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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — Tired of gloom and ceaseless talk of American decline? Me too. So let’s celebrate an important way in which the United States has become stronger — and a genuinely kinder and gentler nation.

That last phrase, used by George H. W. Bush in 1988 when he accepted the Republican presidential nomination, has become a cliché. But it was also a pledge. And in the years since, our country has lived up to that promise when it comes to reducing violent crime.

Over the last three decades, we have made great strides in battling lawlessness. Because of this, we are less inclined to insist on retributive justice. We are more open to reforming prisons, criminal sentencing and policing itself. And many more of us are prepared to repeal the death penalty.

In quieter political circumstances, a report from the Gallup organization last month might have drawn the attention it deserved. The firm found that support for the death penalty had dropped to its lowest point in more than four decades. At its peak, endorsement of capital punishment stood at 80 percent in 1994. Now, only 60 percent of Americans favor it.

Not since 1972, when Gallup found 57 percent support, has backing for the death penalty been this low. The last time that a plurality of Americans opposed it, according to Gallup, was 1966 when 42 percent favored capital punishment and 47 percent were opposed.

Those dates are no accident. The public’s sympathy for the death penalty did not rise steadily after 1966 because our nation developed a new and abstract taste for vengeance. Many turned to the death penalty out of frustration with the criminal justice system and as a direct response to increasing fear of crime.

That fear was not paranoia. Beginning in the late 1960s, the country experienced a crime wave that shook all aspects of American life, including our politics. It turned “law and order” into a potent electoral issue, made “soft on crime” judges a prime target of mass ire (thereby enabling a broader attack on liberal jurisprudence), and created the pro-death-penalty surge.

Take a look at these numbers, a measure of murders and non-negligent manslaughter incidents per 100,000 people:

1960   5.1

1970   7.9

1980   10.2

1990   9.4

2000   5.5

2012   4.7

This represents enormous progress — or, if you will, a restoration of the order we enjoyed a half-century ago. Before we get too giddy, it is worth noting that our gun homicide rate is 10 to 20 times higher than that of comparable nations. (The figure varies, depending on which countries you decide are “comparable” to the U.S.) If we wanted to become even kinder, gentler and less violent, we would enact sane gun regulations of the sort that prevail in other democratic nations. And we should.

  • This medium allows more people to hear what people say they believe about crime, and above all, to hear the opinion of sociopaths and other inadequates. The volume of hate shown in comments is at odds with the direction of society in the West, even the US, which is towards a human (if slow) approach to reduction of violent crime.

    What kind of punishment is an actual deterrent to crime where violence is not only necessary but pleasurable? Is it unreasonable to hope that punishment that does not deter will one day be replaced by incarceration that simply protects the non-violent?

    Secure camps must be easier to construct than ever, and can contain units of production where the incarcerated can find purpose for their life and earn, or do next to nothing for next to no reward. Just like real life outside. Except that it’s INside! Goody-goodies like me would have NO say in the moral system imposed on the inside. Actions having consequences would be the norm – unlike on the outside at the moment.

    Corfu, Greece is a bit like this already. Virtually no public violence, no way of employing talent to get rich, no roads useful for get-aways from crime, nothing much to steal anyway. Is life miserable? Not that you would notice. But a great climate.

    • mandinka

      We need a universal death penality law. I don’t believe thugs will consider that very pleasurable

      • rustacus21

        … above, is an answer that speaks to the heart of this crisis; coincidentally, the ONE administration – President Bill Clinton’s – which did what we all here only allude to, create & implement a jobs platform, supported by education, retraining & community development initiatives, which UNDENIABLY undercut the need &/or desire for the impoverished &/or opportunistic, to use crime as a means to escape their desperate lives & conditions – even if temporarily. So while we’re doing the habitual (of the last 12 consecutive years anyway) hand-wringing thing YET SOME MORE, why not realize that, while conservative policies (2001 thru this very day) have produced hellish results, we owe our nation & it’s future the promise delivered by Liberal/Progressive policies (1993-2000, when Clinton administration policies put 23 million NEW workers on 23 million NEW jobs in just 7 years!!!), which gave prospective criminals a brand NEW profession – honorable, upstanding, contributing members of their community & nation! Does this make sense or am I crazy? There’s an election next year. We failed President Obama AND ourselves – by not electing a Liberal/Progressive Congress in 2010, in support of a Liberal/Progressive Senate. Will we fail US again in 2014? Choose correctly or STOP COMPLAINING!!!!!!!

