Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of July 18, 2005)

Appeasers - Wrong Then and Wrong Again

  By John Martin

I recall a cartoon on the cover of a criminology text book from back in my college days.  It showed a badly beaten, mugging victim talking to his attacker who was going through the poor guy’s wallet.  But he wasn’t pleading with him.  Rather, the muggee said something to the effect of, “No doubt you had a traumatic childhood and have been a casualty of an inadequate social safety net and your criminal activity is a manifestation of your basic survival mechanism.  It’s not your fault.  It’s me and the rest of society who have made you what you are.”

It was just a gag to poke fun at social workers and academics a little too absorbed in their role as apologists for criminals and deviants.  Most people got the joke; except the bulk of criminologists who carried on with this Marxist nonsense for a quarter century.  Needless to say, their discipline accomplished very little during this time period and the crime situation only worsened.

This era saw us move completely away from the notion of deterrence and attempt to tackle crime through appeasement.  Alternatives to incarceration, diversion programs, community-based sanctions, house arrest, and other flavors of the month replaced punishment.  We witnessed an expansion of civil rights that often made searches and seizures near impossible.  We saw the age of rehabilitation turn prisons into health clinics, summer camps and wilderness adventures.  The courts invented a litany of rights and protections specifically for repeat criminals.  The behavior of chronic offenders was medicalized.  Drug addiction was equated to any other habit or vice a law-abiding person may hold.  We were warned not to label them “criminals” because that would only stigmatize them and create resentment.  Media typically romanticized the criminal and made the police out to be a bunch of lawless thugs. “Police, courts and prisons are not the answer”, bellowed the professionals.

Recidivism went through the roof.  Youth crime, drugs, and violence sky-rocketed.  Well meaning, but foolish, administrators thought they could spend their way out of the mess with their so-called war on poverty.  This yielded little more than dependency and a dramatic jump in youth growing up without fathers.  Gangs grew in number and neighborhood streets were turned into war zones.  “Let’s study the social conditions responsible for gangs,” implored the experts. Any attempts to shut gangs down were immediately targeted as racial profiling.  Civil libertarians and liberal officials continued to attack the police. 

What was the left’s answer to rising criminality?  More welfare, less enforcement, an end to punishment and above all, more empathy and understanding of the offender.

So it was with a frightening sense of déjà vu that I scanned headlines across Europe, the U.K. and North America following the London bombings.  It appears the twisted thinking depicted in that comic twenty-five years ago has made a return.  Newspaper editorials and other media commentators seem united in their reaction.  They concede that yes, the loss of life is tragic. But what a wonderful opportunity to make a real effort to understand the terrorists (except we’re not supposed to call them that).  Rather than confront the enemy, we’re asked to be patient, empathetic, appeasing and recognize that it’s all Bush’s fault anyway.  “Let’s contemplate the root causes of terrorism and see how we can accommodate these people.”  Even though, like the 911 terrorists, the bombers came from middle and upper middle-class homes; media, academic and political elites just won’t let go of the “poverty thesis.”

Sorry guys.  Been there – done that.

Liberals called the shots and directed policy in the face of unprecedented levels of criminality.  The results were disastrous. 

This time round, the stakes are considerably higher.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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