I suspect it’s this deepening despair that coaxes Coates into making two lamentable errors in “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”
First, Coates repeats the significant failure he recognizes in an earlier Moynihan. Coates tells us that the fatal flaw in Moynihan’s infamous report was Moynihan’s decision to omit specific policy solutions. Having seen that so clearly, it’s odd that Coates should repeat that failure so often in the important writing he now undertakes. A mind as formidable as Coates’s ought not stop with descriptive analysis, however compelling its portrayal of the problem. It should push itself to hazard a prescription, to call for some specific redress. But such solution sharing requires hope.
Second, I suspect it’s this hopelessness that tempts Coates to reject “respectability politics” perhaps too quickly or too sweepingly.
Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile
Excerpt from a TheAtlantic.com article
The mother of Odell Newton (whose story of serving a life sentence for murder Coates tells) feels like she’s been in prison with her son for the past 41 years. Does the mother of Newton’s victim, Edward Mintz, feel like she is in the grave with Edward? Where is the photo of Edward Mintz’s family—how did they pick up the pieces of a life cut short senselessly?
One thing that struck me is the lack of input from families suffering from having a loved one murdered by a previously violent criminal who was released after a five- or 10-year sentence, or by someone who was never imprisoned despite a life of criminal violence. Such an omission is nearly always the case when dealing with this topic from the perspective of the suffering families of those imprisoned for life.
If someone wishes to make the argument that most violent offenders, once they get into their 60s, have aged out of their violent tendencies, that’s a debate worth having. But to simply ignore the percentage of murders committed by people who are younger than that, and who have a previous history of engaging in felonious violence, is, well, incomplete.
What moral law tells you that when one life is taken or destroyed, so must another? Odell Newton murdered a man when he was 16. Surely the family of the murdered cabdriver feels that pain acutely every day, but why should that mean the end of the 16-year-old’s life as well? Our justice system is supposed to be about rehabilitation. Do my fellow readers not believe that to be worth pursuing?
Finally, readers who bring up the cabdriver’s family should remember that Mr. Newton is not paying a debt to that family. He is paying a debt that we decided he owed us, meaning society. So it is not enough to bring up the sorrow of the family of the victim. You must also answer the question “What does society gain by keeping this man in prison?” I hope people have a better answer to that than self-righteousness.