Governing Through Crime

In Governing Through Crime, Simon makes a number of points, but his main premise is the evolution of the victim as a political animal. In today’s political world, there remains only one perfect political actor: the victim of a crime or crimes. This victim enters the equation and the conversation as a blameless party. Therefore, politicians are essentially required to consider the rights of the victim above all else. This is a result of the current political scene’s discussions pertaining to who is most “deserving” of institutions such as government aid and protection. Simon concludes chapter three of the book by referring to the crime victim as the “idealized political subject” and the “model” subject, representing the crime victim as virtually an unassailable character in the current political reality.

Another essential theme the author introduces is the crime victim is perfectly positioned as a deserving recipient of government attention. Currently, there is significant debate regarding the role of government. Naturally, on each side of the aisle, there are distinctly different ideas about the reach of government. Some believe government should be extremely involved in all aspects of life, while others view government should only intercede when necessary such as the regulation of business regulation or providing aid for the poor. There is some common ground, however, on one of the purposes of government: protect people from being victimized by others. Historically speaking, it was oft proposed government’s main role was to enforce the social contract between human beings to ensure the individual rights of all its citizens. Simon’s contention is the crime victim, in today’s society, has evolved into an individual who receives support from both sides of the political aisle.

There is a split on the purpose of criminal justice that varies within the political spectrum. Some theorists are in favor of “law and order” by demanding harsher punishment and are less concerned about people who have been accused or convicted of a crime. Other individuals are “softer” on crime, arguing for policies with more lenient treatment of juveniles, sex offenders, and the abolition of the death penalty. No matter where one sits on the political spectrum, it is necessary to acknowledge and observe the rights of the victims. In today’s world, the treatment of crime victims requires political actors to be very specific in their activity and presentation on a multitude of issues. Political actors are held hostage by crime victims because they contend with a tremendous backlash if they do not completely respect and consider the rights of the victims of a crime.

In this debate, blame and desirability play key roles. The current political reality is highly concerned with which people deserve political consideration and produced a reality where politicians not only have to worry about their policies, but about the worthiness of those who benefit from those policies. The crime victim stands as the “model” political subject because he or she is seen as blameless. Not only does the crime victim bring into play one of the roles of government – to protect human beings and their rights from the actions of other human beings – but the crime victim makes for a blameless actor. The crime victim is idealized as a person who was simply going about his or her business until the criminal came along and violated his or her rights. In this way, the crime victim is a person who cannot be assailed for any reason. In a world where almost everything is controversial, the crime victim has become a safe harbor for politicians. Favor will always be curried from the voting public by going after sex offenders because voters respond to the message of protecting people from sexual predators. While it may not be fair to label this as the low hanging fruit of the political world, there is some truth to that claim. In short, beating the drum in favor of victims is an excellent way to garner support without the risk of alienating anyone. This situation completely proves Simon’s major points.

This particular observation of Simon is shaped by the politics of race. There are some assumptions on the common “criminal” versus the common “victim” in American crimes. A prime example of this institutionalized racism is the Ferguson, Missouri, case. The shooting of Michael Brown was the match that lit the tinder for a long smoldering fire between a city where the population was primarily black and the law enforcement agencies primarily white. This nation has been torn asunder over this highly controversial case. Especially when the grand juror elected not to indict the shooter for a crime. In this case, the crime victim was not “blameless” except by members of the black community. This situation is polarized due to institutionalized racism and illustrates the power of the white, elite, male power structure in this nation that Simon alludes to.

This is not an isolated circumstance and ties in the institutionalized racism in the American prison system. Most of the inmates in the system are poor, black, young males convicted for drug crimes and the employees responsible for monitoring them are products of a white, elitist system of government that has historically been in place since the Founding Fathers crafted as well as ratified the United States Constitution. Economics also play in role in this, as the white male is control of the nation’s resources and greater financial stability also provides access to greater educational opportunities. It creates a vicious cycle where poor, black, males have no recourse but to patrol the streets to feed themselves and their families. There are few chances to break out of this cycle, hence the institutionalization of racism.

Back to the Ferguson case and how the circumstances in the political arena focuses on protecting the “good” people from the “bad” people. This creates the idealized political character in the crime victim. If the world of crime is viewed through the context of good versus bad, then “good” is almost always going to be the person who is violated by the criminal. This, in turn, creates a reality where politicians are not just acting on behalf of people who have been aggrieved. Rather, they see themselves as acting on behalf of “good” human beings in the face of “bad” treatment from others. When the crime victim is positioned in this way, it should come as no surprise whatsoever that politicians are almost lining up to develop policies in protection of those individuals. Not only is it good political theater that can be used in campaigns, but it also makes politicians feel as if their work has been noble in some respects. Simon notes that the crime victim has risen in this way to be something of a hero, and perhaps somewhat unrealistic in those terms. That is how the crime victim is being presented by Ferguson residents, but institutionalized racism alters this situation.

Hobbes would respond to Simon’s theories by stating that nature has made men equal in a number of different ways. Nature has endowed men with equality of mind and strength, and Hobbes would contend this “natural” equality drives the political powers that be towards idealizing the crime victim in the United States society today. People want to believe the natural order has men being of equal strength and mind, the person who goes outside of this natural system is one that is to be chastised by the system. Likewise, it sets up the government as a particularly important actor in trying to rectify the “natural” order. Hobbes would assess Simon’s theories as somewhat natural in the world, but he would claim they are not the way people idealize the world. People want to believe society is equal, and that men all possess the same amount of strength. This makes it imperative for the government to protect the sanctity of individual rights for each citizen. It can do so in a number of different ways, but Hobbes would state that politicians, being rational political animals, are the people who respond to these kinds of pressures, chastising the criminal perpetrator and protecting, to the extent it is possible, the criminal victim.


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