Dallas tragedy and coalition politics.


A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSH3XR
A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. Posted by permission from REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RTSH3XR

Pardon the below sprawling column. It’s a bit jumbled because I was a bit jumbled when I wrote the bulk of it, Saturday night.

This is a difficult moment. Black Lives Matter demonstrators, their supporters, and allies are grieving the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. By all accounts–including now-ubiquitous phone videos–Sterling and Castile died horribly and unjustifiably at the hands of police. Meanwhile, the law enforcement community grieves the murders of Dallas police officers Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens, and Michael Smith, who died horribly at the hands of a sniper, who also wounded seven officers.

I identify with angry and grieving BLM protesters and share much of their broad policy agenda. I also identify with angry and grieving police officers, who have such an essential and difficult role in hard-hit urban communities. Which is to say that I cannot fully or unconditionally identify with either side in the customary ways demanded by the antagonists in polarized times.

I shared the below remarks in draft with someone who identifies with BLM, and with someone else who identifies with a law enforcement perspective. Both were offended by what I wrote. Both told me in no uncertain terms that this essay demonstrates my moral cowardice in its equivocation. On one side, I stand accused of failing to bluntly condemn anti-police behavior. On the other, I stand accused of tone policing and of a failure to be a proper ally…

Continue reading “Dallas tragedy and coalition politics.”

Public service

This turned up on my campus sometime in the last few months. I haven’t seen it used yet, but I love it to death, both as an idea and in its execution.  A bunch of wrenches and tools securely leashed, a simple rack to hang the bike on while you fix it, and a pump that fits both kinds of valve stem. I even like the color. 20160222_160701


The only thing missing is an app to find one nearby when you need it.

The destruction of minority housing wealth in south Chicagoland

I posted an article at Vox today on race-ethnic wealth disparities, and how prior inequalities in the housing market and the stock market become self-replicating.

My own majority-African-American community underscores the general problem. Housing values are down more than 30 percent since 2006. I won’t give the full litany of grim statistics. The below screen shots from Zillow probably display the  impact of the subprime crisis better than I can otherwise convey.

The first picture are foreclosed properties in a five-mile square around my house. The red dots are for sale. The blue dots are potential sales. Of course this is eight or nine years after the worst of the crisis. People are still reeling.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 5.35.02 PM

This may not look so bad. But now consider the second picture below. It includes “pre-foreclosure” properties. As Zillow explains things, owners of these properties have received some Notice of Default (in a non-judicial foreclosure) or lis pendens (in a judicial foreclosure), though the property has not yet been put up for auction.

And yes. Only the first 500 properties are shown. More here on the policy and the economics.

Continue reading “The destruction of minority housing wealth in south Chicagoland”

“Another hostage dies”

Although Chicago’s police drama has grabbed the headlines, Illinois’ disgraceful budget standoff continues. And more local service providers are shrinking or closing their doors. Lutheran Social Services recently announced the closure of key programs.

This Friday, an article appeared in Capitolfax.com, an authoritative media source on state budget politics, under the cheery headline: “Another hostage dies:”

Haymarket Center is closing its social setting detoxification program. This was Haymarket’s first program, the start of our mission 40 years ago.

In FY 2015, this program had 1,047 admissions of 903 unique individuals.

As a social setting detoxification program, it is not eligible for a Medicaid certification, and relied on State funding. With the end of our federal portion of our DASA contract growing near, the 22% cut in our contract, and other programs such as Recovery Homes also relying on State funding, we believe we had no choice but to close this program.

We will be announcing further reductions within the next few days.

Haymarket is one of Chicago’s oldest and largest drug and alcohol treatment providers. It is a pillar of the system. When even agencies like these are closing major services, you get a sense of the havoc wreaked by the lack of a state budget.

Providers and social service agencies across Illinois are desperately trying to fit services under the ambit of Medicaid–the only faucet still properly flowing to support basic services. It’s not clear that we’ll ever have a budget for this year–or who will be paid and when if the Messiah comes and a budget is actually signed into law.

This astonishing governance failure is becoming the new normal. It’s less dramatic than lead poisoning in Flint. The human costs are high enough. And there’s no end in sight, no sign of a reasonable political compromise.


Glenn Loury and I two years ago discussing what might have happened had Dr. King survived. I don’t believe there would be an MLK holiday. He would have remained too a polarizing figure, as he surely would have gone on to do more difficult, controversial, and worthy things.

MLK Day always makes me remember fondly the old Jewish radicals, not least my parents and grandparents, who supported the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s and 1950s. They were way before their time.

I also remember 1968, the worst year in postwar American history. I was five, watching my parents staring in horror at our black-and-white kitchen TV. There was Coretta Scott King in mourning black. There were the sobbing mourners and the terrifying images of rioting and burning. The wheels were coming off. I didn’t know what to make of it. No one did.

“The black activists who helped launch the drug war”

My friend Jesse Singal has a nice piece over at the Science of Us about Michael Javen Fortner’s new book, Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment. “Key to this story,” Jesse notes, “is the role of Harlem’s residents in forcefully advocating for a tougher, more punitive approach to the neighborhood’s ‘pushers’ and addicts.”

You should read Jesse’s piece, which includes some striking graphics.

There is a sad parallel to be drawn between criminal justice policy of the late 1960s and early 1970s and the respectability politics that blossomed fifteen years later around HIV and AIDS. David Dinkins, Benjamin Ward, Charles Rangel, and much of New York’s African-American political establishment opposed syringe exchange and other harm reduction policies ironically promoted by that noted liberal Ed Koch. That’s the world I entered early in my career when I researched these same public health issues.

This 1988 New York Times story, “Needle exchange angers many minorities,”captures one strain of the dispute:

More specifically, the needle exchange has been vehemently denounced by black and Hispanic city officials.

