One of the real causes of violent crime

Whenever an act of violence makes the news…which happens usually because there’s some “narrative” that can be spun around it that serves the interests of those who believe themselves to have a patent on truth and justice…we’re always treated to mind-numbing conversations between talking heads where they solemnly adjust their hipster glasses and make a show of moral preening over America’s problem with violence. There is some variation in the exact culprits cited but it’s a safe bet that insufficient gun control will be one of the primary factors they blame.

In their little fantasy world, the fact that I can go down to the store today and purchase a handgun that holds ~ 15 rounds is the root cause of all manner of violence, like say an attempted gangland shooting in New York City. Well let’s test their theory…let’s look at an actual gang hit that took place in New York City and see if perhaps we can shed some light on why this sort of violence takes place.

You likely have not heard the name Francis Benjamin before. The people in the hipster glasses who like to talk about how to fix the world haven’t really mentioned Mr. Benjamin because, as it was with the case of Mr. Broadnax from a couple of weeks ago, it’s a pretty ho-hum crime without much they can really sink their teeth into. Back in April Mr. Benjamin rolled up on some dudes hanging out in East Flatbush at 3:20 AM and opened fire on a group of them, wounding 3. Mr. Benjamin is apparently a member of an organization known as the Crips and he decided to try and murder a group of people as a way of rising in the ranks of that organization. Within this organization, murder is apparently known as “putting in work.” Mr. Benjamin put in some “work” to the tune of firing 11 rounds at the group of men on that stoop. Accuracy didn’t seem to be high on the priority list for the “work” the Crips perform, as several of the rounds missed his intended targets and went on into occupied dwellings where women and children were sleeping.

In those 11 shots, Mr. Benjamin did a lot of “work”. In Virginia we have laws against shooting people, against using a firearm in the commission of a violent felony, against shooting into an occupied vehicle or dwelling, against use of a firearm in a reckless manner, against use of a firearm as a part of a criminal assault, and against participating in acts of violence as a part of an organized criminal enterprise like the Crips. New York has many of the same laws and on top of that has many more laws regulating the possession and use of a firearm to boot. The NYPD caught up with Mr. Benjamin rather quickly after his “work” was over and he pretty readily confessed to having broken all these laws.

The prosecutors in Brooklyn tried Mr. Benjamin for two counts of attempted murder, as well as a myriad of other charges including his violation of NY’s rather insane gun laws. Despite the confession and the fact that he was quite literally found with the smoking gun, Mr. Benjamin was acquitted of the attempted murder charges by the judge at his trial. The judge found Mr. Benjamin guilty on an assault and some of the gun charges which can carry quite a hefty sentence, over 20 years in prison. The judge apparently felt that this was too harsh a sentence for someone who carried out a gangland hit for profit, and instead sentenced Mr. Benjamin to 3 years in prison. With good behavior in prison, Mr. Benjamin can be out in as little as 18 months.

So let’s do the math: We have a gang-affiliated dude who tries to murder four rivals in an effort to advance his fortunes within his gang, who confesses to the crime and his motive, who is caught red handed with the weapon used to commit the crimes, and the added bonus of having endangered a bunch of other innocent people in addition to the ones he did intend to kill…and he’s going to be out on the street again in a year and a half.

The reasoning of Judge Michael Gary is…well…read it for yourself:

“You turned to a gang for family support, for support in your life. And that is where we are failing as a society…You are a nobody in terms of that gang. You are literally an instrument of somebody who has far more power than you…Mr. Benjamin, as I said, is a boy, not a man yet.”

I should point out at this point that Mr. Benjamin is, in fact, 22 years old. There are 22 year old men and women carrying the weight of American foreign policy on their shoulders while dodging IED’s and sniper’s bullets in all sorts of places in this world…but somehow in the judge’s estimation Mr. Benjamin despite fitting every legal requirement for adulthood isn’t judged to be an adult and isn’t held culpable for trying to murder people for profit.

I’m going to propose a radical idea:

Perhaps the fact that I, a law abiding citizen who has committed no offense greater than speeding, can go to Colonial Shooting Academy today and purchase a firearm that I will take home and use responsibly for recreation and perhaps under the most dire of circumstances personal defense, isn’t really the reason why there are gangland shootings in Brooklyn. Maybe…and I know this is a stretch, but stick with me…maybe the reason why there are gangland shootings in Brooklyn is because the criminal justice system keeps letting the guys who pull gangland shootings off the hook.