  • howa4x

    We have street crime because there were sections of the population that were marginalized and sometimes excluded from the larger economic pie. Since the 1960s drugs became the economy of our inner cities and because the police were part of the drug trade there was no stopping it. By the 1980’s it became an issue because the drug economy of the inner city had spread to the burbs, and the violence associated with it spread too. Crack and cocaine became and epidemic and republican law makers used this issue as a way to get votes by enacting tougher sentencing. We came up with 3 strikes and your out measures. Out meant life prison sentences. The cost of all this incarceration began to creep up. Lotteries that were supposed to go for higher education were used to plug budget holes created by exploding prison populations. The costs are high, somewhere around 50k/prisoner/year, and this doesn’t cover what it cost in investigative time and court costs. We spend more on prisoners than our next Olympic athlete. Over crowding prisons meant that vocational programs or GED programs were curtailed, so what was coming out of prison was more angry and violent then what went in. Gangs were formed in the communities affected by the drug trade for protection of members and turf. These same gangs followed prisoner into jail and it created armed cantons in our prisons.
    We need to stop the war on drugs that has turned us into a nation that incarcerates more people than any other one. It needs to be treated like any other disease. We don’t incarcerate every alcoholic do we? But we will put any user in jail. Once we decriminalize drugs we can tax it and the millions we are spending on incarceration can be spent on creating better schools. Violence will be dealt with as a crime. We can create more rehab beds and more vocational opportunities. Our inner cities have to be rebuilt and if we were smart we could create a workforce to do it. Question is are we smart enough?

    • mandinka

      You can’t compare the US to other countries. We lack a homogenous population and its gotten worse with guys like Obama wanting everyone in an ethnic camp.

      • howa4x

        Obama has done nothing to place people in ethnic camps. Fox news does that

    • bhaggen

      I agree; Nixon announced the “war on drugs” in the 60s, how’s that workin out? Just look what it’s done to our neighbor Mexico. Abolish the DEA & save billions! But how is FOX placing people in ethnic camps?

      • mikem42

        Yes, abolish the DEA, and the IRS and the EPA, and HUD and OSHA and, oh well, just get rid of all of them. The right wing should just be call the Abolishment Party. By the way, Mexico is in the state it’s in because they have a weak central government and no regulations over anything.

        • bhaggen

          Whoa, easy big fella! One step at a time. Let’s start with the DEA & the DOE. The left wingers should just be called the “Do Something, Anything” party. By the way, Mexico wasn’t in the state it’s in before the U.S. escalated the war on drugs. Ever notice that when there’s a problem, the U.S. declares war on it. War on drugs, war on poverty, war on illiteracy, war on terrorism. What the U.S. needs is a war on stupidity! Right or left, America is stupid! Obama is right; Americans are NOT exceptional!

          • mikem42

            Well, Mexico has been in terrible shape pretty much as long as it’s been a country. We don’t help it, true, but it has never been able to project a positive, democratic image to the world. I agree with you on our propensity to declare war on everything, and as you say, we aren’t always exceptional. But, if we could get off the “left and right” wing nonsense, get the money out of politics, and work to improve the lot of the working class, we would be in much better shape. Those in power like war, it brings lots of spending along with it. Either side. Don’t blame the agencies, blame the bought and paid for pols who won’t let them do their jobs.

  • mandinka

    The idea that prisons can turn prisoners around is utter nonsense

    • S.J. Jolly

      Not without spending a lot more money on rehabilitation, no. Finding programs that work, and properly funding them. Such as, perhaps, the equivalent of CIA spy schools — putting individuals in a simulation of an American city, and teaching them how to live there without getting into trouble.

  • mandinka

    Crime would go down if colored people would simply get a job. Our country has gone to hell in a hand basket

    • howa4x

      If there was no racism from 1865 to today all afro American would be working. But in the south you kept them out of higher ed, and in the north you put them is high rise ghettos. The police allowed Mafia drug kingpins to peddle drugs there and kept the population down. Like magic you want to forget the white man’s history and blame everything on them.

    • Annemb

      Human dignity first.

      Where are the jobs?

    • jmprint

      Crime doesn’t discriminate, it comes in ALL ethnicities. So take your blinders off you racist.

  • Pretty Little Ballcrusher

    We’ll never see reform as long as the gun enthusiasts are manufacturing reasons for conservatives to feel afraid, as long as the media fosters a culture of fear in every freaking news story, and as long as we allow things like ‘prison for profit’ to run rampant. Reentry policy reform is hard enough, getting people on the same page as far as blanket criminal justice reform is concerned is near impossible. It’s going to take several generations of education, regulating profit-driven corporations who prey on the system, and a shit-ton of compassionate people, who are hard to find considering how many selfish assholes we have living in this country. And don’t even get me started on institutionalized racism.

  • S.J. Jolly

    The post-WW-II baby boom peaked about 1950. Which means that the crime rate peaked as the baby boomers moved into their 30’s, then declined as they moved into their 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Coincidence?