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Epiphany

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Today's WaPo opinion page brings most welcome news. Richard Cohen, quintessentially lefty columnist, has seen the light. He has thrown overboard the left's number one article of faith regarding crime (emphasis added):

This is a good news, bad news column. The good news is that crime is again down across the nation -- in big cities, small cities, flourishing cities and cities that are not for the timid. Surprisingly, this has happened in the teeth of the Great Recession, meaning that those disposed to attribute criminality to poverty -- my view at one time -- have some strenuous rethinking to do. It could be, as conservatives have insisted all along, that crime is committed by criminals. For liberals, this is bad news indeed.
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Whatever the reasons, it now seems fairly clear that something akin to culture and not economics is the root cause of crime. By and large everyday people do not go into a life of crime because they have been laid off or their home is worth less than their mortgage. They do something else, but whatever it is, it does not generally entail packing heat. Once this becomes an accepted truth, criminals will lose what status they still retain as victims.
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Common sense tells you that the environment has to play a role and the truly desperate will sometimes break the law -- like Victor Hugo's impoverished Jean Valjean, who stole bread for his sister's children. But the latest crime statistics strongly suggest that bad times do not necessarily make bad people. Bad character does.
Welcome to the ranks of the enlightened, Mr. Cohen.

4 Comments

It's interesting that Jean Valjean puts in an appearance, since Jean is the puppet of every sharp defense lawyer (and there are lots of them). He is also the subject of a number of my recent debates on Sentencing Law and Policy.

Jean Valjean, a decent, hard-working man living in desperate times, stole a loaf of bread to keep his sister's children from starvation. To think that the modern day crook is anything like that is a flight of fantasy equalled only in Hollywood (no coincidence there).

For almost 20 years I was a federal prosecutor. Not one time did I see a defendant who committed his crime to fend off starvation. The truth of the matter is that starvation, or anything close to it, is not even on the radar screen for today's crook. What's on the radar screen is first-class airfare to see the the fights in Vegas; or, more commonly, to get an even stronger high next time.

It is not privation that breeds crime. It is the culture of grievance, entitlement and greed, tossed in with a heavy dose of old-fashioned selfishness and lack of empathy for one's fellow creatures. These things take root in single-parent (specifically, no-father) households and the absence of discipline and responsibility.

We have been lectured for two generations that we must understand the need to accommodate "non-traditional life-styles" lest we be viewed as mean-spirited and intolerant. Quietly kept out of view is what, exactly, is it we are being asked to tolerate.

Congratulations to Richard Cohen for starting down the road toward understanding.

Liberals make two big errors when it comes to crime. The first is the leap from the axiom that environment is associated with criminal activity to "it's not their fault, but society's". The second is the idea that since "it's not their fault, but society's", society doesn't have the moral authority to punish/incapacitate (the error here, of course, is that society isn't harmed by criminals, real people are).

But we should NEVER forget the inescapable fact that many of our young are brought up in situations where violence is an adaptive behavior. That they grow up this way does not absolve them from the moral consequences of their behaviors, but we cannot turn a blind eye to this issue. I spent a good deal of my formative years in an inner-city neighborhood. There are pressures not to be soft etc. I have seen them first-hand.

Liberals, of course, exacerbate this situation because soft-on crime policies allow thugs to reign supreme in these areas thus perpetuating the problem.

I do not necessarily trust these statistics . They are quite sensitive to the police "accidentally" throwing a bunch of complaints in the trash. But assume, they reflect a true drop in the verifiable victimization rate .

Here are some alternative explanations.

Obesity. Too fat to run or even go out.

Video Addiction. Stuck in front of the video, has to pee in a bottle at his seat. Too addicted to walk a few steps away from the computer to the john, for even one minute.

Marijuana consumption. Too mellow to even think of a caper.

More sex, at a younger age. Too exhausted from the 24 hour Roman Orgy lifestyle, starting at age 12.

Or, it could be that the ranks of the enlightened will say good riddance, Mr. Cohen,and flee to the ranks of the knuckle-draggers. Crime is committed by criminals? Bad character makes bad people? What persons of sense could believe such tripe?

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