The first story relates to how many criminals can be removed from active "crime duty."
A book, "Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America," written by David M. Kennedy outlines a program called the "Boston Gun Project" developed in the 1990's. Basically the idea is that most serious crime is run by some seriously bad individuals. Take out the bad individuals by bringing down the full weight of the justice system on them and then just tell the rest of the criminals involved to simply "Stop!"
Kind of like the old Nancy Regan "Just Say No!" policy from the 1980's.
Except the Boston Gun Project worked and worked well - at least as long as law enforcement followed through.
The fact that this works is very interesting. Getting rid of crime by having law enforcement simply tell many of the criminals to stop.
Why does this work?
I think it works because most people - at least those not interested in running large crime syndicates (drug lords, etc.) - probably still have some fear of God left in them - some notion of right and wrong. And while it may have been easy to fall into the "criminal lifestyle" via peer pressure, outright need, etc. I would imagine that most people would not prefer this to a non-criminal lifestyle.
Who wants to be looking over their shoulder every day?
So, when the big boss goes down I imagine its easy for those who realize that they might be "next" to simply walk away if goaded by law enforcement.
In part this is easy because its clear what "criminal behavior" is to most. In this case drugs, guns, robbery, and so on.
Which leads to the WSJ second story...
This story describes the life and tribulations of Lawrence Lewis - someone who grew up in Washington DC and who saw all three of his older brothers murdered by the time he was 20.
But Lawrence is not the kind of criminal you might imagine...
No, instead Lawrence worked hard, went to school, and got a job working in DC's sewage treatment department.
Lawrence's path to criminality began when, as an employee of the sewage treatment department, he was forced to make a simple decision: whether to divert sewage, which could potentially back up into a residential building, into a storm drain or simply let it back up into the build.
Lawrence, like virtually anybody else, chose the former and the building was kept free of sewage.
Unfortunately for Lawrence he broke an EPA law related to the Clean Water Act in this process.
And now he has a Federal criminal record.
What to me is most troubling here is that Lawrence is a perfect example of what our society wants someone to do with their life given a bad situation as a child.
Grow up, make good choices, get a job, be a functioning member of society.
But in this case the law is against Lawrence.
Apparently because somehow Lawrence, even as an employee of a municipal sewage treatment facility, was personally guilty of polluting a stream by trying to keep sewage out of someone's home and/or work.
You can read the horrific details of this in the full WSJ article linked above.
So why am I writing about this?
For one, I think that there is a problem with society when a guy doing his non-criminal, everyday job is made into a criminal by the government by preventing destruction of property.
Secondly, the EPA laws that Lawrence broke lack a mens rea component. That means, unlike say shooting someone, where intent is involved, no intent is required to be guilty.
So if I shoot someone an accidentally kill them its different than shooting someone with the intent of killing someone. I still might be guilty of something but not of murder.
But EPA law is different.
There is no intent required. Either you did it or not. You don't even have to know you did it.
If the EPA can prove it was done then you are guilty.
And we are not talking about a crime here - we are talking about diverting sewage from the basement of a building into a storm drain that might lead into a river.
Now you might argue that polluting one building was better than polluting a whole river but you'd miss the point.
Somebody who is simply doing their job makes a bad decision or a decision based on lack of knowledge.
Now they are a criminal.
How do you stop criminals if they don't know they are criminals...?
This is like ASCAP and other things I have written about.
So what do we tell Lawrence - just "Stop!"???
Stop doing your grungy everyday job because you might be a criminal?