The Cruel Irony of Deterrents

This is my favourite series right here. It’s outside the box, it’s to the point, and entertaining. Well, after the first one.

 

😉

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/06/27/irony-when-a-deterrent-becomes-a-punishment/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/10/22/law-and-order-the-irony-of-deterrents-part-2/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/11/06/the-irony-of-deterrents-part-3/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/11/27/prisons-and-bad-neighborhoods-the-irony-of-deterrents-part-4/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2015/02/02/the-carrot-and-the-stick-the-irony-of-deterrents-part-5/

 

These one are better coupled with the Irony series too, I think . . .

 

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2014/09/01/punishment-a-self-fulfilling-prophecy-and-the-roots-of-institutionalized-racism/

https://abusewithanexcuse.com/2015/07/12/shit-flows-downhill/

 

Thanks for reading, folks! Please, share and retweet, it’s all free. Trying to save the world here.

 

Jeff

Dec. 19, 2015

Policing at a Crossroads

. . . same crossroads all things eventually reach when they start down the road toward humanism, or just plain exist, moving like the rest of us into the future. At some point in the train robbery, you have to commit to letting go of your horse and holding on to the train. The period where you still have both options is dangerous, so safety dictates it be short. I know, sorry.

I’ll go straight to it, but it’ll take a minute still – still sorry.

I caught a headline somewhere, most likely Twitter, some person got released from a wrongful conviction, and got paid some great amount for damages, which got me thinking. Of course, the first NPLP (something I’m trying to start – Namby Pamby Liberal Pussy. Folks like me.) thought is ‘Yes! Science has saved another wrongly convicted man from police machinations!’ and yes, there could be a racial aspect to the story, I mean of course, there always could be, but the picture was of a black fellow.

Then of course, I sort of globalized the concept, like I enjoy way too much, started to wonder, if there are say, a thousand such cases in a given place during a given period, then how many of the thousand were non-criminal innocents and how many might have deserved their sentences or worse for crimes they weren’t prosecuted for and/or convicted of? I mean, surely, if the police can be known to have railroaded an innocent black man into prison, then it is probably not beneath their morals to have set some heinous, dangerous criminals up for solid wrongful convictions either.

So, the first RWN (Right Wing Nutjob, something that’s a normal epithet on a site I play on, Thoughts.com) thought following that probably is, I hope somebody is reviewing which sorts of folks they’re setting free, like trying to make sure the newly free drug-related convicts really are only that or something. And, yeah, we always hope for some local knowledge, some attention to detail. Numbers games are always error-riddled.

But for me, again, trying to globalize, trying to see the social implications of all things punishment-related, this is it here.

That second practice must have felt pretty justifiable, if the cop knew, for sure, that his target’s incarceration would make the public a good deal safer, that if in short, the end really was justification for some evil means. However, technology, humanism and morality have moved on in this case, specifically, the old setup tactics are failing now because some humanists, someone who cares, have applied DNA testing etc. and caught the police cheating.

In the long term, each generation gets treated better than the last, and they each learn to expect to be. We expect moral circles to expand, and we are viewing moral issues in a more egalitarian, more logical way with each decade as well, and one result of that process is this. We want to hold our police to the law more than we perhaps have in the past. Police forces evolved because the wealthy found their prosperity to be more stable when the King tried and punished crimes, rather than living with the endless feuding produced by the previous vendetta sort of system where families looked after offenders to their interests privately. So police came into being long before modern democracies. Now, we are taxpayers and the police don’t work for the King anymore, they work for us. So the time honoured tactic of setting a man up to please the policeman’s employers, now, looks as criminal as it always did, except worse.

