Category Archives: Race and race relations

Murders, Arrests and the Politics of Racial Grievance

Baltimore. Orange patches represent “low arrest” areas, blue high-arrest areas.

The Washington Post had what could have been an interesting idea: Map more than 52,000 homicides and arrests in major American cities over the past decade. Sadly, the newspaper floundered with the data, unable to identify any meaningful trends other than the entirely predictable finding that some cities do a significantly better job of clearing its murders than others. Why that might be, other than some vague talk about the level of trust between police and inner-city populations, the Post had no clue.

Two cities were highlighted graphically in the WaPo’s analysis: Washington’s metropolitan neighbors Baltimore and Richmond. Baltimore stands out as a city dominated by “areas of impunity,” where murders go unsolved and murders are rarely caught. Richmond shines nationally as an example of a city where most murders are solved. Comparing policing practices and community attitudes in the two cities might have been instructive, but the WaPo took a different path.

There are no one-size-fits-all explanations for the variation in arrest rates across all cities, but I will nominate one factor that plays an outsized role: the politics of racial grievance.

Baltimore and Richmond are ideal test cases. Both have large populations of poor African-Americans living in highly segregated neighborhoods. Both have black-majority city councils. Both have black police chiefs and public prosecutors. Richmond has a black sheriff — I’m not sure what the equivalent position is in Baltimore, but whatever it is, I’ll wager that a black politician occupies the post. Thus, we can’t explain away the difference in arrest rates by the suggestion that, say, Richmond doesn’t have same kind of poor, inner city neighborhoods as Baltimore. Nor can we can’t blame the indifference of a white-dominated political class, as might be the case in other cities.

The difference, I submit, is political ideology. In Baltimore the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore police escalated into a highly emotional and widely publicized controversy that fed into the Black Lives Matter narrative of endemic racial injustice. Egged on by the media, Baltimore’s politically progressive mayor and prosecutor appealed to the black population’s resentments and grievances and lambasted the performance of the police. The resulting polarization sowed mistrust between police and blacks. In such a toxic environment, the police enjoy little cooperation from the black population, making it exceedingly difficult to track down murderers and close cases. As a consequence, the murder rate soars.

Richmond’s African-American leaders are notable for their moderation and pragmatism. They don’t stoke racial grievances. While they clearly represent the interests of their poor constituents, their rhetoric supports the idea that “we’re all in this together.” They don’t see politics as a zero-sum game. They see prosperity as a rising tide that lifts all ships. As a consequence, the racial polarization that poisons police-community relations in Baltimore is far less of a problem in Richmond. The payoff is a much higher rate of arrests and convictions of murderers, and safer streets for law-abiding minority residents. Bottom line: By eschewing radical progressive rhetoric, Richmond’s black politicians get better results for their constituents.

The Continuing War on School Discipline

Governor Ralph Northam (right) at bill signing ceremony at Henderson Middle School. (Photo credit Richmond Times-Dispatch.)

Last week Governor Ralph Northam signed two bills limiting the suspensions Virginia schools can mete out to maintain student discipline. One bill bars school divisions from suspending students in pre-K through 3rd grade for more than three days; the other reduces the cap for long-term suspensions from 364 calendar days to 45 school days.

“There is power in every child,” the governor said, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We want to keep our children in school.”

The justification cited for the changes, as Bacon’s Rebellion readers will immediately surmise, is not based upon research showing that reduced suspensions are more effective means of discipline, they are based upon the disproportionate percentage of black students referred to law enforcement. The T-D frames the issue as part of the larger movement to combat the so-called “school to prison pipeline.”

Data released by the U.S. Department of Education in April show that while black students made up 15 percent of national enrollment in 2015-16, they accounted for 31 percent of students referred to law enforcement or arrested that year.

Every Richmond-area school division posted law enforcement referral rates at or worse than the national average.

