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Crime and responsibility

By YN / April 7, 1986



AFTER some two years of examination, the President's Commission on Organized Crime has drawn a remarkable overview of the pervasiveness of criminal activities in the United States. The commission itself, in its final report, reckons that organized crime reaps more than $100 billion annually, costing the average American more than $75 in terms of lost taxes and jobs. Whether or not one accepts such numbers as definitive, there can be little quibbling with the commission's conclusion that more -- much more -- must be done within the US to curb the activities of criminal elements.

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In analyzing the scope of organized crime -- interlinked as it is with business, ethnic, and sociological factors -- it is important to keep the larger historical pattern in perspective. Crime is no stranger to human history, nor to American society. In the case of the US, one need only recall the political clout of New York's Tweed Ring in the last century, or the shoot-'em-up days of the 1920s when gangsters profited from Prohibition, to realize that criminal activity has asserted itself in the past. Nor have Americans failed to document criminal activity, which the crime commission has just expanded on. The op-posite is true: The public has relished the documentation. The Wickersham Com-mission in 1931, for example, startled many an American over the extent of Prohibition-related crime.

This is not to minimize the crime commission's findings. It is to suggest that the problem stems from deeper, more persistent roots than show up with the individuals engaged in crime today. This awareness should increase resolve.

Also, it should be observed that much progress is being made. Top leaders of organized crime are now in jail, or under indictment. Tough federal laws are now on the books. More is known about the links between crime and business. And today's public is far less tolerant of the links between crime and politics than was the case in some past eras.

Still, there is much that can be done. There must be a greater emphasis on fostering economic opportunity in the United States. Fear of a lack of opportunity helps produce an environment in which crime can flourish. Advances should be made in offering wholesome recreational opportunity for youth, especially in large cities. Youth need positive outlets for channeling their energies -- and opportunities to earn their way honestly. Society, too, needs a greater regard for integrity in all dealings, and an appreciation of more modest, less materialistic life values.

Finally, although it's important to take proper steps to curb crime -- such as granting states adequate authority to deal with criminals -- there must be an uncompromised regard for individual civil liberties. Moving toward a society in which groups are shunned because of ethnic links with crime -- Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Jewish, Irish, Italian -- or in which official surveillance of suspected criminals becomes commonplace, seems a dubious way of creating the environment in which crime becomes less, rather than more, prominent.