They, joined by many drug treatment specialists, contend that because the majority of the city’s addicts are black or Hispanic people, the needle program is misguided and insensitive. What is needed, many of them say, is more drug-prevention education and treatment centers in minority neighborhoods. So intense are the sentiments that City Councilman Hilton B. Clark of Harlem recently accused the New York City Health Commissioner, Dr. Stephen C. Joseph, of using the free needle program to conduct a genocidal campaign against black and Hispanic people.

Mr. Clark said that the needles, even if distributed for a limited period of six to nine months, will encourage drug use rather than contain AIDS.

Even the city’s Police Commissioner, Benjamin Ward, last week joined the debate. Some drug treatment experts suggest that debate illustrates more about the failure of the city’s black and Hispanic leadership to effectively combat AIDS in their communities than about the alleged insensitivity of City Hall to minorities.[…]

On a television call-in program Mr. Ward, who is black, called the exchange a ”bad idea” and said he opposed it as a law-enforcement official and as a black man.

”As a black person we have a particular sensitivity to doctors conducting experiments, and they too frequently seem to be conducted against blacks,” he said.

In a letter to Mayor Koch dated Oct. 27, the City Council’s Black and Hispanic Caucus said, ”It is beyond all human reason and common sense for the city to hand out needles to drug addicts at a time when our police officers and citizens have become casualties in the drug war.”

The current generation of African-American elected politicians is at the forefront of HIV prevention and treatment advocacy. In retrospect, Ward his allies were disastrously wrong. I wish we could go back and replay the initial poisonous reaction to essential public health interventions. But before we harshly condemn Ward and his colleagues ,we might consider the human consequences of the heroin epidemic in Harlem and similar communities, and consider our broader societal failure to address the widespread joblessness, addiction, and crime that beset minority communities long before AIDS came along.

Jesse concludes his piece with a simple point:

Lurking underneath Fortner’s intricate, careful parsing of the historical record, then, is a simple claim about human beings: If you live in a neighborhood where you feel like you, your family, and your possessions are perpetually at risk, it will harden your politics and your view of your neighbors. Fortner’s main goal is to remind readers that this isn’t just true of white people.


Living on $2 per day

I recently had some work done. Just a tuck here, some stubble there. It's subtle, but I think it looks pretty good.
I recently had some work done. Just a tuck here, some stubble there. It’s subtle, but I think it looks pretty good.

Katheryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer are attracting huge attention with their new book, $2.00 a Day: Living on almost nothing in America.

Writing about this book in the New York Times, William Julius Wilson concludes:

This essential book is a call to action, and one hopes it will accomplish what ­Michael Harrington’s “The Other America” achieved in the 1960s — arousing both the nation’s consciousness and conscience about the plight of a growing number of invisible citizens. The rise of such absolute poverty since the passage of welfare reform belies all the categorical talk about opportunity and the American dream.

Shaefer and I sat down for a long converation about the book at healthinsurance.org. It was a special pleasure to speak with him, since he is a friend, co-author, and one of my very first doctoral students at the University of Chicago. Much more here.

Yeah, that’s Luke above.

Homelessness After Prison or Jail: Housing First

Criminal justice reform offers ideas to housing policy; perhaps housing can return the favor.

Lowry’s posting suggested using the criminal justice notion of swift, certain and fair punishment to minimize evictions from public housing.   What about using the homelessness-prevention notion of “Housing First” in the criminal justice context?

It’s been clear for years that requiring homeless people to subdue their mental illness or kick their drug habits or otherwise become model citizens before being sheltered failed utterly to reduce their misbehavior but succeeded splendidly in increasing the duration of their exposure to the elements.  What a surprise: without a roof under which to sleep or a safe place to store one’s stuff, other life changes become damn near impossible.

The same logic should apply to any program of reentry from prison or jail: before discharging a prisoner, corrections officials should make sure that s/he has a place to live, and provide one (albeit minimal) if not.  In other words, treat people who are homeless because they’ve been locked up the same as people who are homeless for any other reason.  This means recognizing that, without a stable place to live, staying out of trouble with the law becomes one of those damn near impossible life changes.  And that’s without even considering the people incarcerated precisely because they’re homeless—because “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

It’s costly to provide housing.  But just as scholars and practitioners finally figured out that it was cheaper to house people than to keep shuttling them between the streets and the emergency rooms, I suspect we’ll soon find that it’s cheaper to house those who’ve made it out of the criminal justice system than it is to keep sending them back in.

Another conversation with Glenn Loury about Black Lives Matter, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and other subjects

We covered much ground about Black Lives Matter, Glenn’s apology to Ta-Nehisi Coates, the folly of ranking public intellectuals, the moral and strategic calculus of disruptive protest, and other matters. More information here.

Look Ma, No Hands

The advent of driverless cars.

The driverless car is one of those ideas that was obvious long before it was feasible. As soon as Marconi had demonstrated radio transmission of sound, televisions and videophones were on the agenda. Engineers toyed with driverless cars in the 1920s, with no success; the scheme requires massive cheap computation, which has only become available in the last decade.

SF robot carI looked for an SF magazine cover with transport pods from the 1930s. In vain: the problem is not that writers hadn’t thought of it, it’s that it’s not sexy, in the white girl/BEM/blaster convention of the genre. The best I could find was this alarming robot enforcer from 1935. Contrast today’s unthreatening prototypes.






We don’t get the technical progress we need, but what comes easiest. Cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s? They will be in the post, some day soon. Multi-player role-playing video games, that we never missed before they showed up: step this way. Sometimes need and feasibility coincide, as with the smartphone: the prototype of the universal communicator terminal of science fiction, and a social revolution. Are driverless cars more like video games or smartphones? Continue reading “Look Ma, No Hands”