Former Secretary of Education William Bennett was back in the news last week.
YouÂll remember Bennett as the moralist who published the best-selling Book of Virtues. A year or so later he confirmed that he had a personal problem with gambling.
No problem there. I hope he has overcome his addiction.
As an aside, while I am very sympathetic, IÂve noticed across the years that people who push morals with unctuous fervor should be observed carefully.
BennettÂs latest came during this radio program. Referring to the controversial and fascinating new book, Freakonomics (by Steven D. Levitt and co-author, Stephen J. Dubner), Bennett commented that if we wanted to be most efficient in controlling crime, we would abort all of the African American babies conceived in the country.
Levitt and Dubner had observed that one plausible explanation for the dramatic drop in crime during the 1990s likely was related to the increased number of abortions taking place following Roe v. Wade (1973) among low-income women twenty or so years earlier.
Babies who would have been born at that time to very poor women would have had an increased likelihood of falling into criminal activity. Since so many were aborted, the crime rate took an unexpected dip about the time these young people would have entered their late teens and early twenties.
Bennett was speaking in hypothetical terms, but his words proved highly offensive, as one would expect, especially from such a Âmoral authority.Â No doubt, BennettÂs personal track record on social matters in general didnÂt help him much in this latest controversy.
Even President Bush issued a statement condemning BennettÂs comments as Âhighly inappropriate.Â
But the whole matter has me thinking.
Who is asking serious questions about crime and race in America today?
Incarceration rates for African America males are far out of proportion to their number in the general population. WhatÂs up with this realityÂa reality that negatively affects the health and well-being of inner city communities?
Law enforcement and criminal justice institutions need to take a look at how they relate to persons of color in terms of profiling, apprehension and prosecution.
For example, the consequences for using or trafficking cocaine in its powdered form are far less onerous than using or selling crack cocaine in its rock form.
Interestingly, and not accidentally it seems to me, the powdered form is the choice of whites, while cocaine ÂrocksÂ are the form of choice in the African American community. Congress is very aware of this glaring injustice, but continues to refuse corrective legislative action.
Of course, funds for treatment, as an aincarceration incarseration, are almost non-existent for the poor.
Much work and reform needs to take place around this single issue.
While many of the assumptions about black America that orbit around BennettÂs statement are ridiculous to the extreme, his comments should pose a much more important question demanding national attention.
What is life like for children who grow up in poverty? Black, brown, whiteÂwhat does poverty do to a child before his or her eighteenth birthday?
[Lots of people who read this blog and who often post here speak with the authority of persons who really know what poverty does to individuals and families. But frankly, I wonder.]
Of ocurse, Bennett doesnÂt believe that abortion is an answer.
But what are the answers?
The most horrifying reality to be faced here is the fact that our state and national policy makers continue to be incapable of crafting plans to adequately address the important questions forced on all of us by the continuing spread of poverty into more American neighborhoods and families.
No doubt moral clarity should play an important part in challenging poverty.
What Mr. Bennett and his comrades have yet to understand is that public responses to systemic, community challenges such as poverty are matters of morality calling for moral responses of the first order from our public leaders.
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