Baltimore Juries and Epistemology

David Simon (of “Homicide” and “The Wire” fame) has an excellent article which begins with a puzzling statistical observation.

It’s a curious item – a draft report by a local non-profit foundation, a simple statistical study of the difference between Baltimore criminal juries and those of the surrounding, suburban counties.

It seems that in Baltimore, one of the most violent cities in America, jurors are far more reluctant to convict criminal defendants than in the suburban enclaves that ring the city.

He goes on to explain this statistic in a simple, devastating, and deeply depressing manner– the explanation is absolutely obvious for anyone who knows key facts about Baltimore, but nobody discussing the statistic bothered to learn these facts. (And although it may be along the lines that you’re expecting, the specifics are shocking.) Along the way, he reflects on economic and racial divides in America, and the way that they impact on our knowledge, on what questions we ask, and on what we pay attention to. He also discusses differing reactions to The Wire in Europe and the US, arguing that both get something deeply wrong, and analysing why and how they go wrong. (And yes, it is relevant.) Basically, example after example of importance for anyone interested in the intersections of epistemology and politics.

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)