No, crime is not a “construct” created to keep the black man down

Progressives are confused about crime.  Their social justice philosophy views victims based on the facts of their birth, not the deeds that they’ve done.  The saga of the Park Slope Panthers in Brooklyn, NY reveals that they’d rather have a homeless madman roaming the streets, terrorizing women and killing dogs, than protect the populace.

Conservatives like myself were entertained recently by the saga of the Park Slope Panthers, what might have been a much needed community safety group in Brooklyn, NY that was stymied from the start by the latest progressive politics and perverse vision of justice.  First, a little backstory:  Park Slope is a gentrified neighborhood in one of New York City’s five boroughs.  The area itself is wealthy and largely Democrat-leaning, but like most major cities, there has been an increase in violent crime and homelessness over the past couple of years.  The two issues came together in the form of a mentally disturbed homeless man menacing a neighborhood park.  In August, the man in question attacked a woman, Jessica Chrustic, and her dog, Moose, with a stick, ultimately killing the dog.  The incident was too much for a former member of Occupy Wall Street and current “climate, renewable energy, gender lens, racial equity, economic advancement” financial consultant, Kristian Nammack.  He posted on the local networking site NextDoor, recommending that residents form a community safety patrol.  “In light of the recent attack in Prospect Park of a woman and her dog – resulting in the dog dying later – and the lack of NYPD accountability in the matter – do we want to organize a community safety patrol and take our park back?”  In a rational world, this would not have been the set up for what can only be described as a satire fit for Jonathan Swift or perhaps Kurt Vonnegut would be a better choice.  A safety patrol to ensure women can walk their dogs without fear for their lives shouldn’t be controversial or cause much consternation.  One would not finish this story with the phrase “and hijinks ensued,” but in an era of radical progressive politics increasingly divorced from reality, that is precisely what happened.  The problem, you see, is that the homeless man is black and poor.  The residents that would form the patrol are mostly non-black and wealthy.  As one of the would be Panthers put it, “It’s about finding a way that’s non-biased to report these things and have people feel like it’s safe here.  You don’t want to fall into that stereotype of privilege.”

After posting on NextDoor, Mr. Nammack attempted to inaugurate the safety patrol by hosting a meeting in Prospect Park on September 10.  (These events are recounted in entertaining detail by Suzie Weiss in both The New York Post and Common Sense.)  He arrived equipped with tee-shirts featuring a Park Slope Panthers logo on a beautiful early fall morning in New York.  There were six original attendees concerned about the crime in their neighborhood. In addition to the attack on Ms. Chrustic, there had been an increase in homelessness in general in the park and the surrounding areas.  Theft had increased including smash and grab robberies.  Mr. Nammack himself had helped a local store owner confront teenagers attempting to rob him, one of whom was armed with a knife.  There was even a cat-napping.  The increase in crime has been accompanied by a decrease in the quality of life.  There was more garbage in the park and on the streets.  Vape shops and stores that sell marijuana were opening up.   Delivery guys on bikes were racing through crosswalks.  Overall, these didn’t seem like the sort of things that should be happening in a neighborhood with median net income of over $160,000 per year and an average rent of almost $3,250 per month.

The original attendees were a mixed lot.  Three older white women who were dog lovers, a younger white man who was concerned about the safety of his little sister, and a middle aged Asian man who wanted to “elevate Park Slope culture as a whole.”  They would not be left alone for long.  Four detractors arrived shortly after the meeting started and began causing immediate trouble.  One, who had a portable speaker playing loud music, declared “We are super not into you guys having your meeting or doing anything in the park.”   Mr. Nammack asked them to join anyway and explained they were introducing each other in turns, to which the interloper, who wore a full medical grade face mask replied, he wasn’t “super into abiding by the structure that you’re setting up.”  Apparently, they weren’t super interested in leaving the budding safety patrol alone either.  When Mr. Nammack asked them to move on from the meeting, another interloper informed him, “Yeah, we’re not going to do that.”  They set up shop nearby, nor were they the only ones who sought to interrupt the meeting.  Another man soon approached. Ms. Weiss described him as “more of weathered activist, a bit more hardcore than the kids,” and he wanted to know, “What’s with you calling yourself the Panthers?”  Mr. Nammack noted that “There’s two statues of panthers at an entrance to the park.”  They were designed by Alexander Phimister Proctor, and had been there since 1898, representing a piece of Park Slope history.  This was irrelevant to the younger activists, one of whom was a female.  “Using the Panthers as your group’s name is kind of abhorrent to me,” she explained.  “It feels antithetical to what the Black Panthers would stand for.”

