One regrettable feature of political dialogue is the tendency of some of us to conflate an attempt to understand, with an attempt to condone. Hence the following comment from last week's discussion around John Conroy's account of being attacked by a black teen:

Why is everybody so intent on making excuses for this behavior? Yfantis says he "earned" a beatdown. Odub says it's about the violence that permeates our society. Socioprof gives us psychobabble about gender noncomformity. Mr. Coates acts as if the violence in the "hood" is something that just happens, like the weather.

Somebody might just want to point out that Larry, the actual perpetrator of this crime, is a moral agent with the ability to make choices. He chose to commit this savage attack, and I for one am sickened by the propensity to make excuses for this sort of behavior. Conroy suffered a permanent knee injury which will be with him forever. He could have died.

Everybody is missing one rather glaring point: Larry suffered no serious consequences from his behavior. He's being told that this sort of behavior is basically OK. His family certainly seems to think so, and the criminal justice system apparently agrees. So he gets away with it -- and his friends, relatives and neighbors see him get away with it, which of course encourages others to follow in his footsteps.

Until, that is, he goes too far, somebody dies, and he ends up in prison for life. Or maybe he gets killed in another act of senseless violence. Who knows what will happen to Larry.

But let me suggest that the concepts of "punishment" and "deterrence" ought to have some role in this discussion.

It's always telling when you see someone disagreeing with paraphrase or demeanor, instead of disagreeing with a fully formed quote. You guys can check out the thread and weigh for yourself the accuracy of the charge.

That said, I do tend to write like everyone who's reading this blog, has been reading it since its inception. So, if you generally hold stereotypes about liberals, I guess you could fairly assume that I was interested in "making excuses" for thuggery. Of course, my feelings about violent crime are on the record.  It is always tricky to say what one would do, were they in someone else's shoes, but I think if I'm walking down Lennox and some kid knocks me out cold, I will understand that he was just testing his limits. I will understand that kids like to explore their boundaries. I will know that young men aren't always great about regulating their aggressive impulses. I will also do anything, within reason and ethics, I can to aid the justice system in prosecuting said young man.

Understanding why people do dumb shit, isn't the same as thinking they have the right to do dumb shit. I say this as someone whose been on both ends of assault and battery. I say this as someone whose spouse was mugged on her way home, a few years back, and a dude whose lived in neighborhoods with a relatively high rate of violent crime, all his life.

Here is the thing--while a disproportionate number of black boys may be standing out on the street cold-cocking dudes, a larger disproportionate number of black boys are living in fear of getting cold-cocked, and reacting accordingly. The worst part of going to an inner-city school, for me, wasn't the teachers, or the schools themselves, but the way violence hung in the air, and made people crazy. The atmosphere of violence, the sense that it can always happen, that there are no safe places, even in school, alters everything. It changes how you walk home,  who you hang out with, how you dress, where you sit at lunch, to, ultimately, how focused you are on your studies.

I could be wrong, but my sense from reading Conroy's story, and the lack of responsibility shown by the kid's family, is that the kid will likely be in court again. And for all the talk about race and hate-crime, the next time out, there won't be any debate about a hate-crime, because the victim will likely look like the perp. Contrary to popular belief, in the black community, in general, there isn't much sympathy for people who decide to batter other people for kicks.