1.5 Million Missing Black Men
April 21, 2015 6:57 AM   Subscribe

 
A friend of mine made a good point about this. The men aren't missing. They've been taken. They've been snatched from their communities and put in prison, or they've been killed. We know where they went. They're not missing. They've been taken, and they're gone mostly because of the deliberate actions of other people.
posted by decathecting at 7:05 AM on April 21, 2015 [40 favorites]


Yes, but I think the phrase echoes the use of "disappeared" to talk about abducted and murdered people in other parts of the world.
posted by OmieWise at 7:09 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


Part of the reason I moved back from home from the U.S. was I didn't want my children to grow up in a country where they had 2.5 × the likelihood of being incarcerated that their white peers did, just out of the gate. I'm latin american, if I was black it would have been 5.8 ×.
posted by signal at 7:10 AM on April 21, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm saddened at how ready we are to put people in prison, and for so long. It's not a trivial thing to take away someone's freedom (as an aside, here in Canada our government has been trying hard to increase minimum sentences, and all to please its scared-of-crime base. It's nothing short of locking people up for political purposes. It's evil.)

I think that "missing" is a good word in that it's so shocking. Obviously we know where these men are, but they're missing from their real lives. Like a shadow at the dinner table of someone who should be there.
posted by beau jackson at 7:50 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]




I saw this yesterday, and appreciated it. It was a surprising use of terminology, but I get that the intent is to highlight just how much of a crisis this is. And like many societal issues, there are so many things at work here that factor in that it's one of those discussions that would take the whole time this post is open to fully have.
posted by cashman at 7:52 AM on April 21, 2015


From the methodology article:
As a rough estimate, it seems likely that mortality accounts for roughly half of the remaining 900,000 missing men, but we would not be surprised if the true answer fell anywhere between one-third (300,000) and three-quarters (almost 700,000).
Half a million lost to excess mortality. Maybe more, closer to a million. Maybe less, but not much less.

That's a hard number to imagine, half a million dead. That's entire cities worth (only 34 cities in the US have a total pop > 0.5M, and most don't break 100K). Washington, DC is only ~650K people: imagine if every man, woman, and child in DC died. Or everyone in Portland or Albequerque or Tucson or Boston. 3/4 of San Francisco. Madison and Ann Arbor and Berkeley combined -- and then some. The entire state of Vermont. Dead.

There are not enough dots, and there is not the time for silence.
posted by Westringia F. at 8:59 AM on April 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


Then on top of that the men who are in the community are disproportionately likely to have convictions which makes their unemployment rate even higher than the already high rate caused by simple racist hiring. The stereotype of the no-nonsense strong black woman is socially manufactured by putting nearly the entire weight of the community on their shoulders by knocking down black men.
posted by srboisvert at 9:01 AM on April 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


"We consider a prisoner unfortunate. He is unfortunate in two ways—because he has done something wrong and because he is deprived of his liberty. Therefore we should treat him kindly, because of his misfortune, for otherwise he would become hard and bitter and would not be sorry he had done wrong." --The Patchwork Girl of Oz, L. Frank Baum, 1913.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:03 AM on April 21, 2015 [26 favorites]


Today I am tired of euphamisms. Like "missing" men (we have imprisoned them. we have killed them.) and a black man who died of "spinal cord injury" (you broke his fucking neck).
posted by Dashy at 9:06 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


I always end up thinking about that Baum line when the topic of prisons comes up, because to even a casual observer, it should be obvious that not only are prisons wildly ineffective as any kind of rehabilitation mechanism, they actually seem to serve as a sort of incubator, trapping people into a cycle of crime and punishment.

And then I remember that with black men, this is probably entirely by design.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:07 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Socio-historically I understand why people aren't freaking out and scrambling to fix this, but on a human level I remain absolutely floored that people aren't freaking out and scrambling to fix this.
posted by Mooseli at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2015


And how do you propose people fix this? Genuine question.
posted by I-baLL at 9:10 AM on April 21, 2015




A close friend of mine is a black man who grew up in Compton, California. He celebrated his 27th birthday with some sadness because it meant that he had exceeded the average life expectancy for black men in his city and so many of his cohort would never get to do that.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


> And how do you propose people fix this? Genuine question.

Stop tying school funding to property taxes; don't just equalize it, but invert it. Drop egregiously disproportionate war-against-drugs sentencing models. Institute proven harm-reduction measures (needle exchanges, &c) to reduce the burden of HIV and HEP-C. &c., &c.

We know how to fix this. We were the ones who broke it. It's just a matter of doing the work.
posted by Westringia F. at 9:18 AM on April 21, 2015 [31 favorites]


And paying for it. Don't forget paying for it. We don't want to pay for it.
posted by rtha at 9:26 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


And how do you propose people fix this? Genuine question.

