Douglas Andrews / October 8, 2021

Are We Defining Black Deviancy Down?

Two shootings, one in Chicago and one in a Dallas suburb, point to a troubling unwillingness to uphold the law.

In 1993, New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase “defining deviancy down” to describe our nation’s continual lowering of the bar for acceptable behavior.

The phrase can be found atop this report subtitled, “How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels of Crime and Destructive Behavior.” Moynihan, a Democrat iconoclast if ever there was one, wrote the report in response to the sharp increase in violent crime during the early 1990s. Years earlier, in 1965, he’d written one of the bravest and most prescient pieces ever produced by a DC bureaucrat when, while a staffer in Lyndon Johnson’s Department of Labor, he issued a report titled, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Not surprisingly, he was demonized for his truth-telling, and weak-kneed politicians have been tip-toeing around the issue of race ever since.

Although he died in 2003, we can’t help but wonder what Moynihan would’ve thought of two stories this week: one out of Chicago, where two gangs opened fire on each other, in a neighborhood, in broad daylight, killing one; and another out of Texas, where a young man opened fire on and wounded multiple classmates before surrendering to police.

In both cases, arrests were made. And in both cases, just days after the arrests, the perpetrators, young black men, were set free. How is this possible? we can imagine a slack-jawed Moynihan wondering.

In Chicago, which has been a one-party town for decades and has become increasingly ungovernable — at least as long as the latest Democrat, Lori Lightfoot, is in office — we can chalk it up to wokeism and idiocy. There, more than 70 spent shells were recovered from the shootout, which was captured by a city camera. What’s more, a set of uniformed officers in a marked squad car arrived while the shooting was still ongoing. One assailant was killed and five others were arrested. But Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx inexplicably refused to press felony charges against the two surviving aggressors, despite the pleas of Mayor Lightfoot and five alderman.

Foxx’s statement read in part: “The detectives reached out to our office on Friday and acknowledged at the outset that given the chaotic nature at the scene they were unable to determine how the events unfolded. We reviewed the evidence that was presented to us in consultation with the detectives and they agreed we were unable to approve charges based on the evidence presented.”

Got that? The shootout was captured on videotape, and the cops were there to witness it. If charges can’t be filed under these conditions, when can they?

But what about Texas? There, it seems even more shocking. An 18-year-old Timberview High School student is accused of wounding multiple people at his school — three classmates, one of them critically wounded, and one teacher who tried to stop him — but has since been released from jail on bail.

“The student accused of injuring four people in a shooting in Arlington on Wednesday was released on bail from the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday,” The Star Telegram reported, adding that the suspect was charged “with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.”

How is this young man not behind bars? What must the parents of the wounded students be thinking, given that the would-be killer of their kids made bail?

The assailant’s family says he’d been bullied because of his wealth. “He was scared, he was afraid,” said a family spokesperson at a press conference outside the family’s home. “It wasn’t just one person that would attack him and bully him, taking his money, harassing him because he had more things than maybe others. … It could have been a situation where he took the other turn and decided to commit suicide.”

This is an awful story. The question, though, is whether we’re defining black deviancy down with respect to crime and punishment; whether “the soft bigotry of low expectations” that George W. Bush decried 21 years ago has spread from educational achievement to other aspects of life; and whether we’re simply so hell-bent on “equity,” as opposed to equality, that we’re holding blacks to a lower standard than every other racial group. Years before Black Lives Matter became a thing, our Mark Alexander called this phenomenon black privilege.

These are ugly, troubling questions. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be pondered. A system of justice that doesn’t hold criminals equally accountable isn’t a system of justice at all. It’s a system of injustice, and its victims are invariably the innocent.


(Updated to include information about the motive of the Texas shooter.)

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