I try to look at things from a systems perspective when the perspective applies and helps. We often talk about a criminal justice system. If a system is a set of interacting or interdependent parts forming an integrated whole, parts not forming an integrated whole do not make up a system. Large segments of what we call our criminal justice system increasingly seems a non-system we’ve mislabeled out of hope or misunderstanding.
On the same day I happened to read two articles. The first covered Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford, describing his apparently criminal antics including smoking crack, doing other drugs, pushing grandmothers, lying to the press, and more and the rest of the government’s inability to remove him from office. For some reason it didn’t talk about simply arresting him. The second covered a sociologist who lived in high-crime areas in Philadelphia, describing America’s prison expansion.
My reading things close together in time doesn’t alone imply value in comparing them. And, of course, Toronto and Philadelphia are different cities with different governments in different countries. But the perspective I wanted to consider was that of people living in the communities the sociologist wrote about. Read the passage below from the second article, describing a poor black man in Philadelphia — the tip of the iceberg in the story, and consider what justice or a justice system would look like on learning a Mayor somewhere smoked crack and lied to the press yet retained his position and suffered no police action. I think it’s fair to presume he would find the distinction between cities and countries relatively unimportant.
Men like him lived a paradox. The penal system was supposed to shape them up. But its tentacles had become so invasive that the opposite happened. Goffman [the sociologist[ argues that the system encourages young men to act shadyâ€””I got to move like a shadow,” one of Mike’s friends told herâ€”because a stable public routine could land them back behind bars.
Take work. Once, after Mike was released on parole to a halfway house, he found employment at a Taco Bell. But he soon grew fed up with his crowded house and decided to sleep at his girlfriend’s. That resulted in a parole violation. When Mike went back to the Taco Bell to pick up his paycheck, two parole officers arrested him. He had to spend another year upstate.
Here is a passage about Toronto’s Mayor
The end did not come for Rob Ford, the mayor of this city, when he proclaimed his proclivity for oral sex on live television. It did not come when the police confirmed that they had a video of him smoking crack, something he had repeatedly denied, nor when he showed up drunk at a local festival, careened equally plastered on a dance floor, or when the local Santa parade told him to please stay away.
Toronto’s mayor is on video smoking crack, appears drunk and disorderly in public, shoves (assaults?) a grandmother, more, and isn’t even removed from office, let alone arrested.
How can anyone have faith in such a “system” with such gross inequalities? The differences in cities and countries pale in comparison to the differences in treatment between the two people.
I can only imagine the Philadelphia population in question asking, along with tens of millions of people in similar situations,
What does it take for a rich, white guy to have to go to jail? … Why should I bother trying to stay out if nothing I can do can stop police from locking me up and nothing he does will get police to put him in?
I’m sure we could just look at police on Philadelphia’s Main Line, maybe ten minutes away from the West Philadelphia neighborhood of the article, to find similar effects to avoid the U.S./Canada comparison.
Likewise, I can only imagine Toronto’s mayor asking, along with many people in similar situations,
Why should I follow the law if breaking it has no repercussions? What other laws can I break that society seems comfortable with? Why wouldn’t I do what I want without consideration of others or the law?
Who takes responsibility for holding people accountable? How does no leader in Toronto step up and have him at least brought in for questioning? Absent such leadership, is it fair for him to conclude society condones his actions? Doesn’t that put pressure on people in leadership positions to take a leadership role and act?