Worse, because the victim is supposed to be the boss. Worse, because it’s now our moral issue, because we’re the boss. Can’t blame it on the King anymore, it’s us. Now that it is, I think we think the police are supposed to do their jobs and somehow succeed while never straying across the line of the law themselves for the very good reason that when they stray, it’s sometimes against us. I don’t imagine anyone has escaped the image of an experienced cop’s disdain for the idea, and fair enough, I get it, I do. It’s violence for violence, the experience is real, the danger is real . . . but still. As true and undeniable as that is, it’s still, I’m sorry, not that meaningful, uh . . . scientifically, yes, even for social science. Anecdotal, to be sure, but not only that. The thing is, all that is life as viewed from the past, from horseback. Our societies, and our police forces are at the choice-point now, still feeling the ongoing trauma of our authoritarian ways of the past and still trying to keep a grip on it, but we also have one hand on the train of the future, where mass media and big data are starting to show us who we really are.

So when the King’s dragoons abuse their position, it’s a moral crime, sure, but he’s the King, he’s responsible and we’re not. When our tax-funded, public police do, it’s our moral crime, we’re responsible, and in democratic societies like ours we need to do something about it. That is our job, to vote intelligently and not support evil, law and order politicians.

For the police, that is the crossroads we’re at. Yes, we have in the past turned a blind eye to some over-stepping on the part of the police, but now here we are, taxed and paying for it. Any herd of herbivores tolerates the presence of the predators, perhaps, the wildebeests live with the lions as a fact of life – but I don’t think they would if they had to pay for it too. I think this crossroads perhaps adds up to a slight change in job description for the police, an acknowledgement of the democratic nature of our society and who’s working for who.

Specifically?

What if we did let’s say, refresh our commitment to the police staying on the right side of the law themselves? We the people might try to remember that the goal, eventually, must certainly be a lawful world where at least the police aren’t criminals too. Sorry, also not very specific. Let’s just brainstorm a bit, point form.

  • It might not be going too far to suggest that police need to lose a few more fights to regain public sympathy. Personally, I reserve my concern for the people who lose the vast majority of the fights. Today, the police don’t look vulnerable enough to justify their shoot first policies. I think non-lethal weaponry in the hands of the police would go a long way towards building some public trust for the police, and for that to happen, there has to be some sense that police casualties are indeed a negotiable thing, as long as there are so many more citizen casualties. As long as the life of a single cop is supposed to be worth more than any number of citizens, we’re going to be in conflict and in that sense, police are creating social problems rather than solving them.
  • I actually like the idea of this possibly fictional ‘Ferguson Effect.’ If the police are really engaged in a sort of work slow-down action to protest the growing public scrutiny of them or to avoid getting themselves into trouble, that might be a good thing. If they are not going through a door when their only possible security is to kill those folks on the other side, maybe that’s a good thing. Personally, I can imagine that there are ways in which even gang activity and drug dealing are less offensive than state-sponsored murder of criminals. I mean, if this is the conversation?

“Hey, Police! Stop shooting unarmed alleged criminals!”

“Hey, it’s dangerous out here! Do you want policing or don’t you?”

“Yes, but murder is a crime, so it is for you too!”

“Hey, it’s my security! Do you want this crime stopped or not?”

“Yes – THIS crime, but your crime too!”

“Hey, if you haven’t got my back, I ain’t working! If it’s my life at risk, I ain’t going through any more doors. See how you like it when we’re not out there killing criminals for you.”

This adds up to an immediate threat, a pressure play, but what if maybe we call the police’s bluff, what if we stop and think about it for a minute? I say we give it a try, see how it plays out. Whatever happens, we learn something. So here’s my response:

“Good idea. Let’s see how it works out. If everything goes to Hell, we’ll make changes again, but for now, yeah. Let’s see how it pans out.”

  • We need to stop arresting people for minor crimes, period. An arrest is an action that is an escalation compared to many of the “crimes” we arrest and detain for, and as such, worse. We need to mail out invoices for fines, and we need to help the miscreants pay the fines – not arrest them and start potentially deadly fights to do it. If we are trying to lessen crime, then we need to stop justifying larger crimes – confinement, violence – by using them to stop smaller ones.

 

So, this is getting long, I’ll stop.

Long and short? As a society, as many societies, we seem to have missed the change, we seem to not have noticed that democratic governments change everything, all the ancient social institutions, and that police forces today work, literally and officially, for the people, all the people. What was police brutality in the past and used to be a private act, the King’s goons working out on His citizens, is now insubordination. Eric Garner was a member of the consortium that employs the NYPD, a citizen, and he was murdered by his own public servants. Ironically, that should offend authoritarians everywhere as well as everyone else.

