goto Appendx main menu Notes from the Outfield :
Richard T. Ford
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Crime as Spectator Sport 

In its therapeutic function, three strikes responds to a pervasive but inchoate fear of crime among white suburbanites, a fear driven by increasingly graphic media coverage of violent crime in general and a protracted focus on suburban crime in particular. Crime is presented in the media as either spectacle or statistic. Each mode of presentation feigns objectivity while obscuring the context in which the acts of crime occur. 

The presentation of crime statistics is often simply dishonest. Statistics derived from two or more methodologies are compared to show an increase in crime, with no effort made to control for the methodological differences; statistics that show an increase in crime often measure absolute figures without controlling for changes in population. As a result, a statistic showing that crime has risen by 15 percent in a given time period may be accurate, but also alarmist: if the population of the United States has grown by roughly 15 percent in the same period of time, the probability of the average person becoming a victim of crime has remained unchanged. Statistics showing an increase in reported crime often fail to control for (or even mention) the probability that many crimes are more likely to be reported today; thus a higher reported crime rate may reflect the same amount of crime and greater victim awareness or police responsiveness.7 

On the other hand, the representation of incidents of violent crime as spectacles, each as divorced from social circumstances as it is extreme or unprecedented, produces a highly emotional reaction to a media-constructed "crime wave" that collapses urban street crime with suburban domestic abuse, crimes of desperation with crimes of passion. In Megalopolis, Celeste Olalquiaga describes a 

    vicarious compensation for a perceptual gap. . . Cops and Robbers television serials, catastrophe films, and the growing tendency towards presenting all events as extreme situations, replacing their lack of context with a high degree of emotionality, are emblematic of this condition. Paradoxically, this overdose numbs our capacity for emotional empathy while attempting to compensate for this disintegration.8Appendx 3 page break 152 | 153
The presentation of crime as statistic and spectacle creates a distorted Wonderland of criminal terror: black becomes white as those least likely to be victims of crime are most afraid. The context-deprived image of crime and criminals combined with the emotionally charged nature of crime reporting and the implication (and often explicit claim) of ubiquitous peril produces a type of solipsistic empathy: a middle America unable to empathize with black and Latino victims of violent crime instead feel victimized themselves. Affluent senior citizens live behind gates and walls in constant fear of a world their televisions depict as a Western Beirut with black, Latino, and Asian youth gangs replacing warring religious factions, the local police as ineffective as a United Nations peacekeeping force. 

If there is a crime wave, it affects the same class of people who are portrayed as predators by the crime-obsessed media and opportunistic politicians: young people, especially black and Latino men. Members of poor and minority communities would welcome a serious approach to crime prevention: they would be the first to benefit. But policy predicated on scapegoating these communities for crime in affluent and middle-class white communities is unlikely to serve anyone. One can argue about the causes of crime among the underclass: conservatives blame a breakdown of the family and other social institutions, the rise of an oppositional subculture, and a criminal economy driven by drugs, while liberals attribute urban crime to poverty and isolation. The most plausible explanation acknowledges that all of these conditions are causally linked, and three strikes does nothing to remedy any of them. The bills are premised on the perceived impossibility of rehabilitation, and although it is true as a general matter that rehabilitation has been a failure, three strikes will further starve efforts to develop viable methods of rehabilitation as well as drain support for the few types that do work. For example, take drug rehabilitation, a program whose potential for success is currently limited only by resources: virtually every drug treatment clinic has a waiting list, and studies show that many addicts give up crime when they are able to give up drugs.9 

Just as black becomes white, white also becomes black on the other side of the crime hysteria looking glass. The inability to contextualize crime allows three strikes to masquerade as responsible policy while serving its therapeutic function: the crimes of domestic violence that predominate in all class segments and racial communities are equated with the street violence of the underclass as white middle-class peril is attributed to recidivist strangers—career criminals from the wrong side of the tracks—rather than to the friends, lovers, and family members who are overwhelm ingly Appendx 3 page break 153 | 154 responsible for this type of crime. To stop violent crime, especially the domestic abuse, child abuse, rape, and acquaintance murders that threaten middle-class suburbanites, middle America must confront its own image. next page

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