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Slashbucklers

Recently, the Fresno Bee reported that the “S.F. crime lab [was] overwhelmed.” (Terry Collins, “S.F. Crime lab overwhelmed” (2015 update: original link disappeared) (March 31, 2010) Fresno Bee, p. A9.) The link, by the way, provides the same story as the print version, but dated a day earlier and with a different title.

A couple of days ago, the Visalia Times-Delta, which is apparently a newspaper intended as a local daily equivalent to the National Enquirer, or some other piece-of-crap rag, trumpeted the complaint that a new “[l]aw frees some violent inmates.” Of course, you can’t completely blame the Times-Delta for the sensationalism on this story: it’s a slight modification of the headline accompanying the online version of the yellow journalism of the AP story. Like the Bee story, by the way, the online AP story is dated one day earlier than the print version.

Both stories demonstrate the effects of budgetary meltdown; both hint, at least inchoately, at the cause: too many crimes (thus too many criminals) and all our money is being spent on prisons instead of providing education so people will be less likely to commit these crimes. This is a non-sustainable path to anyone’s idea of a better society. We simply cannot keep building and staffing prisons, no matter how badly we want to create new jobs.

The big problem is that the Slashbucklers, who aim to deal with the problem by increasing spending on law enforcement, crime labs and prisons (but not lawyers for the indigent or more judges) instead of schools and other “social” programs, are only going to make it worse. Inevitably — and this is why I’m calling them Slashbucklers — they will bring all our systems crashing down.

Ironically, the Slashbucklers who will destroy us and our justice system are readily identifiable primarily because of their alleged “Law & Order” stance. And, no, I’m not talking about the television show, although, perhaps not coincidentally, studies have shown frequent watchers of forensic and crime dramas “are more likely to overestimate the frequency of serious crimes” and “misperceive important facts about crime.” (Amy Patterson Neubert, “Researchers rest their case: TV consumption predicts opinions about criminal justice system” (October 28, 2009) Purdue University News.)

“This kind of television viewing can lead to ‘mean world syndrome,’ where people start to think about the world as a scary place,” Sparks says. “Some people develop a fear of victimization, and this belief can affect their feelings of comfort and security.” (Neubert, supra.)

The people I’m talking about are those who think the problem is that we need more funding for law enforcement, more funding for crime labs and then, just to make sure the cycle remains unbroken, more funding for prisons. Like swashbucklers, slashbucklers see themselves as saviors, “rescuing society from the clutches of a dastardly villain,” the criminally-minded and “wasters” of government resources.

Forgive me, but I have to let myself be sidetracked here. I can’t get over the irony of referring to forensic laboratories as “crime labs.” If the Fresno Bee story is to be believed — and for a change it appears that perhaps it could be —

The stress and strain of trying to meet the demands of court has resulted in sacrificing quality for quanity…. This is evident throughout … and possibly provided the opportunity for evidence tampering and abuse of the evidence control system.

In other words, it really is a crime lab. Just as pharmaceutical labs create more new drugs for the market, the crime lab creates more new crimes and criminals.

Meanwhile, at any rate, a little education would ameliorate all these problems. But our society seems less and less willing to provide that.

I suppose there’s no surprise there: the less education people have, the less use they have for education. And while I do not subscribe to the belief that all poor people are stupid, being stupid does predispose one to difficulties making a living wage. It also makes one a crappy citizen, less able to participate — intelligently — in the democratic process. (Unfortunately, it won’t stop them from voting.)

The less money people have, the less willing they are to see it taxed, even to improve educational systems. Besides, locking people up creates more jobs (police officers, correctional officers, lawyers, judges, clerks, builders of prisons, planners, paper-makers, etc.), while simultaneously removing large numbers — almost two-and-one-half million in the United States — from the job market in which other stupid people compete.

So the circle is simultaneously completed and sustained.

One of these days, though — I’ll cling fervently to this hope until the day I die — we’re going to realize, as a society, that funding education is more productive than funding prisons and courts. We’re going to stop the criminalization of normal primate behaviors that, left alone, would harm fewer people than they do when we criminalize them. We’re going to find that this will reduce the need for crime labs, correctional officers, judges, lawyers and other wasted resources.

I want to see the day when teachers are paid more than police officers. Where kids are taught to value learning and provided with the tools to learn. Where we recognize that “Law & Order” are the natural consequence of producing people who can actually believe that they have something to lose by not committing crimes instead of creating situations in our communities, our prisons and in our ‘crime labs” that encourage their commission.

I’m looking forward to the day Slashbucklers are seen for what they are: poseurs who, rather than “rescuing society from the clutches of a dastardly villain,” are more often the villains from whom society needs rescuing.

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