The Tug of War Between Macro and Micro – Part I

I’ve been egging to write this blog post for longer than a week now. Unfortunately, an airline (not to be named) has lost my luggage for a while so I wasn’t able to access my laptop, but salvation is finally upon me. Anyway, here it goes.

The words macro and micro describe the lens used by social scientists to look at different issues and themes in various fields of study. Someone might suggest that the best example to discern the meaning of these two words would be to ask Economists, but let’s no go down that road. Instead, let’s take healthcare. Dealing with a macro issue would entail, for instance, passing a law addressing high medical expenses. A micro approach would be providing legal aid to a single mother who was ripped off by her insurance company due to the lack of oversight. What’s important to recognize is that each of these issues could also be addressed from the other lens. For instance, there could be a crowdfunding campaign (micro) to help cover someone’s insanely large medical bill or there could be a proposal for a law that creates an oversight mechanism (macro). These examples were an over simplification but they get the point across.

The mere fact that every single issue has a macro and micro layer (and a bunch of others in between) means that there are many different ways to divert blame for the various issues that plague our society. This is the issue I struggled with while visiting the Salinas Police Department where Chief Kelly McMillin spent the afternoon talking with us about the issues that surround law enforcement at a national level but also in Salinas.

One of the issues we talked about was the disproportionate incarceration rates of men of color. As I expected, Chief McMillin attributed these to the fact that poverty correlates with crime and that in the US, the poorest people are generally black or Latino. The solution then would be to reduce poverty in general but also reduce relative poverty of the marginalized minorities. This makes perfect sense and has a lot of truth to it, but blaming this entirely on the “macro” issue is unfair. At the end of the day, cannabis use is estimated to be the same among African Americans and white Americans. However, the majority of those behind bars for pot-use nationwide are black. You could go ahead blame the criminal justice system and say that it’s just the judges who are discriminating. But if discrimination is so common among judges, then I don’t see how Police Officers would have a better moral judgement. Chief McMillin was convinced that his department does not engage in any sort of  discrimination. He would even argue that the numbers prove it. What he means by “numbers” is the fact that the number reported incidents (ex. arrests) of black and Latino men are proportional to that of Salinas’s demographics and are encompassed in the margin of error. The issue however lies in the unreported actions. For instance Officers do not have to report every single traffic stop they do and report the race of the driver. It’s important to keep in mind that officers have abundant reasons that can be hard to refute when stopping someone like “you were tailgating too close” or “your car matches a description of a car on file; we need to run the numbers”.

I am by no means trying to point the blame at anyone, quite the contrary; I think that issues like racism and racial privileges are so entrenched in American society that diverting the fault to only one layer would be foolish. In a couple of days, I am going to write another blog post that looks at this “tug of war” from a different, yet just as interesting angle.