Sadly, the name proved to be among the least of their worries.  None of them could figure out what a community safety patrol should stand for in a progressive bastion in the first place.  A younger white woman who grew up on the neighborhood, Sky, expressed her concerns, noting, “It’s easy to be wrong about who you’re going after, particularly when those are some of the few black people still living in the neighborhood, and they’ve been pushed out on the streets by all white, ultra-wealthy people.”  Urban gentrification, in their views, was symptomatic of their larger concerns.  The homeless man who killed the dog had been spotted again, this time chasing down another woman and their dog on nearby Flatbush Avenue while screaming “Let’s see some action here!”  Surely, they could agree that something should be done about an obviously dangerous, unstable man on the streets?   The young activist with a speaker disagreed.  “So, it sounds like this person has been pushed out of an unimaginable amount of systems.”  Besides, this poor man was probably “neurodivergent.”  Sky went one step further in his defense, “Crime is an abstract term that means nothing in a lot of ways,” she explained. “The construct of crime has been so socially constructed to target black and poor people.” Once upon a time, a statement like this would be laughed at outside a late night gathering around the world’s biggest bong in some liberal college dorm room, but not in progressive America today.  One of the attendees who seemed interested in joining the community safety patrol in principle shouted his agreement, “Right, yeah, I agree with you!”  Another, the lone black gentlemen in attendance, accepted the premise as well, and then asked where that left them.  “Just to level set the room, we’re not here to cause harm or be vigilantes to anyone. Maybe we could work together to find a solution, because I don’t fucking know what the solution is, but we all want the same thing.”  Another new arrival said the solution was in building a new community or something, one where no one ever had to call the police.  Still another equated having a bad day to beating a dog to death with a stick.  “I get angry and lash out at people when I’m hungry and haven’t slept well and people are being mean to me all day.”  Yet another concurred, “I’ve never killed a dog, but we’ve all hurt people.”

At the risk of imparting too much sense to the nonsensical, we should consider what this really means for a moment and what the outcome of such insanity might be.  First, we can all agree that there is some subset of crimes that are socially constructed.  Illegal drugs are a perfect example.  There is nothing inherent in the consumption of marijuana or even harder substances that violates any moral or ethical code, or directly harms another.  We can easily imagine a world where marijuana is fully legal like alcohol, but in our world the federal government classifies it as a restricted substance for better or worse.  Sometimes, these are referred to as “victimless” crimes.  There are also what are generally referred to as “process crimes” such as interfering with an investigation, lying to the police, or obstructing justice.  These are also the kind of crimes we can imagine not being crimes at all, and in fact, many socially constructed crimes have changed over the years.  Interacial marriage and homosexuality come to mind.  These, and others, were once illegal in many states, but are no longer so today.  As cultural mores change, laws tend to change with them, albeit sometimes too slowly for many people’s tastes.  The crimes in question before the Park Slope Panthers, however, fit neither of these categories.  Violence and theft violate the personal rights and autonomy of another by definition.  In other words, there is a victim and a perpetrator.  There is nothing socially constructed about a dead dog, unless you are adapting Erwin Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment and applying it to canines instead of cats, or you believe we are living in The Matrix.  The dog was alive before the encounter with the deranged homeless person.  It died afterwards, and nothing can ever bring it back.  Likewise, the stores that were victimized by smash and grab robberies had these items in their position, now they no longer do, forgetting any damage that was done during the theft itself.  Whether a crime of this kind is committed, is provable with evidence.  It either happened or it didn’t, and if it happened, one person was victimized by another.

The question for society, meaning the part that is socially constructed, is how to protect the rights and obtain justice for the victim after the crime has occurred.  There were points in humanity’s tortured history when the answer was essentially nothing.  The strong preyed upon the weak, taking what they wanted, and the weak had little recourse except to hope they could gain favor with someone strong enough to protect them.  This certainly worked well enough for the strong unless someone even stronger came along, but not so much for everyone else.  Therefore, at no small risk of over simplifying things, humanity banded together in various societies and put the power to protect the rights and obtain justice in the hands of the government.  This innovation occurred somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago, and while theories of the optimal mode of government have certainly changed since then, the underlying concept has persisted largely unchallenged, save for anarchists.  Putting this another way, for thousands upon thousands years, humanity has agreed that some things, almost universally those that victimize another, are crimes.  The Judeo-Christian tradition even takes that one step further and identities two crimes as mortal sins in the 10 Commandments, you shall not murder and you shall not steal.  The Father of the United States Constitution, James Madison, put it another way when he said “if men were angels, no government would be necessary,” pointing out that people need both laws and someone to enforce them for their own protection and the stability of society.  Generally speaking, the output of this belief has been precisely that:  Following a revolution in modes of government that began with the English Revolution, more and more of the world’s population has spent more and more of their lives without constantly fearing for their own safety and believing in the stability of their way of life.  There have been fits and starts of course, and many societies throughout the past several hundred years have only offered these protections to some, but as former President Barack Obama might say, the arc of history bends toward justice.  More practically speaking, the ability of society to meet these two basic needs has unleashed prosperity.  Humans, believing they were safe from theft and violence, were free to invest their efforts in improving their lot.  It is no exaggeration to say that basic law and order underpins almost every achievement in the history of the human race.

