.

The Drug War has had precisely the consequences that former President Taft predicted for alcohol prohibition in 1918: “The business. . . will go out of the hands of law abiding members of the community , and will be transferred to the quasi-criminal class. . . a federal law will become. . . a subject of contempt and ridicule.” How do we extract ourselves from it? The remedy is simpler than one might think: through reclassification of drugs by the Drug Enforcement Administration, a presidentially controlled bureaucracy requiring no further rule-making authority from Congress. The less seriously addictive drugs can be made available, like tranquilizers, on a doctor’s prescription with medical instruction as to their perils. The more seriously addictive drugs can be dispensed in clinics undercutting street prices, as suggested by such irresponsible folk as George Shultz and Paul Volcker. Scare propaganda about ‘gateway drugs’ should be renounced in favor of emphasis on their unsuitability as a coping mechanism for students. Exhibit A should be the last four Presidential elections, in which five of the six major party candidates are known to have drifted through their undergraduate years in a drug or alcohol induced haze, to the nation’s future loss.

As to youth unemployment, there is the example of Roosevelt’s voluntary Civilian Conservation Corps, designed to get young men out of depressed communities and train them to work disciplines. Unlike the well-intentioned but minuscule Job Corps and Americorps of later years, the CCC was run by the Army (it is where General George C. Marshall initially gained his reputation), which alone possesses the drill sergeants, barracks and mess halls needed to expand a program quickly: at its peak, it included 500,000 young men, the equivalent of 1.25 million in relation to today’s population. The U.S. Employment Service, another New Deal agency, might be revived for younger workers only, to foster migration among states. Finally, as in Germany, younger workers might be relieved of payroll taxation, a measure far less expensive than the 2% reduction temporarily accorded all workers in the Obama administration’s ‘stimulus’ package. These lubrications of the labor market should not meet with strong conservative objections.

Finally, there are our failing high schools, a national problem. They will not improve no matter how many Thornton Plans and construction programs are fostered by the ACLU until all college graduates, not merely graduates of teachers’ colleges, are allowed to enter the teaching force. It would also be well to do away with the restrictions on school discipline and ‘mainstreaming’ of ‘emotionally disabled’ children fostered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The prophet of ‘mainstreaming’, the British sociologist Lady Warnock, has since conceded that it was a great mistake. The Civil Rights Attorneys’ Fees Act in its application to school districts has also done much to undermine school autonomy and school discipline.

This is a Northern agenda for reform, and not one for black ‘ghettos’ only. There may not yet be riots but there are heroin epidemics in Indiana and Vermont and meth labs in the Great Plains and Rust Belt. The indifference of both parties to the youth unemployment rate is a national disgrace. The reflections of the late Sam Ervin about communism are fully applicable to those, indifferent to the rest of the country, who would ascribe Baltimore’s ills to racism: “Most people around here think that the greatest danger to the United States is communism, when in fact it is stupidity.”

Posted in: Criminal Justice, Culture Wars, Drugs, Education, Job Training, State and Local Politics, Urban Affairs, Welfare and Other Social

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