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Seeing It Up Close

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There is an ongoing outcry against the sweet deal (no jail time and "counseling") given former NFL running back Ray Rice for knocking his girlfriend cold.

This caused me to reflect a moment:  Why the outrage against leniency for a simple (though thoroughly thuggish) assault and battery now, when what we usually hear is that leniency is overwhelmingly what the system needs  --  that it's far too harsh on first-time offenders, that African-Americans are picked out for prosecution, and that we're massively over-incarcerated?

Partly the answer is that Rice committed a politically incorrect crime, i.e., violence against women.  But I think an even bigger part is that the actual knockout blow is on every TV in America.  When people can see the thug in action for themselves, they react differently.  Differently, that is, from how they react when the crime is filtered through the defendant's PR department, typically consisting of his lawyer giving some sanitized (if not mostly just false) version.

This same lesson is brought home by the two recent filmed and televised beheadings of two Americans.  The shear sadism and cruelty of it cannot be blinkered away when you see the tape; PR isn't even attempted, because its fraudulent character would be too clear.

There is a lesson for us here:  Next time any of you debates the death penalty, insist that a tape of the beheadings be available to be shown to those who feel they can stomach looking.  When abolitionists have to deal with the reality of murder by seeing it up close  --  rather than through the intentionally distorted lens of their latest "America Is A Racist Cesspool" study  --  their minds might not be changed, but I venture to say their arrogance and holier-than-thou attitude will.

UPDATE:  Rice's plea deal was even worse than I thought.  There isn't even a probationary term, and the charges are likely to be dismissed in the future.  Tell me once more that the criminal justice system is too harsh....

4 Comments

A good and important point about salience, Bill, though I wonder if you would run the lesson the same way when we look at nonviolent crimes, especially lower-level drug crimes. I suspect the reason so many folks tend to think the criminal justice system is too harsh on some drug defendants, especially on the marijuana front these days, is because these crime look extra bad only when filtered through the prohibitionist's PR department that it seems a good use of limited resources to wage a costly drug war.

Speaking of Ray Rice, I wonder if you think a $10,000,000 court-imposed fine would be a just punishment for his crime? That is, functionally, the punishment he is now getting as a collateral consequence of the video through the termination of his Ravens contract. Would it be better in your mind if this was court-imposed?

I find it highly revealing that Mr. Berman is changing the subject. Mr. Otis was not writing at all about "low-level" drug crimes. Instead, he was writing about violent crime and, in particular, the most heinous of murders. It's so very typical of the "smart-on-crime" crowd to abruptly change the subject rather than just being completely honest--that is, to readily admit that they, in essence, believe it's well worth allowing countless innocent people to be maimed, raped or murdered in order to demonstrate that they're somehow morally superior to all of us narrow-minded hatemongers.

I have no sympathy for Ray Rice at all, but he is really just a fall guy for the perception that the NFL has been too "soft" on domestic violence.
(in addition to being racist - Washington Redskins debate, homophobic - Michael Sam the most celebrated practice squad member in NFL history, too violent - Miami Dolphins "bullying" debacle from last year etc...)


The general public does not seem to have any problem with Josh Brent of the Cowboys being re-instated after being convicted of DUI / vehicular homicide, as to borrow Bill's terminology that apparently isn't a politically incorrect crime.

Of course the real cynic in me, would like to point out, Rice averaged 3.1 yards per carry last year at an age when most running backs decline rapidly, and is owed a nice chunk of money, the Ravens would really love not to pay. He wasn't helping the team win, and there were definitely ulterior motives at play here. He would have a difficult time finding a job on his own merits notwithstanding his now considerable baggage.

Doug --

1. You say, "I wonder if you would run the lesson the same way when we look at nonviolent crimes, especially lower-level drug crimes."

It's news to me that the Smarter Sentencing movement wants to ratchet down punishment only for the (as ever undefined) "low level drug crime." Much of what you post on your blog, and I believe your own view, is that punishment should be reduced across the board, possibly with a very few exceptions such as DUI. Indeed, you have taken the view that even the hardest drugs, including meth and heroin, should not be criminalized (and thus punished) at all. Am I getting that wrong?

2. "I suspect the reason so many folks tend to think the criminal justice system is too harsh on some drug defendants, especially on the marijuana front these days, is because these crime look extra bad only when filtered through the prohibitionist's PR department..."

Where on earth did you get the idea that the criminal justice system is harsh AT ALL on pot defendants? The huge majority of pot use doesn't get into the system at all, and the tiny sliver that does almost always winds up with a small fine (maybe) and no prison sentence.

Yes, if you're a cartel dealer in tonnage quantities, you can wind up with a prison sentence (which is still true in your favored states of Colorado and Washington). But such defendants are extremely rare, and I am aware of no indication that public sentiment opposes putting such people in jail.

3. "Speaking of Ray Rice, I wonder if you think a $10,000,000 court-imposed fine would be a just punishment for his crime?"

Nope. Could you point to anything in my post that would make you think I'd support such an absurdity? Or that there has ever been such a fine, ever, in any case anywhere, for simple assault?

So that's kind of a strawman, not so?


4. "That is, functionally, the punishment he is now getting as a collateral consequence of the video through the termination of his Ravens contract. Would it be better in your mind if this was court-imposed?"

It would be better in my mind if we understood the huge and obvious distinction between government-imposed punishments and the reactions of private parties, including employers. Unless, of course, you think BIG GOVERNMENT (as you often like to say) should have the power to force employers to continue to pay employees whose behavior (1) violates their employment contract, and (2) reflects poorly on the employer (whose revenues depend directly on its popularity with the public).

Do you think BIG GOVERNMENT should have such power?

And one more question: Despite your view that the country is massively over-incarcerated, would you have found a six month jail sentence in this case either unjust or, as a policy matter, unwise? Why or why not?

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