Why We Are Changing Our Minds About ‘Tough on Crime’ Policies

Why We Are Changing Our Minds About ‘Tough on Crime’ Policies

Many view conservatives as having softened on crime policies, rather than more accurately having evolved.

Our country used to hold trials for witchcraft and hang people for stealing cattle. Why then are people so shocked when conservatives start reassessing their stance on crime policies?

Simply put, conservatives aren’t so much realigning their stance on crime policies as they are reacting to the changing landscape of law enforcement itself. 20 years ago, it would have been unthinkable for armored personnel carriers to roam our streets or for SWAT teams to conduct home searches. And now, in our war against crime, many conservatives have stepped forward to say “enough is enough”.

The last straw that has pulled this into a national conversation may very well have been the current Ferguson incident. When I sat down for a coffee in the morning, I flipped on the news to check what was going on in the world. What greeted me was a dark street, covered in smoke from tear gas, and paramilitary units in gas masks and camouflage fatigues. Now, I’m fairly jaded. I wasn’t surprised. I was just waiting for the title at the bottom of the screen to tell me where I was viewing – Aleppo, Gaza, Tripoli, somewhere in Ukraine?… No. It was Missouri. Yeah, the place where the Cardinals play that has that really nice arch.

Seriously? I followed the budget last year. I was fairly certain when we bought uniforms, assault rifles and armored vehicles that stuff was headed for the armed forces, not some amateur policemen in St. Louis to play soldier with. Now, in fairness to the St. Louis police, this wasn’t entirely their idea. As it turns out, in response to 9/11 we had some well-meaning legislation that allowed law enforcement to acquire military surplus. The idea was that police would be more readily able to respond to terrorist attacks. But, clearly, between requesting the equipment and receiving it, they forgot the intended use.

I come from a long line of military family members. I was taught a very simple rule. You don’t point a weapon unless you have decided to fire it. Watching the police brandishing their rifles threateningly at unarmed protesters was actually painful to see – both in embarrassment for their lack of skill and fear for what they might accidentally do.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have properly responded. In our zeal to combat terrorism we have done a great disservice to the American people. Weapons designed for highly trained combat troops to defend our country overseas have mistakenly fallen into the hands of people not trained or capable of respecting the force they’re wielding.

Moreover though, our police militarization can be seen as part of the larger problem of the country’s “tough on crime” policies. This mindset of merciless punishment can be seen not only on our streets, as in Ferguson, but more broadly in our prisons. It’s not so much that younger voters or libertarians don’t wish to punish criminality, bur rather that the punishments themselves are too harsh and may unfairly target minorities. In the words of Sen. Paul:

“Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences.” (NY POST)

According to Peter Beinart, in an article for the Atlantic, this conservative shift of policy is politics driven. I’m pretty sure it’s not just me who is just utterly exasperated with this pessimistic, bleak idea that any time a politician stands on principle, it has to do with polling numbers. So, for Mr. Beinart’s benefit, let’s examine some real facts. Per the ACLU, there are over 3000 people in the US (65% of which are racially identified as black) serving life terms for non-violent crimes ranging from drug charges to petty theft. Also of note, in 84% of the cases documented by the ACLU, it was noted that judges gave out life sentences because they had no choice under current laws.

I would think, instead of dirtying what is essentially a moral stand for justice and tempered law enforcement in our country with cries of party politics, pundits might for once lift themselves above the fray and applaud a politician with conviction. Arguing for a change in crime policies is not a call for being easy on crime. There is a balance to be struck. Getting militarized police off our streets and calling for fair and consistent sentencing is a great start on correcting our broken legal system. What are your thoughts? Tweet us your comments or follow us on Facebook.

Written by Mark Davis

(Photo courtesy of Elvert Barnes, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

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