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Disappointed to see misleading letter

October 23, 2019 09:57 am

To the editor:

Having supported Keith Kanaga for Columbia County Democratic chair, I was disappointed to see his name signed onto an inflammatory and potentially misleading letter-to-the-editor.

Using a selective line of attack to prop up his candidate for District Attorney, Gene Keeler, Kanaga cites a cherry-picked statistic to hijack a serious issue. Using sloppy research for one’s own partisan political gain does no service to those seeking to achieve social and racial justice in our country.

As it happens, I was already familiar with Kanaga’s partisan line, because it had been suggested repeatedly to me by Keeler himself.

Problem is: Both men have extracted a single year of state statistics to launch a much broader attack than the data can support.

Kanaga and Keeler strain to argue that prison sentences given by judges to people arrested for felonies in Columbia County show a racial divide. But they limited their investigation to 2018 data to support their point — then stopped right there.

In the prior two years of data made available by the State, the percentage jailed is essentially the same for both whites and blacks. (That’s the State’s terminology, not mine).

Nevertheless, Keeler emailed breathlessly to fellow Democrats: “OMG you guys need to see these statistics… They are incredible but supports [sic] everything I have been saying for twenty years.”

A sophomore statistics student could tell you that a single year of data doesn’t prove a longterm trend. To make a longterm case would require going back two full decades, and doing a much more sophisticated analysis.

A student might also notice that since only 40-50 people per year actually go to prison for felonies locally. So it only it takes one unusual event to skew the numbers. (For example, any 2018 discrepancy might arise solely from the breakup by the Hudson Police of a shooting war between two gangs.) Just a few extra convictions can sway the numbers 10%-20% in either direction.

Still, while claiming that he’s running a positive campaign this time around, a Keeler emailed Democratic Committee members, saying: “Great stuff to use… Can we use these figures on web advertising?”

He added: “It’s still the 1950’s here! Please send this out on your email lists! Please!” If nothing else, this is not the demeanor of a careful, fair prosecutor.

And last I checked, to be sent to jail for a felony one first must get arrested by law enforcement, moved to trial by a grand jury, convicted by a full jury, sentenced by a judge, and, potentially, losing appeals to higher courts. (Many waive their rights and agree to sentences long before it comes to that.)

The D.A. is just one cog in this system. Unlike what we see on TV crime dramas, s/he can hardly control the outcome singlehandedly.

Meanwhile, our three Supreme Court justices include a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent. To believe the Kanaga-Keeler line, one has to assume that all three hand down racially-motivated sentences to felons.

Now: Without question, racial bias in outcomes does infect much of our society. Discrimination clearly persists into the 21st Century. One can readily believe, for example, that when almost 9 in 10 County residents are Caucasian, people of color on trial may struggle to secure a jury of their peers.

Having been a lefty Democrat for most of my life, I normally might cheer Keeler’s professed abandonment of his previous tabloid attacks, in favor of a message of greater compassion. Unfortunately, his continued reckless use of selective “evidence” for partisan gain only moves society farther from achieving true justice.

In a previous losing campaign, Keeler was excoriated by one newspaper for “political trash talk” which left his campaign “with not a shred of credibility.” Due to Keeler’s continued lapses of judgement, I simply can’t recommend his campaign — and will vote to re-elect Paul Czajka.

Sam Pratt


Actually, the numbers for 2016 are 12% for whites and 16% for blacks, and for 2017 are 15% and 18%. Previous years aren't as bad as the 2018 numbers Kanaga reported, which are 9% for whites and 25% for blacks, but the disparity between whites and blacks looks pretty consistent to me.