Zero Tolerance: More feature, less bug

Hey Liberals, #IStandwithAhmed Isn’t Only About Racism. It’s About School Zero Tolerance Insanity.
There are some good points here. Though taken in whole it appears in this case overt racism and religious fear certainly did play a role.
The point of this essay can’t be underplayed enough. Part of the conversation that has developed with an eye to post-ferguson attention to judicial and police reform is the School to Prison track where zero-tolerance policies for drugs effectively foster the criminal culture around distribution and many times those first offenses put children and juveniles into the *system*.

It’s weird that the left tends to miss that the system rules are a feature not a defect of the problem. With zero tolerance policies we carve out these massive delegations of social and economic authority to unelected bureaucrats which then after can impute whatever bias they might have into the process and magnify the effect of bigotry while concealing it under the guise of following the rules.

It’s like the conversation that develops around “cops aren’t racist” well why then is there this massive statistical distortion that pretty clearly indicates instances of repeated bias?
“They’re just enforcing the law”
Well there is the problem, the laws are vague enough that we can have unarmed people gunned down on camera in broad daylight and enforcing the law is a sufficient defense to claim no wrong doing. Zero-tolerance, and aggressively enforcement schemes share a common underlying quality, that the laws cease to serve a function of offering distributional justice.

I am encouraged though the way the news of the arrest of the Ahmed in Texas has gone over elicits a weird mixture of encouragement and oddity.
Virtually everyone I’ve seen can see the obvious injustice at play. In a way though I wonder if folks will be consistent and committed enough to seriously challenge the developing security-police state.

A lot of folks focus on the religious and racial elements. I think they miss the other more foundational injustice that we have built a system with such bad rule sets as a product of the broad adoption of zero tolerance policies that they can be easily and readily perverted to destroy ingenuity and development.  Simply stating the obvious that his suspension and arrest was founded in racism isn’t enough, to successfully follow through we must understand that this is only a recent example of the perverse consequences of zero-tolerance policies and the underlying shift to a police-security state.
The suspension of Ahmed represents a kind soft tyranny of rule by bureaucratic dependents. Who needs overt fascism when we can get nitpicked, nannyed, and cajoled into compliance?


5 thoughts on “Zero Tolerance: More feature, less bug”

  1. Does “the left” really support zero-tolerance policies or fail to realize that they can be problematic? I’m sure certain/many individual leftists do, but is it important that they are leftists? Does one’s stance on redistributive economic policy predict one’s position on zero-tolerance policies in schools?

  2. Yes I think generally the left has supported the expansion of zero-tolerance policies and the background shift towards statutory law. Many of the social zero-tolerance programs for drugs were expanded during Clinton administration. On a more granular level school policy, and especially the expanded role of the bureaucracy expanding into greater roles of raising children enjoys broad cross-partisan support.

    To recenter though, it is that the left tends to see the racial, ethnic, “group” identities that while are themselves unjust, while at the same time ignoring that the expanded role of the policing in schools is partially a consequence of the overall expansion of schools as social institutions. The cause of the expansion of authority is paternalistic, the rule sets instituted severe, and the consequences aren’t confined to bigotry.

    As far as predictive capacity. That’s a lot less clear, at least on the basis of the group identifiers (and transition away from individualistic views of justice) yes I think there is a fair amount of overlap.

  3. Tom, I think “zero-tolerance” policies have traditionally been associated with conservatives. The idea started under Reagan in relation to his war on drugs. The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, which was instrumental in bringing zero-tolerance to schools, was passed by a Republican Congress (but of course signed by Clinton). My point is not that conservatives are the bad guys per se, but that your invocation of “the left” was at least unnecessary. You can hardly read an article by a libertarian-leaning author without finding some unsubstantiated claim about “the left,” and I think our lazy stereotypes need to be called out. I agree with you otherwise.

  4. I understood you original point. It’s still wrong in the sense that the left consistently looks at the racial and group thought based elements instead of looking at the construction of the laws and the possible Public Choice impacts.
    Specifically there is nothing unsubstantiated about pointing out that school boards, local governments, and state governments that all share a great deal of the blame to go around are broadly cross-partisan.

    Maybe a way of thinking of this is that the left (and more specifically those closer towards the mainstream consensus) propose to treat problems like that posed in the Ahmed situation in a way like spraying unwanted growth in a garden with a defoliant, not removing branch and root the weed. The legal structure that allows large degrees of discretion to administrators and the ability to met out punishment formulated under any set of intentions creates the conditions for the mode of abuses such as racism, ethnicism. These are expressions of the formal rule conditions that empower the ability of the noxious weeds to grow.

    Perhaps you’re focusing on the origins of the laws, yes conservatives are responsible, Giuliani in particular was a vocal early proponent. That does not however, absolve the left’s responsibility in communities and on the state level to oppose and reduce the direct harm.

  5. I agree that progressives probably overemphasize the importance of race/religion in cases like this *in general*, though they’re probably right in Mohamed’s case (is it a coincidence that the mayor of Irving, TX is an anti-Sharia crusader?). If your point is that they should channel their outrage towards the larger problem, then I am in agreement.

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