The Root Cause of Crime

Many criminals are dumb, and some are crazy. But virtually all criminals pay attention to what concerns them the most: the likelihood of being caught and the severity of punishment for their crimes. Even the most deranged criminal does not commit his felony in front of a policeman. And the extent to which laws are enforced is the most important variable influencing whether laws are broken.

We are reminded of this by the appalling case of Jesus Ayala and Jzamir Keys, the teenagers who stole a car, went joyriding, rammed other vehicles and deliberately ran down a man who was riding a bicycle, laughing as they murdered him. These two are evil, and I am sure they are not very bright. But that doesn’t mean they don’t make rational calculations.

The New York Post reports:

Ayala, who just turned 18, was arrested hours after Probst was killed and told the police while in custody that he wouldn’t be locked up for long.

“You think this juvenile [expletive] is gonna do some [expletive]? I’ll be out in 30 days, I’ll bet you,” Ayala told the cops, according to KLAS.

“It’s just ah, [expletive] ah, hit-and-run — slap on the wrist.”

Ayala is wrong, of course. This case has gotten national publicity, and he will get the book thrown at him. Still, in all likelihood he will be out of prison in plenty of time to commit more mayhem.

But where did Ayala get the idea that a hit and run murder would be punished with a slap on the wrist? From experience, presumably. He and most or all of his friends are criminals who, collectively, have no doubt committed many serious crimes. But have they been punished commensurate with their criminality? No. If caught, and if prosecuted, they have gotten slaps on the wrist.

And to the extent that these miscreants pay attention to the zeitgeist, they probably are aware that polite society frowns on law enforcement more than on crime. The George Floyd riots with their attendant casualties, the defund the police movement, and ongoing attacks on law enforcement would have reinforced the perception that their killing someone wouldn’t be taken seriously.

In one sense, the root cause of all crime is the human propensity to do evil. But the root cause of fluctuations in crime rates–the cause of our current spike in violent crime–is a weakening of social norms, a failure of will, and a resulting lack of law enforcement. Crime must be followed by punishment that fits the crime. When that doesn’t happen, crime proliferates. And 18-year-old wise guys think they can get away with murder.

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