I don’t have a big beef with the bills that Northam signed. You’d have to be a really bad-ass 3rd grader to warrant suspension for more than three days. And a year-long suspension for, say, a 10th grader, amounts to an expulsion for all practical purposes. I’m more concerned about how the issue is framed to justify a more therapeutic approach to school discipline, enacted by local school boards, that makes disruptive students the primary focus of compassion and concern.

“Exclusionary discipline is myopic and harmful. We cannot continue to use access to education as a punishment for student conduct and expect positive results from either students or schools,” said Amy Woolard, a staff attorney and policy coordinator at Virginia’s Legal Aid Justice Center upon the release of a report she authored in October.

Do social justice warriors like Woolard care about the kids whose educations are disrupted by misbehaving students? Let’s re-frame the issue: What percentage of minority kids attend classes where disciplinary issues detract from the teacher’s ability to teach? What percentage of minority kids find, as a result, that they gain less complete mastery of the subject matter — as measured by SOLs and other standardized test scores — than they would have if the disciplinary problems had been removed? If the education of a disproportionate percentage of minority kids is stunted due to the misbehavior of their peers, isn’t that a form of racism, too?

We don’t know the answers because nobody asks the questions and nobody bothers to measure. When nobody measures, there’s no injustice for the SJWs to decry. When there’s no injustice to decry for SJWs to decry, the real victims remain invisible. Where Northam says, “We want to keep our children in school,” I say, “We want the children in school to learn.”

Lee Demoted… at Washington & Lee

Robert E. Lee on national reconciliation, from the Virginia Museum of History and Culture: In his public letters, a number of which were reprinted in newspapers, he urged that “all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.” Lee vowed to do “all in my power to encourage our people to set manfully to work to restore the country, to rebuild their homes and churches, to educate their children, and to remain with their states, their friends and countrymen.” Thus when Congress ordered the drafting of new constitutions in the former Confederate states and disgruntled southerners contemplated a boycott of the system, Lee announced that it was “the duty of the [southern] people to accept the situation fully” and that every man should not only “prepare himself to vote” but also “prepare his friends, white and colored, to vote and to vote rightly.”

It’s not easy being Washington & Lee University these days. Talk about the ultimate politically incorrect name — an appellation based on not one but two slave owners!

Of the two, Robert E. Lee is held in the lowest regard these days, reviled as a military commander of the Confederacy rather than his role in reconciling North and South after the Civil War — largely during his tenure as president of the university. So it’s no surprise that W&L’s Commission on Institutional History and Community has issued recommendations to de-emphasize its connection with Lee. That would include re-naming Lee House and the Lee-Jackson House, along with Robinson Hall named for a Rockbridge County plantation owner, reports The News Gazette.

No mention of deleting Lee’s name from the university.

Meanwhile, the commission proposes incorporating the university’s history into its orientation program and curriculum. Among the specifics:

  • “Require each undergraduate student to take a seminar that explores W&L history, including the involvement of the namesakes, the contribution of enslaved persons, the role of W&L in the creation and dissemination of the Lost Cause narrative, the training of soldiers on campus, and the impact of our graduates on the institution and the world. The goal would be neither to mask nor to bash the university’s history, but rather to tell the full story, confident that the university’s positive contributions to society far outweigh its shortcomings. …
  • “During Spring Term, foster campus unity by selecting a topic or issue that the entire community explores and discusses, whether in multiple class offerings that address the topic from different angles; a speaker series that highlights different aspects of the issue.”

In the wrong hands, this could turn into an exercise in white guilt and self-flagellation. I don’t get the sense that W&L is loaded with professors steeped in identity politics bent upon de-legitimizing the nation’s founding… but then the content of a program like this really depends upon who is put in charge and how it is run. So, we’ll have to wait and see.

Whoever runs the program, though, I don’t see these recommendations as “fostering campus unity.” Fostering campus division is more likely.

