It is a reminder of how hard the past is to leave behind (especially when your leading politicians belong to it). By now the whole nation knows the basic facts. Francisco Sanchez, a 45 or 52-year-old Mexican national shot and killed Kathryn Steinle, 32 year old resident of a nearby suburb in a chance encounter along San Francisco’s popular and seemingly safe waterfront Embarcadero Boulevard last week. It had all the makings of what criminologists call a “moral panic” an untoward event, small or large, that becomes a vehicle for vast social and political anxieties over race, class, and national identity. A low status villain---non-White, poor, non-citizen, long criminal record, multiple incarcerations, kills a high status victim--White, middle class, citizen, mother of children, never been in trouble with the law. It occurs where it should not, in a place associated with comfort and recreation. Events like this sometimes stay just local news, but given the right conditions, they can blow up into a policy storm of significant magnitude. Will this one? [my emphasis]Trump wound up using the case in the "moral panic" mode, it seems.
Real-world looks analysis of these cases often show the public rhetoric surrounding them bear little practical relation to the actual problem of which they are a part:
So what to conclude from the Sanchez case? Trying to protect ourselves from random violence by incarcerating and deporting people on the basis of race and often inflated criminal records is deeply flawed (and far from the slam dunk solution that Senator Feinstein believes). The underlying theory here is that crime is a product of dangerous people. Lock up or deport the dangerous people and problem solved. But criminology now suggests that crime is situational, a product of people with chaotic lives, substance abuse, and chance encounters in environments that provide either accelerants or de-accelerants (think of the gun that Sanchez found). There is no perfect solution, save for the ideal of fixing all our “broken toys” (and even unbroken ones break in the spur of the moment). Instead careful mental health screening of the jail population and attentive post-release efforts to keep people with mental health needs and drug abuse histories on the right medications and off the wrong ones could do far better than incarceration for people like Sanchez (what about his previous imprisonments protected us?). Nor quite clearly is deportation a solution. For two decades now we’ve been aggressively deporting people we label “criminal aliens”, creating significant gang problems in countries like Guatemala and El Salvador (as many of them have recreated the same gang milieus they used to survive in the US) without doing much to reduce crime here. [my emphasis]