Is America overly-policed? Some conservative and libertarian thinkers have said so, and so have some liberals -- but many on both the Left and Right disagree. In his famous article on the subject, conservative columnist George Will argued that "overcriminalization" was responsible for the death of Eric Garner, a sidewalk merchant who was killed in a confrontation with police trying to crack down on sales tax scofflaws.
Will raises the question of how many new laws are created by state legislatures and by Congress in the rush to be seen to be "doing something"? Will's brilliant column is a must read for legislators thinking about proposing their next round of ideas that will end up being enforced by men with guns. An excerpt is printed below:
America might at long last be ready to stare into the abyss of its criminal-justice system.
By history’s frequently brutal dialectic, the good that we call progress often comes spasmodically, in lurches propelled by tragedies caused by callousness, folly, or ignorance. With the grand jury’s as yet inexplicable and probably inexcusable refusal to find criminal culpability in Eric Garner’s death on a Staten Island sidewalk, the nation might have experienced sufficient affronts to its sense of decency. It might at long last be ready to stare into the abyss of its criminal-justice system.
It will stare back, balefully. Furthermore, the radiating ripples from the nation’s overdue reconsideration of present practices may reach beyond matters of crime and punishment, to basic truths about governance.
Garner died at the dangerous intersection of something wise, known as “broken windows” policing, and something worse than foolish: decades of overcriminalization. The policing applies the wisdom that when signs of disorder, such as broken windows, proliferate and persist, there is a general diminution of restraint and good comportment. So, because minor infractions are, cumulatively, not minor, police should not be lackadaisical about offenses such as jumping over subway turnstiles.
Overcriminalization has become a national plague. And when more and more behaviors are criminalized, there are more and more occasions for police, who embody the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence, and who fully participate in humanity’s flaws, to make mistakes.
Harvey Silverglate, a civil-liberties attorney, titled his 2009 book Three Felonies a Day to indicate how easily we can fall afoul of America’s metastasizing body of criminal laws. Professor Douglas Husak of Rutgers University says that approximately 70 percent of American adults have, usually unwittingly, committed a crime for which they could be imprisoned. In his 2008 book, Overcriminalization: The Limits of the Criminal Law, Husak says that more than half of the 3,000 federal crimes — itself a dismaying number — are found not in the Federal Criminal Code but in numerous other statutes. And, by one estimate, at least 300,000 federal regulations can be enforced by agencies wielding criminal punishments. Citing Husak, Professor Stephen L. Carter of the Yale Law School, like a hammer driving a nail head flush to a board, forcefully underscores the moral of this story:
Society needs laws; therefore it needs law enforcement. But “overcriminalization matters” because “making an offense criminal also means that the police will go armed to enforce it.” The job of the police “is to carry out the legislative will.” But today’s political system takes “bizarre delight in creating new crimes” for enforcement. And “every act of enforcement includes the possibility of violence.”
It’s unlikely that the New York Legislature, in creating the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes, imagined that anyone would die for violating it. But a wise legislator would give the matter some thought before creating a crime. Officials who fail to take into account the obvious fact that the laws they’re so eager to pass will be enforced at the point of a gun cannot fairly be described as public servants.
Garner lived in part by illegally selling single cigarettes untaxed by New York jurisdictions. He lived in a progressive state and city that, being ravenous for revenues and determined to save smokers from themselves, have raised to $5.85 the combined taxes on a pack of cigarettes. To the surprise of no sentient being, this has created a black market in cigarettes that are bought in states that tax them much less. Garner died in a state that has a Cigarette Strike Force.
To continue reading... http://www.nationalreview.com/article/394392/plague-overcriminalization-george-will
George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist at The Washington Post. The above column was published on December 10, 2014.
A reader asked us to post some information regarding an off-Broadway play that he is involved with. We are always willing to do so, in the interest of open public discussion about issues of the day.
This play has been called "riveting" and "incendiary" and "controversial." The play is called FERGUSON - THE PLAY and it recreates, on stage, the tragic death of Michael Brown by gleaning details read from the Grand Jury testimony. The play is written by NY Times best-selling author Phelim McAleer and is directed by Jerry Dixon. It previews at New York's 30th Street Theatre October 19th through the 22nd and runs October 26th through November 5th.
For more information, go to this Indiegogo page:
Here is a short video from the author:
The author has taken the play "on the road" to New York City. Those interested in attending should visit: https://www.fergusontix.com/
The 30th Street Theatre is located at 259 West 30th Street (between 7th and 8th Aves) in New York City.
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