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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Crime and cliches

Greetings, folks. Hope the weekend has been good for you so far.

I spent Friday running/driving through heavy rains and hanging out with the Pac-Man world record holder (first person to ever get a perfect score in the game - story coming in Tuesday's paper). I spent Saturday morning vegetating with Mrs. B and doing a little book shopping. Saturday evening I caught up on my news reading - Miami Herald naturally, the Virginian-Pilot, my home town paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, my last employer, the Wall Street Journal, a couple of gossip Web sites (my guilty pleasures), and a news industry news site.

Catchin' up on my reading is what brings us to this post.

I've flip-flopped for years on whether or not "Crime does not pay" is really a true statement. I could give you dozens, maybe hundreds of examples I saw as a crime reporter of criminals making big money. Granted, in many cases the profiteering criminals eventually got locked up or killed. But for a time, their behavior did pay.

Part of it is perception. If the casual observer believes crime pays, then that notion takes on sort of a legendary quality. I once wrote an article about drug dealer profit in which former, failed dealers acknowledged that when they calculated the amount of money they made, the hours spent, and the physical effort made to sell drugs, their hourly wage came to about what they'd make flipping burgers in Mickey D's. Same article: A kid - 5-years-old, if I remember right -was hit by a car in front of his house in Milwaukee. When emergency workers went to remove his clothes to check for injuries they found a baggie of white powder in the boy's sock and got police involved. The powder turned out to be baking soda. When all the adults involved asked the boy later why he'd put a bag of white powder, baking soda, in his sock he answered that he'd seen the older boys doing it in a park near his home. So he thought it was the thing to do.

Take this guy. Crime probably paid for him here and there over the years. Unfortunately for him, the well dried up late last week.

And this guy. A city councilman in my old stomping grounds, accused of shaking down business owners in his district and conspiring with two other men to assault another guy. I understand "innocent until proven guilty," but if the charges against the alderman turn out to be true then crime once paid for him. Not anymore.

So I read about these two and I think of another cliche about crime being difficult. You know, like "pimpin' ain't easy?" Seriously, I am the biggest goof when it comes to making jokes about pimps, even though I know they're bad. But even I'm smart enough to know that the reason criminals keep going back for seconds, and thirds, and so on is 'cause crime is easy. Taking a chance on dealing drugs, robbery, burglary, or worse, is no different philosophically than gambling money. And if you place a low value on your life, maybe gambling money means more to you than risking your life and freedom committing a crime. So many criminals become repeat offenders, because even after they're caught and sometimes punished they see their prosecution/incarceration as simply a bad roll of the dice or a bad draw from the top of the deck. And they figure the odds are in their favor for the next roll.

You know what's not easy? Brain surgery. That isn't easy. Rocket science isn't easy. Tying bow ties evenly isn't easy. Keeping poison toads out of your koi pond isn't easy. Getting out of bed to go to a legit job every day isn't easy. Restraining yourself from sticking a size 12.5 boot in the behind of the idiot kid who bumps his eardrum-shattering stereo as he drives past your house isn't easy. Not choking the crime-enabling rich guy cruising a poor neighborhood looking for a weed dealer, because he doesn't want sidewalk pharmacists doing business in his nice neighborhood isn't easy. Being a good spouse or a good parent isn't easy. Being a good friend isn't easy. Breaking a sweat to help a stranger isn't easy. Just doing the right thing isn't easy.

But each of these things - except the boot-in-the-behind and the choking of the drug buyer, 'cause you could land in jail too for assault - pays way more than criminal behavior and with much greater currency than just money.

Till Sunday evening, peace and hair grease.

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21 Comments:

  • Yeah, t'ain't easy to keep your nose clean, go to college, get a decent job, marry a great woman and have fine children, and pay your bills on time.

    But don't forget, there are sometimes things that get in the way. For example, the Gov't "has it in" for some people. For others, they are "owed" these things by society.

    And some people, by their very nature, are just plain lazy.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 6:25 AM  

  • Thought provocing post, once again, I commend you Jams :)

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 8:37 AM  

  • Just as Kermit the Frog would say "It isn't easy being green." Excellent comparisons there, very good analogies but then, I find your posts pretty much all follow along that path. Keep up the good work there and who knows, maybe someday down the road folks will be quoting you the same way many cite Emily Post too.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 8:56 AM  

  • you are, again, right on the mark.
    Too bad it wasn't so easy getting out of jail for some of these crooks.

    I think they need poisonous toads

    By Blogger Pamela, at 2:02 PM  

  • I wonder if its really the idea of "crime pays" but more the adrenalin rush most crooks get - the excitement of the crime gets into their blood - like a drug and they need to do it more and more and more.

    By Anonymous Karmyn R, at 2:07 PM  

  • Well said, James! (clapping)

    By Blogger Yvette, at 3:49 PM  

  • We have a locally owned gas and oil distribution compnay that also owns a string of convenience stores. They've been busted for price fixing several times. They always just get a fine and a stern talking to. Sometimes the prosecutor will wag his finger at them too. Then fines are always WAY less then the extra profits though. The fines are just the cost of doing business for these guys.

    Anyway, while you're right about all that stuff you talked about being hard to do, I've found it remarkably easy to avoid getting arrested. Seriously, obaying the law isn't really all that hard to do.

