Crime and punishment

Written By: - Date published: 9:40 am, August 23rd, 2010 - 24 comments
Categories: capitalism, crime - Tags:

We are told that no one is exempt from the law. We are told that everyone is equal before the law. But it isn’t really true is it. The law in general has a built in perspective, a structural bias, which is to do with the protection of property and privilege, the preservation of the status quo. It can be summed up in the following observation by French novelist Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

One of the ways that this bias manifests itself is in the way that the crimes of the rich and powerful are perceived and are punished. At the extreme end of the spectrum we have the most powerful politicians. Those like Tony Blair who — I agree with Nick Clegg on this — are war criminals. Or Dick Cheney and others in various American administrations who have enabled torture.

Of more relevance to us here in NZ is white collar crime, and the non-existent or very light punishments that it attracts. Driven by the recession, white collar crime is on the increase: “White-collar crime cases explode”, “White collar crime booming”, and so on.

The Right loves crime as a political issue, they get to strut about talking tough about how crime must be “fought”, “stamped out” or “crushed” with harsher penalties (“sensible sentencing”) or aggressive “three-strikes” legislation. But on the subject of white-collar crime they are strangely muted. As Gordon Campbell put it earlier in the year:

On the government’s tolerance of white collar crime

This government takes a crush ‘em and crate ‘em approach to crime unless that is, the offender happens to be wearing a tie. In which case, judging by the Ministry of Economic Development discussion paper on business cartels released yesterday, we need to be very, very worried …

With white collar crime so much on the increase in NZ, and with the government talking so tough on other forms of crime at every opportunity, the structural bias in the law and its application will become ever more apparent in the coming years. I wonder how we as a country will respond.

24 comments on “Crime and punishment”

  1. I’ve said it before so i’ll say it again. Justice needs to be seen to have been done…

    Only there isn’t much of that sort of justice being seen on TV. There is however, a lot of penny ante targetting and issuing of fines to poor people on shitty, cheap, nasty programmes like Highway Patrol and Police 10/7.

    I’d like to see aTV programme about debt collecting white collar criminals for the money they’ve stolen. Chasing them down in their flash cars and repo ing them, kicking down their doors and confiscating shit, including the jewelery and designer clothes, then putting them up for auction or donating them to charity. Exposing the lifestyle they’ve fraudulently maintained by showing bank records of purchases and transfers of money to others.

    Enough of the cultural bias bullshit and don’t even get me started on the ethnic bias in sentencing. Sure, it aint like Oz trailer trash but still, it’s pretty bad.

    • Rex Widerstrom 1.1

      shitty, cheap, nasty programmes like Highway Patrol and Police 10/7

      And in Australia we get to see “Highway Patrol” (and I get to cop endless smartarse remarks about “dumb Kiwi drivers”) plus:

      Send in the dogs
      The Force: Behind the Line
      The Force: K9 Unit
      Crash Investigation Unit
      Australian Families of Crime
      Gangs of Oz
      Missing Persons Unit

      …just “off the top of my head” of the “reality” shows either on screen now or resting betrween current seasons plus dramas like:

      Water Rats
      Young Lions
      White Collar Blue
      The Strip
      Water Rats
      City Homicide
      East West 101
      Halifax f.p.
      Police Rescue

      …again just the ones I can think of, either current or very recent. And the one thing they all have in common is that the cops shown in them never make a mistake and certainly never indulge in corruption and perjury. Totally unlike the real world.

      Filling our heads with these “shitty, cheap, nasty programmes” conditions people to believe that’s the way things are. They never question whether the police are honest, whether the people they’re arresting are the ones that ought to be arrested, and consequently never ask whether those who aren’t arrested ought to be.

      The exception to this long and proud tradition of arse-kissing cop shows was of course Underbelly, but the subliminal message there too was “that’s the way it used to be, things are cleaned up now”, which is, of course complete bullshit.

      • Lindsey 1.1.1

        I always thought Stingers was good, several corrupt cops in that one.
        Also Dominick Dunn’s “Power, Privelege and Justice” goes some way to show the rich trying to get away with it. Mind you, he only does the ones where they didn’t get away.

        • Rex Widerstrom

          Dunn’s show was great, though I kind of got the uneasy feeling that we were still supposed to realise the crims were our betters. Maybe he’d have treated a black convenience store robber with the same sort of respect if he’d been reporting their trial, I don’t know. And/or maybe I’m too used to grainy dissolves to black and white shots of the accused just as they display a murderous grimace (even if, in reality, they were just about to sneeze).

          The trouble with the portrayal of corrupt cops on Australian TV is that they’re almost always caricatures and their corruption is of the obvious, monetary kind. I’ve just watched (on the ABC, natch) a two part BBC series called “Criminal Justice” where an officer was personally offended by what he saw as callousness on the part of a woman arrested for the murder of her husband (in fact she was numb from years of abuse) that he promised she could see her daughter if she confessed. That sort of “noble corruption” is far more common than the other kind, I believe.

          • Deborah Kean

            “where an officer was personally offended by what he saw as callousness on the part of a woman arrested for the murder of her husband (in fact she was numb from years of abuse) that he promised she could see her daughter if she confessed. That sort of “noble corruption’ is far more common than the other kind, I believe.”
            Proof if any was needed that New Zealand is culturally American, is that 85% of our TV programming comes from the land of the (Un)Free. That kind of thing is all over American cop shows. “Noble corruption”, yes and lies, bullying and threats! (I would never go to the USA, they’re scary people). But after 30 years of American TV programming, are NZ police and people any better?

    • jimmy 1.2

      So far the only slightly white collar crime progamme that springs to mind is that docco ‘Catching the King of the Benefit Cheats’ on the guy who did an identity fraud and was taking in benefits in the name of 150-odd dead people. The IRD investigators made a really good show of it and the sheer crazyness of the guys treasure hoards was amazing with boxes of gold bars for africa.

      With that NZ pozi scheeme dude and the westpack monster overdraft case we could have a good documentary series if one of the networks got off their arses.

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    Crime is only a crime if the people writing the laws don’t engage in it. In other words, you’ll need to persuade the politicians to hold themselves to account and that seems unlikely to happen.

    • pollywog 2.1

      exactly DTB…

      He’s been caught out rorting the system, fudging the stats, lying in the house, gifting money to dodgy privateers in the budget and transferring wealth to those who need it least via taxcuts and expecting the rest of us to make up the shortfall.

      …so why are we still suffering this chump running our country’s finances into the ground while trying to snaffle as much as can get into his and his mates private coffers ?

      • Bored 2.1.1

        Polly, about the only time the media focusses on white collar crime is when the brown bros are filching it off one another….like Donna Huata doing her bit. Shock horror, but when Blinglish rips us off for rent its altogether different because: one he not a brown boy buying porn videos and two because as a white fella he must have only made a mistaken interpretation of the regulations.

        Perhaps the media being mainly good middle class whiteys with a few tame pollys in tow are all jockeying for nice little sinecures like being a “press secretary” or similar. Pays not to bite the hand that feeds off your pay packet as well.

        • pollywog


          So do you reckon Taito Philip Field wouldn’t have suffered the humiliation of jail time and the rest if his name were Bill English ?

          • Bored

            Doubt they would humiliate an “honourable member” in that way if he came from the right white side. Look at how the WineBox was swept under the carpet to keep a pack of similar types away from prosecution. When you are left and “ethnic” you better make sure you are whiter than white, cleaner than clean. That will probably raise screams because theoretically and ethically it should not be so, but the track record of who in NZ gets incarcerated states otherwise.

  3. doesn’t help that most crime programmes on tv are about violent (and increasingly violent) crime. how many of them actually deal with white collar crime? i don’t watch csi, ncis, svu, cold case etc etc so couldn’t say conclusively whether these sorts of programmes cover white collar crimes regularly and in-depth, but somehow i doubt it. maybe boston legal did, sort of, now and then but yeah, not my favourite show either.

    the point is that because white collar isn’t part of our “entertainment” either, it is even less in the public consciousness.

