Crime as Politics

In some cynical fashion I sympathize with local officials and the police. To rush to judgment on the pseudo-“brazen” hate crime at the Islamic center is to win laurels and careerist points; to deplore the truly brazen beating of a solitary old white guy trying to protect the weaker from a much larger African-American thug who fled the scene is to court social ostracism and career implosion. Note well that there is no downside for the police chief in feebly retracting his shoot-from-the-hip damnation of supposedly local hatred that fueled the vandalism. He just shrugged, made inoperative his prior false news release, and went on.

I don’t doubt that there are occasional hate crimes against various ethnic and religious groups. After all, the United States is still a great experiment that seeks to unite the world’s tribes into a coherent whole. And never has that gambit been more problematic in the age of hyphenation and the salad bowl in lieu of the melting pot.

But right now, discussion of crime is too often constructed as an ideological tool to serve larger political agendas. We see that cycle with the unproven feminist assertion that 20% of coeds will be raped on campus during their undergraduate tenures -- when the government’s own statistics show that women on and off the campus have less than a 1% chance of being sexually assaulted in any given year. If the former myth is true, then the engine of feminist studies, counselors, and therapeutic curricula is fueled; if the latter fact is canonized, then society can in part be thankful that such violent sexual assault has declined from far higher percentages during past decades.

Surely most neither believe nor act as if the Stanford campus is a more dangerous place than is East Palo Alto, or the Columbia dorms more perilous than a nearby Harlem public housing project. The Duke lacrosse case, the Rolling Stone fiasco, the mythographies of Lena Dunham all teach us that it is far more dangerous to be falsely accused as a sexual predator than to falsely accuse the innocent as a sexual predator. People are human and therefore make the necessary adjustments.

In the age of Ferguson, the tragedy of Eric Garner, and a host of other politicized crime incidents, is there any resolution in sight? None that I can see given the nature of the fuel that feeds such fires. Had the police chief of Fresno been publicly shamed for such false allegations, he might not be so eager to rush to judgment next time. Had the bus stop thug been charged with a hate crime -- and I do not count out that the victim’s race, age, and feeble health encouraged the attack -- perhaps a larger message might be sent about such altercations.