You see, it’s not just this one case. Our criminal justice system routinely allows bad men to get away with all manner of violent crimes. Sometimes it’s because evidence is scarce and witnesses are intimidated. Sometimes it’s because prosecutors generally prefer cheaper and easier plea agreements to the risks and expense of a trial, so they downgrade charges in plea deals. In fact, the majority of criminal prosecutions are resolved by those kinds of deals rather than by trials. Sometimes it’s because they don’t even bother with the prosecution in the first place:

“The districts that contain Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City ranked last in terms of federal gun law enforcement in 2012, according to a new report from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks federal data…The districts of Eastern New York, Central California, and Northern Illinois ranked 88th, 89th and 90th, respectively, out of 90 districts, in prosecutions of federal weapons crimes per capita last year, but it wasn’t always this way. All three districts fell lower on the list than they had been in years past. In 2010, for example, Chicago was 78th in federal weapons prosecutions.”

Note how some of the most violent places in America, the places the professionally outraged are always citing as evidence of society’s failure to do enough and reasons why we need to have more gun laws, don’t actually make much of an effort to prosecute violations of existing gun laws. Gee whiz, fellas…you think maybe there’s a pattern here? Like maybe the willingness to just not bother prosecuting violations of law that carry serious time behind them, a habit of downgrading charges on serious crimes, and jurists who seem to insist on treating 22 year old gangbangers who shoot up neighborhoods like a misbehaving 7 year old could have some correlation to the level of violence taking place in these areas?

Perhaps if as a society we agreed that when someone reveals themselves as the sort of person who will murder others for profit we locked them in a cage for a few decades or so then maybe the south side of Chicago wouldn’t be a damn war zone.

I’m sorry. It’s unfair of me to compare the rate of violence in Chicago with a war zone like Afghanistan because fewer Americans are killed in Afghanistan than in Chicago.

Am I attacking our criminal justice system? You better believe it. We live in an absurd tangle of indefensible nonsense where government entities will move mountains to stop somebody from being able to travel with antique bagpipes his grandfather played for the queen or perform raids to protect society from the dangers posed by insufficiently documented Land Rovers, and yet some of the very same government entities won’t bother to prosecute violent felons who are committing all manner of violent acts with stolen or otherwise illegally obtained weapons.

That, I would submit, is one of the primary reasons why there are problems with violent crime in some areas of the United States. It’s not a lack of laws because Lord knows we’ve got way more of those regulating every conceivable aspect of our existence than anyone could possibly hope to fully comprehend. It’s a lack of leadership…and I’m not talking about politicians. I’m talking about We The People who keep voting in feckless idiots who allow this state of affairs to exist. Politics will never offer us perfect choices but perhaps in the future we can, at a minimum, insist that those who would hold public office focus on actually putting violent career criminals in a cage where they belong.



  1. And when Mr. Benjamin returns to the street, he’ll surely rethink his criminal ways following his arduous prison stint… yeah right. He’ll be hailed as a hero both in and out of jail by the Crip community, and will probably return to trying to make the world a little bit worse of a place.

  2. Notwithstanding this isolated case, the general trend is to throw criminals, even nonviolent ones, in jail for very long sentences. California in particular has some of the strictest sentencing and longest sentences. In this case based on the facts as you present them, the defendant should be locked up for a much longer period. Cases like this are the overwhelming minority.

    There are clear issues with the justice system. It is ridiculous to say that longer sentences, or putting away alleged criminals on lower standards of proof is the answer. The problem is that the justice system that is based on simply locking people up as punishment for crimes is ridiculous. Historically, people were only locked up to await judgment and subsequent punishment. As an enlightened society we have realized that beating people and hanging them is morally suspect, but turning waiting around into the actual punishment is odd. What really needs to happen is to make correction rehabilitative. If prisons actually had extensive programs to rehabilitate criminals and turn them into functioning members of society, then it would make sense to have shorter sentences that address the problem then put people back on the street.

    What we have now is laughable, people commit crimes, so we send them to hang out in with other prisons in places controlled by gangs, and then expect them to come out rehabilitated. Since we as a society have decided that physical punishment is cruel and unusual, it is our duty to find another way to make corrections, “Corrective”

    1. These cases are not so much in the minority.

      I’ll point you at Florida’s cop-killers over the last 3 or 4 years, every one with records longer than your forearm, every one of them under 25 years of age, and every one of them inexplicably out in the street after committing multiple prior violent felonies that should by all rights have kept them in chains until they were old enough to collect social security.

      You don’t get that sort of situation without an acute failure of some sort within the justice system.

    2. > Notwithstanding this isolated case, the general trend is to throw criminals, even nonviolent ones, in jail for very long sentences.

      And the fact that this just so happens to coincide with a decrease in crime is just a coincidence?