The Veiled Racism in the School Shooting Debate

U.S. Homicide rate… down. Graphic credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

An axiom of Bacon’s Rebellion is that while progressives (progs) and social justice warriors (SJWs) oppose racism in their rhetoric, they support policies that have the unintended result of being racist in effect. Nowhere is this clearer than in their approach to the criminal justice system, in which they decry the criminals as victims while ignoring the victims of their criminality. Today I will take my argument one step further and suggest that progs and SJWs betray a pattern of behavior that, if observed among conservatives and libertarians, they would tar as racist.

This truth was brought to my mind by the lead editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today, which published graphs contrasting the decline of the U.S. homicide rate over the past three decades (despite an uptick in the past two years) with the decline in mass shootings.

School massacres and other mass shooting.

The thrust of the T-D editorial was to observe that once upon a time, when access to guns was far easier than it is today, there were far fewer school mass shootings. Clearly, something is going on that has nothing to do with guns.

I would suggest that that “something” is a cultural/psychological phenomenon connected to white male alienation and mental illness, the spread of the Columbine-massacre template among disturbed teenage whites, mass media hysteria that guarantees maximum exposure of every shooting, and the rise of social media creating a platform for the killers to create manifestos explaining and justifying their rage. But that’s a side observation.

The larger point is this: National U.S. media inundate the public with coverage of mass shootings, even though they account for an almost trivial amount of total homicides. Why is that? Could the reason be that the overwhelming majority of all homicide victims are black, brown, or lower-income whites while the overwhelming majority of school shooting victims are white — just like the Mika Brzezinkis, Joe Scarboroughs, Rachel Maddows, Chris Cuomos and New York Times editorial writers? Could the reason be that the overwhelming majority of homicide victims live in neighborhoods where elite opinion makers never set foot, therefore elite opinion makers do not share the same sense of alarm as other Americans about criminal violence, while school shootings occur in places where the victims “look like them”?

Consider this graph from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Blacks are about 30% more likely to be victims of violent crimes than whites. Of course, a large percentage of violent crimes within any racial/ethnic category are committed by domestic partners or other acquaintances. Exclude those categories, and the rate of violent-crime victimization of upper-income, college-educated whites is very low. Upper middle-class progs and SJWs don’t worry much about assaults by domestic partners, gambling buddies, drug suppliers, or random street muggings. To them, the perceived threat of school shootings looms larger. As far as black victims of violent crime… meh. Inner city crime can be written off as an outcomes of institutional racism anyway — not their fault.

There is a fine balancing act here. The U.S. criminal justice system arguably does incarcerate too many people, and it arguably does need an overhaul. Virginia does an exemplary job of recycling jail and prison inmates back into the community — we have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country — but we could always do more. And we are. As an example: Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam signed bipartisan legislation raising the threshold for a felony larceny from $200 to $500 — an action that hopefully will have the effect of reducing jail populations without increasing the incidence of petty crime.

But we need to be careful. According to the “broken windows” theory of criminality, a tolerance of misdemeanors leads to more minor crimes. A tolerance of minor crimes leads to more major crimes. The victims of those crimes come disproportionately from minority and lower-income neighborhoods. While these victims receive attention from local news media, they warrant almost zero from the national media that exert such a profound influence on the public policy agenda. If all crime victims were given the same platforms to express their fear and frustration as, say, the Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivors, the public policy debate in the United States would look very different indeed.

Good Idea: Rename Jefferson Davis Highway

Alexandria City Council has decided to hold a public hearing on the topic of renaming its stretch of U.S. Route 1 from the Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway, reports the Washington Post.

While I vigorously oppose the removal of statues of Civil War generals, I have no problem with changing the name of a highway named after the president of the Confederate States of America. Indeed, I endorse the removal of the ridiculous anachronism.

Jefferson was not a native Virginian. Neither was he a military hero celebrated for martial virtues worthy of admiration in any society or culture. Most importantly, changing the name does not require tearing down a magnificent work of public art.

I am tangentially involved with an initiative that is working to “reinterpret” the public statuary in Richmond as part of a larger effort to think about race relations and the struggle for individual liberties, and I think it would be a crime to remove statues that are such visible reminders of — and prods to conversation about — a by-gone way of thinking. I also subscribe to the idea that more is better. Instead of tearing statues down, let’s build memorials to people whose struggle for freedom and equal rights might have gone unrecognized a century ago.

