As district attorney of Grand Rapids, I've got a lot of responsibility. This job keeps me running day and night. But with all the prosecuting and sentencing I've been doing lately, I've started to think that maybe I've been a little tough on crime.
Now, don't get me wrong. I want to stamp out crime as much as the next D.A., but sometimes I think I've come down just a wee bit hard on it. I know we're supposed to be getting criminals off the streets, teaching them about consequences, and all that. But aren't there nicer ways of going about it, without all the arresting and incarcerating?
Just the other day, I was at the sentencing for Donnell Williams, a 22-year-old responsible for a string of burglaries on the West Side. The judge, a hard-liner, handed Donnell the maximum sentence: a two-to-five. Just like that. Two to five years. You should have seen Donnell's face as they led him away. He looked so disappointed. I said to myself, "Why do we have to give him jail time? Why can't we just tell him that this time we're serious, that this is his last chance or else?"
I firmly believe that lawbreakers should be held accountable for their actions. On the other hand, I'm kind of a softie. A couple aggravated assaults here and there—who's counting? The summers are hot here. I can't blame some of these guys for blowing off a little steam. Who am I to tell them what they should or shouldn't do? Sometimes, even I find myself being a little short with my wife, or raising my voice with my kids. It doesn't feel right to punish violent criminals every time they assault some landlord with a pipe. I get off scot-free every time I head down to the batting cages to release my tension. And let's not even talk about speeding. My Lumina doesn't know the meaning of the phrase "speed limit."
Instead of taking a bite out of crime, we should take a chance on a criminal. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Criminals live up to the expectations we have of them. If we treat criminals like criminals, that's exactly how they're going to behave: like criminals. What if, instead of writing up a ticket, we pulled over a reckless driver and told him that we weren't mad, just disappointed? We could tell him that we know he feels bad about his misdeeds, and then we could tell him that we're willing to give him the chance to right his wrongs on his own terms.
People forget that criminals are people, too. When the police haul a guy in for holding up a convenience store with a handgun, I know I'm supposed to prosecute him for armed robbery. But sometimes, I can't help but think we'd all be a lot better off if I gave him a slap on the wrist, and then the two of us went for a drive through the nature conservatory.
At the end of the day, criminals will be criminals. Even with all the huffing and puffing down here at city hall, people are committing crimes as much as ever. So, I say, why not stop harassing the criminals? Let's loosen up a little. If we don't, it's only going to make these guys rebel.
Heck, I've done some things I'm not proud of. I used to sell fireworks when I was a boy. In college, I sometimes skipped my afternoon classes to drink beer. I was even late making a rent payment a couple months ago. I learned my lessons the hard way. No, I was never put in front of a court, but I was prosecuted by a much harsher D.A.: my conscience.
Maybe we should sit down with these felons and try to connect with them, instead of always getting on their cases. If criminals felt like they could confide in us, we'd probably stop a lot of crimes before they even happened. From now on, instead of "three strikes and you're out," I'm trying "three strikes and let's talk about it."