      Also, I caution you against making reference to “non-violent” offenses. As Tim points out, the recent trend is to utilize plea deals (I think the current rate is well over 90% of convictions are pleas, with very very few going to trial). Many guilty pleas are to the easier to prove, slam-dunk, crimes such as simple possession (of guns or drugs), while the actual violent offensives are more difficult to prove. (I.e.: if there were four guys in the car, now actually prove which one pulled the trigger). Many “non-violent” prosecutions have their roots in acts of violence– they just never actually got convicted for it.

      1. If you can put a person in jail, just because they have drugs on them, why bother solving actual crimes? Real police work is too hard? Tough.

      2. Difficult to prove which of four guys in a car actually pulled the trigger? It doesn’t matter. Were the four in a criminal conspiracy? All it takes is an agreement and an (any) overt act in furtherance. Check felony murder. To echo Allen, Real District Attorney work i s too hard? Tough.

  3. Well written, and very well said.

    Andrew, my experience in dealing with hardened street criminals tells me your thoughts on the subject are Pollyanna at best. The few who avail themselves of the education and training they can get in prison tend to use it for more sophisticated crimes, such as upgrading from armed robbery to using their new computer skills to manufacture checks.

    One’s ethics and morals are set when one is in the 10-13 year old range, that is the “when: where things need to be fixed.

    Charles Bartley recently made some comments on the real issue along those parameters, and it’s nothing to do with anything except the glorification and excuse making that perpetuates thug culture as being some sort of legitimate choice in life.

    1. Your statement of the current state of affairs is unfortunately true in the majority of cases. The thrust of my argument though is that if we are going to have a corrections system that refuses to use violence as a corrective method (which is a good thing), we need to create serious new programs within prison that force rehabilitation. If we are going to say that going to prison is corrective, then it has to actually be corrective.

      If it is true that criminals are hardened by the time they are 13 without chance of rehabilitation (which I don’t agree) then nothing short of execution or life in prison would be reasonable punishments for any crime. I don’t think that we as a society must live in such black and white and that would clearly be unreasonable. Crime is a mental disease, but it is correctable. The correction system needs to be radically re designed though in order to do its stated job. Otherwise we are stuck with our absurd and untenable current state of affairs.

      1. Andrew, how do you expect to “force” rehabilitation? Rehabilitation is something that an individual must decide to do. For members of this culture criminal behavior is rewarded within the culture. They have no incentive to change.

      2. It is not possible to rehabilitate these people, because they were never habilitated to begin with. It is no more possible to domesticate a feral human than any other sort of wild animal; the most you can accomplish is to tame them, and by tame I mean break them mentally and emotionally (and physically, if need be) to the point where they are no longer capable of violence. Or we could hang them, that would actually be more merciful to all concerned. But imagining that predators can somehow be transformed into something they’re not, and never were, is so much wishful thinking.

  4. Violent thugs are vicious and heartless. They have NO conscience. They murder, rape, slash, and burn people, and it doesn’t matter whether their victims are 8 or 88 years old. They are neither mentally ill nor correctable. You would know these facts if you’d ever witnessed, or been victimized by violent crime. Yes, in an ideal world, there would be a more appropriate place to send criminals for their vacations….remember the British used Australia….a peaceful place, quiet and relaxing, way down south, where they can get all the rest and rehabilitation they deserve. We have another continent available…….Antarctica. Just imagine being simultaneously pitied and laughed at by millions and millions of penguins!

  5. The Ultimate Penalty was in order here. Some may ask why, no one was killed. Quite simple, the intent was there, it was a crime against society, the USA and everything we stand for.

  6. Having practiced criminal law extensively in FL, the basic pattern is that rural areas tend to have far lighter caseloads, tend to devote more resources to serious crimes and tend to get far harsher sentences at trial. In the big cities, prosecutors and judges are more overworked, pleas tend to be far gentler, trials rarer and sentences after trial far lighter. Slaps on the wrist are extremely common in the big cities here (especially Miami).

    I remember one case where some kid had gotten a slap on the wrist for armed robbery (short prison stint and back out again) and then committed another armed robbery in a rural county instead of an urban one. Prosecutor offered him 10 years up front, which he turned down, expecting probation if he went to trial (I warned him this was extremely unrealistic). He went to trial and IIRC, the judge ended up giving him life.

    Had another case, pair of guys had spent most of their adult lives doing burglaries and home invasions up north, swung down through the panhandle and robbed a little old lady on their way to somewhere else. They got caught, extradited and after turning down 15 year offers before trial, they got life.

    The difference is like night and day.

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