It stopped being us VS them when we established our democracies, Folks, it’s all us now. Let’s deal with crime generally, not just some people’s crimes. Ours too.

 

Jeff

Nov. 23, 2015

One of Parenting’s Worst Myths

Let me ask anyone reading this – do you actually know ANYBODY who doesn’t try to discipline their kids? Anybody who doesn’t believe in discipline, anybody who says “Oh, I don’t care how my kids behave. Let the police worry about it!”

 

Of course the truth is, all the families that the misbehaving kids and the criminals of the world come from do indeed believe in discipline and punishment, and that DOESN’T F@#$%^G WORK, and so the kids misbehave, and many people grow up crazy and violent and lead criminal lives DESPITE having been punished and disciplined in their family homes. That is the obvious truth, because if discipline and punishment was some sort of magic cure, then you would have to show me a sizable portion of the population who doesn’t believe in it and doesn’t use it, and you can’t.

 

Can you? I’ll ask again:

 

Do you really know ANYBODY who doesn’t try to discipline their kids?

Updated! Shows of Strength and Presenting a United Front

. . . are short term, things, of course, is where I’m going. It was never my plan, in raising my kids. We’re playing the long game. We are traitors and pariahs in the world of breeding couples, my wife and I; if you’re disciplining your kids, we don’t have your back. We’ll have no part of it.

Same for the police, and Team America, Team Israel, and the vengeful God of Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.

If you’ve never read me before – and the odds that you’re one of the few who have are not good! It’s not like my message is the type to go viral – you may not know that this is a pattern with me, the family and then the society, the micro and the macro, the model and the mass production. I see things as fractal, as we do in our nuclear families, so it goes in society.

In my little corner of suburban Canada, in my mainstream life of the middle and lower classes, the adults have a cartel on what is allowed for kids, over what is done and what is not. It’s public school, public play, large public markets and entertainments, and everyone knows what is expected of kids, and apparently we all know exactly how to insure that, and so we all know exactly what is expected of parents too. Of course, that means discipline and control. God forbid your kids should create any problems for me, and vice versa. We all know when a child goes bad and causes problems who is to blame; it’s the parents. Somebody isn’t with the program. Don’t they know that we are all depending on each other to maintain total control of things?

Well, we took a chance, opted out of the cartel, and guess what? Our kids aren’t causing any problems for anybody. I’m not saying it’s all of the kids – but the kids causing problems were raised in the cartel, in the group where all the adults are backing each other up, where the adults are presenting a united front. When as kids we see that dynamic, when we see that it’s a military tactic and it’s directed at us, that hurts our feelings. And when it’s total, when there is no crack in the wall presented by the authority of the adults, when no adult dares break the line and side for the kids, well then we can lose hope. Then desperation may set in.

This united front, this show of solidarity and strength, it’s authority’s answer to everything, but it’s an affront to those of us who were operating under the illusion that we were all on the same side. So it’s a shock and an insult to us when we’re kids, and the grownups who in nature would be our caregivers, the ones who would love and protect us close ranks and say, “No, kid, it’s us against you. No-one who matters, no-one with a vote is on your side.”

That is the Dark Side of Alice Miller’s famous assertion that the presence of one enlightened adult can be the difference in a child’s life. Yes, believe it or not, Dr. Miller was sugar coating it for you. She also let us all think we could undo the damage afterwards with therapy, or she did with her first couple of books anyway.

So, on to the macro part.

