When we look at the effect of crime on our community it’s helpful to focus on the damage done rather than let ourselves be distracted by emotion and opinion regarding the nature of individual crimes. That is to say, there are people who urinate in the street and there are people who commit financial fraud—depending on one’s sensibilities the first may disgust, but the second frequently causes meaningful harm.
Bernie Madoff and Bobby Medford (now sharing residence at Butner Federal Correctional Complex near Raleigh) did far more damage to individuals, families and the fabric of our community than the sorts of criminals that consume most of our law enforcement and judicial time and resources.
What we call “white collar” crime costs all of us much more money than the property crimes that are featured in most news reports. When a masked bank robber gets away with a bagful of money we see it on page one, but when a corporation systematically cheats employees out of millions of dollars it often rates little more than a paragraph on a back page. The truth is that bank robbers and muggers represent a very small threat to our common good, while so-called “white collar” crimes not only cheat us daily, but have created the current economic crash.
There’s no reason for our tax dollars to go to companies that violate the law.
I believe Asheville should join other cities in enacting a three-strikes business law. If a company has been convicted of felony violations of tax, employment, civil rights or environmental law, Asheville should refuse to do business with that company. Your tax money should not support crime.
And while we’re considering the focus of our law enforcement efforts, here are a few other ideas worth weighing:
• Drug prohibition has been attempted for over 100 years, yet the rate of addiction to hard drugs has remained virtually constant (1.5 percent of the population), the number of casual users has increased and we have created powerful gangs and cartels that corrupt governments and incite violence. We need a new approach and we should explore what we can change at the local level with more focus on treatment programs and education.
• Prostitution has apparently been practiced since the dawn of civilization (depending on how you define it, it may predate our descent from the trees). The root cause is clear: men hold much of the power and wealth and are willing to pay for sexual gratification. Those less powerful or wealthy will sometimes oblige. Prohibition may have even less effect on prostitution than it does on the drug trade. We should reconsider local enforcement efforts and focus on helping people create better lives: education and job opportunities are cheaper in the long run that revolving door arrests that render those with police records less and less employable with each trip through the detention center.
• While illegal immigration has been raised up as a hot button issue, most discussions seem to avoid the economic roots of the problem. There are disadvantaged people desperate for income and employers willing to break the law to hire low-wage workers, to get the gratification of making more profit. When you remove the racism and jingoism from the argument, the possible damage to current citizens is that of being out-competed for jobs by persons willing to work for less. At the same time, our society is happy to avail itself of cheap goods manufactured by the same cheap labor if it is on the other side of a border fence. One way the city government can address this is to require that all city contractors pay a living wage to employees—the underbidding by undocumented workers no longer works. Whatever one’s take on all this, it is not a local issue. Our local law enforcement agencies should not be required to participate in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts.