Hey America, crime is not symptomatic

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Whenever I get that flier from a politician, you know the one with kids on it, I throw it out and make a note not to vote for that person. I suggest you do the same.

Our politicians fool us, yet we allow ourselves to be fooled. How does being tough on crime stop crime? First, crime has already occurred; second, politician after politician, whether Democrat, Republican or Independent have all been so “tough on crime” but absent on prevention. That seems to make no difference in prison recidivism rates. A recent Department of Justice study found that 83% of those incarcerated were rearrested in a nine-year follow up period.

We will hear, as I do now in Maryland, politicians promoting “mandatory’ sentences, when they know darn well that these mandatory sentences fail to work and can be cruel and unusual punishment. What does that cost the state, and how are such blanket, knee-jerk laws not a death sentence?

Being angry at people because of their drug or non-violent sexual behavior should not be the reason we incapacitate people.

Kevin Ott was in prison for life. He was non-violent, trying to make a living, and using drugs. Having two prior drug-related charges and a drug trafficking charge, Ott got life in prison without parole. There were 90 men just like him in prison. After 23 years, Oklahoma released him. He lost 23 years of his life for what? His mom had to bury two of her brothers and a daughter in that time.

When will we hold our politicians and justice system accountable for so much of the abuse they inflict on our communities?

In the U.S. Being Poor is Illegal

Go to any inner city, and what we see are police throwing “resources” at targeted areas, where they sweep through, lock a whole bunch of desperate people up, and then get frustrated later because these same people get out and use and sell drugs again. Do we expect the most desperate in our society to simply fix themselves by further limiting their ability to survive?

After spending one trillion dollars on our “drug war,” we have even more drugs on the streets. We always have and always will use drugs. If the police sweep through a rich, affluent area of any given city, they will probably find even more drugs. The drug war has never been about prevention.

Let’s play at being a military general. If the general wants to win the war, it’s best to knock out those at the center, those that command, organize, and execute. Find the funding and cut it off. If the general has his troops just sit in fox holes and shoot at common soldiers, the war will just cost a lot and continue. Such causes incredible destruction. This is how we abuse our own police officers. Are they not glorified laundry workers?

We had such a war. It was called Vietnam. I think the Vietnam war was about making money for some, not about stopping communism. If the U.S. was interested in stopping communism, it would not have built China, a communist nation, into a superpower. If we want to stop something, we have to go at the big guys, not the little guys, but our criminal justice system puts almost all its resources on little guys.

The system is predatory, seeking human flesh, usually a darker hue, to fund investments and to employ those in rural towns. We buy and sell human flesh, the lower percent. The laws are about social control, not prevention.

Politicians know well that such will never stop any crime. It’s not about prevention. It’s about elections.

Drugs are Not the Problem, Human Suffering is the Problem

Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University, argues that drugs should be decriminalized. What that means is if one gets pulled over and has drugs on them, they get a ticket, not a prison sentence. Next, we could take all the wasted money that the state and federal government throws away on locking non-violent people up and use it for drug prevention. The money could also be used to retrain those addicted and unemployed so that they can get a job and make money. As Hart’s research has shown, most people choose money or jobs over drugs. Such methods are proven to reduce crime even among violent offenders, as I often note in James Gilligan’s work. These once violent men choose useful work over crime.

As more and more states recognize that they cannot lock their way up out of problems, maybe they should revisit what a very wise doctor said, the drug war is “a symptom” of a problem. It is not the problem. People use drugs because they are in pain: physical and/or emotional pain. In cities, many minorities were isolated where communities were redlined and families could not get a HUD loan. The only economy that was viable was underground. What were they to do? The same is true in poor, white rural areas, as Kevin Ott experienced.

When people need to survive, the law makes little difference. When a 15-year old boy thinks he will be dead at 18, do we think he cares about tougher laws? When one hates oneself, do they care for others, or for laws? Does he care about gun restrictions? Such debates only matter to those of us not living the experience of true hardship and desperation.

Sex Offender Panic: The New Drug War

Now that the drug war is being seen as more and more unrealistic, sex offense laws and the hated “sex offender” could take the place of all drug offenses. The same things are at play. Sex will always exist, and people will engage others in sexual behavior, sometimes those more vulnerable. Laws keep expanding unchecked, and yet for many with sex offenses, treatment is woefully inadequate and outdated.

In fact, I would argue that historically, our social system—one that favors male dominance—trained boys to be predatory. Don’t business schools train the “best businessmen” to be predatory? Often, we quote Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest, but species did not survive by simply dominating others. If such were true dinosaurs would still roam the earth with their massive strength, armor, and speed; rather, those that were flexible and adaptive survived.