But renaming public places — roads and schools most notably — does not require ditching priceless artifacts. Making the change will cost the city a mere $27,000, the Post says. And unlike the Civil War statues, place names will never become a starting point for stimulating an open dialogue about Virginia’s painful past of slavery and Jim Crow. So, as far as I’m concerned, replace the signs.

A New Narrative for African-Americans

Kanye West

Hip-hop artist Kanye West has sent the Twitterverse into a frenzy by tweeting his approbation of psychologist Jordan Peterson, economist Thomas Sowell, and viral sensation Candace Owens. The thrust of West’s comments is that African-Americans should be allowed to think for themselves. Intellectuals like Sowell and Walter Williams, read only by conservative intellectuals, fought the good fight for many long years but had negligible impact on African-American thinking. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been marginalized in black opinion by portrayals of him as a stooge of smarter white, conservative judges. But the Democratic/liberal lock on African-American thought is rusting. A cultural icon like West legitimizes the view that there are alternatives to the black-victimization narrative.

Candace Owens

I bring to the attention of Bacon’s Rebellion readers an unsung group called Project 21, a national network of African-Americans dedicated to exploring conservative and libertarian public policy solutions for advancing blacks in American society. The group has just published a report, “Blueprint for a Better Deal for Black America.”

While others like West and Owens are garnering media attention, Project 21 has been doing the yeoman’s work of articulating a public policy agenda.

“It has been over a half-century since the enactment of landmark civil rights legislation targeting the scourge of racial discrimination,” states the introduction. “Unfortunately, too many black families today suffer from a non-racial scourge – conditions that undermine upward mobility and perpetuate unacceptable levels of poverty, crime and other social ills. The vaunted social safety net has become a web that ensnares black families in a vicious cycle of dependency.

The report offers the following key recommendations, which I repeat verbatim:

Reducing Black Unemployment. Abolish the Jim Crow-era Davis-Bacon Act; initiate a second wave of welfare reform with work requirements and waive the minimum wage and collection of FICA for younger workers in special low-income areas.

Promoting self-determination. End fraudulent election practices that dilute black votes. Require proof of citizenship to register; vigorously prosecute those who target minority communities for fraud and prohibit the mailing out of ballots that haven’t been requested.

Ending excessive regulation. Require “Minority Impact Assessments” for new regulations.

Reducing the economic harm of excise taxes. Repeal federal, state and local sin and gas taxes, all of which have disproportionate negative impact on low-income families.

Promoting K-12 educational choice. Establish federal needs-based vouchers funded in part through an IRS 1040 voluntary donation check-off. Improve school security through upgrades in entry doors and by allowing trained school personnel access to guns.

Strengthening faith-based communities. Establish federal Tax Credit Scholarships; repeal the Johnson Amendment; create a tax credit for families paying for nursery-12 fees and tuition; and ban abortions performed exclusively on the basis of fetus ethnicity.

Improving the relationship between police and black communities. Get police out of the regulation business: disarm federal agencies and transfer the resources to support police-community outreach programs; increase the use of body cameras; provide training to police in identifying people with autism; end gun bans and put police in charge of safety training.

Stopping wealth transfer from the poor to non-citizens. Bar illegal aliens from using public services, except in emergencies.

I don’t agree with all of these ideas, but that’s not the point. I’m not looking to create a new conservative orthodoxy that blacks must adhere to. I welcome fresh thinking from the African-American community on how to free blacks from government dependency and partake of the economic opportunities that other Americans enjoy. By all means, let’s have that conversation.

As Project 21’s perspectives spread, as I am confident they will, I hope we can extend the conversation to Virginia state and local issues. I invite Virginia African-American readers to contribute to the dialogue on Bacon’s Rebellion. Please feel free to contact me at jabacon[at]baconsrebellion.com.

