Vol. 10    No. 19
SEPTEMBER 17, 2015
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                                               Resource Allocation
I had had my nose to the grindstone the last couple of weeks, putting out larger than usual issues of The Capital City Hues and trying to take
care of a lot of other things on the side that I do to make ends meet, so I hadn’t been paying a lot of attention to the local news. When I received
Fabu’s column for this issue of The Hues, it was the first I heard about some remarks that Everett Mitchell, the pastor of Christ the Solid Rock
Baptist Church, had made about the focus of police on shoplifters at places like WalMart and Target, resulting in an inordinate number of young
African Americans to become involved in the criminal justice system. Apparently this statement was misconstrued to mean that Mitchell was
telling African American youth it was okay to steal.

I found this to be pretty preposterous because I know Everett and I know that he would not, as a former assistant district attorney and as a
pastor, encourage people to steal from their fellow man. I knew there was a different message that he was trying to send.

In these times of limited public funds, governmental bodies must fulfill their missions — or at least appear that they are attempting to fulfill
those missions — by allocating scarce resources according to the priorities that they have established. Back in the late 1990s when I was a
graduate student at UW-Madison in political science, we used to call it “satisficing.” We didn’t meet the objective perfectly, but perhaps did
enough to tide things over. We just couldn’t do everything that we needed to or were required to do because we just didn’t have enough to go
around to get it all done. So we did what we could with what we did have.

In essence, that is what President Obama was doing when, a few years aback, he basically published new rules on how people who were
undocumented would be processed and deported. Since he lacked the resources to process everyone equally at the same time, he prioritized
who would be processed first. And in essence, he said the priority for deportation was individuals who had committed a serious crime. And his
lowest priority — one could argue non-existent priority — was to deport Latino children who had been brought to the U.S. at an early age, were
obeying the law and were doing something positive with their lives like going to school or serving in the military.

Now the Republicans did all kinds of hollering and saying that Obama had exceeded his authority. But Obama was just making decisions as an
executive on how he was going to allocate his resources in the best interest of public policy. And within the scheme of things, he felt that
Latino children were a low priority.

Now when institutions do set their priorities, they have to make sure that they don’t have a discriminatory impact. This has nothing to do with
intent. It has to do with impact. For example, during the 1980s, a delineation was made between crack cocaine and powder cocaine with users
of crack cocaine receiving a lot stiffer sentence. It just so happened that crack cocaine was cheaper and more readily available in America’s
inner-cities and so, an inordinate number of African American men started getting caught up in the criminal justice system and ended up in our
prisons.

The allocation of police resources can also determine who ends up caught up in the criminal justice system and in our jails. For example, in
the early 1980s, the Simpson Street community experienced an influx of low-income refugees from the violence of other large urban areas.
There was an explosion of drug use, particularly crack cocaine, if my memory serves me correctly, and the resulting violence that was coming
with it to control the drug trade. Federal, state and local law enforcement resources were brought to bear on this problem, programs like Weed
& Seed. It resulted in many arrests, convictions and jail sentences.

Now I would submit that there are two primary functions of the police department. One is to enforce the laws that are enacted by the city council
and signed by the major. The second is to keep the population secure, to give the population a sense of security. This second role will
determine how the scarce resources of the police department are allocated. And in order to make the metropolitan areas and its citizens feel
secure, an inordinate amount of resources were allocated to law enforcement in the Simpson Street area to get a handle on the drug trade and
violence that were occurring in that neighborhood, a neighborhood that was predominantly African American at the time.

And while this was an instance of enforcing the law, there was more to it than just enforcing the law. The police were enforcing drug laws, but
they inordinately focused the enforcement, rightly or wrongly, on select neighborhoods with large African American populations. Meanwhile,
there was also a lot of marijuana and powder cocaine usage that was going on in other, more predominantly Euro-American neighborhoods,
but it wasn’t perceived to be a threat to security — even though those drug sales made the over all drug trade more profitable — and therefore,
the allocation of resources to arrest the law breakers just wasn’t made. There was law breaking of the drug laws all over the metropolitan
area, but the law enforcement resources were allocated to predominantly African American neighborhoods, resulting in an inordinate arrest of
African Americans even though their usage rates were at or below the rates for Euro-Americans.

I think it was that kind of policy emphasis that can result in disparities that Everett Mitchell was trying to get at and I think it is an excellent
policy discussion to have. Let’s keep talking.