Hittin’ Run

bp-social-injusticeSadly, binary is not a workable template for real world problems. Most things are just not that simple. They don’t fit neat and tidy in the binary box. Oh, how I wish they would.

Drive drunk? I feel that should be classified as “attempted murder.” Society, as usual, doesn’t agree with me. “No jail time for killing four pedestrians while driving with a BAC three times over the legal limit and not even old enough to drink.” That wee bit of difference of opinion on punishment makes me an outlier, I guess. Of course, that’s an extreme example, yet to my way of thinking, punishment in even garden variety DUII cases falls woefully short.

Cheat on your spouse? That should also be “attempted murder.” It’s all so simple to me. Pick up a deadly disease, bring it to your marital bed, and pay it forward with a potential disease that could theoretically kill the person who trusts you the most. There should be serious punishment for that. Far too often the only real punishment is going back to your regular life like nothing ever happened. Not much of a deterrent, eh?

In brief, my point is that without certain and meaningful consequence there is absolutely no limit on behavior. Period.

I believe a certain percentage of people just don’t give a shit. Perhaps they are motivated by drug addiction. Perhaps they are psychopaths and/or sociopaths and it’s what they do. Maybe they were brought into the world and damaged beyond repair by parents, environment and random events. Whatever the reason, it makes little difference in the end. The outcomes are similar. The themes of destruction and causing harm are remarkably consistent.

We tend to expect it from these folks. No big surprises there.

What about the rest of us? We’re good, right?

Hold on. Let’s not be too hasty.

social-justiceFor some time I’ve been working on a blog post that has become hard to write. It fights me at every turn. It’s entitled “The Criminal Next Door.”

In a Sesame Street kind of mood, this is how I started it:

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
In your neighborhood?
Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?
The people that you meet each day

Oh, the person who lives right next door
Earned her down payment as a whore
The man down the street who beats his wife
Drunk – hit and run’d – a human life

Sometimes the act of writing takes me to dark places and I’m forced to throw in the towel. Here I am, though, struggling with it yet again, hopefully in a way that works out.

It’s about the folks who don’t fall into the tidy category of “criminal” yet, given the right opportunity, far too easily will make that jump. I guess it should be surprising, but it’s so prevalent, sadly, it no longer shocks me. And, your neighborhood is probably filled with folks like these. The ones who got away with it.

It was this train of thought that caused my imagination to run wild. What kind of criminal might you find among your neighbors?

One study found that the incident rate of grand theft auto increases in cold weather. Why is this? The cold weather prompts more people to preheat their cars and go back inside. This equates to opportunity for the random passerby. Now it’s possible there’s a cold weather crime ring that leaps into action when the polar vortex hits. But the more likely explanation is that a regular person walking down the street sees a car running, warm and toasty, with the keys inside, and makes an impromptu decision. “Me want,” he thinks. “Idea! Me take car. Like taking candy from a baby. And besides, there are no real consequences in this society.”

Bye bye, car.

For a percentage of us, given the right set of circumstances, we’ll make that jump. Factor in just one level of indirection between us and the act itself, like using chips in a casino vs. cash money, and that rate jumps exponentially.

Example: Consider a businessman who would never consider putting a gun to someone’s head and pulling the trigger, yet suddenly has no qualms about dumping cancer-causing chemicals in a river because it increases the company’s profit margin by two points. Viola! That’s the power and leverage of indirection.

I’ve identified a few key ingredients of the instant criminal who lives among us:

  • A “regular” person like you and me (not a hardened hardcore “criminal”)
  • Circumstance
  • Indirection
  • Chance of not being caught (optional)
  • Nebulous, distant and fuzzy consequences, if any
  • A single bad decision

Let’s consider a simple scenario like hit and run.

A person driving a car gets in an accident. They have two choices. Regardless of how it went down, most of us would immediately leap from our vehicles and do everything in our power to render aid to people who might be hurt. The accident may even be our fault but lives are at stake and that comes first. In that moment we know that our lives may adversely be affected by what we’ve done but we will face that music later.

Or, we can run. We can try like hell to get away with it. People may be injured and even dying, but if we stay our lives might be affected in a way we won’t like. Life is hell and it’s survival of the fittest. I may regret this later, but now, in this moment of choice, I don’t give a damn. My selfishness is paramount.

Since moving to the big city the nightly local news is filled with stories of regular people who make that latter choice. The frequency this happens is staggering. And the stories don’t end there. Drivers go home and do web searches to find techniques to conceal their crime. They do online shopping to buy parts to fix their damaged vehicles. They enlist family and friends to help them in their efforts to get away with it, perhaps washing off the blood or replacing things like smashed windshields.

The growing circle of accomplices knows exactly what it’s doing.

Happily, in a lot of cases, anonymous tips lead police to the guilty parties and police find the evidence, namely a car that is broken and smashed from the force of hitting people. And this may only be a mile from the scene of the accident. Computers in the house surrender details of the web searches proving intent to avoid responsibility.

I did a bit of research on hit and run laws in the United States. It’s not a federal crime. That means individual states come up with and enforce their own “local standards” on a case-by-case basis. I always thought hit and run from the scene of an accident was a felony. I was wrong.

The penalties (and the definition) of hit-and-run vary from state to state in the United States. For example, in Virginia, the crime is a felony if the accident causes death, injury, or damage to attended property in excess of a certain dollar amount; otherwise, it is a misdemeanor.

In Texas, the crime is a third degree felony if the accident involves a fatality or serious bodily injury. Accidents causing less serious injuries are punishable by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for not more than five years or confinement in the county jail for not more than one year and/or a fine not to exceed $5,000. Accidents causing $200 or more in total damages without injuries are punishable by a class B misdemeanor, and accidents causing less than $200 in total damages are a class C misdemeanor.