The TL;DR is "fix society." The long answer is, well, too long for a comment on a web board. There are literally millions of pages written on what people (both as individuals and as a whole) can do, but in the end, "fix society" is the only answer that doesn't lead us down a repetitive back-and-forth about Option A and how that won't work Because Reasons, so what about Option B, and so forth.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:28 AM on April 21, 2015


Don't forget, on the list of "ways to fix this":Lead abatement in poor neighborhoods.

And, in light of that "child support" article linked above, access to contraception.

Most social problems don't have a simple solution, but there are some simple things we can do which would make a whole lot of problems a whole lot smaller.
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:30 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


> And paying for it. Don't forget paying for it. We don't want to pay for it.

Yes, you're absolutely right. But organizing and lobbying to get people to pay for it is large part of the work I had in mind -- most of it, really.
posted by Westringia F. at 9:35 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


They're not missing. They've been taken

A person who has been taken is still missing. I find the suspicion in this thread that somehow the NYT is trying to play the calamity down pretty bizarre. They're framing this issue in a slightly unusual way precisely because they're trying to raise consciousness about the issue. It's not as if they're government-mandated to report on the number of black males killed and behind bars and they're trying to find the least troubling way to report it.
posted by yoink at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


A person who has been taken is still missing. I find the suspicion in this thread that somehow the NYT is trying to play the calamity down pretty bizarre. They're framing this issue in a slightly unusual way precisely because they're trying to raise consciousness about the issue. It's not as if they're government-mandated to report on the number of black males killed and behind bars and they're trying to find the least troubling way to report it.

I don't see anyone here venting their spleen at the Times's phrasing and allowing that to distract the thread from the substance of the problem. To me this seems like an objection that can be allowed to pass.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:00 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't see anyone here venting their spleen at the Times's phrasing

Well, there's the very first comment in the thread and then there's "Today I am tired of euphamisms. Like "missing" men." That's two comments out of twenty at the time I wrote. It seems reasonable to respond to a sentiment voiced in one-in-ten comments in the thread. My comment was one-in-twenty-one and you felt justified in responding to it, RE.
posted by yoink at 10:10 AM on April 21, 2015




Reparations.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:31 AM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well, there's the very first comment in the thread and then there's "Today I am tired of euphamisms. Like "missing" men." That's two comments out of twenty at the time I wrote. It seems reasonable to respond to a sentiment voiced in one-in-ten comments in the thread.

Let me rephrase, then: There are only two short comments objecting to the Times's phrasing, and the thread has not descended into a two minutes' hate for the Grey Lady on their account. Otherwise, I would have found your one comment unobjectionable. To me it seems unnecessary to insist on having an argument about the word "missing" when the problem is terrible, the paper has done good work describing it, and the error of disliking "missing," if it's an error, is fairly minor and founded in perfectly reasonable anger against American racism.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:41 AM on April 21, 2015


Wait, maybe the real story here is that white women are sent to prison as equitably as men are! Finally a sign of progressive judicial reform!

Oh, I may have missed something here...
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:43 AM on April 21, 2015


Sorry, I honestly wasn't intending to derail the thread or to shit on the Times for doing some excellent work about this issue. But I do think it's important to draw the distinction between two definitions of missing: one in which the people are not present where we'd expect them to be, and the other in which they are lost and we can't find them. The former is very much true. The latter is not true, and conflating the two definitions allows a lot of people and institutions to disclaim responsibility for a problem they have actively caused. I think making it clear that we're talking about the former and not the latter is really, really important both in figuring out what/who caused the problem and in figuring out how to solve it. And I don't think that's just semantics. But I don't at all want to derail the thread.
posted by decathecting at 10:45 AM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


re: "how to fix this" - this can at least be a starting point for that conversation:

The Case for Reparations
posted by rsanheim at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like this framing. I would like it even better if projections for certain remedies were included. That said, I think it was a reasonable choice to present it this way because the demographics are unassailable while remedies would be easier to find fault with.

I look forward to a followup which does visualize solutions. Given that a third or more of the desparity is due to deaths, I don't expect it to inspire optimism as much urgency.
posted by ethansr at 12:22 PM on April 21, 2015


Then on top of that the men who are in the community are disproportionately likely to have convictions which makes their unemployment rate even higher than the already high rate caused by simple racist hiring.

Ban the box.
posted by phearlez at 1:49 PM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


And how do you propose people fix this? Genuine question.

There are numerous policies and laws that could be changed but unfortunately the States is in a state of open hatred and outright insanity that anything that could be done will be shouted down.