Not parents, but the disciplinarians for the parents, and for the children as well, the police – they also like the benefits that come from presenting a unified front, plus they too have left the role of caregiver behind in favour of the bludgeon a little too often. These latest few high profile police slayings of unarmed black people put me in mind of the Hell’s Angel’s rules of engagement as detailed by Hunter S. Thompson so long ago: if one of them has a fight with you, they all do. Plus, as Thompson learned the hard way, it doesn’t matter that they pick the fight, or that it was accidental, the result of a stupid misunderstanding. You were simply unlucky, wrong place, wrong time. All right, on with it. Here’s the point:

We think that in order to keep control of things, we need to be strong, we mustn’t show weakness. Of course this is a self-fulfilling behaviour. If we establish control with strength – read force – then strength and force it must be, forever, because you have pissed off the objects of your control. Here’s the thing though. After some time, like two seconds after the first use of your strength, things like humanity, mercy, and kindness become synonyms for weakness, and that we mustn’t show, or all is lost. That is the nature of fantasy: the fantasized consequences for imagined actions are infinite, larger than life.

Clearly, what the authorities fantasize would happen if the police punished one trigger happy cop like they do every trigger happy private citizen is total anarchy, the end of their authority and civilization as we know it. Equally clear to some of us is that is really stupid. Of course what would actually happen, is it would be the beginning of some sort of respect. Humanity we can respect. Inhumanity we only fear.

It’s not humanity or weakness that is going to drive the people to rampage, it’s the opposite of humanity and weakness nobody likes, meaning of course, what the police are doing now, the show of strength. Here, perhaps the authorities and their police can take a lesson from parents. As much as parents are the model for this huge error, as much as parents are guilty of the same authoritarian methods, there’s a difference: kids grow up. Every parent sees the growth and steady increase of their kids’ power and the waning of their own that comes with age, and a great many parents can see their mistake in dealing with it and so change their ways.

Those that change, those that add humanity to their arsenal as time does its work, those who allow their dominance to slip and replace it with a real, human relationship, if they do it in its proper time, they are able to grow old, vulnerable and weak without unreasonable fear of their children’s vengeance. Their children also benefit greatly, having a more normal transition from childhood to adulthood, the gradual move from the small world of their nuclear family into the larger world beyond the family dynamic, learning to function in society. Those that cling to their strength and to their dominance live to fear coming under their children’s power – either that, or the children simply get as far from them as possible, possibly never to return. The people in the first group, the ones who relax their grip and show their humanity, those folks are growing up, maturing in a normal arc of learning. The ones in the other group grow stodgy, bitter, fearful of change, and live alone at the mercy of their negative fantasies. Some of the children from the second group manage to grow themselves up against the odds, but many spend far too large a portion of their lives trapped in the messed up power dynamic of their nuclear families. This extra time spent frozen in childhood in that sense, this what we call arrested development.

I’ve recently gotten out the old turntable and begun listening to vinyl records again, and one of the last few I’d bought, back in the day was the first offering from Tracy Chapman, remember it? ‘Talkin’ About a Revolution?’ I listened to the whole album last week, and it was depressing. That record is twenty-five years old and it could have been written and recorded yesterday.

The police, the authorities, they are in the second group of people. They are not learning.

What needs to happen, in order to satisfy Alice Miller’s minimum requirement for a difference in the lives of the people suffering under the dysfunctional caregiving of the authorities, is again, one enlightened adult. In this case though, a particular adult, one enlightened police chief, one enlightened prosecutor,  or one enlightened mayor. That’s something that could make a difference. In a bunch of lives.

A Conflicted Society – Rape #1

There’s this great, thinking-outside-the-box bit Louis C.K. did at least once, I saw it in the beginning stand-up bit on one episode of his TV show, “Louie,” where he aligns perfectly with me in the idea that punishing can backfire badly. I’ll paraphrase, I’m sure it’s copyrighted. He says something along the lines of ‘if we hated the people who have sex with kids a little less, maybe they wouldn’t feel they had to kill the kid afterward.’ The punch line is something like ‘so, rather than us getting a call that our kid is missing or has been found dead, we’d get a call from the child-rapist instead, saying “Hey, I just fucked your kid. You want me to bring him home, or should I just take him straight to soccer?”’

I guess the laugh comes from the shock and surprise, hearing something from the ‘things we never thought we’d hear’ file, but like a great many great jokes, it’s a stealthy way to express a great truth. Of course that would be a terrible phone call to get, but it’s clearly preferable to the other one. Louie, the genius, is telling us that our kids would be safer if we hated ‘people who have sex with kids’ a little less., that our desire for retribution is a part of the equation that puts the kids at an even greater level of risk.

