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Volume 15, Number 3
February 8, 2009


opinion

Also in this section:
Editorials: Non-apologies and reasonable inferences; and Sorting out the US torture mess
Leis, What are the candidates' environmental agendas?
Bernal, Casting aside shackles
Jackson, This awful crime wave
de Obarrio, Slide Number Nine
Gore, A moment of decision on climate change
Cronin, The financial crisis and the possibilities for the left
Nasser, Israeli action (not reaction)
Human Rights Watch, UN should investigate war crimes of both sides in Gaza
International Federation of Journalists, Hamas intimidates and interferes with journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists, Israelis beat journalists and take their video
Amnesty International, Time for accountability in Israeli and Hamas war crimes
Pilgrim, CARICOM's economic task force
Reporters Without Borders, Cuba's political prisoners include 23 journalists
Kendrick, Nicaragua under the second Sandinista administration
Ayuso & Hursthouse, Change?
Sirias, Respectability exiled
Letters to the editor

This awful crime wave
by Eric Jackson

I wonder if Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Abrams, Mr. Feith, Mr. Frum, Mr. Perle, or especially Mr. Kristol, have ever actually been mugged. Irving Kristol, of course, declared that a neoconservative is a "liberal mugged by reality."

Well, over a lifetime I have been mugged a couple of times. I have also fallen prey to pickpockets, had guns pointed at me, and had things stolen. None of that is ever fun. However, there's no temptation here to become an amoral thug and join Dubya's boys in that weird branch of neofascism that has been permanently discredited by torture and the Iraq War.

The other day, in the wee hours of the morning, criminals came and poisoned one of my mother's dogs. I was there. A couple mornings later they came to get the other one, but failed. The pattern in the neighborhood is the killing of a household's dogs, followed by a home invasion robbery.

Once again, my life has been disrupted by that most uneasy feeling of waiting for an expected criminal intrusion.

An affectionate and protective dog violently convulsing to death for a half-hour on the living room floor, spitting up a frothy petrochemical brew that makes the hands tingle when it gets on them, me knowing that this may presage another crime, and meanwhile a blind octogenarian suffering from Alzheimer's is trying to comprehend what's going on --- that's an emotional scene. It naturally leads to thoughts of "if only I had..." and "to ward off the next attack we'll have to..." and "if I catch that bastard I'll..." --- and so the right-wing political predators hope, be driven to embrace violent and simplistic solutions.

In this neighborhood, there is a specific set of criminals that needs to be identified and removed from circulation. That my first response might be that they deserve slow death by nerve gas only says that I shouldn't be the judge or a juror in their case.

Longer time in prison under more brutal conditions is a tried and failed approach to crime control. So is the death penalty.

Good police work, such that criminals are more likely to be caught by better educated cops who have more sophisticated tools and adequate forces, does limit crime. The certainty that one will be caught and punished is a much more effective deterrent than the brutality that one will suffer if caught.

A sense among adolescent boys that they have positive and realistic alternatives in their lives --- that is, the result of some drastic changes in Panama's economic and social realities --- would dramatically reduce the appeal of gangsterism.

And yes, there has to be the knowledge that no matter the offender's age, one who kills another human being spends many years locked away from society because, regardless of any theories from the fields of law, sociology, psychology, penology, criminology, religion or politics, public safety trumps these other concerns when lives are at stake.

So am I going to join some organization like, say, Formerly Progressive People for a Police State? Don't hold your breath.

Am I going to change The Panama News to an "if it bleeds it leads" editorial approach? Don't hold your breath for that, either.

Nor will I lay all of my anger at the doorstep of the political party now in power. The problems that are now out of control have been brewing for a long time under the watches of all the parties, and almost all of the politicians have been talking nonsense about crime forever. But if the other guys may not have good answers, the PRD has had its chance and failed and if voters see fit to use the crime wave on their shift as an excuse to throw them out of office there's a certain amount of rough justice in that.

Better police work and social reform as the solution? Well, those are necessary means and ends, but they're intermediate steps. To seriously address our serious problem with crime, we need to recognize the components of the problem.

The murder rate is soaring, but that really isn't the problem for most people. The spike in homicides is about drug gangs fighting for turf and it's an international problem born of the US-led failures known as the War on Drugs and Plan Colombia. The people getting killed in all these gangland hits are almost all vicious maleantes themselves.

It won't do anything to help us stop the home invasion robberies, express kidnappings and so on in the short term, but Panama needs to declare its independence from the United States and Colombia and develop its own approach to drugs. Maybe we should start by getting rid of the draconian laws that were passed at the insistence of the United States. A comprehensive and coherent drug law reform should be coupled with a constitutional amendment that tells Panamanian citizens that if they use this country's territory to smuggle things into the USA, we'll turn them over to Uncle Sam's tender mercies. Throwing away the wealth-based welcome mat that has brought so many foreign criminals to these shores would also make some sense. But as long as the Americans continue with their failed approach to drugs, Panama is going to be a crossroads through which a lot of international crime passes, whatever we may do.

The proliferation of garden-variety crime, which is closely linked to a growing social breakdown, can be palliated by this or that measure. Meaningful change, however, will only come from a moral revolution. Panama needs a few charismatic leaders to spearhead a great social movement that changes our expectations, demands and tolerance levels with respect to everybody's behavior --- starting with presidents, prelates, magistrates, captains of industry and labor leaders, and seeping laterally and vertically into every nook and cranny, and every age group, of our society.

Easier said than done, but unlike the facile pronouncements of political charlatans, it might work.

And meanwhile, God help us all in these difficult times.


Also in this section:
Editorials: Non-apologies and reasonable inferences; and Sorting out the US torture mess
Leis, What are the candidates' environmental agendas?
Bernal, Casting aside shackles
Jackson, This awful crime wave
de Obarrio, Slide Number Nine
Gore, A moment of decision on climate change
Cronin, The financial crisis and the possibilities for the left
Nasser, Israeli action (not reaction)
Human Rights Watch, UN should investigate war crimes of both sides in Gaza
International Federation of Journalists, Hamas intimidates and interferes with journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists, Israelis beat journalists and take their video
Amnesty International, Time for accountability in Israeli and Hamas war crimes
Pilgrim, CARICOM's economic task force
Reporters Without Borders, Cuba's political prisoners include 23 journalists
Kendrick, Nicaragua under the second Sandinista administration
Ayuso & Hursthouse, Change?
Sirias, Respectability exiled
Letters to the editor

 
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