Letters

Summer 1996
The Color of Crime

To the editor:
John J. Dilulio Jr.’s "My Black Crime Problem, and Ours" [Spring 19961 has one major flaw: the use of the term "black crime."

The problem with many journalists and pundits in discussions on race is that they tend to focus on the worst elements among black Americans and then classify these as characteristic of the whole. They make race the overriding factor for pathologies that some blacks exhibit. The result: a grossly unfair and inaccurate portrait of the black population.  The term "black crime" implies that somehow crimes committed by blacks are related more to their race than to the human frailties that make criminals criminals. But white and black malefactors commit crimes for the same reasons. Yet the term "white crime" is never used. When white citizens commit crimes, it is chalked up to individual shortcomings.

Gwen Daye Richardson
Houston, Texas

John J. DiIulio Jr. responds:
What about "black poverty" or "black unemployment"? These are useful and widely used terms, just like "black crime," a term routinely used in studies and reports and employed not just by journalists but by political leaders and policy intellectuals of every race, creed, and ideological persuasion.

The term does not imply what Ms. Richardson says it does. As I made clear in my article, quoting Professor Glenn Loury, crime is a problem of "sin, not skin." And as I stressed with the example of the Reverend Gene Rivers, crime among young blacks must be met by a national mobilization of black churches. With the Reverend Rivers and others, I’m devoting myself to this effort. We believe that a focus on "black crime" is not only analytically justified but morally necessary, because black rates of crime and criminal victimization are so tragically high, especially among black males. We are interested in saving real inner-city children, who are more likely to be victims of violent crime than to be college graduates. We have little time or patience for empty word games.

Reverence Revisited

To the editor:
Though I have always considered myself a liberal Democrat, I was greatly pleased by the issue of your magazine that I happened to pick up at a bookstore here in Virginia (inside the Beltway). The article "Decencies for Skeptics" [Spring 19961 by Roger Scruton convinced me to subscribe.

Emily Anderson
Falls Church, Va.

To the editor:
Roger Scruton’s "Decencies for Skeptics" disappoints.

Conservatives are right about the Enlightenment, of course. It injected lethal poisons—cultural and moral relativism materialism, determinism, militant atheism—into mainstream Western thought. As the scholar Lester Crocker argued, the Marquis de Sade’s ferocious nihilism just followed Enlightenment thought to its logical conclusion.

But Mr. Scruton’s alternative is empty. Blasphemously snitching religious language, he makes bizarre pronouncements. "Respect for the dead . . . prompts the awe with which we enter sacred places or celebrate sacred times." Really? My awe at Mass owes nothing to respect for the dead—and everything to belief in a transcendent God and the real presence of Christ. He speaks too of those whose "happiness depends upon the approval of people who are no longer living." When did dead people ever approve of anything? If self-willed moderns are too skeptical to obey a transcendent God, what makes Scruton think they will heed something far less powerful, "the voice of the collective dead"? Because ignoring that voice isn’t nice? A flouted God might damn my soul. What will the dead do?

John Attarian
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Habeas Corpus

To the editor:
A footnote to Rita Kramer’s excellent article "Cathedrals of Commerce" [Spring 1996]. The first department store in the United States, built in 1846 by merchandising pioneer Alexander T. Stewart, still stands at the northeast corner of Chambers Street and Broadway.

When Stewart died in 1876, he was buried in Saint Mark’s churchyard at Second Avenue and 10th Street (also still standing). In November 1878 his body was exhumed by thieves, hidden, and held for ransom. Lawyers representing both the thieves and Mrs. Stewart negotiated terms. The body was returned for a payment of $20,000 and re-interred in a vault (with a burglar alarm) in the cathedral in Garden City—a Stewart real-estate development. The thieves were never apprehended.

Richard McDermott
Publisher
The New York Chronicle
Bayside, N.Y.

Colonial New York’s Example

To the editor:
I was particularly interested in Kenneth Silber’s article on "The Wasted Waterfront" in your Spring 1996 issue and was struck by the similarity between his recommendations and the policy that New York followed when it was an English colony.

The charter of New York’s original municipal corporation gave it title to much of the island’s shoreline, which it leased to entrepreneurs interested in building wharves, docks, and streets. In this way, the waterfront was developed at no cost to the freemen of the town. The lease revenues provided the corporation with income to defray its own operating expenses. As Hendrik Hartog writes in a splendid history of the city in this period, this policy made possible "a form of capital investment and development without reliance on the exactions of the tax gatherer or the exertions of a public bureaucracy." It was thus that New York grew wealthy from its sea and inland trade.

Leonard P. Liggio
Executive Vice President
Atlas Economic Research Foundation
Fairfax, Va.

Victims Left and Right

To the editor:
In his article on the murderous West family ["A Horror Story," Spring 19961, Theodore Dalrymple revives an old canard. He says that it is a point universally known that liberals tend to regard criminals as victims, which implies that they deserve only counseling, psychotherapy in extreme cases, and a nice cup of tea.

Surely not all liberals subscribe to this view, while many conservatives just as surely do. Has Dr. Dalrymple forgotten that it was Ronald Reagan, a man with dubious liberal credentials, who declared in his speech at the military cemetery at Bitburg that the SS murderers buried therein were, like those they had butchered, victims of dark forces beyond their control?

Ben Hellinger
New York, N.Y.

Theodore Dalrymple responds:
I’m grateful to Mr. Hellinger for reminding me of this episode. It confirms what I’ve always suspected—namely, that Ronald Reagan was a crypto-liberal.