Now if we can handle that example, the next one should be relatively easy: rape.

Is it possible that we hate rape too much?

I don’t mean it’s not that bad, don’t get me wrong. It’s all that bad and more. I’m just trying to help, and I’m wondering if we’ve allowed the word to get too big and too bad, so that no-one is willing to use it! Has it gotten so bad that men are unable to believe it about each other? So bad that we think of it as some sort of gargantuan mythical evil that is just too heinous to charge each other with?

Like Louie’s idea that if we hated the paedophile a little less his victims might be allowed to live, perhaps if we brought the idea of rape back into focus, back into the realm of human reality, we could prosecute it without feeling like we’re accusing the rapist of something akin to genocide or cannibalism. After all, as horrible as it is, and as devastating as it is for the victims, it’s clearly common enough, pervasive enough that we can think about it as normal, that is, as a normal enough crime that convictions for it shouldn’t qualify as extreme in anyone’s minds. Rape should be considered a normal crime, and should carry something closer to a normal rate of prosecution.

Obviously, we’re very split on the subject. Obviously, some men don’t think of it that way, and sadly, for some men rape is just business as usual. Part of the bitterness that the subject carries for women and innocent men must surely arise from the horrible irony of knowing the worst sort of rapist can escape prosecution partly because some other men think or pretend that rape is simply unthinkable. Maybe the rest of us men should stop being afraid to talk about our fear that these swine are laughing at us and make that part of the conversation, along with everything else we don’t like to talk about in regards to rape, sexual aggression and outright violence. For instance, why is it that the only people that want to talk about all the ways we’re conflicted on the whole subject of sex and all the factors that make rape prosecutions so problematic are policemen and defense attorneys?

Colour Blindness and Optimism

There are a lot of comments going around the internet that sound like a sort of backlash against the Ferguson and I Can’t Breathe protests. It’s white folks taking umbrage, maybe feeling left out, like ‘who’s protesting the fact that my life sucks too?’

I think comments like that can be viewed as somewhere on a spectrum, the extreme bad end being racist, but it’s probably usually best viewed this way: a lot of white folks aren’t aware of their racism. It’s all part and parcel of the beliefs around social things – Original Sin, Nature over Nurture stuff, a pedestrian disdain for psychology and social science generally. It seems to me to be rooted in some sort of idea that despite the bad things happening in the world, still, somehow we need to see everything as being all right.

Everything is OK, we’re not screwed up or racist, we’re just dealing with the screwed up people in the poorest communities the best way and the only way possible. It’s the world that’s bad, not us.

This “colour blindness” is at it’s core, optimistic. Of course, optimism isn’t always a good thing.

Trading Up: Moral Equivalence – Bigger Crimes for Smaller Ones

First of all, I admit, I was a late adopter of the expression, “moral equivalence.” I find it counterintuitive, it really means ‘false moral equivalence,’ right, ‘contrived moral equivalence,’ something like that? Or does it refer to people who really do think these disparate situations are actually equivalent? Whatever, let’s live with those questions, like they used to say in the “est” seminars. I’m a great believer that we need to juggle all these thoughts, all these balls need to be in the air at once, that we shouldn’t commit to any conclusions that could be wrong and then base our arguments from them. Everything should always be available for review in our minds, pending new information.

I think we all place the concept in the category of fallacious argument. Moral equivalencies are offered as justifications for behaviours that we all naturally intuit to be wrong, such as violence that is out of proportion to the behaviour that prompts it. Examples of moral equivalence may include:

  • A nation like Israel literally killing something like a thousand Palestinians for every murdered Israeli because the Palestinian Arabs WANT to kill all the Israelis.
  • A police officer literally killing a citizen in a fight that begins with an attempted arrest for a minor crime – of course, like jaywalking or operating a very small commercial enterprise without a license or without filing the taxes.
  • A law introduced that curtails the rights of large numbers of people based on statistically insignificant levels of a crime – like the voter ID laws.

