Drive drunk? I feel that should be classified as “attempted murder.” Society, as usual, doesn’t agree with me. “No jail time for killing four pedestrians while driving with a BAC three times over the legal limit and not even old enough to drink.” That wee bit of difference of opinion on punishment makes me an outlier, I guess. Of course, that’s an extreme example, yet to my way of thinking, punishment in even garden variety DUII cases falls woefully short.
Cheat on your spouse? That should also be “attempted murder.” It’s all so simple to me. Pick up a deadly disease, bring it to your marital bed, and pay it forward with a potential disease that could theoretically kill the person who trusts you the most. There should be serious punishment for that. Far too often the only real punishment is going back to your regular life like nothing ever happened. Not much of a deterrent, eh?
In brief, my point is that without certain and meaningful consequence there is absolutely no limit on behavior. Period.
I believe a certain percentage of people just don’t give a shit. Perhaps they are motivated by drug addiction. Perhaps they are psychopaths and/or sociopaths and it’s what they do. Maybe they were brought into the world and damaged beyond repair by parents, environment and random events. Whatever the reason, it makes little difference in the end. The outcomes are similar. The themes of destruction and causing harm are remarkably consistent.
We tend to expect it from these folks. No big surprises there.
What about the rest of us? We’re good, right?
In a Sesame Street kind of mood, this is how I started it:
Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day
Oh, the person who lives right next door
Earned her down payment as a whore
The man down the street who beats his wife
Drunk – hit and run’d – a human life
Sometimes the act of writing takes me to dark places and I’m forced to throw in the towel. Here I am, though, struggling with it yet again, hopefully in a way that works out.
It’s about the folks who don’t fall into the tidy category of “criminal” yet, given the right opportunity, far too easily will make that jump. I guess it should be surprising, but it’s so prevalent, sadly, it no longer shocks me. And, your neighborhood is probably filled with folks like these. The ones who got away with it.
It was this train of thought that caused my imagination to run wild. What kind of criminal might you find among your neighbors?
One study found that the incident rate of grand theft auto increases in cold weather. Why is this? The cold weather prompts more people to preheat their cars and go back inside. This equates to opportunity for the random passerby. Now it’s possible there’s a cold weather crime ring that leaps into action when the polar vortex hits. But the more likely explanation is that a regular person walking down the street sees a car running, warm and toasty, with the keys inside, and makes an impromptu decision. “Me want,” he thinks. “Idea! Me take car. Like taking candy from a baby. And besides, there are no real consequences in this society.”
Bye bye, car.
For a percentage of us, given the right set of circumstances, we’ll make that jump. Factor in just one level of indirection between us and the act itself, like using chips in a casino vs. cash money, and that rate jumps exponentially.
Example: Consider a businessman who would never consider putting a gun to someone’s head and pulling the trigger, yet suddenly has no qualms about dumping cancer-causing chemicals in a river because it increases the company’s profit margin by two points. Viola! That’s the power and leverage of indirection.
I’ve identified a few key ingredients of the instant criminal who lives among us:
- A “regular” person like you and me (not a hardened hardcore “criminal”)
- Chance of not being caught (optional)
- Nebulous, distant and fuzzy consequences, if any
- A single bad decision
Let’s consider a simple scenario like hit and run.
A person driving a car gets in an accident. They have two choices. Regardless of how it went down, most of us would immediately leap from our vehicles and do everything in our power to render aid to people who might be hurt. The accident may even be our fault but lives are at stake and that comes first. In that moment we know that our lives may adversely be affected by what we’ve done but we will face that music later.
Or, we can run. We can try like hell to get away with it. People may be injured and even dying, but if we stay our lives might be affected in a way we won’t like. Life is hell and it’s survival of the fittest. I may regret this later, but now, in this moment of choice, I don’t give a damn. My selfishness is paramount.
Since moving to the big city the nightly local news is filled with stories of regular people who make that latter choice. The frequency this happens is staggering. And the stories don’t end there. Drivers go home and do web searches to find techniques to conceal their crime. They do online shopping to buy parts to fix their damaged vehicles. They enlist family and friends to help them in their efforts to get away with it, perhaps washing off the blood or replacing things like smashed windshields.
The growing circle of accomplices knows exactly what it’s doing.
Happily, in a lot of cases, anonymous tips lead police to the guilty parties and police find the evidence, namely a car that is broken and smashed from the force of hitting people. And this may only be a mile from the scene of the accident. Computers in the house surrender details of the web searches proving intent to avoid responsibility.
I did a bit of research on hit and run laws in the United States. It’s not a federal crime. That means individual states come up with and enforce their own “local standards” on a case-by-case basis. I always thought hit and run from the scene of an accident was a felony. I was wrong.
The penalties (and the definition) of hit-and-run vary from state to state in the United States. For example, in Virginia, the crime is a felony if the accident causes death, injury, or damage to attended property in excess of a certain dollar amount; otherwise, it is a misdemeanor.
In Texas, the crime is a third degree felony if the accident involves a fatality or serious bodily injury. Accidents causing less serious injuries are punishable by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for not more than five years or confinement in the county jail for not more than one year and/or a fine not to exceed $5,000. Accidents causing $200 or more in total damages without injuries are punishable by a class B misdemeanor, and accidents causing less than $200 in total damages are a class C misdemeanor.
In New York, leaving the “scene of an incident without reporting” is a traffic infraction, and if personal injury is involved, then it becomes a misdemeanor. There are also significantly higher fines if an animal is injured in the hit and run accident.
Source: Wikipedia – Hit and run
In the United States approximately ten percent of automobile accidents involve hit and run. And, as a nation we can’t even be consistent with how we react to this as a crime. Perhaps that’s why so many opt to roll the dice, become instant criminals, and hope that they get away with it. Even if caught, the punishment, if any, will likely fall far short of any meaningful consequence.
Not all cases of hit and run (and many other crimes) are solved, and that’s where I begin to speculate about who really lives in my neighborhood.