Sunday, January 05, 2014

Why Is This Crime Not Like the Other?

In a letter to the editor of the Washington Post published January 3 (and the print editions of January 4), Mark S. Allen of Alexandria sets up a hypothetical case in which he robbed a bank 17 years ago, invested the money, raised a family, and lived an otherwise exemplary life until his bank robbery was discovered by police and he had to face the consequences. "Should I be prosecuted," he asks, "or does the fact that I built a model family exempt me from punishment for my crime?"

He then compares this to another man's situation recently described in a Post news article:
Now try this question: How is this different from the situation facing Jorge Penate, who broke U.S. immigration law when he entered the United States in 1997, as reported in the Dec. 30 Metro story “A family’s uncertain future”?
The difference should be apparent.

Crossing a border without proper paperwork is a crime only because the government says it is. Robbing a bank is a crime because it violates the rights of other people (the bank's owners, its creditors and account holders, customers, bystanders).

To compare breaking an arbitrary rule to a clear violation of someone's rights indicates that the letter-writer has not thought his simile through, and that he does not understand what a real crime is compared to one that is politically created.

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