No Punishment? No Peace.

December 20, 2021

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said something the other day that I found to be…perplexingly curious. When asked about the crime surge that includes shootings, murders, synchronized shoplifting and gangs robbing, the Speaker said this: “It’s absolutely outrageous. Obviously, it cannot continue. But the fact is that there is an attitude of lawlessness in our country that springs from… I don’t know where… and we cannot have that lawlessness become the norm.”

It was the, “I don’t know where” that struck me as odd. I believe the answer is obvious. For those who don’t see it, maybe I can clarify something for you.

Evil exists!

Yes, it’s true.

Wickedness endures. Bad guys are real. Crimes are constantly being committed. Predators are always looking for prey and the innocent are being financially impacted, emotionally devastated and even being killed.

Is evil rampant throughout the human race?

Well, depending on the matrix that determines the level of a person’s goodness vs. their evilness, I firmly believe that the vast majority of people are good, caring, helpful and kind to others.

I travel for a living. I’m in airports, on planes, shuttles, rental cars, in hotels, and occasionally a pub. It is very rare that I come across people who lack civility. In fact, the vast majority are friendly, understanding and patient.

You do have the outliers. The cranky entitled whiners. They disrupt for the silliest of reasons. Screaming at flight attendants. Berating McDonald’s employees because their fries aren’t salty enough. Yelling at clerks in high end department stores because they don’t stock their size. They are petty, nasty disruptors who most reasonable people avoid.

Then, you have the evil ones. The criminals. The malevolent, the malicious, the wicked.

For whatever reason, those in this group lack conscience, morals, caring and empathy. Many are sociopathic. Others are products of their environment. No matter the reason, whether it be nature or nurture, they act out, committing crimes. They simply don’t care about society’s individuals or the established laws. They terrorize the weak. Cause consternation in neighborhoods. Create mass panic and fear.

Over the years society has been very good at limiting their destruction. The late 1980s and early 1990s were statistically the most violent years when it comes to criminality and violence. But that abated as the 90s wore on and law enforcement stepped up its game and new laws were enacted to thwart the motivation of the criminally minded.

Criminals are the Victims, Society the Perpetrators

So why the new uptick? Why do criminals thrive today?

Consider the Pain and Pleasure principle. Simple psychology tells us that human beings do their best to avoid painful outcomes. The possibility of suffering normally causes second thoughts and hesitation and ultimately inspires sound decisions before embarking on criminal type behavior.

Today, for criminals, that threat of pain (arrest, prosecution, harsh prison sentences) is gone in particular areas. Bail is no more. Felony charges are dropped by prosecutors. There’s much less of a chance offenders will go to prison.

Why?

The trend today, championed by those with power—the media, overbearing activists, political leaders—is to care more about the criminals than the common, ordinary, law-abiding citizens.

In many cities and states those who commit crimes are viewed as neglected victims of an oppressive system. Victims that must be nurtured and protected from further injustice.  Victims who only act out criminally, they believe, because of society’s missed opportunities for supportive intervention.

In essence, it’s society’s fault. Therefore, society must atone. Society’s response to crime needs a radical course correction. We need to focus on our unjust laws and prejudiced enforcement protocols and not the lawbreakers. The current emphasis demands we destigmatize those who have no choice but to commit crimes. Understand their misguided motivations. Offer them alternatives. Use intervention programs rather than the archaic punishment systems that are unfair and onerous, no matter how many crimes they commit or people they injure, terrify and kill. We must accept that it is ultimately society’s sins that make them act out so therefore, we cannot hold them personally responsible. Putting them in prison does nothing to alter their paths of criminality. That course of action destroys their futures. Threatening them with, and putting them in, prison must stop!

Essentially, the main question by those who champion such theories is, “Why are we using incarceration in this day and age?”

I have an answer: Because it works. Maybe not for them, but certainly for the scores of people living in fear and reworking their lives so they can avoid becoming victims of the cruel criminal element.

Again, it’s basic psychology. Fear of pain (detection, arrest, punishment) deters. Do laws and the fear of prison deter all criminals? No, but it does for a whole bunch, and that is not debatable.