In New York, leaving the “scene of an incident without reporting” is a traffic infraction, and if personal injury is involved, then it becomes a misdemeanor. There are also significantly higher fines if an animal is injured in the hit and run accident.

Source: Wikipedia – Hit and run

In the United States approximately ten percent of automobile accidents involve hit and run. And, as a nation we can’t even be consistent with how we react to this as a crime. Perhaps that’s why so many opt to roll the dice, become instant criminals, and hope that they get away with it. Even if caught, the punishment, if any, will likely fall far short of any meaningful consequence.

Not all cases of hit and run (and many other crimes) are solved, and that’s where I begin to speculate about who really lives in my neighborhood.

12 responses

  1. This is really good but too long for my cold brain. I will return to it when I’m well.
    Also, I would suggest that people who engage in “the act of writing” might consider themselves “writers.” People who write, and all.

    Also: VIOLA! hee

    Oh, and: my kid just told me the other day that the pair of shoes all Big Fished up over the power line at the end of my street signifies “drugs for sale here.” Thoughts?


    1. Are you saying my usage of viola was humorous or that it should have been all caps? 🙂

      I’ve also heard that bit about shoes on the power line. My solution would be to raze every house in a four-block radius. That’s the power of my way of thinking and binary punishments.

      Of course, I’m also in favor of the death penalty for drunk driving, infidelity and hit and run. And a few other things.

      If you want to have sex with someone other than your spouse, just get a damn divorce first. Is that too much to ask? (Hint: Yes.) Otherwise, in my world, you’ll be praying for a call from the governor at midnight.

      This one ran about 1,400 words. I could have done so much more. My normal goal for crap on the blog is ~800 words. Win some, lose some. I guess.

      PS. I liked your comment but tl;dr.


      1. Thanks for your advice. Calling large equipment rental company now.

        tl;Wr. And not really too long at all. Mah brain’s addled by convulsive sneezing.


      2. p.s. Just got your fine joke. See? I should just stop trying to communicate for now.


  2. Deborah the Closet Monster | Reply

    I’ve also come to wonder that since reading de Becker’s statement that there’s a child predator per square mile. I walk a lot, which gets me wondering–if that one specific kind of criminal is within my midst, who else smiles and says “good morning” while hiding criminal activity/intentions? Gah.

    A and I were just talking hit and run a couple of days ago. A lady with two kids was walking close to our last house, but got plowed over by a hit-and-run driver. She lost one of her children and both survivors were seriously injured, if I recall correctly. The runner didn’t change the fact tragedy had been worked by running. I can’t imagine how hard it is to face, but facing it or not . . . the damage has been done. I’d rather face it, and the consequences, and do whatever I can to minimize consequences to others.


    1. I always so appreciate your thoughtful input. Thanks much! No, I hadn’t heard the predator per square mile thing. I would not be surprised to hear that’s completely true. That’s exactly how I thought about it, too. Meeting your neighbors at bake sales, on the sidewalk, at the store, smiling and saying hi and discussing the weather and never knowing what they truly are. I know this much: It probably happens all the time.

      I appreciate that you would stop. You are one of the good ones. The stories of hit and run are heart-wrenching. A 40-year-old mother and 10-year-old daughter killed by an asshole, leaving a grieving husband behind. It just ain’t right.

      I’ve been thinking about this and realized my desire for consequences isn’t about punishment or deterrence. It’s just that I don’t want those people around any more. They may or may not have redeeming qualities, but those are easily and utterly dwarfed by what they have done. I say, “Let’s not have them among us any more.” That’s all.


  3. Man, this is a good post. It is depressing sometimes knowing that the people around you could be potential criminals or are criminals already. I agree with your take on Drunk Driving and the punishments not fitting the crime. The worst ones are the drunk drivers that have their license taken away yet continue to drive. Then they kill and then we, might, just might lock them away for a while. What about that rich kid in Texas that got off with rehab because it isn’t his fault he wasn’t taught right from wrong because he was rich? Very good post.


    1. Kevin! My brother from another mother! How are you? I’ve been neglecting you, I know, and I’m truly sorry. You know I love your stuff. Thanks for the nice comment.

      My wife and I were discussing this, and things like restraining orders and such. Basically our society is one of half measures until someone finally gets killed, then we take notice. Even then, though, punishments can still fall far short. It’s all so messed up.

      Why would we consciously choose to accommodate the biggest assholes among us? It makes absolutely no sense. Just more proof, in my mind, that I’m on the wrong planet.


      1. Yes, I agreed with all this nonsense. Restraining Orders are a joke and if you think a piece of paper is going to stop your stalker, you have another thing coming. I sometimes stress when women tell me stories about past experiences and what the future holds for my daughter.


  4. Stories like this “drive” me to distraction. But I’m a responsible reader and would never think of reading one of your posts while under the influence of road rage.


    1. I think the surgeon general and the motor club both advise against reading my crap while driving. They even have a term for it: Shit and Run.


  5. Tough stuff. Really good post.

    I was on the wrong end of a hit-and-run when I was a child. My friends and I were playing in the street (in Camden, all we had was the street) and I got hit by a van. Hard enough that the impact knocked me back OVER an adjacent parked car. Van drove away. I had a contusion on my thigh that lasted for months.

    I remember there was a house down the street and there was a dude there who never talked to anyone and occasionally, we’d hear him screaming in his house and the sounds of things shattering. Later, I realized his mom lived there too. Much later, I realized it was very likely elder-abuse and it makes me sick to think about it.

    Today I walk Penny down my street — what are these middle-upper class folks hiding. Alcoholism? Infidelity? Drug use? “White collar” crime? I don’t think I want to know.


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