I remember seeing a documentary on PBS some time ago that outlined how after WW2 the G.I. Bill benefited white veterans tremendously (back when veterans (the white one's at least) were actually respected)) and how this, in combination with racism in the real estate market among other things really put one group of people on the up for home ownership and another on the down. Outside of this example, there are many, many examples of systemic discrimination that few are even aware of and that are seldom acknowledged (which makes the I go there with no hand outs crowd incredibly annoying). I'd like to think more education in history, and in how government works and worked would help people see what the structure of our society actually affects people but many people have no idea and make rather horrible conclusions about why things are as they are.

Then there's the Drug "War". Reasons for getting in to selling drugs or other illegal activity are obvious given limited options (and these limits are increasingly felt by people of any race in the modern fuck you I've got mine economy/environment) but I'll let Bunny Colvin speak to that. We need to decriminalize at minimum or attempt, at minimum, what they've done in Portugal.

The mock bill proposed by Sullivan and Pearson to introduce really highlights the ridiculous sentences for pot:
A person 21 years of age or older who possesses a small amount of alcohol may be ticketed for a civil violation and subject to a monetary penalty of up to $500.00. Possession of larger quantities of alcohol, as well as cultivation, distribution, and sale of alcohol, will be subject to criminal penalties ranging from one day to 30 years’ imprisonment and fines ranging from $1.00 to $1,000,000.00.
Of course when it comes to enforcement, clearly their is a difference standard applied to the different races. We need to stop that as well.

That's just barely scratching the surface. There a ton of things that we can do to improve our society, for everyone, but making many of these changes are in areas considered to be taboo so it will take a long time if ever. Then there's the world of high finance, whose affect on everyone without a ton of bucks in the bank is so incredibly high but is also virtually ignored.

The list could go on and on. But the last 20+ years have seen a solidifying of the position of the super rich, as well as a cultural acceptance of wholesale hatred and bigotry not to mention ignorance of how society works and is structured.
posted by juiceCake at 2:01 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


And how do you propose people fix this? Genuine question.

Hire a black man. Then another. Repeat.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 4:01 PM on April 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Young black men killing each other is so common in the USA that it barely ranks as news, and isn't even mentioned in this article. In 93% of murders of black men it's black on black violence that puts a guy in the ground, which then presumably puts another guy in jail. You have to start there.
posted by w0mbat at 5:13 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Same with white on white violence. So... whats your point?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:35 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The point, whenever this comes up, is usually that young black men are inherently criminal and must be policed more vigorously than they already are. Maybe the point is different this time.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:48 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


You have to start there.

No. No, no no. You have to start way before that. Perhaps with people who have ill-gotten resources that kept them through racism and oppression. You don't take the output of a system and try to address it at that point. You have to look at the system itself, or the inputs, and how the system got constructed, gets replicated, and retains a measure of legitimacy in the eyes of so many.
posted by cashman at 7:16 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The men aren't missing. They've been taken. They've been snatched from their communities and put in prison, or they've been killed. We know where they went. They're not missing.

Would the reader be drawn in as much by "For every 100 black women not in jail, there are only 83 black men. The remaining men – 1.5 million of them – are in prison or dead." ?
It's just a stylistic choice. They thought it sounded more dramatic. But it's not as if they are hiding information.

In 93% of murders of black men it's black on black violence that puts a guy in the ground, which then presumably puts another guy in jail. You have to start there.

No, that is misunderstanding the problem. For young men who perceive their lives as hopeless and their value as low, rage and violence is commonly an outflow. The problem won't be solved by punishing the individuals for committing individual crimes against one another. Sure, each person who makes bad choices is responsible within that context, but you have to look at the bigger picture if you really want to change things. How many people would make what kind of choices if we were dealt the starting hand so many young black men face? It's time to understand these issues as social, not personal.
posted by mdn at 7:20 PM on April 21, 2015


You have to start there.

No. No, no no. You have to start way before that. Perhaps with people who have ill-gotten resources that kept them through racism and oppression. You don't take the output of a system and try to address it at that point. You have to look at the system itself, or the inputs, and how the system got constructed, gets replicated, and retains a measure of legitimacy in the eyes of so many.

So let's see. Your way of fixing the problem involves a complete top-to-bottom restructuring of our entire society and maybe a time machine. W0mbat's suggestion is for young black men to decide to stop killing each other, without waiting for white people to make it all better. Which route is more likely to yield actual positive results within a meaningful timeframe?
posted by zombywoof at 7:34 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


A close friend of mine is a black man who grew up in Compton, California. He celebrated his 27th birthday with some sadness because it meant that he had exceeded the average life expectancy for black men in his city and so many of his cohort would never get to do that.