    By Blogger Jay, at 5:01 PM  

  • Well, like I always say, "Being a brain surgeon is easy if you know how to do it". Not at first you know, but over the years anything you do a lot becomes easy, second nature in fact, and you do it without thinking. It works that way with honesty and morality and getting out of bed to do a legit job. I think what's hard is always having to look over your shoulder or instinctively putting your hands in the air when the police walk in the room. How sad that so many people don't realize they are trading their peace of mind for a bit of gold.

    By Blogger wordsonwater, at 6:06 PM  

  • I hope my college efforts payy off in currency because I can't live off my good looks, pride and my current salary. ha ha

    By Blogger C, at 11:32 PM  

  • Crime may sometimes pay off in terms of material gain, but pride and self-respect are really bigger payoffs, as you said.

    One way or another, we get back exactly what we put out in the world, so why would anyone deliberately sabotage himself by hurting others?

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 12:17 AM  

  • And I think repeat offenders actually just factor in fines and arrests as an operating expense.

    By Blogger Dan, at 8:24 AM  

  • James Burnett, I am the worst blogger ever.

    www.valeriemarch.com

    By Blogger 123Valerie, at 10:44 AM  

  • I am a firm believer in karma. Everybody has not-so-nice moments, but if you spend your life really ****ing up, it will bite you in the ass eventually. Whether that's someone really biting you in the ass in jail or something else - it will happen.

    By Blogger SWF41, at 11:24 AM  

  • Oh, crime pays. Just not always with cash.

    Great post.

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 11:47 AM  

  • James,

    I read somewhere that the drug trade (cocaine) is similar to the journalism business.

    Those on the very bottom toil for bread crumbs, hoping to make it to the big time. Those guys on the corner selling dope in west Baltimore make, like, $3/hour when it's broken down. But they're hoping to move up in the organization to a $60k/year position.

    I wonder if criminals ever fantasize about becoming journalists as I do about crossing over to the dark side.

    By Blogger Matt, at 11:58 AM  

  • I just wish I had the chance to read this post 15 years ago. Had I known better I would have gone into real estate instead. ;)

    By Blogger captain corky, at 6:10 PM  

  • Not that Evil Spock is a proponent to crime, but Evil Spock has to wonder about all those who don't get caught.

    By Blogger Evil Spock, at 8:44 PM  

  • Uhmm Pimping is not easy James! You have to buy all those big hats with feathers, the capes, the canes and the platform shoes. The hair relaxing alone up the "not easy factor" for a pimp. : )

    Brain surgeons do not have the stress of what to wear to the Player's Ball....

    By Blogger Angie, at 9:49 AM  

  • Sarc, laziness is probably a large factor as to why some people find it difficult to behave.

    Cazzie, as always, thank you for your kindness.

    Jeni, me next to Emily Post? I could handle that. I've read Peter Post. It appears he learned well from his great-grandmother.

    Pamela, I will gladly share my poison toads with law enforcement. I've got enough of 'em tormenting my fish already.

    Karmyn R, I thought about the adrenaline rush. It's a good point/question. And if it is adrenaline that drives them, I see that as just another form of gambling with their lives.

    Yvette, thank you.

    Jay, I don't disagree that obeying the law is not a difficult concept. I'm saying that being "good" takes work, restraint, self control, etc. It isn't easy. For example, if I'm out partying with celebutants and I get wasted, you could argue that it's easy for me to call a cab to drive me home. I could argue that it's even easier to not wait for the cab, crawl into my own car and take myself home. I'll save myself a few bucks and some time...if I make it. The actual act of standing/sitting at the curb waiting for a cab? Easy. The morality required to make the decision to call the cab? Not always so easy.

    WoW, good take. Looking over your shoulder 24/7 'cause of what you've done wrong is no way to live. I don't think that stress would be bearable.

    C'mon, C, we all know good looks pay a mint ;-) Kidding, sort of. You've worked hard at school. I'm sure it'll pay off with a lucrative gig, unless you majored in basket weaving - which, I know from reading your blog you did not. Good luck!

    HeartsinSanFran, Karma is no one to mess with.

    Dan, if they're big $$$ crooks you're probably right. If I know that one out of four heists I pull is likely to net me six or seven figures I'm probably gonna consider any penalty a calculated and worthwhile risk.

    123V, I checked out the tunes. Good stuff.

    SWF41, LOL! A literal bite would definitely be the wrath of Karma.

    ThirdWorst, thanks.

    Matt, ha ha ha. I'm not lighting my cigars with $100 bills, but I'm doing alright. Journalism has been good to me. And I in turn have given her her money's worth, I think. If you ever do decide to cross over to the "dark side," let me know. I think we need someone to dust off the books in our library ;-)

    Captain, I knew it! You're secretly a crime boss. Don't you live in Jersey? Now I know why the Sopranos is going off the air. You're taking over. Kidding, of course.

    Evil Spock, good point. It is scary considering we assume that many of those who get caught aren't the brightest. What about teh actual intelligent ones?

    Angie, it ain't that pimpin' is hard. It's just expensive ;-)

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:17 AM  

  • Hey James, the high end criminals are the politicians. They get elected in to the 100,000 jobs and then just don't do the work. I call that theft just as much as robbing a liquor store or knocking off a gas station.

    We pay these people to do a job and represent the will of the people. When is the last time a politician truly represented you?

    Crime pays, you just have to find the crimes that aren't policed. Since it is the public's job to police their own politicians, you'll find enforcement lacking.

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 10:55 AM  

  • Wavemancali, you'll get no argument out of me. Fleecing the public is a huge crime. I think shady politicians should be given hard time busting rocks at max security prisons, same as if they killed or raped someone.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:52 PM  

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