Our cities are becoming fear driven crime bubbles with all of us looking for someone to blame. Some believe that our crime wave is a result of the books that are being read, or not enough emphasis on religion, or that we have become trapped in our own web of conspiracies and propaganda combined with too many guns and drugs on the street. Welcome to America — a nation that is a proud mess.
Crime has many layers, but within our society’s general construct, it is anything that is defined as an act contrary to legal code or laws. We tout ourselves as being a nation of laws, but as individuals, we never think about ourselves as being part of the problem.
Intuitively, we know that our society is unequal, prefers to limit access, and that laws as written rarely solve problems or establish fairness. Think white privilege, “old boys” networks, political parties, corporations, lobbyists, unions, religions, cults, professional sports teams, and so on. For any particular group to succeed, they need followers, a narrative that attracts, and having someone to blame helps.
The coarsening of society is a cycle that every generation experiences. Cops and robbers is a childhood game many of us played. Most of us transitioned to adulthood without choosing a criminal path.
According to Professor Mark A. Cohen of Vanderbilt University: “Overall, personal crime in the U.S. cost almost $2.6 trillion in 2017. Direct costs to victims and taxpayers totaled $620 billion — about $1,900 for every person in the U.S. That figure represents 3.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product and exceeded the $590 billion spent on the military or the $450 billion spent on social welfare programs in 2017. Health care costs alone totaled more than $90 billion — about 2.5 percent of U.S. health care expenditures.”
Crime is expensive to all of us, but it is here to stay because cops and robbers in real life is lucrative. We all cheat a little here and there. We may have told a few lies of our own as kids and perhaps still do as adults. If you are one of the lucky few that have a network of friends who can get you the dream job — great. If not, you may have dressed up your resume a little with a few additional skills that may not be real. We all have a “no big deal attitude” about a little lie here and there if it gets us what we want.
Honesty and integrity be damned — I got the job and am now on the team. The team you may have joined could be Big Tobacco or more recently Purdue Pharma. Both lied repeatedly to the public and Congress about their products, which created generations of economic and medical harm by knowingly making us addicts for profit.
Opportunities for great wealth rarely come without consequences and society gets the bill in the form of crime. The larger concern is that our government, and its carefully crafted laws and regulations, allowed Big Tobacco and Purdue Pharma’s products, as well as others, to damage our society in the name of good and profit. Bribe the right people and all is possible.
Accountability has become as elusive as finding lost treasure. We talk about it, but rarely do we get a sense of resolution for crimes committed. Neighborhood vandals either grow out of it or become involved in higher level crimes. Our corporations are capable of getting laws written in their favor as well as skirting most regulations by using court proceedings to avoid admitting guilt or paying a judgement to whom they have harmed. We have become a “you can’t catch me” nation.
Still, our prisons are full. We are an “incarceration nation.” The United States, with 3.4 percent of the world’s population, in 2021 was number one in the world with 2.1 million people behind bars, according to World Population Review. China was next with 1.7 million incarcerated. Our society either does not fear incarceration or chooses to be a nation with criminal proclivities. We are a victimized nation with little justice.
Most of us do not understand the criminal justice system, our laws, how they are comprised, enforced, prosecuted, the sentencing structures for various criminal acts, the costs to our community, or to us as individuals. Our politicians get elected on “law and public safety” rhetoric, but laws and regulations rarely get changed to correct problems.
Locally we get worked up about crime and lack of enforcement — a respectable position as well as an acknowledgment of our saturation with criminal behavior. We are mostly angered by crimes against persons and property. But us choosing to change our behavior, not so much. Give up drugs, guns, prostitution, gambling, lying, cheating and stealing to get our way — not likely. Add to that a high tolerance for white collar crimes, organized criminal gangs and misinformation and the problem grows.
Taken as a whole, we are being swindled by politicians who believe their ideas and actions can change our behavior and resolve the nation’s crime problems. Reality says they have no interest in resolving issues — it gets them elected. Blaming others, combined with support from their respective political party and culture war funders, keeps them in power. As a 50-50 nation, we are living in a dystopian stalemate.
Lots of money is being made — legally and illegally. Communities are suffering. Our increasing poverty, drug abuse and misuse of guns places our personal safety at risk.
We put ourselves behind this eight ball by not dealing honestly with our lack of universal access. We are not honest about our equity issues, treating white collar crime as a “so what,” devaluing education, and the damage done by offshoring approximately 300,000 jobs annually.
The war on poverty is being waged, but no real change happens. It is hard to get ahead when you are behind. Experiencing the reality that the hand of fairness is not honestly offered or secure makes crime attractive at all levels of society.
We claim to be a nation of laws, but if those laws are not well written, understood, enforced, or fair, we set ourselves up for failure, but choose to live the illusion anyway.
Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.