(criminal law) an act punishable by law; usually considered an evil act
We all know what a crime is don’t we? A crime is something that is against the law. It is against the law because the people and their representatives believe it is something wicked (morally bad in principle or practice) and it should not go unpunished. This has been the view for many thousands of years in civilised and uncivilised society.
Offences are defined as crimes against the person like robbery, violence, or murder, or against the government as in tax evasion, treason, and the suchlike. Punishments for committing “offences” vary from country to country, city to city, town to town, and person to person. A punishment for breaking and entering into a house might be a three month prison sentence in one country, five years in another, and in another, a public flogging. You can never be sure what punishment your going to get when you commit a crime.
If you murder someone in one part of the united states, you will receive a life sentence, but if you murder someone in a different state, you will be tied to a chair and an electric current passed through your body or given a lethal injection, until you are dead. Either way, you’ll be killed.
But enough of the punishment, let’s talk about the crime. Everyone will agree it’s horrible to come into your house and find your precious goods stolen, or have your wallet stolen in the street, or even worse be beaten up. Even worse than that (which I’m sure the victims would agree if they could talk) is being murdered. To be stabbed with a knife that tears away at your flesh and organs, or be shot with a bullet that explodes inside you is the most heinous of crimes, wouldn’t you agree? Not paying your taxes, cheating large companies, defrauding insurance companies, and other “crimes” where no one gets physically hurt are rarely seen as being offences by the perpetrators.
So who are these criminals? Who are the people who roam our streets looking to cause mischief to their fellow humans? Are they violent, unfeeling monsters as portrayed by the media, or are they people in need of our compassion and help? The overwhelming view amongst the general public is that these people are thugs, and deserve nothing from us. “They should lock them up and throw away the key,” I hear some of you say, and I can understand why you think like that.
If you have ever been raped, attacked, robbed, or ripped off by someone, you want revenge – which you call justice. It seems only natural to want to punish the person who has stolen from you or wronged you, doesn’t it?
We don’t even need laws to make some things illegal, there are certain things which we naturally take offence to, like people stealing from you, or raping you, or your children. It is lucky for the criminals that we now have civilised courts and not the old fashioned kangaroo courts (an irregular unauthorized court), where they may find themselves dangling on the end of a rope for any offence!
The legal system has been modernised somewhat in the last two thousand years, and now there is a proper process to go through when trying a prisoner. They now have rights, and in most countries, a prisoner is considered innocent until proven guilty. Even if a prisoner is found guilty most countries do not kill them; they are normally sent to prison for a specific amount of time (at the cost of the taxpayer – you) and enjoy a reasonable life there until they are released to inevitably do the same thing again. Some people think it might actually be better to kill them and save ourselves the trouble of housing them in prison, then having to deal with the aftermath of them re-offending. It would definitely be cheaper! Criminals are a real menace to us, aren’t they?
(a) They cause fear and mayhem on the streets.
(b) They cost insurance companies billions in claims from people who have had things stolen.
(c) They cost us millions for lawyers’ fees and judges’ salaries. They cause us to build courthouses at great expense, prisons at even greater expense, and then, finally, when they are convicted, require massive amounts of money to keep them locked up!
(d) Then we release them into the community assign them a probation officer which costs money.
(e) Then they re-offend.
(f) Go back to (a).
And that’s not even taking into account the emotional scars left behind when someone is a victim of crime. Looking at it, it is really easy to get angry; and believe me, it does make me angry when I see the blatant disregard, not for laws – which are man-made – but for fellow humans. This is not about the right of the individual to live a life free from crime either; it is about trying to understand how one human (a member of the species homo sapiens) can make another human (a member of the species homo sapiens) suffer. That is what I would like to discuss with you here.
Every year, governments threaten to get tough on the causes of crime; they bandy around figures to show us that street robbery is down 0.243% this quarter, murder is down 1.983% this week, burglary is down 2.94221% today. But no one, including the government, knows how to get rid of crime – not completely. They can reduce it, but they can’t eradicate it.
So what causes people to commit crime?