Time to Reform Practice of Cash Bonds

Earlier this month Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring announced that his office would no longer recommend requiring cash bond for people charged with crimes. Instead, prosecutors would recommend defendants either be held in jail or be given their freedom until the trial. Too many people are unable to raise cash for the bond, and Herring is concerned that the practice needlessly stuffs the city jail with poor defendants who may be innocent and pose no threat to the community.

Herring is not a social justice warrior. He’s a prosecutor who takes seriously his obligation to put bad guys in jail. But he’s also sensitive to the effect that the criminal justice system has on poor African-Americans. Holding someone in gaol until his (or her, but mostly his) trial interrupts his employment, disrupts his ability to meet his financial obligations, and deprives him of his freedom. The practice also imposes a burden on taxpayers to house, feed, and guard people who have yet to be convicted of a crime.

If the Richmond metro area were undergoing a horrendous crime wave, I might be inclined to err on the side of public safety. But crime continues to decline. As we approach end of April, Police Chief Alfred Durham reports heartening statistics, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch: Seven fewer homicides, 23 fewer people shot, 42 fewer robberies, 196 fewer burglaries, and an overall 6 percent drop in violent and property crimes compared to the same point last year. This would seem to be a propitious time to implement reforms to the criminal justice system, if it can be shown that reforms are needed.

When thinking about the causes of poverty, I find it useful to adopt two analytical frameworks: individual and institutional. Examining poverty at the level of the individual, we can see that some people are poor as a consequence of poor decisions they have made: They dropped out of school, they got pregnant before they got married, they abused alcohol or drugs, they committed crimes, they were unreliable employees, or they spent more money than they made and put themselves onto a treadmill of debt. And we can also see that institutional forces often work against them. Their schools were terrible. Politicians were corrupt. Jobs were scarce. They ran afoul of a criminal justice system that stacked the odds against them.

If we want to address poverty in Virginia and create a society where people can rise above their circumstances, then we need to adopt both frames of reference, Among other things, that means giving a closer look at the criminal justice system. I have written in the past about how jails and prisons can ease the re-entry of inmates into society by making sure they have such basic job-finding tools as drivers licenses and identity cards. And a strong case can be made that they system of cash bond disproportionately burdens the poor.

Herring’s order to stop recommending cash bond is just the first step, argues Adeola Ogunkeyede, director of the Civil Rights & Racial Injustice Program. While prosecutors may stop recommending cash bond, they aren’t always present when bail decisions are made — magistrates often make bail decisions when prosecutors aren’t around. Likewise, judges can override prosecutors’ recommendations.

In a Richmond Times-Dispatch column today, she writes: “Given this context it remains to be seen whether Herring’s decision to stop his prosecutors from recommending cash bond will reduce the number of people locked in jail pretrial in Richmond.” She concludes:

Moving forward, we encourage Herring to join advocates and communities disproportionately impacted by unjust bail practices — predominantly low-income communities of color — in championing measures that would unequivocally put Richmond on track to lead the way on meaningful bail reform in Virginia.

From what I gather, Herring has already joined the movement. Her remarks would be better aimed at magistrates and judges. More critically, I would like to see Ogunkeyede acknowledge that there is a balancing act between protecting the rights of the accused and protecting the community from the depredations of crime. As social justice warriors often seem to forget, “communities of color” are disproportionately victims of the criminals who live in their midst.

Still, all things considered, it is a fundamental principle of American justice that people are presumed innocent until found guilty. We should explore ways to keep not-convicted people out of jail, especially those accused of non-violent crimes who pose no threat to the public. Herring’s announcement is an important step forward and Ogunkeyede’s column is a worthwhile contribution to the discussion.

Wow, that Stop-and-Frisk Policy Sure Looks Suspicious. Let’s Stop and Frisk It.

Citing Charlottesville Police Department data, the Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, has found that African-Americans are stopped and frisked at a rate nine times greater than whites.

