Monday, July 23, 2012

What makes terrorists terrifying?

Even before the Colorado movie terrorist could be arraigned in court, new laws were being explored.  Laws already outnumber prisoners maybe 1,000 to 1, but new laws will be advanced.

American justice is as good as it gets. It is shaped by centuries of crime and punishment. From earliest times lawbreakers have known they would be punished by confinement, stoning, being drawn and quartered or whipped. Yet they went right on breaking laws, generation after generation.

It is said that American taxpayers spend more per year to keep a prisoner locked up than they spend on sending a person to college. Last year The Atlantic reported that one year at Princeton cost $37,000 and one year in a New Jersey state prison cost $44,000.

Why do some cops and lawyers break laws? Why do the wealthy steal? Why do spouses stab and shoot each other? Why do some clergy defy the laws of church and state? Why do lawbreakers break the same laws, knowing the penalties, century after century?

Why are penalties for scurrilous behavior so uneven? The government shaped by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson became in recent times a sponsor of torture and assassination. Across the face of the Supreme Court appear the words Equal Justice Under Law, words which are mocked in Guantanamo.

Nobody knows all of the answers. Criminal studies will have to become less traditional and more scientific to find out. The best way to protect victims of crime may be to find out why the perpetrators perp. Do they get satisfaction from outwitting others? Is the attraction similar to gambling, taking a chance, betting on luck? Are there treatable sexual and emotional issues that draw otherwise ordinary people into creepy acts?

In the cities killings day by day add up quickly, sometimes quietly, without the flow of headline ink that makes mass murders so indelible.We grieve for the victims and despise the aggressors, the monsters, and we ponder ways to punish them. That’s the system. From the beginning it has neglected adequate study of criminals to find out why they do it, what’s in it for them, how prevention might be shaped.

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