Forget that there are laws for a moment… What causes one individual, or gang, to think it is perfectly acceptable to attack someone else, beat them savagely, steal their wallet, and leave them for dead? What causes a man, however enraged he is, to stab another man to death? What causes a young boy to grab a brick and throw it through the window of a car to steal its worthless cd player?
Let me ask you another question. When is it acceptable to steal from someone else? When you are starving? When you want what they have? When they can well afford it?
Are there degrees of acceptability in crime? What about when you stab someone? Maybe because they looked at you the “wrong” way? Because they were talking to your girlfriend? Because they were of a different race? Because you hated him? When? You tell me. What makes you fight on the street where I don’t? What makes you steal from someone when I don’t? What makes you kill when I don’t?
At a trial, many excuses or mitigating factors are put up by the defence. He was broke; he was going through a bad patch; he had just split up with his girlfriend; he was intoxicated/on drugs at the time. The excuses go on an on. I have never seen anyone go into court and say “Yes, I did it; I take personal responsibility for it,” they always try to weasel out of it, don’t they? “It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it; I’ve got an alibi.” They have committed a crime against someone, but when it comes to taking responsibility for it, they are nowhere to be seen. We have to use many hours of police time to hunt them down.
They are happy to do the crime, but not happy to do the time!
“He had a very troubled childhood, your honour;” “he got in with a bad crowd, your honour;” “he promises never to do it again, your honour;” and there he stands, head hung low in an ill fitting suit to show respect to the judge (or to try to get a more lenient sentence).
He cuts a thoroughly pathetic figure as he stands there being judged for something he has done wrong.
Outside the court he’s a tough man, but in here he’s meek and mild. “Yes, your honour;” “no, your honour;” “sorry about that, your honour;” “it’ll never happen again, your honour;” “I’m a changed man, your honour.”
I have never seen people go from such arrogant, aggressive individuals to people who will do anything to get out of going to jail.
At least have the courage to stand up and say “I did it, he deserved it. I’m glad I did it.” But they won’t, because for most of them going to prison is an unattractive prospect, and being on the outside committing more crime is where they want to be.
“What about the one-off cases?” I hear you demand. “Those who really didn’t mean it and will never do it again cases, don’t put them in the same category as people who regularly commit crime.” But as I well know, from my two or three court appearances in my youth, a crime’s a crime.
The first time I went to court was for a breach of the peace, I think. I can’t remember exactly, but I was drunk, about seventeen, and some people I knew in the town were fighting with a couple of policemen. I said something like “He’s done nuffing le-t ‘im go” or something to that incoherent effect about two hundred times to the police who were trying to bundle him into a police car. I was promptly arrested and spent the night in a police cell shouting “You bastards…” or something equally as pleasant. On the day of court I think I dressed up smartly, had my dad as support, and was fined a small amount of money as well as bound over to keep the peace for a year.
My second court appearance was for a similar drunken offence, although this time I was arrested for something more serious. I was drunk at some girl’s parents’ house, her boyfriend turns up. He says something, I go and grab a knife (a knife! I can’t believe I did that), he and the girl’s brother throw me out, and as I leave I stick the knife in the front door! I was promptly arrested, fined, and bound over to keep the peace.
The third and final court appearance (all within two years), was because the ex-boyfriend of the girl in case two decided I was responsible for his break up with said girl. I was drunk (some pattern emerging?), and he put me in a headlock. We were both promptly arrested, although this time in court I was found not guilty!
That was the end of my court appearances, but I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed hanging round with the same crowd. They were only interested in fighting and drinking, and I wanted to be part of their group. They were the cool group in town and I hadn’t been in any groups before. I have never even had a fight in my life, and was only interested in the drinking and the women that hung around the group.
For me, being part of the group changed my personality enough to allow myself to do things that would normally go against my conscience.
But being drunk all the time probably didn’t help either. I conformed to the group ideal of not caring about anything. I was angry at my parents when they tried to stop me going out with the group, and I stole from my mother to buy alcohol and cigarettes; I wasn’t myself at all. Yet the one thing I never did was take personal responsibility for my actions. I always blamed the others.
