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Thinking about crime and punishment post-Ferguson

Many Americans are understandably questioning the aims and methods of the criminal justice system in the wake of the shooting in Ferguson and the chokehold death in New York City. The media, lawmakers and the public from California to Georgia are questioning what reforms are necessary in order to restore and solidify public trust in law enforcement and in the criminal justice system itself. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this line of questioning.

A recent piece published in The New York Times suggests that refining our perceptions about crime and punishment based on solid data might be a good place to start. According to a report published earlier this year by the Sentencing Project, “white Americans overestimate the proportion of crime committed by people of color, and associate people of color with criminality.”

In truth, crimes are committed by individuals of every race, economic status and creed. Sometimes these crimes are committed with ill-intent and are premeditated. But oftentimes, crimes are committed due to social pressures, necessity or simple lack of awareness. For example, it is startlingly easy to be brought up on DUI charges, given that one can feel sober and still have a blood alcohol concentration exceeding the legal limit.

Recent events in Ferguson and New York City have inspired the nation to reexamine modern American crime and punishment. There may be no easy answers as to how to reform the system. But it is exactly for this reason why we must keep questioning and searching for truth and justice until these foundational principles are served.

Source: The New York Times, “Crime and Punishment,” Charles M. Blow, Nov. 30, 2014

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