Or, anyway, that's the face of crime when crime just woke up and its hair looks more than usually ridiculous.
But my point is this: if we define a criminal as one who commits crimes, I certainly fit the bill.
Here's a partial list of my crimes:
I bought and consumed alcohol before my 21st birthday on many occasions. I hosted parties in my dorm room at which alcohol was provided to minors.
In 1990, I bought a bag of marijuana and consumed it on several occasions thereafter.
When I was 17, I had a 15-year-old girlfriend. This was before Ohio adopted its "Romeo and Juliet" law. During this year, I also trespassed criminally and put my life at risk by running across I-471 and climbing on the catwalks under the Dan Beard bridge over the Ohio River.
I am, in fact, an international criminal, as I spent six months in 1990 working in Taiwan in violation of that country's work and immigration laws.
I have been pulled over 6 times for traffic offenses. I was guilty in each case, though I only received a ticket twice. Once was for going 40 in a 25 MPH zone (in West Bridgewater, VT, where, I learned, there is always a police officer sitting in the half mile zone where the speed limit drops to 25). The second was for failing to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk. In this case, the officer who issued the ticket told me to appeal it. Though I was guilty, I did appeal it, and the charge was dismissed. In the other cases, the police officer checked my license, found that I had a clean driving record, and did not issue me a ticket. I have broken speed limit laws on countless occasions and have regularly "squeezed the lemon"--speeding through a yellow light as it turns red.
I have stolen music by downloading it without paying for it.
I'm sure I have commited more crimes, but I think you have the idea.
I consider myself to be a good person. I try to treat people with kindness, and my work involves helping people to build better lives for themselves. And yet, I am a criminal.
You probably are too. I think we all break the laws we feel are stupid or that shouldn't apply to us, or simply the ones that we can get away with breaking. The culture in which we live plays a big part in this. In the middle-class white culture in which I grew up, speeding was no big deal, and people bragged about their speeding tickets. In high school, knew many people with radar detectors in their cars to help them break speed limit laws more efficiently. There was even a hit song in the 80's called "I Can't Drive 55." And the singer was denounced by talking head pundits as a criminal and a bad role model for impressionable youths. Just kidding! He was white! He joined Van Halen and later became a multimillionare when he sold his tequila business to Seagrams.
This despite the fact that speeding is actually a crime that makes you far more likely to hurt or kill another human being than, say, shoplifting.
This is why I get uncomfortable when we start labeling people as "criminals." I'm talking about Michael Brown, of course, but also about many of the students I work with. Some of them have criminal records, usually for drug offenses.
Drug offenses are ridiculous. I have bought and consumed illegal drugs. I knew who sold illegal drugs at my high school and college. The person who arranged my aforementioned marijuana buy (and who tried to upsell me to ecstasy) now works in law enforcement. The person who sold cocaine in my high school's parking lot is, at least as far as the internet can tell me, a productive member of society who contributes to political campaigns. None of the people I knew who were involved with the drug trade as distributors or consumers are currently incarcerated or, indeed, have criminal records. Only poor people ever get nabbed for drug offenses.
I'm not suggesting that drug use is awesome, but it is a pretty common way in which people of all races and income levels mess up in this country, and most people get to mess up in this way without affecting their job prospects or having anyone suggest that they deserve to be murdered in the street.
I'm also not suggesting that any kind of lawbreaking is awesome; in fact, the more I learn about how traffic works and accident statistics, the more horrified I am at all the speeding I've done. But I am saying that I have broken the law. You too have broken the law. So perhaps let's not be so quick to label people as "criminals."
Calling someone a criminal is suggesting that their lawbreaking activities are the most important part of their identity. I don't feel that my criminal activities define me. Do yours define you? I'd like to suggest, then, that we pause before defining people only by their lawbreaking activities. Some people of course make crime their careers, but most people don't. For most criminals, like me, their lawbreaking activities are part of a much bigger and more complicated story and occur in the context of an entire life that has meaning and value.
So perhaps we can all climb down off that high horse (oh, but it's such a comfy ride and beautiful view from up there!) and show a little bit of empathy and compassion for people who have broken the law but were not lucky enough to get away with it.