Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Problematics of Criminological Labels

In my continuing quest to educate one and all, I'm presenting the first of a (hopefully short) series of educational posts. A little learning never hurt anyone, except for the people in this professor's class.Anyway, a while back, professor and humorous blogger Chris Uggen posted an interesting story about a 25 year old Floridian school teacher who was arrested for having sex with a 14 year old student and commented on how it is very difficult to have one category ("sex offendor") to apply to people who committed such various crimes.

Unfortunately, it's quite a common case in the way our nation deals with those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. For example, recently an off-duty police office in New York was shot by fellow officers while he was trying to apprehend someone. He did have his gun drawn before being shot, but had not fired at anyone whe he was hit twice in the leg and once in the abdomen, causing him to lose massive amounts of blood and is currently in critical condition. The article goes on to mention how this is the first "friendly fire" shooting in New York since 1994, when yet another off-duty officer was shot when he was assumed to be a criminal.

The problem is that the article fails in any way to problematize this label. While expressing shock and outrage that an off-duty officer was shot, probably to death, by several other officers, when it's mentioned that he was thought to be a criminal, it somehow seems to absolve them from any wrong doing. Because, as we all know, if he was a criminal, he deserved to be shot anyway.

Finding it difficult to say this more eloquently, I'll just note that "criminal" applies to everyone from those who speed to serial killers (although not to presidents). It helps to remmeber that one person's criminal is another person's off-duty police officer when one is debating our treatment of those we label as criminal.

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