    • Bored 3.1

      Star, you are right. there is not enough visible blood for the entertainment of the masses in “white collar” crime. Maybe we need to reject the frivolity of “crime” series, maybe some have already and moved on to vampire and zombie TV……as one of the masses I hope some more of us might just reject all of these vapid genres.

      • Bored 3.1.1

        Saw some of the best “reality” TV early Sunday, the adorable Paula Bennett focussing her ire on brown collar crime, benefit abuse no less. Paula kindly noted that “slimebags” were out there corrupting the lives of her flock, solo maternal beneficiaries. And she had the cure, get them all back to work (at the non existant jobs that pay zippo)…and meanwhile make sure all of those “sickness” beneficiaries who criminally are ripping off the system go to job interviews at the same non existant jobs…..AARRRGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Save us from this criminally lunatic minister and her equally twisted peers.

        • pollywog

          Was that the dunkin’ donut garner interview ?

          …thought it was good to see her follow up my idea of hitting up cashed up iwi to look after their own kids 🙂

          i mean, what good is being rangatira with a fat treaty settlement and exercising sovereignty over your people if you’re just gonna let em get fucked over by their elders and the system….oh don’t tell me i know.

          Cultural elitism applies as much in Maoridom as in eurocentrist NZ.

          Still, There should be some diversionary justice thing to send kids back to their rohe to do some hard yards on the land i reckon, and maybe look at forcing the whangai option of some kids to solo teen mums back to the aunties as well ?

          • Bored

            Yeah, it was the aforementioned programme….I sat aghast at the iwi cash idea…any takers I thought, it will all be locked up in “Trust” accounts and stands a snowballs chance in hell of ending up in Otara with some random urban Rangi.

            Back to the aunties? Was up on the East Coast last year and saw Ngati Porou doing holiday programmes with kids on a marae, all sorts going on, great kids, interesting community stuff. Or you see what goes down in Wainuiomata with evening family rugby etc. It might upset “Super City” types to see communities successfully taking the lead as opposed to waiting for uninterested government or Treaty iwi to show any leadership. Sort of takes away their official legitimacy.

      • Deborah Kean 3.1.2

        None of the above, Bored! I have given up cop shows, vampire and zombie TV, and reality shows. I feel all the better for it!
        That doesn’t leave much mind – Survivors, Top Gear, oh and a few others… But studies have shown that heavy crime show watchers rate their chances of being victims of crime much higher than is even possible!

    • Olwyn 3.2

      Apart from Boston Legal, which is now gone, they do largely centre on the criminal lower orders, rather than individuals of any class who succumb to temptation. I do not watch them regularly either, but whenever I do see them, that is what seems to be the case. In an old fashioned detective story, for example, the story might be about a high ranking fellow who does his uncle in to get the inheritance. The modern US version is all about the low lives who are out to get you, especially if you are an attractive female.

      • Rex Widerstrom 3.2.1

        Ahhh like “Law ‘n’ Order: SVU” which, given how often bungled forensics hampers the case till Detective Stabler “understandably” roughs up a suspect for which he rarely, if ever, receives so much as a reprimand, I like to call “Sex Violators University”.

  4. tc 4

    mmmm that would mean getting tough with shonky operators like watson/hotchin etc who are the ‘aspirational’ kiwis sideshow hoists as his pin up boys….fat chance.

    On that note I see Mr Smarmy Weldon released his poor NZX results after hours whilst he castigates others who do so…..mmm that kitchen cabinet again…..White with one Mr PM sir?

  5. vto 5

    But what about Hubbard? They are getting tough on him. They put him into stat management ffs…

    Which is the saddest commentary on white collar crime in this country and under Count Key’s watch. They choose the most innocent of the rich, an 82 year old man who has never defaulted on anything and who is physically weak and cannot skidaddle out of the country as easy as Hotchin has.

    It is a fucking joke. I have nothing but contempt left for this government – on every front.

  6. The white collar crime of identity theft is becoming out of control and they only catch 1our of every 600 thieves, particularly because many operate outside the country.

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