The Social Rules of Murder

Murder, or killings, are very much in the news. The “social rules of murder” have always been mysterious to me, and likely also to many Aspergers, because the fact is that one or more persons have been deprived of life, and that each counts. But the social rules of killing are inextricably tied to the social hierarchy, in which human lives are not equal, and therefore the consequences for killing persons of different socio-economic classes vary greatly.

States enact criminal laws, set up systems of justice, and utilize juries to decide guilt and sometimes punishment. It’s mind-boggling tangle of procedures; it’s enough to say that it’s easier / better to commit crimes in some states than others. Let’s look at the U.S. Code, which gives us a general idea as to the Law of Murder.

Title 18 U.S. Code § 1111 – Murder

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode Murder 111 

(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. Every murder perpetrated by poison, lying in wait, or any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious, and premeditated killing; or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery; or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed, is murder in the first degree.

Any other murder is murder in the second degree.

(b) Within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,

Whoever is guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life;

Whoever is guilty of murder in the second degree, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

Now, if this isn’t mysterious, what is? To my way of thinking, the first sentence would be quite sufficient, except that “malice aforethought” is left undefined. What constitutes malice? What time frame encompasses aforethought? One would think that murder is simple, but suddenly it seems to be complex. Why are poison and ambush singled out? Surely a low number of killings are accomplished by these methods. And the list of “circumstances” and types of victims – why would these not become factors at the punishment stage, instead of listed in the law? Isn’t “killing of a human being” heinous enough? I agree that children are “special” victims, but again, shouldn’t that be addressed in the terms of punishment for a person who has actually been convicted of a crime against a child? (Personally, I’d go for a firing squad.)

Ours is a “social” system of justice, and the very act of pointing to specific victims demonstrates that these victims have been overlooked as victims. Inclusion in the Law is partly motivated by “lip service”  – attention is being paid to people low on the social pyramid. “Look – we specifically include sex crimes against children and women in the law, what more do you want?”

The Law contains bias that is difficult to remove.

My questions keep coming back to a basic question, one which Asperger people have been “slammed” for asking, because we focus FIRST on the fact that a person is dead, apparently due to the actions of another human being. The person suspected of being responsible for that death ought to be found responsible FIRST, before we apply a degree of “Evil” to the crime and to the character of the accused, but this would not be social, that is, discriminatory. What we see is that from the moment that specific charges are filed (charges are subjective) bias shows its ugly face: the actual trial becomes a zone of combat between lawyers, overseen by a referee. The courtroom is an arena in which tricks, deception, emotionalism, inept practices, manipulation, outright lies, and phony science are as acceptable as trustworthy evidence.  Whether or not the accused can be proven guilty in fact, becomes a subsidiary question, left to an intentionally (not randomly) chosen jury.

The social point question is, which set of lawyers won? A losing prosecutor is a very unhappy predator: the recent flood of overturned murder convictions that were obtained by prosecutors who had no real evidence, but  played on prejudice to convict on circumstance, demonstrates the lack of objectivity in the justice system. The rampant practice of “plea agreements” is a disgrace: Any question of an actual crime having been committed, or that the person in custody is responsible, or what the crime was, is irrelevant. Snitches are rewarded for doing the system’s job: career criminals are set free for surrendering other criminals, and  become part of the system: virtual employees of the various agencies involved in “fighting crime.”

How can this practice serve: suspects are "over-charged" that is, charged with a greater severity crime and then encouraged to plea to a lesser crime. A person who commits a serious is offered a lesser plea: the infamous revolving door is established.

How can this practice serve justice? Suspects are “over-charged” that is, charged with a greater severity crime and then encouraged to plea to a lesser crime. A person who commits a serious is offered a lesser plea and “gets away with” serious crimes: the infamous revolving door is established. And, innocent but vulnerable people end up in jail.

The problem becomes one of trust on the part of citizens: How do we know who is committing crimes? Are the people in jails and prisons a “real” danger to the public, or just easy pickings from the streets of certain neighborhoods? What actually constitutes crime? I think the American public, until recently, believed that laws, arrest, prosecution and incarceration, and for how long, were based on an objective code that persons in the justice system HAD TO FOLLOW. This is nonsense. It’s a socially constructed system that is operated day in and day out by modern social humans who make subjective decisions, which is exactly why reform is needed.

Any justice system is vulnerable to corruption; to continue to repeat and amplify mistakes, to take shortcuts, to increase the number of laws that “invent” crimes is the very reason that particular reforms are needed periodically. Law codes are products of “hoarding” just like any other accumulation of social ideas.

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It’s not like we don’t know where murder is common.

The pattern is staggering. A number of U.S. cities have gun homicide rates in line with the most deadly nations in the world.

homicide_metro_country%20(2)web

If it were a country, New Orleans (with a rate 62.1 gun murders per 100,000 people) would rank second in the world in homicide rate.

  • Detroit’s gun homicide rate (35.9) is just a bit less than El Salvador (39.9).
  • Baltimore’s rate (29.7) is not too far off that of Guatemala (34.8).
  • Gun murder in Newark (25.4) and Miami (23.7) is comparable to Colombia (27.1).
  • Washington D.C. (19) has a higher rate of gun homicide than Brazil (18.1).
  • Atlanta’s rate (17.2) is about the same as South Africa (17).
  • Cleveland (17.4) has a higher rate than the Dominican Republic (16.3).
  • Gun murder in Buffalo (16.5) is similar to Panama (16.2).
  • Houston’s rate (12.9) is slightly higher than Ecuador’s (12.7).
  • Gun homicide in Chicago (11.6) is similar to Guyana (11.5).
  • Phoenix’s rate (10.6) is slightly higher than Mexico (10).
  • Los Angeles (9.2) is comparable to the Philippines (8.9).
  • Boston rate (6.2) is higher than Nicaragua (5.9).
  • New York, where gun murders have declined to just four per 100,000, is still higher than Argentina (3).
  • Even the cities with the lowest homicide rates by American standards, like San Jose and Austin, compare to Albania and Cambodia respectively.

Yes, it’s true we are comparing American cities to nations. But most of these countries here have relatively small populations, in many cases comparable to large U.S. metropolitan areas.

The sad reality is that many American cities have rates of gun homicides comparable to the some of the most violent nations in the world.

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The FBI online provides a vast array of statistics on crime, some of which challenge our perceptions.

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