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Law and Order

We need to lift the bottom of our society up or we will all suffer the consequences

By PAM BERNS
    I think I’ve seen every Law and Order in its 19-year history. I love the simplicity and predictability. Much like yesterday’s westerns, this show has a simple mission—to bring justice, law and order to society’s victims. In today’s world of unending excuses, it is comforting to many of us to watch the show and believe that the good guys will win in the long run.   
    I have thought a lot about crime lately in the light of the summer’s series of burglaries and beatings in Lincoln Park. In fact, my niece is a friend of one of the victims of these thugs’ violence. This outstanding man in his 20s had just celebrated passing his law boards by going out for a few beers with his friends. Walking home alone, the young man could sense a group of people following him. Feeling as though he was going to be robbed, he threw his wallet behind him and ran as fast as he could down the street. The robbers chased after him, despite having his wallet and began to severely beat him. Just at that moment, a cab came from around the corner and the thugs ran away. The cabbie called 911 and stayed with the bleeding young man until the ambulance came. The cabbie saved his life. As we go to press, the law student has been released from the hospital, despite having his jaw broken in two places; his vocal cords were nearly severed. But he is going to be okay. He is fortunate to be alive.
    One of my best friends says this kind of crime is probably part of a gang initiation. Who knows? But this doesn’t explain the larger picture. What makes someone so senselessly beat a total stranger? Are all these thugs sociopaths? How do they find each other?
    Most of us have read about the serial killer, Dr. H. H. Holmes, whose murderous rampage occurred during the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. The hideous story was told supurbly in the spellbinding bestseller The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. While Daniel Burnham was creating the sparkling White City,  Holmes used his talents and brilliance to create elaborate scams and insurance fraud, which eventually escalated to murder. According to Larson, when Holmes finally confessed, he said, “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing...”
    I grew up in a village of 498 people. If you committed a crime, people wouldn’t forget. You would be ostracized the rest of your life. And yet, in my childhood, I knew of 3 local murders. One middle- aged woman killed her beloved daughter with a shotgun and then herself because she couldn’t bear having her daughter move to California. The father of a schoolmate murdered his mother by kicking her to death. The father of another schoolmate killed his baby. You can’t escape the sad toll that untreated mental illness and addiction can take on a community. We can’t expect any different statistics in a big city like Chicago.
    For many of us, the verdict in O. J. Simpson’s trial for killing his wife and Ron Goldman ruined the confidence we had in the judicial system. We saw a fool-proof pile of evidence dismissed by the jury who bought, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” How could a jury look at all the blood stains and fingerprints and find this man innocent? Simpson had all the trappings of an affluent lifestyle—fame and fortune. There were no shades of gray here. He was just a psychopath with a good attorney.     Some may say that the Lincoln Park beatings and burglaries display a resentment by those living in squalor towards those who live in a safe and affluent area of our city. My friend thinks we might have a few clues as to what leads to this kind of hostility and resentment.
    The growing disparity between the haves and have-nots has widened exponentially in the last eight years. Unemployment is at 10 percent. Some vulnerable Americans see no light at the end of the tunnel. Without education, jobs or health care, they have a slim chance of turning their lives around. Meanwhile, they see the ultra- rich continue to flaunt their excesses, showing little compassion for those in need and in the name of “conservatism” vote down any possibility of hope for those who are suffering with overwhelming pain and financial ruin.
    Obama did not create this economic boondoggle. He inherited it. And while none of us know how fast he can turn this boat around, if ever, we need to lift the bottom of our society up or we will all suffer the consequences. Education can open many doors, but festering resentment is a recipe for disaster and crime.
    The inability to access health care has caused undue suffering to the have-nots. Are we going to let the insurance industries continue to cause the deaths of 45,000 without health insurance every year? Do health insurance executives deserve $24 million in compensation—at the expense of the suffering? Bogus scare tactics have been part of the sophisticated, organized disinformation strategies of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in order to maintain the status quo. Do the poor really believe this baloney? Should anyone?
    We are all vulnerable. According to CNN, nearly one out of three Americans under 65 were without health insurance sometime in the past two years. This is Russian roulette—and a disgrace. Where is our collective compassion for those who are suffering?  
    We have invested in an over-priced, privatized penal system with a 60 percent recidivism rate. Our prisons should be saved for serial criminals—including serial embezzlers—and violent offenders, not suffering drug addicts. Addicts need treatment. Overcrowded jails and early release for violent offenders have repeatedly proven that violent criminals should be locked away from society and its innocent victims to serve their full sentences. Why should violent criminals be given early release? To rape and kidnap again?   
    Also, not enough of our resources are used to protect innocent victims of financial crimes. Our society and the SEC permitted a handful of cloistered elite to embezzle investors’ money while we looked the other way. Bernie Madoff couldn’t have done it without our help.

Published: October 11, 2009
Issue: November 2009 Sports Issue