I just discovered this nice essay on the criminalizatoin of America by Dr. John Turley. Dr. Turley concludes, “We can find better ways to deal with runaway bushes, castaway pets, or even potty-mouth problems. Congress and the states should create independent commissions to review their laws in order to decriminalize negligent conduct, limiting criminal charges to true crimes and true criminals. In the end, a crime means nothing if anyone can be a criminal.”
Archive for the ‘everyone is a criminal’ Category
If you live in Canton Ohio, it may soon be illegal to let your lawn grow. This story from the Canton Repository details the proposed legislation which expands Canton’s existing high-grass and weeds law by making a second offense a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and up to 30 days in jail. More than 8 inches constitutes high grass or weeds, according to Canton city law. A vacant uncared for house can reduce the value of surrounding homes by thousands of dollars, and also increases the likelihood of health and crime risks in the area.
While the proposed expansion of the high grass law is actually intended to prevent crime and other issues related to unkept properties, this law is a great example of why the trend to make everyone a criminal is dangerous. While Canton’s law might seem reasonable on its face, it is very likely going to end up vicitmizing the very people it seeks to protect.
Canton’s Law Service Director Thomas Bernabei who initiated the review of the existing high grass law says that the expanded law would be pursued “with vigor” which one assumes incudes encouranging law enforcement and prosecutors to seek out and prosecute as many violaters as possible and to make examples out of some of the first violaters prosecuted.
However, as stated in the article, its actually quite difficult to prosecute a corporation for a crime like this. Director Joseph Martuccio admits as much in the Canton Repository article, describing the challenge of following a paper trail to the guilty party. As a result individual law breakers are much more likely to be prosecuted under the proposed ordinance than the corporations that own foreclosed properties. It is much more likely that an individual home owner in Canton would be the first jailed under the proposed law rather than a corprorate officer of a major bank which is neglecting its properties.
Maybe you can’t imagine the Canton city fathers prosecuting and jailing little old ladies for not mowing their grass. Certainly this is all some paranoid ACLU fantasy? The fact is that something very similar to this scenario has already happened in Orem Utah. Earlier this year 70 year old Betty Perry was arrested, handcuffed, and briefly jailed for resisting arrest when a police officer tried to cite her for failing to water her lawn. She was released and settled the case recently after agreeing to a plea bargain in which she paid a $100 fine and received six months of probation.
Perhaps Canton’s city council should consider the effect of criminalizing what is at worst a nuisance but might also be an aesthetic choice. Finally, consider the tragic events in Batavia Ohio about a year ago, in which a 15 year old boy was shot and killed for walking on Charles Martin’s carefully manicured lawn. “He stepped on it and he walked 40 feet through it,” Martin said. “I cared about it. I cut it every five days.” A young boy is dead and Mr. Martin was sentenced to life in prison and is unlikely to ever be parolled. All over a lawn.
An interesting article in Monsters and Critics today describes a Somali film Leopards in the Snow, which aired at the Toronto film festival in which Somalis tell their stories of the tragedies and difficulties they’ve been through during the devastating Somali civil war. According to the director of the film, Laura Forth, the film gives “a message of hope and also peace”, but “no one in Somalia is allowed to watch it. They’d be given 40 lashes or worse.”
In Somalia, it is now illegal to watch a movie, a video, or a television show. Popular music is also illegal. Over the last few weeks the international media has reported that armed gunmen representing the United Islamic Courts (UIC) known as the “Soldiers of Allah” entered movie houses making arrests and confiscating media and equipment. The raids also followed the imposition of new restrictions that forbid all forms of trade and public transport during prayer times.
Witnesses reported that at least 30 people were detained in the raids when armed Soldiers of Allah entered two movie theaters in southern Mogadishu’s Wardhiigley district. The soldiers dispersed audiences who were watching Indian Bollywood movies which are very popular in Somalia and other parts of Africa, but are deemed pornographic by the UIC. Witnesses reported that the soldiers also confiscated projection equipment and generators. “We managed to arrest 30, but most of them fled,” militia commander Nuur Hassan Raghe reported. “They were watching movies that are ethically unfit.”
(Middle East Times, Sept. 4, 2006)
Watching movies and listening to music is an everyday pleasure enjoyed commonly by men and women around the world. Turning this into a crime makes everyone into a criminal. Similarly, a convenient side effect for governments that want to control people by burning books for example, is to criminalize book owners.
Media control is of course also one of the primary tools of both past and modern fascist and communist regimes. Controlling what media people can consume in effect allows you to control what they can think, feel, and know. And it doesn’t matter whether its the government, a group of armed militia, or corporations that are exercising control. Consider for example the MPAA and the RIAA’s efforts to control what media you can consume through the use of Digital Rights Management software and its campaign of intimidation through mass litigation.