In a sexual study noted by psychologist Jesse Bering, foot fetishism, something that has had steady rates within the population, spiked during the height of sexual disease in Spain. Then after, rates went down to their normal levels. Such a spike can be explained this way: those that could shift from intercourse to a body part, survived. Those that could not may likely parish. Such “deviance” is far from shameful or deviant. It’s about safety and survival. Maybe the spike in online child sex offenses has another meaning. Maybe these guys are in trouble and trying to find a way to survive. Flexibility has little to do with propriety. It has to do with survival.

In the end, a tsunami or virus has little moral imperative. Like a river, it goes the path to least resistance. And, like a disease, moral imperative can also kill.

The Wars on Crime are Wars Against You and me

What we find with any emotion-driven lawmaking is that the war is really a war against us, not them. Our politicians are often seasoned liars, manipulators, and predators. They choose to mislead the public, using fearmongering and a blind eye to science. They score political victories at the cost of sensible preventative measures.

What is so often lost is that whether it’s a drug offense or a sex crime, the people doing these are by and large hurting. They are in a great deal of physical or emotional pain, and such can make them use or act out against others. The key to crime prevention is not in covering up a problem or locking the problem up in a cage and then expecting that, when we let the problem out, things will miraculously get better.

Sadly, as historian Richard Miller and scholar Michelle Alexander note, our Department of Justice actually created the system it wanted: one that has little interest in crime prevention. It’s never been about making life better. The goal is to isolate poor people and minorities, to keep them from us. Powerful people touch kids and use drugs, just like the rest of them, or is it us? The poorer just pay the price.

It’s About Us, Not Them

Every time I look at CNN, it’s as if they try to alert us of every Coronavirus infection and death. I wonder how long before they give up? Can we count the days? What if CNN alerted us every time a person was shot in the United States, every time a person died of a gunshot wound? What about lung cancer that can kill 500,000 in a year? What if we reported that?

We tax addicts for their addiction with a cigarette tax. Then we believe we live in a moral society! The police profit off drug money and civil seizure! Have our police departments become street gangs? No, but it’s starting to look that way.

These are tough questions, but how many you have used drugs? I knew police officers, judges, and prosecutors that used drugs. How many parents or guardians touched a child inappropriately just that once, and how many saw an illegal image online? It’s safe to say millions have because we are human. We often seek the taboo or dangerous.

If we want prevention, we have to study the pain and then offer healthy ways to lesson or deal with the pain. No, we don’t minimize abuse, but we realize that legitimizing sexual discussion at colleges and universities can train our next generation of politicians and the public on how to responsibly deal with these public health problems. These are not criminal justice problems. That system is lousy at prevention.

Would we call gun deaths an epidemic? What if we were alerted every time a person got the flu and died from it, over 17,000 have? I got rid of my weather app that showed flu in the area because it caused me too much anxiety. I deleted it and feel so much better. I still wash my hands the way a nurse taught me, though. The coverage of the latest coronavirus is largely counterproductive and useless. CNN makes a load of money, so is 3M and those hand sanitizer people. What does this all have in common? We profit from people’s fear. That is the motivation.

How does this help us? What is the end game? Coronavirus is here to stay. We will probably get it, and we will very likely get over it. If you are sick beforehand, you may get very sick and possibly die. Do you need to know more? Talk to your doctor. Kids seem to fair well, so parents please relax.

It’s a game. Coronavirus is real, and it can be dangerous, but is it more dangerous than gun violence to a young child in the ghetto?

We worry about a disease that will kill very few of us because it’s about us, not them. We don’t care about marginalized people, drug addicts, or sex offenders because they are not us. They are members of historically hated groups.

We go through great lengths not to be one of them. But we are them, and our rights are their rights. Their suffering is our suffering, just as survivors’ suffering is.

If we want to reduce crime, drug use, sex abuse, and murder, we have to stop chasing symptoms and find the real reason: Pain. When people hurt, they hurt others and/or themselves. As writer Sherman Alexie’s father shared, “I drink because I am Indian.” Alexie says, Native Americans stopped telling stories, being creative and replaced it with drinking. That’s the problem.

Locking a person up for drugs is like punishing a cancer patient for receiving chemotherapy.

Abuse is often a result of desperation, and desperation causes crime. If we want solutions, we should not support government censorship and politicians that make a career lying or mischaracterizing problems. Ask the people on the front lines, those with little voice and no power. They have the solutions. How to get politicians to listen? By relentlessly taking this message directly to them.