Today, however, this basic truth is under attack, no longer believed by some significant minority of the population.  They have replaced the traditional concept of justice and the rights of victims with an entirely new one, euphemistically called “social justice.” According to this warped philosophy, whether or not you are a victim is purely a product of your birth, namely your race and class, and where you fit in their stratified vision of society.  A white woman and her dog menaced by an out of control black man is not the victim in that situation, but the black man is because he’s from three disadvantaged groups.  He’s a minority, he’s poor, and he’s mentally deranged.  The context is important:  This same woman can be a victim herself, depending on who committed the crime.  If she were sexually assaulted by a wealthy white person for example, progressives would agree she was a victim of the patriarchy.   We should note that this is distinct from the concept of mitigating circumstances.   Everyone understands that a poor person stealing a loaf of bread to feed their family might have good reason to (forgive me for borrowing a plot line from Les Misérables, but the age of the novel only proves my point).  We can sympathize with this person and adjust our vision of what constitutes a just outcome accordingly, something reflected in the discretion granted to prosecutors and judges to both determine what crimes to pursue and how to punish the perpetrator.  This, however, is not what the social justice activists are calling for when they say crime is socially constructed.  They are not asking us to consider mitigating factors when pursuing justice.  They are demanding we reconsider the entire notion of justice, and they are more than willing to risk the lives of women and children to do so.

In their view, it is preferable to have a crazy man roaming the streets killing dogs than to protect the populace.  We know this because they are willing to say it, even in so-called prestigious publications like The New York Times.  Their recent coverage of the nascent Park Slope Panthers began with, “Real-world ethics question: In a well-used city park, a man with a history of erratic behavior attacks a dog and its owner with a stick; five days later, the dog dies. The man is Black, the dog owner white; the adjoining neighborhood is famously progressive, often critical of the police and jail system.”  In what world is this an ethics question?  Is there any sane person confused about what should be done here?  The Times continued to quote Martin Lofsnes, who was a resident of Park Slope until 2020.  He was appalled by “this vigilante attitude,” and urged people to consider “400 yrs of systematic racism which has prevented black people from building generational wealth through homeownership resulting in the extreme disparity we see today.”  Arresting the man would solve none of that, instead the community should raise money and help him, whatever that means in this context.  Helping him will not bring back the dog or erase Ms. Chrustic’s memory of the assault.

Fortunately, the radical nature of this redefinition of justice is not universally accepted among liberals, much less conservatives.  There are some in liberal ranks that maintain some semblance of common sense.  The Times also quotes another woman, Nicole Haddad, that was accosted by the same homeless man.  “I tell those people to shut up. They don’t have a leg to stand on.”  “I don’t care that it’s being divisive, and that people don’t want to see this guy die in Rikers Island,” she added. “I’m a New York liberal. I am absolutely for people getting the help they need. But this person is attacking people and killing dogs. He’s targeting women and dogs. He’s violent. He should not be in the park. He should be locked up and paying for his actions.”  Perhaps one day, liberals and progressives will sort this out.  In the meantime, the Park Slope Panthers never got off the ground.  Mr. Nammack emailed the attendees the next day, but did not include the interlopers.  “Their youthful disruptive method is not what will move us forward so I am not including them in this initiative right now,” he explained.  He also noted the next meeting would be held indoors at the local library, presumably to limit the potential for additional interlopers.  The meeting was pushed back because of scheduling issues, but Mr. Nammack, to his credit, still tried to do something about the deranged homeless man.  He met with his local council member, Shahana Hanif and two staffers.  Their biggest concern?  “They said their biggest concern is that the perpetrator is not arrested and sent to Rikers because they are concerned for his wellbeing!!!”  The man is still at large, but Mr. Nammack woke up to red graffiti on his sidewalk.  “Don’t be a cop, Kris.”  This is social justice in the year 2022.

2 thoughts on “No, crime is not a “construct” created to keep the black man down”

  1. Excellent article! Kris is my cousin and I am so proud of him for trying to do the right thing. It is shocking to me that this man has not been taken off the streets yet. People (and dogs) should be able to feel safe and people who commit crimes should be locked up.

    Like

    1. Thank you Carla for the kind words and your comment. I appreciate your taking the time to read it and post on the site. Kris emailed me as well; if you have anything else you would like to add or say on the matter, I would be happy to do a follow up as well.

      Like

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