Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Dear Officer Krupke, it ain't my fault

There is a basic principle (I'm not sure of what, perhaps science, perhaps just plain logic - let's call it philosophy) stating something along the lines of "Don't stop at the first thought." This can take several forms - "Never assume only one cause of damage" may be useful to forensic anthropologists (thank you Kathy Reichs for pointing that one out). The basic principle, however, remains sound in all areas of life. We can even paraphrase it as "Don't jump to conclusions".

Which leads me to this headline, from the ABC: New NT laws will see 'more Aboriginal people jailed'. Huh? A classic example of a headline which says just barely enough to force you to read the article in order to find out what the freck they're talking about. It's rather good, actually.

What it is about which they are talking, turns out to be mandatory sentencing laws. I hear echoes of a different racial complaint from New York... The gist of the story is that new laws are being proposed which would lead to mandatory jail time for anyone who commits a violent assault. The president of the Australian Council of Civil Liberties, one Terry O'Gorman (who seems to have been president for quite some time, if my recollections of his name are anything to go by) complains that this will result in more Aboriginal people being jailed.

Yes... So?

Let's take this statement in the spirit in which it appears to have been meant: As a bad thing. Let's look at the basic facts:
  1. The laws will jail people who commit violent offences.
  2. All arguments about the uselessness of jail as a reform tool aside, this is at least an internally consistent idea that holds together under shallow scrutiny.
  3. Evidence would, we assume, suggest that if Terry can claim that more Aboriginal people would be jailed, then more Aboriginal people currently commit violent offences.
  4. Terry O'Gorman's response to this is to complain about a law which seems to have something to do with public safety.

May I suggest that Terry O'Gorman do something useful and start talking about the cultural, social and economic environment which contributes to Aboriginal people being higher perpetrators of acts which society tends to find repugnant?

May I further suggest that this more than a little to do with the environment of touchy hostility on the one side and panicky fear on the other which sees hell raised when sexually abused children are removed from their community because this is "like another stolen generation" (No, it isn't) and sees people pilloried when they say things like "let's not give special dispensations to members of society based upon race, let's give everyone the same help based upon need".

May I, in closing, suggest that this country isn't going to be able to do anything useful for remote and crumbling communities any time soon until we drop the whole automatic guilt thing and start having a sensible debate starting from scratch, here and now, and beating people with the cluestick whenever they complain about past injustices unless they can guide the present debate by illustrating what hasn't worked or explaining why we're were we're at?

Link to ABC Online article.
Link to explain the title.

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