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System Failure-Jordan Neely and the Impossibility of Perfection
Earlier this month, Jordan Neely, a “a beloved Black homeless street performer” and/or a troubled man with a history of violent assaults, drug use, and mental illness, was choked to death on a NY subway by people who saw him as an immediate threat to his fellow passengers. Almost immediately, the analysis of the situation broke down by political affiliation with those on the left calling it murder and those on the right calling it self-defense. This question is largely unresolvable, and the debate will continue until the next politically divisive issue arises at which point pundits, like a dog sighting a squirrel, will move on. In the interim, there is only one thing that both sides appear to agree on; “the system” failed.
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The system in question consists of a myriad number of institutions. The government which creates the laws and determines how and when to enforce them. The police who enforce the laws. Social workers who try to help those who fall through the cracks. And institutions that detain criminals and people with mental issues who are deemed a danger to themselves or others. It, like all systems, is imperfect and as a result the choice, put simply, is always to either lock up too many people or not enough. Activists argue that mass incarceration (MI), a term for exceedingly high incarceration rates which began during the early 1970s, indicates that the system was locking up too many people. While they have some justification for this belief, they tend to ignore the extent to which incarceration tracked crime rates and drug overdoses.
The arrow indicates the starting point of the Mass Incarceration era.
The fight against MI has led to efforts to eliminate cash bail, implement “Harm Reduction” drug policies, and dubious activist movements including Defund the Police and Abolish Prisons. These progressive measures are partly based on the belief that crime is not caused by individual choice, but by a corrupt system and that drug addiction is a disease divorced from personal choice. The rise in crime and continued rise in drug use makes it obvious to all but the most dyed-in-the-wool progressives that this is not the case and that in an attempt to remedy perceived inequalities in incarceration rates, we have overcorrected and have now entered a period in which we are being too lenient.
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Credit goes to @fentasyl for this chart
How you react to the “too lenient” comment is a likely predictor of where your political allegiances lie and whether or not you live in a high-crime area. It is also an indication of your ability to face a harsh truth; being “nice” will only get you so far and there is such a thing as being “too nice.”
Since moving to Vancouver two years ago I have witnessed an increase in homelessness, drug use, and crime that shocks me. I doubt the problems that Vancouver faces are of the same magnitude as those faced by NYC, nor do I know how I would react if placed in the same situation as those on the train with Jordan Neely. I do know that for the first time in my life when I’m walking outside or riding the Skytrain, I find myself keeping one eye on people who appear to be homeless or erratic. I do not believe that this is paranoia so much as a logical reaction to an increase in knifings and “stranger attacks.”
It is clear that the current approach to these issues is not working and, in the absence of public willingness to increase funding of mental institutions and lean on mandatory treatment, the question should no longer be “should we take a harsher approach to crime?” but rather “how much harsher do we need to be?” It is past time that we started prioritizing the safety of the majority over the freedom of a minority who are all too often a danger to themselves and others. It is not a question of using “the carrot or the stick” but instead how much carrot and how much stick? Use of the carrot has led to lower, if any, bail requirements, easing of parole requirements, and decriminalization of hard drugs, with predictable results. As harsh as it may sound, it is time to break out the stick.