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Lawbreakers Exposed: The Criminals R Us

Even though crime is rampant in this country, vast numbers of lawbreakers remain free. That's a good thing, because how would we get the kids to soccer practice if we were locked up? Yes, the lawbreakers are us, but our criminal conduct, thankfully, is largely ignored. "American law is underenforced -- and we like it that way," writes Columbia Law School professor Timothy Wu in the introduction to his multipart Slate series, American Lawbreaking.

In the series, launched Sunday, Wu explores what he calls the "black spots in American law: areas in which our laws are routinely and regularly broken and where the law enforcement response is ... nothing." Oddly, he starts with an example that does not squarely fit his thesis, That Other Drug Legalization Movement, in which he examines how pharmaceutical companies push legal drugs as substitutes for illegal ones -- Ritalin as stand-in for cocaine, for one. Next, in How Laws Die, he considers the emergence of anti-smut laws and their almost total lack of enforcement -- good news for the 70 percent of men who admit to viewing porn. Next comes Tolerated Use: The Copyright Problem, in which he describes copyright as the second most violated law in the United States, after traffic laws, and one we all breach almost every day.

If all this lawbreaking is relatively innocuous, why should anyone care if it is tolerated? The reason, says Wu, is because we fail to understand this "tolerated lawbreaking" as a means by which our nation creates social and legal policy.

"Almost as much as the laws that we enact, the lawbreaking to which we shut our eyes reflects how tolerant U.S. society really is to individual or group difference. It forms a major part of our understanding of how the nation deals with what was once called 'vice.' While messy, strange, hypocritical, and in a sense dishonest, widespread tolerance of lawbreaking forms a critical part of the U.S. legal system as it functions."

[Hat tip to LawBeat.]

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 16, 2007 at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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