The statistical report from the 2017 calendar year detailed that of the 173 total recorded stop incidents, 70 percent of the individuals were black. Of the 125 stop incidents with search-and-frisk, 91 of the individuals  — or 73 percent — were black.  According to 2016 estimates of Charlottesville demographics, only 19 percent of the City identifies as black or African American.

Predictably, Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications for the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said he found the statistics “alarming.”

Don Gathers, a deacon at the First Baptist Church and founder of Charlottesville’s chapter of Black Lives Matter — said that stop and frisk is a racist policy: “[Stop and Frisk] is a very race-based, racist, failed policy,” he said. “[The police] get … returns from the instability that they create in the community.”

My first reaction (to borrow a line from the Instapundit blog): Why are municipalities run by progressives such cesspools of discrimination?

My second reaction: Maybe there is a problem, but I’m not going to believe it on the authority of the Cavalier Daily, the ACLU or Black Lives Matter. Here’s the obvious counter: If African-Americans in Charlottesville are nine times to be guilty of crimes as whites, then the stop-and-frisk disparity is not unreasonable.

However, the Cavalier Daily did present evidence suggesting that the disparity was real, though not as bad as a nine-to-one ratio would indicate.

In 2016, a more comprehensive report revealed that out of the 97 detentions, 74 of the cases involved black individuals, but only 15 — or about 17 percent — of the individuals were arrested or served summons. Comparatively, out of the 35 white people that were stopped in 2016, 11 — roughly 31 percent —  of them were arrested or summoned to court.

In either case, a minority of those frisked were worthy of arrest. But blacks were only half as likely to be arrested or summoned — a big disparity, to be sure, but far short of a nine-to-one ratio. What we don’t know is if there are legitimate reasons for that smaller disparity. The assumption of racism is often unwarranted. Conversely, the fact that assumptions of racism are often unwarranted does not mean that they are always unwarranted. This may be such a case.

“Another important step is to dig deeper into the data,” said City Manager Maurice Jones. “We’ve got a group of folks who will be doing that with the City Manager’s Office, the police department, the City Attorney’s Office [and] the Commonwealth Attorney’s office as well and getting a better understanding of some of the issues associated with [the data].”

When stop-and-frisk was a hot controversy in New York City a few years back, I sympathized with the police and those who argued that eliminating the policy would make it more difficult to combat crime. I did not think it would end well when Mayor Bill DeBlasio ended the practice. As it turns out, the New York City crime rate has continued to decline. It’s not often that I find myself changing my mind about left-wing politicians, but in this instance DeBlasio proved correct. Stop-and-frisk was causing unnecessary resentment among minorities, and police have other crime-fighting tools that work as well or even better.

Bacon’s bottom line: Let’s see if Charlottesville’s police can provide a convincing defense of the racial disparity in stop-frisks. If they can’t, the practice should end, and the police should devise other tactics for fighting crime.

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

Last night vandals smeared the Thomas Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia with the phrase “racist + rapist,” reports WVIR-TV. Today marks Founder’s Day, which celebrates Jefferson’s 275th birthday.

The University of Virginia released a statement, saying, “The university is disappointed that individuals vandalized the statue of Thomas Jefferson on the Lawn on the day that we honor his contributions to our University and to our democracy.”

The UVa administration is “disappointed.” Not “indignant” about vandalism to the founder of the university and a founding father of the nation. Not “shocked.” Not “outraged.” Just “disappointed.”

The latest vandalism follows an incident last September in which someone draped the statue with a sheet that read, “Black Lives Matter. Fuck White Supremacy.”

Vandals, let me tell you what university administrators can’t bring themselves to say. If you’re trying to change things for the better, you’re not helping. If you want to convert people to your cause, you don’t get it by desecrating the revered symbols of the people you’re trying to convert. In fact, you do the opposite. Want more rednecks flying big-ass Confederate battle flags just off the Interstate? This is how you get more rednecks flying big-ass Confederate battle flags just off the Interstate.

