Since the last three months or so in 2011 all reports tell us that violent crimes, and very specifically robberies and thefts were increasing across the District. The solution thus far from Mayor Gray and Police Chief, Cathy Lanier, is to offer a reward of up to $10,000.00 to anyone providing information that would lead to the arrest of the perpetrator of such crimes. Another remedy offered by local government is to re-direct approximately 200 police officers whose mission has been to focus on robbery and theft.
Are these the right solutions? Chief Lanier would argue that they are. But there are social scientists, people who steal and great grandmas around the globe who will likely have a different point of view. They might look to the young man that Tupac Shakur gave us in a song, whose stomach was hurting, so he was “looking for a purse to snatch.” Or they might point us to Abraham Maslow, who told us that if humans did not secure/meet our most basic and fundamental needs—food, water, shelter etc; and enjoy the security of certain wares (i.e., family, health, resources, etc,)—we would not likely develop into the esteemed, self-actualized people we are capable of being, or that many people believe, we are meant to be.
If the answer to the uptick in violent theft and robbery is to catch and incarcerate the perpetrators of these crimes, then we leave ourselves vulnerable to another set of, and at least, equally negative situations: What to do with all the men, women and children that we jail; and how to address the voids they leave in their family structures?—More basically, how do we rehabilitate the robber, and how do we fill the space his/her absence creates in their families and in their communities?
If the goal is simply to punish, then “lockin’ em up” is the key. But we should be crystal clear about this approach—it stunts the development of the “jailer,” as well. We should take care to note that the society that may well be simply too lazy and/or uncaring to reach past another’s indiscretion to forgive and to help his fellow human being to mend and reposition him/herself on life’s path toward growth and self-improvement is as much a reflection of society’s character as it is that of the thief’s (if not more so).
From this perspective it will be wise for the citizens of the District of Columbia to re-access the notion that the punitive response is the only answer. While punishment for a crime can be, and often is appropriate, as long as it is fitting, reprimand only addresses the symptom—in this case, the theft or robbery. What we must turn some attention to is the cause—therein lies the remedy, the solution, the answer to at the very least curbing thefts, robberies and any number of crimes that we humans exact upon one another.
Looking hypothetically at a scenario in which a man breaks into, and robs a home. He is subsequently sent jail. So, the prevailing thought is that we have solved the problem. We have removed this man from society. But what of his family, his children, his friends; will one or more of them (have to) step up now to ensure that some of those basic needs are met. If the answer is yes, and in far too many cases it is, then society with all its “three strikes,” “zero tolerance,” “build more prisons” solutions has outwitted itself and created more problem than it has solved. And we have done this in spite of innumerable teachings that tell us to “teach a man to fish,” “forgive seventy times seven times,” “help even those you do not know or even dislike” and “help one another in righteousness and piety.”
It is not enough to suggest that in the case of people stealing electronic devises we can stop the trend by having the owner disable the device. This comment is not to disparage the efforts of the Metropolitan Police Department. Rather, it is to call attention to the point that Chief Lanier makes when she talks about how quickly a devises can be sold. The end game for the thief in this case then is to convert the stolen property to cash. It stands to reason then that the cause of this type of theft is rooted not the desire to simply own an iPad; but instead has more to do with getting money that is desired and/or needed with such intensity that the person committing the theft cannot allow him/herself to be bogged down by rules, laws or spiritual teachings in that moment. This is not to suggest that s/he is not at some point absolutely remorseful, but to underline the concept that our innate drive to survive and meet the hierarchy of human needs far outweighs the risks involved with being caught and jailed.
It would behoove us to look directly at the real challenges we face and allow our findings to drive us in developing true answers—not just those responses that are politically expedient or that are designed to protect only the individuals and organizations that are the victims of theft or robbery. This approach is skewed and faulty because it completely ignores the other victim—the man, woman or child who for whatever reason feels compelled to attempt to acquire what s/he needs by stealing it.
Whenever there is a void of any kind in life (i.e., environmental safety, inadequate housing, an unstable job market, de facto separate and unequal education systems and so on), the obligation to fill that space and to correct the issues associated with that emptiness lies squarely on those among us who have been so blessed and as a result are fortunate enough to possess the wherewithal to serve as creators and implementers of the right answers. These answers which are likely found deep inside one’s soul—in those places where sometimes we forget to journey because we are so often involved with the immediacy of having to address our own personal needs and desires—are potentially the key to creating a more fair, loving and just society.
As crime goes up and the gulf between the haves and the have-nots widens it seems we would almost instinctively conclude that newer, more love and spirit based solutions are what we need—given the fact that the old methods are obviously no longer (and perhaps never were) effective. It seems that as we look over the terrain that we call our society, we might accept the fact that the change we seek might actually lie in the extent to which we are willing to change.
Equally important if we allowed ourselves to honestly search the deepest levels of our consciousness, there are those who suggest that we would not only find pieces of ourselves who would race to ensure a community in which crime of any sort was an anomaly. Put another way, if we look deep inside ourselves we will likely find that the answer(s) is inside us—in fact we are the answer. And this is your call to action.