|Sounding Preachy At Christmas Time (12/20/97)|
When I first began as a prosecutor in Tarrant County, my lawyer friends who practiced civil law (i.e. insurance defense, banking, etc.) were constantly hounding me to divulge the details of my work. Initially, I handled misdemeanors. The level of the offenses, however, did not deter the questions from my friends. What were the "juicy" cases, they would ask. A car dealership owner clubbed over the head by someone who bought a bad Cadillac? A stockbroker striking a computer technician when an order wasn't placed? A neighbor loosing his cool during a golf game and taking out his anger with a nine iron on one of his foursome?
They soon were sorely disappointed.
No, I told them. The average assault will take place between two drunks in Northside. Crime isn't very glamorous.
"Too bad," one friend jokingly told me. "Maybe some day you can have a case involving one of the Bass brothers slugging a waitress at the Worthington over bad wine." [For clarification, the Bass brothers are wealthy entrepreneurs who have revitalized downtown Fort Worth, and the Worthington is an upscale hotel situated in that very same downtown area]. His joke was premised on realism: there are simply not many cases where the educated and/or wealthy were accused of acts of violence.
A more accurate statement would be that crime is primarily committed by the poor.
Now, before I'm labeled an elitist, let me (in an ironic move) refer to a recent column in Newsweek written by George Will (who probably has been accused of being an elitist). In discussing the poor, Will set forth three simple behavioral rules for avoiding poverty: (1) finish high school, (2) produce no child before marrying, and (3) produce no child before age 20. If a person adheres to those three simple edicts, there is a 92% chance he will not be poor.
In my opinion, those three rules to avoiding poverty are equally applicable to avoiding a criminal record. As stated above, those two oftentimes go hand in hand.
Poverty leads to desperation and desperation can lead to crime. Whether it produce the obvious consequences of property related offense (read "theft") or collateral ramifications of drug use or alcohol consumption (read "DWI") as well as the acts of violence that often arises when substance abuse is involved (read "spousal abuse").
Additionally, those that are poor have "less to lose". In this day and time, even a DWI can cost an individual his job. However, that's not much of a deterrent to those that are unemployed. After all, who would find the Wise County Jail more horrid: those living in Seven Wires or those living in a beaten up motel on a day to day basis?
At the risk of sounding preachy to today's teenagers: complete high school. If possible, go to college. I could care less whether you become "smarter" because of a couple of degrees hanging on your wall. Those degrees, however, will make you employable.
And if you have a job, chances are you will never have to deal with bail bondsmen, defense lawyers, prosecutors, probation officers, or a judge. That is, unless you slug a waitress over bad wine.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.