Commentary: Crime and the Economy | KERA News

Commentary: Crime and the Economy

Dallas, TX –

In recent weeks I have read news stories concerning bank robberies and other crimes, including violent shootings and murders. The robberies occurred in Missouri, California, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Alabama. In fact, crimes like these are happening all over. These men go into banks, pull out a pistol and demand money. At least one robber was a woman. She robbed four banks.

They robbed because they needed money, the news report says.

You may have guessed by now that there is something different about these particular wrongdoers. Otherwise not in a million years would a newspaper link these kinds of crimes so directly with economic factors. Apparently, we are to believe that crime is a result of economic forces only when members of the middle-class white majority are involved. But there it is, in the May 6 edition of the Dallas Morning News: "Economy pushes unlikely suspects to edge." And in the sub-head: "Several former upstanding citizens cite financial distress as reasons for robberies." Some of these robbers have "tearful sisters" and "twin teenage daughters," we are told, and adult children out of work.

Pardon me, but economic imperatives do not operate differently for whites than for blacks and other minority races. If unemployment is the cause of a proportionate rise in crime for whites it has the same effect in non-white populations - and always has. Black men have undergone chronic unemployment throughout their history - and suffered the same feelings of depression and defeat that go along with joblessness and, yes, the same need for money that unemployed upstanding citizens feel.

For several generations Jim Crow laws effectively stunted their education. An unofficial government policy of "benign neglect," attributed to New York senator Patrick Moynihan in the 1960s, took over where Jim Crow left off. Most employers prefer to hire the better-educated workers and workers who look like them. Most private sector employers are white.

These "upstanding" robbers include a music minister, a church deacon-missionary-soccer coach, a policeman-former high school valedictorian, a bank teller, and a real estate developer. The music minister is pleading "insanity."

What are we to learn from these so-called aberrations?

I don't know, but the message I got was that being out of work or needing money is viewed as a cause of crime only when the wrongdoers are white, middle class, and "upstanding." And maybe we are to assume that the upstanding robbers are the only robbers who have teenage daughters or "tearful sisters" or feel the need to aid grown children who have "fallen on hard times."

But fundamentally we are all equally good and equally bad, to paraphrase the lawyer and humanitarian, Clarence Darrow. We do what we think we have to do according to our circumstances and habits. Darrow believed that if all people were allowed to have an equal chance to live, that crime would simply become unnecessary. Wrongdoing would still occur but it would be a result of mental illness.

I think he may have been right. So I'm eager to see how the insanity plea works for that music minister.

Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.

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