Now, I know everyone is making the race arguments about these things, and of course there is racism, and classism, the poor always get the short end, and through long term, cultural racism, ‘the poor’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘blacks,’ at least in America. Fair enough. I just want to point out what seems to be slipping under the radar: the simple moral fallacy underlying all policing, and authority in general, and that is the magnitude of the crimes in these situations.

I think we can all see the cost and benefits of imprisoning murderers. Sure, forcible confinement is bad, an infringement of the prisoner’s human rights, but his infringement on the human rights of his victims is worse, so we feel justice is served. Perhaps not optimally, at least I don’t really think so, but close enough for this conversation. And so, if this killer resists arrest and dies in the ensuing fight, that’s still close enough to proper – of course, provided he really is a murderer, provided he’s guilty.

Morally, that is not so bad. Pretty good in a horrible situation. But that example should not be used to cover all arrests. That is some bad science, in fact it is probably one of these arguments of ‘moral equivalence’ to say that anyone who resists arrest for anything can be righteously killed. Race and racism aside, that is reprehensible, and defending that behaviour very correctly puts the defender on the wrong side of morality. This is a net increase in crime: murder for jaywalking, murder for black market cigarette sales.

That is the opposite of what we are paying police for.

Talk about ‘do as I say, not as I do!’ Here’s what you can’t do, and here’s what we can do – this is the very essence of inequality, inequity and anathema to ‘all men being created equal.’

So here’s what I think should happen: I don’t think that we should enforce these laws if it means creating a bigger crime than the one we’re trying to stop. So no corporal punishment for non-violent crimes, for jaywalking for illegal small businesses – verbal admonishments only. Counselling and reason, let them know that they aren’t holding up their end of the deal in our attempts to have a fair society. Perhaps for the subsistence criminal, we can find them some legal money to live on. This may involve reorganizing our social structure in such a way that doesn’t leave so many people out of the right side of life and the law, such as decriminalizing drugs and stopping the erosion of the government’s revenues for education and healthcare.

Maybe we could document these minor crimes, and use the information in court if the person does anything that really does require police and courts, so we could show a pattern of anti-social behaviour, make a case that some sort of intervention is overdue for the stubbornly anti-social and criminal people that abuse the system.

Pie in the sky, right? Madness?

So, the status quo seems reasonable, then? That minor crimes should be punished corporally, with a forced trip to jail and possibly prison, something that would motivate the offender to fight for his life and turn our attempt to correct small crimes into deadly street battles instead? Please don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t blame everyone. It’s been complicated and confusing for so long, but that’s . . . crazy. All infractions of the law do not need to be enforced.

In fact, of course, all cases of breaking the law are not enforced now. How many crimes of the rich, the bankers, and the leaders are not punished? Of course, the crimes that are detected, solved, prosecuted and punished are far fewer than the actual instances of crime and always have been. In this way, criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That perhaps bears repeating.

Criminal punishment has always been unfair and random. That being the obvious truth to any thinking person, and being that improving the consistency in catching and prosecuting is unlikely and possibly not even desirable – most of us think we’re close enough to the dystopic police state of our nightmares now – maybe we need to think about going the other direction. Simply not arresting and prosecuting the poorest people for minor crimes (again, drug laws come to mind) – not going after the lowest hanging fruit with the intent of violence and forcible confinement – could well be our best way to increase the consistency of our law enforcement, and therefore the general fairness of our society.

This could be one way that the police could gain some real respect and trust in the poorest communities – I mean, this wouldn’t be huge, much crime is violent crime, and I’m not advising we ignore those who would victimize others with violence – but this is exactly the point. Victimizing others with violence is exactly what the police are doing when they come to arrest and imprison people for minor crimes. If this is what cannot be changed, then talk of community trust and respect is empty blather. And deeply cynical too.

To say to people –

“We want to work with you, to establish a partnership, based on trust and mutual respect, based in understanding. We acknowledge that we are here to serve the community, to work for a greater peace and a better life for all – “

– while still maintaining that we intend nonetheless to come to your house, overpower you and throw you in prison for not paying your parking and court fines? That is deeply schizoid for some of us and downright cruel and cynical for some others. Either way, it’s . . . crazy. Again, violence, kidnapping and forcible confinement for minor crimes – that is a net increase in the level of crime, and it’s the very opposite of what the general population is paying the police to do.

