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Crime and Deviance in Our Society
Crime and deviance to all different degrees is a normal part of our society. However, deviance varies according to cultural norms. No thought or action is inherently deviant, it is only seen in that way in relation to a societies particular norms. What is considered deviant in one society may be socially acceptable in another. For example, I had a friend who went on vacation to Texas and Stated that it is legal to consume alcohol in a car. This may be legal in Texas but is greatly frowned upon and highly illegal in most other States. Gambling is another act that is only legal in certain States, elsewhere gambling is illegal. These examples seem understandable but if you explore other countries of the world you will find that normal everyday acts that we don t think twice about, are considered illegal. In Albania, it is a criminal act to publicly display religious faith such as the act or crossing ones self, and in Singapore people are arrested for selling chewing gum. So, as you can see any act can be considered deviance depending upon Society s cultural norms.
The Structural Functional Paradigm as studied by Emile Durkheim looks at deviance as a necessity. It is believed that deviance actually serves a purpose to our society. Deviance helps a society make moral choices. When acts of crime or deviance are committed people automatically associate those acts as the immoral choice to make. In addition, by looking out some people as deviant and others as not, a society can draw the boundary between right and wrong. For instance, at Northeastern University, a line is drawn between academic honesty & cheating by disciplining those who plagiarize or cheat on an exam. This helps clarify to students that studying is the moral choice to make as opposed to cheating, which will lead to disciplinary action.
Deviance weather we like it or not is inevitable in all societies. However, these acts of deviance can actually encourage social change. Most people prefer socially acceptable behavior and attitudes to those that oppose societies norms. Most societies react to deviance, especially when it is serious, with outrage. These acts or deviance can actually shape a society and push for change. When people view a certain situation as deviant, they then try to look for alternatives to the status quo. For instance, drug dealers are taking over many cities and corrupting the lives of adolescents by leading them in the wrong direction. Many societies realize this and have tried to set up various programs as alternatives to recreational drug use. After school programs, mentor groups, guest speakers, and, and commercials all push for change. These programs along with the help of the police really help deter society from turning to drug use.
Social class and power play a role in the way people define deviance. Norms and laws in a society generally reflect the interests of the rich and powerful. The wealthy are generally considered to be the elite of society and if anyone threatens them or their way of life, they are looked at as deviant. Robberies and theft occur everyday but when they affect someone of importance, it is considered a public concern. It becomes a topic of conversation and the offender is stigmatized by society. In contrast, if the same crime is committed against an individual of lower class, such as a bum, not much will probably be done to help the person and most of society will probably be unaware that this crime has occurred. For instance, I am from Potomac, Maryland and live in the same street as Patrick Ewing. Last fall there was a string of robberies on my street. My house and three others, including Patrick Ewing s were all robbed within a period of two months. Even though four houses were robbed, the fact that Ewing s was robbed became of great importance. The media mode it a leading story and the police started that they were working to help everyone, but it was very interesting how they only seemed to recover most of Mr. Ewing s stolen property. A few others received some things back, but most never saw their stolen property again.
The Rich and socially elite have an advantage when it comes deviant behavior. Unlike the poor, rich people have the resources needed to avoid being looked at as deviant. A great example of this is the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. This was a major case that brought about much social controversy. Many people believed that he was guilty of murder but amazingly he got off scotch free and is pretty much living today as if nothing happened. He will always be associated with the murder of Nicole Brown. But that does not seem to bother the flocks of fans that still stop him for autographs, as shown on an episode of twenty/twenty. It was shown and a story was done on how O.J. is still admired by many, regardless of the fact that he was charged with the murder of his wife. This just goes to show how much leeway the rich are given. The rich are rarely held personally accountable for their deviance and there reasons for committing acts of deviance become morally justified (Macionis, 1998). I suppose you have to be rich to get away with murder.
Social injury caused by powerful people is less likely to be considered criminal that social injury caused by people of high social positions in the course of their occupations, provoke little public reaction (Bradshaw & Wallace, 1996). Because white collar crimes, such as embezzlement, business fraud, and bribery, do not involve any actual physical harm, the public usually voices less concern than if it was street crime. People seem to feel that if a gun is not involved, it is of no concern to the public. Most white collar crime typically ends up in a civil trial is not labeled by society as a criminal. One account shows that only four in ten embezzlers convicted in the U.S. District Court System spent a single day in prison; most were placed on probation (Bradshaw and Wallace, 1996).
Understanding the definition of deviance is very important to understanding police deviance. Deviance is any violation of cultural norms whether it is criminal or not. When we think about the police, we usually do not relate them with deviant acts. When we think of police, we associate them as the people who protect us from all forms of deviance, rather than committing acts of deviance. However, police are just like you and I, and since we all have our shortcomings, we should not look at police as especially righteous people. Because the police have been vested with incredible powers to carry out their mission, public scrutiny intensifies whenever there are reports of police misconduct (Kappeler, Sluder, and Alpert, 1998).
Norms and values of occupational groups also differ. Behavior that may be considered or looked upon as deviant behavior in one occupation may be considered perfectly normal behavior in another. The police occupation group often subscribes to values that depart drastically from those found in many segments of the larger society (Kappeler, Sluder, And Alpert, 1998). In addition, the norms that guide on police group may differ within another. For instance, a police group patrolling a particularly violent neighborhood may find aggressive behavior to be necessary and acceptable, while police patrolling a quiet, affluent neighborhood may look down on and punish violent and aggressive behavior from police officials.
It is difficult to define police deviance because of the power and authority that they hold. Police tend to think that because they are police, they hold special privileges, when in fact, they are expected to follow the same rules and norms of the larger society. Not only must they follow all rules, but they are expected to act as moral examples that guide society. Just because society permits them to use a degree of force greater than is allowed to normal citizens, does not mean that abuse and brutality are permitted. However, how do we draw the line to how much fence is too much? In conclusion, because of the fact that police deviance is so hard to control and clearly define, misconduct by the police is being allowed to flourish.
Bradshaw, Y.W., & Wallace, M. (1996). Global Inequalities. Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press, p15.
Kappeler, V.E., Sluder, R.D., &Alpert, G.P. (1998). Forces of Deviance: Understanding the Dark Side of Policing. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. p 11-15,20.
Macionis, J.J. (1998). Society: The Basics. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. p 130-132.
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