Inside my mind, I was still a sweet little boy, but on the outside I was just an angry aggressive drunk.
This was my short brush with crime; and as I left the group, I never came into contact with the court system again (except for a few speeding and parking fines). I can see how easy it is to fall in with the wrong crowd and embark on a lifetime of crime.
Years ago they tried to profile the “look” of a criminal. What type of eyes, ears, nose, they had as if there was a genetic blueprint that caused people to become criminals. They were almost saying that if you looked a certain way, you would almost definitely go into crime.
Having seen the photos of some criminals you can see where they were coming from! But an ugly man is not a criminal any more than an attractive man is a saint!
Poverty and unemployment are always touted as being major contributors to the start of a career in crime, but that is only because people with no money and no job want the things people with money and a job have worked for. They feel aggrieved that someone else has the goods and they haven’t. So what do they do? They take them. By force.
This isn’t anything new. Throughout history, people have been stealing from each other and murdering each other. This is no modern epidemic, it’s only because we have media that we know so much about it now.
There have always been poor people. My grandparents (and my parents) came from quite poor working class families in Glasgow. They had no fineries, but they had jobs and they were happy because they had each other. There are many poor people living around the world, but that doesn’t make them thieves.
There are many unemployed people, but that doesn’t make them bank robbers.
One key factor does seem to be environment. The place people live. If you live in an area where drugs are being dealt all the time, and you want to belong to a group, what sort of group will you belong to? If you live in an area where people are fighting all the time in gangs and you want to belong, what group will you fall into? Please think about it for a moment because this is important.
All across the world, people with no money, low self-esteem, no value system, and personality problems are housed all together.
If you want to see evidence of environment as a key factor, just put ten gifted people together in a house and see what comes out of that. The more of the same type of people you put together the more of the same you will get out. If the predominant personality is violent, you will get more violence, if the predominant personality is peaceful, you will get more peace.
Think about it. Does that make any sense to you?
There have been thousands of studies made, millions spent, trying to find out why people commit crime, and as it’s still going on, we will have to assume they haven’t found out! I think it would be a safe guess to say that money and interpersonal conflict is at the root of most crime.
People break into houses, cars, banks, shops, etc. to steal goods and money. They are desperate people who will do anything to get money. Some may have drug habits to fund, others may have gambling or alcohol addictions, but we must be clear that people are not stealing goods to keep them, but steal them to raise a few pounds.
For some people, this becomes a way of life, and they do not consider that they are doing anything wrong (except when they end up in court, and get sent to prison again). Many see the state as the system, and feel they are rebelling against it, most others just steal a car stereo to sell for ten pounds down the pub. Big deal.
Some obviously steal a lot more, but what are they achieving? A few extra pounds in their pockets. For what? Probably a new pair of trainers so they can look cooler than their mate.
It is this complete lack of awareness in themselves that makes theft so sad. That someone will risk everything for a few pounds amazes me. Stealing because of poverty? Don’t make me laugh! In the west, if you can’t get a job, you are funded by the government, which is funded by you the taxpayer, to help you get a job and be able to support yourself. For the wanna haves in the world this money isn’t enough, so they go and steal more money from the other taxpayers, which is you, get caught, then spend a couple of years sitting around being fed, clothed, and housed, by, wait for it… you.
They have a great life. They’re in a win-win situation. You of course are in a lose-lose situation.
For people involved in violence, the motivation may be different, and may involve many different psychological problems (which by the way are all treatable in some way or another), but the outcome remains the same; only this time, people are physically injured or killed. But in the end, the criminal will be caught, taken through the legal process and if found guilty, sent off to prison at your expense. Lose-lose again for you.
But in the long term, the people who get involved in crime are in the lose-lose situation. The sheer stress of it; the constant dealings with people in authority; being treated as if you are less than human. As far as authority is concerned, you are not to be afforded the usual treatment reserved for society, as you have broken society’s rules. You will be punished to teach you a lesson, and this punishment serves as a warning to all others who wish to break the law that… Blah, blah, blah.
