the Disillusioned kid: It's Criminal!
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Sunday, October 31, 2004

It's Criminal!

This week saw the rekindling of the debate surrounding the rights of people to defend their homes after a judge opined that he could not criticise Kenneth Faulkner for shooting and wounding a burglar who received a seven-year sentence on Monday. It is tempting to dismiss much of the debate as the reactionary, but that is to make a mistake. In a column in Tuesday's Guardian Andrew Anthony commented,
I can't pretend to know why Mr Symons [stabbed to death by an intruder in his house on October 20] got out of bed on the night he died, but I do know that he had children, and my guess is that in a choice between losing his life and his video, he would have preferred to keep his life. But the error in this line of thinking is to see burglary as purely a crime against property.

As most people will tell you who have been burgled, it's also a crime against the person, an attack on his or her sense of security and wellbeing, which are, let's face it, basic needs common to all humans.
I've had the misfortune of being mugged, having my house broken into (twice) and my housemates' cars broken into (more times than I care to recall). These were hardly the most enjoyable experiences in my life, but what I lost was essentially inconsequential and besides the point. The emotional effect is very real regardless.

Polls consistently show that law and order concerns are among those which people consider most important, much more so than wars in far-flung countries. Unfortunately progressives (arguably a meaningless catch-all term, but it should be clear who I'm referring to) all too quickly dismiss these concerns as "reactionary" and leave the field open for the law and order brigade to push for increased police numbers and powers, longer sentences, harsher treatment of offenders and/or some new authoritarian law. I fear this reflects a tendency to talk to rather than with people.

A more proactive effective strategy would be to articulate alternative policies to deal with the problem. Drug decriminalisation, more effective prisoner rehabilitation and increased social justice could all go a long way towards reducing crime. Additionally, stronger community ties will make people feel less isolated and insecure. In the meantime, however we must be wary of viewing criminals, who may ruin people's lives, as victims.

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