What is the definition of “crime”? “An act or the commission of an act that is forbidden or the omission of a duty that is commanded by a public law and that makes the offender liable to punishment by that law” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Of course, that doesn’t mean that all crime is created equal; I recall reading years ago a “police blotter” report, which the weekly The Stranger used to print: Two white “kids” in a gold Cadillac stopped in a parking lot and seemed to be waiting for someone; undercover police watching nearby thought this was “suspicious.” Soon a black youth with a backpack walked up to the Cadillac, and the cops jumped in between the action. The black youth had marijuana in his pack, and while he was arrested by one cop, the other gave the white “kids” in the Cadillac—obviously there to make a “buy” that they had initiated—a “talking to,” and let them go. The writer of this account thought that this demonstrated what was “right” about law enforcement; in my estimation it only proved what is wrong with law enforcement.
Some “crimes,” however, are only so if another party is effected by or objects to the act, which is why those white kids from the high-end neighborhoods tend to get away with delinquent activities, and minority kids get a criminal record. In many cases a “crime” is one only because a person was caught in its perpetration, but if not caught, there would be no evidence that a “crime” was ever committed. Sometimes even when there is evidence that a “crime” was committed, exactly what harm it caused is not always clear.
Take for instance an incident I observed recently. I was on my way to catch my early AM bus to work when I encountered two young white males on bicycles; one of them dragging along a ladder that had training wheels on it. Given the location, they had obviously travelled a considerable distance without being stopped by police to explain what they were doing hauling a ladder in the middle of the night. They stopped underneath an overpass; I asked them what they were up to, and they seemed to be surprised that there was someone even present at this time, but they had a ready explanation: They were “artists”—meaning graffiti “artists”—and the project on which they were about to embark on was, of course, technically a crime in relation to the property they were going to use as their “canvass.”
Since I had a few minutes, I observed the process of “artistry.” They brought their ladder up the concrete incline of the overpass, and leaned it up against the concrete extension that provided a platform directly underneath the bridge. They climbed the ladder and mounted the “platform.” There was no light, so they examined the environs with flashlights; one of them asked the other “How is anyone going to see this shit?” The other claimed that another “artist” would come by and “check it out.” While one of them continued to investigate a suitable location to render upon, the other came back down and looked around the peripheries and offered suggestions. The “artist” on the platform eventually took a small can of paint out of a backpack and started brushing over some metal piping and the sides of the platform. And then they were done, hauling themselves and their ladder away in the dark. This “artistic” enterprise took all of 15 minutes.
The next day I stopped by to observe their handiwork. I tell you, these people are only out to impress those of their own clique, because they would be the only people who would understand these incomprehensible, made-up “words” they scrawl. Art? I don’t think so. If there was any “crime” worth bothering about, it is in the commission of such pointless endeavors.
At any rate, is it against the law to deface government property? Yes. But is it really something the law needs to waste its time accosting the perpetrators for, because no one was “hurt”? Probably not; even in Kent, police are more likely to accost homeless people in the area, which of course does hurt people, mainly those accosted.
There are also “crimes” in which the “victim” is only one because she or he wants to be a “victim.” Take for instance the front page story in Monday’s Seattle Times, which someone decided merited coverage above the cut line. This story speculated on why the SPD wasn’t clamping down on low-level “crime” like skateboarding, smoking a little weed or just hanging out. I was reminded of a scene in the Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night, when a bumbling but well-meaning Ringo was spied on by a cop all day before being hauled in. His crimes? "Wandering abroad, malicious intent, acting in a suspicious manner, conduct liable to cause a breach of the peace. You name it, he’s done it.” One wonders if all of these put together even qualifies as one “crime.”
This is what the Times story was like. I’ve said before that I don’t think Seattle is as much “liberal” or “progressive” as it is populated by a bunch of superstars-in-their-own-mind narcissists, and this story proves that once again. The Times quotes some annoyed (or rather, annoying) person with the Arian-Nordic sounding name of Tova Hornung; she is apparently one of those people who seems to be offended by many things: Other people on crowded buses, or people walking on the same side of the sidewalk—anyone she feels being in the same presence of demeans her personally. There is no thought, of course, of whether she also stimulates a negative response, such as being an insufferably self-obsessed bigot.
Hornung went so far as to contact the mayor, demanding action against a skateboard gang that had the audacity to force her to walk a few feet out of her way. Her complaint seems to have received the dim view; after all, just because you don’t like the way someone looks or occupies a lower “class” doesn’t give you “right” to make them “disappear” in a free country, no matter how inflated your opinion of yourself is. We don’t need to make the definition of “crime” more expansive to satisfy the tender “sensitivities” of a few people, but to use common sense when determining if an activity causes any actual harm to another person or persons.