The Principle of Pain in a Search for Peace

Criminologists argue ad nauseum about why the violent crime rate in the 1990s dropped so drastically. By some estimates, over 70% in a few short years.

There are too many theories to discuss here but to name a few of the most popular: more cops on the street, community policing, better economy, the broken windows policing model, stop and frisk, specialized units going after the violent offenders and enhanced penalties upon conviction of certain crimes. Each had an impact. But, in my estimation it was not just the fear of going to jail and prison, but prosecutors successfully putting criminals into those institutions that put a screeching halt to the plague of violent crimes.

During my Master’s program I read the studies that indicated incarceration didn’t have the biggest impact on the drop in violent crime. Like any study you can find holes, but those with Ph.Ds. are theoretically intelligent so I won’t argue the statistical minutia.

I’ll use unsubstantiated real-life anecdotal examples that wouldn’t be given the time of day in any academic setting. Here goes.

I worked for 30 years in DuPage County, Il. It was, and still is, the second most populated county outside of Cook County (Chicago) to which it is geographically adjacent.

Very early on in my career I arrested a Cook County resident for an armed robbery. In booking he asked me what town we were in. After I told him he asked a question I heard innumerable times over 30 years.

“Is that in Cook County?”

“Nope. DuPage.”

His response was immediate and animated.

“Oh fuck! Are you kidding me, I thought I was in Cook!”

His anguish and angst confused me, so I asked my veteran partner why I was seeing what I was seeing. His response is one I never forgot. It was short. Sweet. Simple. To the point.

“Cuz we put them in prison when they commit felonies in DuPage County. Cook doesn’t.”

Another example.

I was a sergeant and a couple of great proactive cops made a traffic stop on a van. Inside the van were two Cook County residents and the proceeds from dozens of nighttime business burglaries. On the scene with my officers one of the two burglars saw the patch on his uniform that indicated where they were stopped.

He shouted as he turned to his partner in the passenger seat.

“Lombard! We’re in Lombard? That’s DuPage County! You said we were in Berkeley! We’re not in Berkeley you asshole!” He then punched his burglar buddy in the arm. Berkeley, obviously, is situated in Cook.

In the past year, as has the rest of the country, DuPage has seen an uptick (though slight in comparison to Cook County and Chicago), in brazen violent crimes; home invasions, armed robberies, etc. Shootings have happened. Including shootings at police.

Each and every time the perpetrators are caught—and in DuPage they almost always are—the elected State’s Attorney Bob Berlin puts out a press release that essentially says something along these lines. And admittedly I’m completely paraphrasing here as I read between the lines:

“You made the mistake of committing this crime in DuPage County. You were caught due to the professional efforts of the police in DuPage County. Therefore, we will charge the maximum allowed by law and my crack DuPage County prosecutorial staff will prosecute you to the fullest extent of that law. And in DuPage County we will ask for the harshest punishment legally permissible and we will get it! In other words, you commit felonies in DuPage you are going to prison!”

Again, I paraphrase, I embellish, but SA Berlin gets that exact point across.

Why?

Well, for one he means it. But the real reason is to serve notice. If you are a criminal and you are thinking about committing a crime in DuPage County, think twice. You will not come into this community and victimize the innocent with impunity. If you try it, you will go to prison.

Conclusion

Some who read this article will take my vernacular as crude, archaic and maybe even a bit Neanderthalic. Maybe it is. But the point, hopefully, is made.

If in your area, those with power coddle criminals. If they justify their criminality. Redirect responsibility. Forgive their crimes while demonizing the dedicated men and women in law enforcement and ignore the impact on the real victims, the criminal element will take notice. They will take advantage. They will hunt and abuse the innocent.

This was meant, at the beginning, to be an article appropriate for the Christmas Season. A time to think about Peace.

My unsophisticated point I guess is this: If you want peace, it must be sought. The peacemakers, working right now and all through the holidays, are dedicated to peace for their communities. During this season they will risk their lives for you while they themselves are away from their families on the most family of holidays. Many will be injured. Some will die. All while protecting you.

There are two quotes I wish to close with.

“Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.” — Robert Kennedy

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” — Matthew 5:9

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