Vague Solutions


Vague Solutions Crime in America By Ramsey Clark Simon and Schuster 346 pp $6 95 Reviewed by Robert Lekachman Would Ramsey Clark make a good President' The query is not utterly an idle one,...

...Vague Solutions Crime in America By Ramsey Clark Simon and Schuster 346 pp $6 95 Reviewed by Robert Lekachman Would Ramsey Clark make a good President' The query is not utterly an idle one, since a modest boom for the man has been stimulated by the languor surrounding such estimable Democrats as George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, and Edmund S Muskie, as well as by Clark's own record as Attorney General This volume's publishers have thoughtfully furnished reviewers with a large brochure, across the bottom of which is inscribed in letters of fire the legend "Clark for President in 1972' The same mailing includes a copy of Richard Harris' Justice, a valentine to Clark, and a reprint of an affectionate article by Jack New-field The latter will be scored by some as a point against Clark, but it is more than balanced by the anger of such enemies as Nixon, Agnew, John Mitchell, and J Edgar Hoover Tom Wicker's Introduction leaves open whether or not Clark can walk upon water All of this makes Clark a hero whom one aches to believe is true And here he has delivered himself mto our hands by writing a book To alleviate any suspense that may be mounting, I should immediately remark that Crime in America can only reinforce already favorable judgments of its author by radic-hbs all over the countryside The volume is a comprehensive anthology of enlightened positions on the causes, treatment, and cure of crime and criminals Accordmg to Clark, Americans are amioted with precisely the crime problem they deserve American males are obsessed with firearms Hence the Umted States records gaudy homicide rates featuring guns Persistent national discrimination against the poor, the black and the urban predictably eventuates m towermg slum crime rates The resentments of poverty and neglect are inflamed by the systematic inequities of American justice Middle-class youngsters are returned by the police to their parents with admonitions for the same offenses that earn ghetto youths protracted terms m state training schools and reformatories Tutored in these nurseries of crime, juveniles frequently turn to crime as a way of adult life What they soon experience m the criminal justice system is courts too swamped to hear their cases, defense attorneys and prosecutors who collude in the practice of plea bargainmg, capricious standards of bail, long pretrial delays, and, at the end of the road, medieval prisons—the finishing schools of crime Penurious legislatures do nothing to replace dungeons better suited to the cagmg of dangerous beasts than the custody of ernng humans, encourage pumshment instead of rehabilitation, then profess amazement at high rates of recidivism Routinely the Nixon Administration has promoted precisely the wrong remedies Wiretapping is ineffective as detection technique, hazardous to privacy, and inviting to blackmail Preventive detention, a "cheap" substitute for speedy trial, is an alarming breach of constitutional rights Since no evidence exists that Miranda, Mallory, Es-cobedo, and Terry have hampered police work, Administration rewriting of the rules in the presumed interest of the nation's "peace forces" is cynical politics at best and, at worst, a dangerous additional erosion of constitutional protections Sounding very much like any other liberal talking about any other social ailment Clark describes genume remedy as slow and expensive The shopping list includes professionally trained (and paid) policemen, massive injections of green stuff mto courts, prisons and probation services, and liberal support of psychiatrists and psychologists Effective gun control is an additional necessity His final requirement for success m the war against crime brought me up short Like Karl Menmnger, Clark would severely curtail the sentencing discretion of judges, insist upon indeterminate sentences, and allow the experts m human behavior to determine actual dates of release Although I can readily restrain my admiration of the judiciary, my knowledge of the ways of social science leaves me unprepared to grant plenary powers to social workers, psychiatrists and assorted penologists The truths of social science are too few and too controversial to permit mere substitution of fallible experts for fallible judges This caveat aside, I agree in the main with Clark on crime So will other liberals and card-carrying members of the nonviolent Left One trouble, though, is that practically nobody else out there will A second difficulty I encounter with Clark's position relates to its generality of causation Clark is oversimplifying when he says that crime reflects society But if his simplification is conceded, it follows that Americans can make no progress in the control of crime until they radically transform American society Possibly so, but Clark is remarkably vague about the details of that transformation Much of the time Crime in America reads like a series of injunctions to Clark's fellow citizens to return to American ideals of justice and equality I agree, but advice is not to be confused with a policy or a program At length I reach the heart of the difficulty Everybody is alarmed about crime, because everybody values his own skin and his own property In the war on crime even liberals yearn—indeed, some of them yell—for quick results Nowhere in Clark's observations can be found a short-run program capable of producing some noticeable improvements m public security, without subverting everybody's civil liberties If the last election demonstrated anything, it is the crucial nature of the crime issue Congressional liberals (with some honorable exceptions) voted for some dreadful new laws against crime just before the election Their action rubs in the lesson that if liberals cannot sketch a reasonably enlightened way to reduce violent felonies quickly, then this year's series of bad new laws will be no more than hors d'oeuvres to a feast of repression Clark is a good man I'd feel safer with him in the White House than with the present occupant or Hubert Humphrey Nevertheless, I wish Clark emerged not only as a good man but as an imaginative and a politically practioal leader on an issue which seriously threatens both American security and American freedom...

Vol. 53 • December 1970 • No. 24

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