I could say something similar to the rednecks. Want more defilement of Thomas Jefferson statues? This is how you get more defilement of Thomas Jefferson statues. Here’s the difference. You are University of Virginia students — you’re attending one of the most prestigious universities in the country. You’re supposed to be well-informed and articulate. The rednecks are just… rednecks.

Go back and study your history. See how Frederick Douglas acquitted himself. See how Harriet Tubman acquitted herself. See how Booker T. Washington acquitted himself. See how Thurgood Marshall acquitted himself. See how Martin Luther King acquitted himself. They didn’t use vulgar profanity. They didn’t desecrate the founding fathers. They appealed to peoples’ better nature. And they made a difference.

If you want to discuss Jefferson’s historical legacy — his role in articulating and advancing human freedoms, his sins as a slave holder, his views towards race, his role in abolishing the international slave trade — by all means, let’s have that discussion. The man was not a saint. It is reasonable for every generation to reinterpret his contributions for good and for ill in this country. But vandalizing his statue doesn’t contribute to the conversation — it shuts the conversation down.

About those Student Loan Default Rates…

The distinction of having the highest student-loan default rate of any higher-education institution in Virginia goes to Everest College in Chesapeake. The default rate at the for-profit college (now doing business as Altierus Career College), which prepares students to be dental assistants, HVAC technicians and the like, is 36%, reports WVTF Radio IQ.

In absolute numbers, non-profit Liberty University took the top spot. A 10% default rate translated into 2,903 students.

The highest default rates tend to be small, for-profit vocational schools. Although the Radio IQ data doesn’t show it, some public colleges have a fairly high default rate as well. Low-income students are disproportionately likely to drop out of college — whatever the institution — and find themselves unable (or unwillling) to repay their loans.

Many progressives purport to be concerned about minorities and the high default rate blame for-profit colleges. The Radio IQ article quotes Diane Standaert with the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) as noting that many for-profits are converting into non-profits to avoid state and federal regulations aimed at curbing “abusive practices.”

Acccording to CRL’s Virginia state profile, for-profit colleges disproportionately harm: low-income families, communities of color, and women.” Undergraduate enrollment at for-profits is 54% low-income, 45.4% African-American, and 60.9% female. Students at for-profit institutions in Virginia are less likely to graduate, more likely to take out student loans and graduate more indebted, and are more likely to default on their college debt, according to CRL.

What this analysis ignores is that there is considerable variability in the default rate for for-profit, private non-profit, and public non-profit institutions. The best for-profit institutions have lower default rates than the worst non-profits. Public institutions such as Norfolk State and Virginia Union University that cater to lower-income African-Americans have default rates comparable to many for-profits. Conversely, the for-profits cater to adult African-Americans — look at their television ads if you doubt me — who didn’t get a chance to attend college immediately after high school but, as adults, would like to advance their career and obtain a better job.

If mean ol’ fiscal conservatives wanted to shut down for-profit institutions with high default rates on the grounds that they were costing taxpayers, some progressive group would describe the disproportionate impact on upwardly striving African-Americans as racist. But the impetus for shutting down for-profits isn’t coming from the Right. It’s coming from the Left, hostile as always to the idea of someone somewhere making a profit.

The real problem isn’t whether an institution is for-profit or non-profit, it’s the fact that the federal government hands out student loans indiscriminately. Federal loans are not granted on the basis of a student’s likelihood to repay, whether based on SAT scores, class standing, credit score, years in the workforce or any other relevant factor. Why? Because objective lending criteria might impact minorities more than whites, which would constitute a different type of discrimination and invoke the inevitable cries of racism.

So, if you think with a leftist mindset, instead of insisting that the federal government establish standards to reduce the number of students defaulting on their debt, which would be racist, you attack for-profit institutions… even thought, by leftist standards, limiting educational opportunities for minorities by this indirect means also could be construed as racist. But if you think with a leftist mindset, that’s OK because you’re suspicious of for-profit enterprises anyway. Furthermore, you control the commanding heights that shape public opinion formulation — the media, academia, the educational bureaucracy — so you have the power to frame the issue the way you want.

That, folks, is democracy at work in America today.