Compton is 40% black and the average life expectancy is 75.9 years. Doesn't seem like a believeable statistic.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:08 PM on April 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's because it's from the department of made up statistics.
posted by Justinian at 8:28 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


So let's see. Your way of fixing the problem involves a complete top-to-bottom restructuring of our entire society and maybe a time machine. W0mbat's suggestion is for young black men to decide to stop killing each other, without waiting for white people to make it all better. Which route is more likely to yield actual positive results within a meaningful timeframe?

No time machine necessary. Keep this societal inequality up long enough and that top-to-bottom restructuring is going to come knocking. "Waiting for white people to make it all better". Yeah, this is you in this comic, isn't it.
posted by cashman at 8:28 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Moral Economy of Violence in the US Inner City. It's free in PubMed.
"Violence becomes both a risk, and a resource to be managed intimately through social relations, because the state mechanisms of regulation taken for granted in wealthier neighborhoods are ineffective at best and hostile at worst."
- Karandinos, Hart, Castrillo, Bourgois

Do read the rest of the article. I'd like to think of myself as pretty up on this stuff, and I found it profoundly informative.
posted by The White Hat at 8:29 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


> W0mbat's suggestion is for young black men to decide to stop killing each other, without waiting for white people to make it all better. Which route is more likely to yield actual positive results within a meaningful timeframe?

W0mbat's suggestion is no more workable than time-travel: What are the specific policy steps that would be required in order for this to happen? Clearly, criminalizing our way out of the problem has not worked, so what else? You say "what, change society??!" as if that is any more difficult a problem than "make people stop killing each other." Both are complex and interrelated and require much, much more than "They should just..." statements on the internet.

> Young black men killing each other is so common in the USA that it barely ranks as news, and isn't even mentioned in this article. In 93% of murders of black men it's black on black violence that puts a guy in the ground, which then presumably puts another guy in jail. You have to start there.

So, yeah: start where, exactly, and in what ways?
posted by rtha at 8:34 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


So let's see. Your way of fixing the problem involves a complete top-to-bottom restructuring of our entire society and maybe a time machine. W0mbat's suggestion is for young black men to decide to stop killing each other, without waiting for white people to make it all better. Which route is more likely to yield actual positive results within a meaningful timeframe?

An enormous collective decision not to commit murder taken among young black men as a class … is less utopian than legal social reform.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:46 PM on April 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Keep this societal inequality up long enough and that top-to-bottom restructuring is going to come knocking

When?

An enormous collective decision not to commit murder taken among young black men as a class … is less utopian than legal social reform.

It doesn't have to be a collective decision. You will see actual, tangible results with each individual decision to turn away from a violent lifestyle.
posted by zombywoof at 6:16 AM on April 22, 2015


Yeah, and you know how we foster those decisions?

By not tying school funding to property taxes; not just equalizing it, but inverting it. By dropping egregiously disproportionate war-against-drugs sentencing models. By instituting proven harm-reduction measures (needle exchanges, &c) to reduce the burden of HIV and HEP-C.

By lead abatement in poor neighborhoods. By providing access to child care and to contraception.

By reparations.

By hiring a black man, and then another, and then repeating.

By recognizing that the American Dream is a fiction, and not expecting progress to be bootstrapped by those at the bottom.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:32 AM on April 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


No, no. It's totally possible for all these black men to uplift themselves. Here, let me point at an anecdote about one who did it, which proves everyone can.
posted by phearlez at 9:17 AM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


An enormous collective decision not to commit murder taken among young black men...

Most people in prison are not there for murder.. (Homicide, aggravated assault, and kidnapping offenses are only 2.9% combined) For the purposes of this dicussion, let's assume we're still going to generally put people in prison for murdering.

It might be better to start with the 48.7% of people in prison who are there for drug offenses.
posted by the jam at 11:31 AM on April 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


It doesn't have to be a collective decision. You will see actual, tangible results with each individual decision to turn away from a violent lifestyle.

"People should be better" is not a policy. Of course they should be better. It feels tautological to me. The world would improve it the people in it improved their actions. Yes, but how do we help them?

And on this point, it really doesn't matter what you think about societal responsibility for individual choices. Even if it's not wider society's fault, it's still our problem.
posted by howfar at 4:06 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


It doesn't have to be a collective decision. You will see actual, tangible results with each individual decision to turn away from a violent lifestyle.

And we have seen actual, tangible results of these decisions. (Notice the 19% decline in black male murder rates between 2002 and 2011, and the halving of black male murder rates since 1990.)

So, when is American society going to match that level of responsibility and make a collective decision not to incarcerate black men at such a disproportionate rate?
posted by baniak at 5:28 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


It might be better to start with the 48.7% of people in prison who are there for drug offenses.

And keep this in mind at the same time: Blacks are far more likely to be arrested for selling or possessing drugs than whites, even though whites use drugs at the same rate. And whites are actually more likely to sell drugs:
posted by Drinky Die at 7:55 PM on April 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


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