Rampant Criminalization

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Jonathan Turley has an interesting column up at Jewish World Review in which he catalogs the astonishing array of new, victimless crimes that have sprung up like weeds over recent years. Here is just one example.

Consider the budding criminal career of Kay Leibrand. The 61-year-old grandmother lived a deceptively quiet life in Palo Alto, Calif., until the prosecutors outed her as a habitual horticultural offender. It appears that she allowed her hedge bushes to grow more than 2 feet high -- a crime in the city. Battling cancer, Leibrand had allowed her shrubbery to grow into a criminal enterprise. (After her arraignment and shortly before her jury trial, she was allowed to cut down her bushes and settle the case.) [bold added]
I found it no less astonishing that Congress had recently outlawed the sale of horse meat for human consumption and that public profanity is a crime in some locales.

Turley is right to say that this epidemic of criminalizing noncriminal behavior is political pandering and that it undermines respect for the law, but he could have gone further on both counts.

In considering just the question of why our government has become so intrusive, I said the following some time ago.
And so many of the same people who fight for criminals to be excused from responsibility will support the government taking an ever-larger role in making sure that what ordinary adults and even children used to be trusted to do will get done. A government official will inconvenience you at your own home to make you pump your tanks whether or not you would do that already. And law enforcement will overreact to reports that someone might have something remotely like a gun. And our lawmakers will get closer and closer to banning the possession of firearms outright.
In other words, the politicians are both merely cashing in on our general cultural breakdown and, ironically, serving as convenient scapegoats for the excess in regulations!

Furthermore -- and I have also commented on how such bad laws undermine respect for all law -- Turley doesn't tell the half of it on this score. Awhile back, city officials in Omaha were urging citizens to call 9-1-1 over violations of its new smoking ordinance!
At the moment, the only thing between a few lit cigarettes and a total collapse of the ability of the police department in Omaha to respond promptly to an [actual] emergency is whatever residual rationality the public has left. And that rationality has to be implemented in the form of breaking the law -- by turning a blind eye to a "crime" in progress!
We are not only all being made into "criminals". We are also becoming scofflaws as a matter of survival.

And finally, as we have seen elsewhere, this inordinate concern of the government with the behavior of those citizens it can expect to be law-abiding (from cultural inertia, if nothing else) contrasts with its eagerness to turn a blind eye to the actions, often including real crimes, of those it cannot. The logical end of what Turley describes, has, in other contexts, been called anarcho-tyranny.

The fact remains that the government cannot take care of us, but that it will "take care of us" if we do not begin reasserting control over our own lives and taking the personal responsibility that entails.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.


Galileo Blogs said...

New York has become more of a law and order town, in the good and bad sense, over the past 20 years. In the good sense, the police have cracked down harder on criminality, both felony and misdemeanor. This began with Giuliani as mayor. For example, the police targeted "quality of life" crimes such as jumping subway turnstiles. It turns out that many of the turnstile jumpers were also people who committed more serious crimes. The police also used statistical methods to target areas where crime was increasing in order to nip it in the bud. The result is that New York today is many, many times more pleasant and enjoyable than it was, say, in the early 1990s. Many formerly dangerous neighborhoods are those you can safely and enjoyably walk through now. Property values across the board have increased, in part due to the reduction in crime.

In contrast, New York has also become more of a "lawful" society in the bad sense. New York has become the laughingstock pioneer of laws banning smoking and trans fats. Related to this, New York has made owning devices for self-defense almost completely illegal. Not only is it very difficult to get permission to own a firearm, but even pepper spray in New York City must be sold in a specially watered-down form made just for New York.

It is undoubtedly true that when a government begins to focus on policing the people's consumption of things such as trans fats and pepper spray, it runs the risk of failing to police against the true criminals, the burglars, murderers and rapists. I hope that doesn't happen here (or everywhere else).

Gus Van Horn said...

"Related to this, New York has made owning devices for self-defense almost completely illegal. Not only is it very difficult to get permission to own a firearm, but even pepper spray in New York City must be sold in a specially watered-down form made just for New York."

This will make its being a "law-and-order" town (in the good sense) harder and harder in the long run.

Galileo Blogs said...

Yes, if the police stop doing their job, we citizens really are defenseless. For example, every so often there is the story of a shopkeeper who gets arrested for illegally owning a firearm that he used in self-defense.

If someone broke into my apartment, there is almost nothing I can legally do to defend myself if he is well-armed, except hope that I am able to hit 911 quickly enough on my phone and that the police arrive in time. (Fortunately, I have never personally suffered a break-in, yet.)

Gus Van Horn said...

... and NYC hasn't gotten around to banning personal telephones yet.