San Francisco Resident Wants Neighbors to Stop Calling Criminals 'Criminals,' Mkay?

Everyone gets a trophy. Nobody gets their feelers hurt.

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For the vast majority of people, anyone who takes something from you is a criminal.  Anyone who engages in crime is a criminal, right?  Well, a San Francisco resident recently took issue with her neighbors for using the term.


In the site’s Crime and Safety area, where residents share strategies for fighting crime, Malkia Cyril of S.F. suggests that her neighbors stop using the label because it shows lack of empathy and understanding.


Cyril pointed out that instead of calling the thief who took the bicycle from your garage a criminal, you could be more respectful and call him or her “the person who stole my bicycle.”

“I [suggest] that people who commit property crimes are human and deserved to be referred to in terms that acknowledge that,” Cyril, who’s the executive director of the Center for Media Justice in Oakland, writes in the thread.

“I think we should think twice before speaking in disparaging terms about ‘those criminals,'” she adds later in the thread.

Cyril wanted to shift discussion away from strategies like security cameras and into a discussion about the causes of crime and how to address that.  A noble goal, to be sure.  However, to pretend that criminals aren’t criminals?

While some agreed with Cyril, don’t be too quick to assume that this is the thought of all San Franciscans.

“Since when is a person who commits a crime not a criminal?” one neighbor asked.

Many were genuinely disturbed by Cyril’s desire to stop using the term “criminal,” and we’re probably right up there.  In a world where there are truly offensive terms being used to describe people, why are we supposed to be worried about offending people who break the law?  Yes, desperation may drive them to criminal activity, but it’s still their choice to do so.  If it offends them, then sorry but not sorry.  They opted to become anti-social knowing all the baggage that could go with it.

Cyril’s desire to address the root causes of crime are noble.  Punishment only deters individuals to a certain point, and even then,  no criminal thinks they’ll get caught, until they do. By addressing the root, the sociological and economic factors at work that tend to push individuals into crime, unlawful behavior can be minimized to a degree.

Unfortunately, we don’t agree with Cyril that calling someone a criminal is a problem.  It’s a case of “if the shoe fits.”  And perhaps societal peer pressure. If someone is offended by the label “criminal,” then it’s completely within their power to make the pain stop.

So let’s stop complaining about language and start getting into things that might actually matter.

Photo Credit: Elena Elisseeva/123rf


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