Recently an astronaut drove 14 hours wearing a diaper to get revenge on another women interested in the guy she liked. Not the guy she already had (her a husband and father of her children), she wanted this other guy now. So she resorted to pepper spray, wearing a disguise, and a personal assault which got her arrested where she faces charges on kidnapping and attempted murder. Like my wife said, “an astronaut is supposed to be intelligent!” We don’t expect to see Jerry Springer characters among the educated. We expect it in the trailer parks. But the truth is we are all human and all do stupid things.
We usually think of educated people as being “trailer park proof.” It’s a harsh stereotype, but we generally seem to expect more domestic problems, violence, and crime in places of poverty. To me, it’s strange how we have defined crime. There are certain types of illegal acts that we, as a society, tend to view as committed by a ‘real criminals.’ A 17 year old boy who robs a convenient store of $318 with a fake gun might be considered more of a criminal than the a bookkeeper who reroutes a few thousand dollars into a personal account. Or compare a dock worker who loads his truck with several crates of goods to a CFO who cooks the books to inflate his stock options by 2.5 million. The dock worker is more of a ‘criminal’ in our society (and according to the stereotype, more likely to have grown up in a trailer park).
How is it that white collar crime carries a lighter criminal stigma than the blue collar thug? Why is shafting thousands of people of their retirement by a well dressed, respected, and educated business professional not as blatantly ‘evil’ as a desperate man holding up a bank? The robber carries a threat of violence which matches our perception of a ‘bad guy.’ The charming good-looking white collared thief looks like people we are taught to respect and trust. We see them as a different type of criminal. They lack the violence and somehow that elevates them.
We are more afraid of the ‘bad guy” yet only a small percentage of us have actually been accosted by a common thug. On the other hand, all of us have been wronged by the white collar criminal. The government bailout of the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980’s cost billions of dollars. In fact, if you average it out, every tax paying citizen in 1985 had a personal responsibility of over 30K to cover the money stolen by corrupt bankers. There were so many infractions that unless you had stolen millions you weren’t even prosecuted. There were too many crooks for our system to investigate. Charles Keating’s greedy misappropriations of billions sent him to jail for four whole years. Michael Milken’s served two years for his illegal securities trading in a white collar “Club-Fed” style prison and after the lavish prison life walked away with over a half a million in illegally obtained funds. Would we ever let a traditional bank robber walk away with some of the stolen money? Of course not! Because a bank robber is a “real” criminal. They go to real jails and serve real time.
We fear the improbable thief in the night while heartless suits siphon our bank accounts every day. Then we are afraid to send them to jail for doing it because they don’t look like real criminals. If those of us who live in suburbia want to be realistic about our fears, we should stop trembling at the thought of a hooded hoodlum from the trailer park. He might get a few of us. But the collared hoodlum from Harvard gets all of us.