Morally, arrests and the associated force and violence are worse than jaywalking, street level black market dealing, avoidance of legal and traffic fines, and drug possession. That is what I’m saying. This isn’t moral equivalence. It’s a total inversion.

Prisons and Bad Neighborhoods – the Irony of Deterrents, Part #4

Deterrents run on contrast.

The power of a deterrent must be, in some relationship, proportional to the difference between the penalty and its absence, or rather, life with the penalty and life without it. Meaning, of course, if your life is Hell, deterrents have a tough job. That’s why, despite his age, Charlie Manson is still always getting into trouble – because why not. What are they gonna do, take his TV away? Lights out early? Charlie don’t give a Goddam, because his life sucks already. Now if we told him that if he were to behave perfectly for a month that we’d set him free and give him a house somewhere with his new bride and cable, he might have to think about it.

See the difference there?

One, if he doesn’t spit on a guard he’s still in prison, and if he does he’s still in prison but he can’t watch Mike and Molly.

Two, if he spits on a guard, he’s in prison and can’t watch Mike and Molly, but if he doesn’t he’s a free man with a young wife who thinks the sun shines out of his ass – and HBO. (Have you SEEN “The Knick?” It is so cool!)

So the power of deterrents lies in the difference the penalties make in your life. So now let’s look at racial inequality in the justice system and policing, so much in the public consciousness right now.

In an inner city bad neighborhood, life is tough. There’s a lot of crime, gangs rule many aspects of life, the food supply sucks and the schools are not exactly on the good colleges’ lists. Many parents are either working long days to get by, or unemployed and depressed and/or addicted. The influence of the gang life starts young. When poverty is hurting you and yours, criminally acquired money must have a very strong pull. Things can look pretty hopeless, especially for the underclass races. Even for those who try, a good education requires money, and earn as much as you can, people in these neighborhoods often have no family money, no savings or even credit to help.

(Note: sure some make it, which is generally defined as ‘making it out,’ which, that’s our hint: a successful person from the ‘hood knows that his kids’ odds will be better if they grow up somewhere else. And saying some make it up and out, that is a small percent, and despite what the purveyors of the American Dream would have us believe, the larger percentages reflect the larger reality. It’s tragicomic that a few percent of anything is supposed to prove a rule. That really is some bad science.)

So, gang pressures, violence, bad food, the commodification of sex, and a very tough road to get out – contrasted with prison, I ask you: how different is it? Couldn’t that list describe either one, life in the ‘hood or life in prison? At that level of contrast, how much of a deterrent can prison really be? As proof of this rhetorical argument, consider the following possibility.

That the police appear to already know this. Could this be why they appear to have stepped up the penalties for crime all the way to a street execution? With the lack of police indictments and the extreme lack of police convictions, one could say they are sending a calculated message: never mind prison, the real deterrent is some level of likelihood that your sentence will be carried out in lieu of your arrest. This line of reasoning may also explain why there is so little movement towards non-lethal weapons for police; it may not be the effectiveness factor so much as that they don’t want to remove the real deterrent. So there’s the deterrent’s required contrast: a tough life with some happy times or a bloody death and a heavy loss for those who love you.

And still, still, even with the ultimate deterrent in place, still crime abounds, still the police have to follow through far too often. Even when the deterrent is the end of everything, people still misbehave. We’ve tried locking them up, we’ve tried killing them, where do we escalate to next? Maybe they’ll go full mob next, shoot the kid and then go after his family.

Or maybe we might have to grow up and explore the idea that punishment is a form of abuse, and actually causes more social problems than it solves. Like Charlie in the opening example, maybe if we offer our poor a life, a house, HBO, a chance to pursue some happiness, then maybe prison or a bloody death in the street will begin to look more unthinkable by comparison.

Because for folks in the ‘hood as it stands today, all too often, it’s not enough of a contrast to make a difference.