An open letter to the criminally minded
Dear mr (or miss) criminal
I would like to talk to you for a moment if I may, and ask you exactly why you do the things you do? Maybe your father didn’t love you, maybe your parents didn’t bring you up well and didn’t give you proper values? Maybe your family are involved in crime? Maybe you think the only way to get money is not by working like everyone else, but by taking it from people who had to do jobs they didn’t like to buy the things they wanted. Maybe you had a violent upbringing? Maybe you were abused? Maybe you just want to show off how tough you are to your mates? Maybe you were left by your girlfriend for another man, maybe you felt jealous, so you killed him.
There are so many maybes, but the only certainty is you. You were involved in the acts that affected other people, you may have denied it at the time, but it was you.
Where is this life of yours headed? Back to prison? Back to a life behind bars, where you are not free to walk in the open country air, where you will not see a family grow up? Is this what millions of years of evolution has achieved? You, in prison, being fed, watered, and caged like a dangerous dog; unable to be let out of your cage because of what you might do?
It may be easier for us to turn you loose on a deserted island with other criminals and no support. Just you, them, and the island. What would you do there? Would you work together, and build a community, growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables, living together in peace. No, of course you wouldn’t! You’d kill each other. Man to man, showing off all that testosterone. You’d be able to express your violent selves with no interference from anyone else, although this time you may not get out of it alive. Maybe we should send you back in time to when man was just evolving; you might feel quite at home there. Although once again, I cannot guarantee you would get out alive.
No, I think you’d be better off here, where the people (from whom you stole or hurt) still offer you their compassion. If you think they don’t, then maybe the people and their compassion (in the form of food that feeds you in prison) should remove their support and support a new bill to bring back executions. It is within the power of the people. Don’t be so sure they wouldn’t do it. Hanging for theft of a car radio. How would you feel then?
Maybe you think people are weak, and that’s why you hurt them. Maybe you think you have the right to do it. Maybe you are like all other people, whom society supports, that think you are “entitled” to do and take whatever you like. Maybe, and just maybe you aren’t aware of yourself. You are just so caught up in what you are doing you have no time to spend 0.005 seconds between the thought and the action. You’re too busy with your career of violence and theft. But please stop to think for one moment.
Try to imagine how your life would be, free from these prison warders locking you in. Imagine a field on a warm summers day; imagine yourself calm, no worries at all, free from chains, and the torment you must be in. Let go of this prison, this idea you have, that the only way to live is the life you have chosen. You can be free of this life, by letting love into your life, by letting light into your life, by letting passion, energy, joy, and creation in!
Face it, you will be only here on this planet for another few years. Roll forward to an image of you on your death bed. There you lie, in prison alone, no one to comfort you. You stole all you could, you hurt others all you could, for what? This? This lying on a prison bed, the end near. You were a tough man, everyone “respected” you, but now you’re about to die. Where did you go wrong? What do you regret? Do you shed a tear for your wasted life? Do not! You do not need to feel sorry for yourself, I do not feel sorry for you.
Now roll backward to right NOW. You are not on your death bed, you are here. Now. You have the chance right now to give up this life. To take a different path; one as yet unknown, and lead a happy fulfilling life, not one surrounded by concrete and steel. Walk away. Change your environment. Pack a bag. Leave right now. The future awaits you.
your friend in life
Surely this is a no-brainer? If crime costs us a fortune, and we are not ready to string up every criminal, we must offer them our compassion. Nothing else has worked, will work, or can work. Remember the only way to defeat violence of any kind is to fight violence with compassion, which is not fighting at all. We must extend the hand of compassion to all. Not just those who need it or we think are worthy of it.
Crimes against us are made by our own brothers, homo sapiens; and although it saddens us and angers us to see it happen, we must extend the hand of friendship to them and help them find the way. Not our way, but a way driven through awareness of themselves, love, compassion, and empathy for all who inhabit this planet. It is possible. We must never give up on our fellow humans, for if we do, we must surely give up on ourselves.