Gary Horton | Vote for Healthy Respect and for Real Hope

Gary Horton
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Back when our family was still young, there was an honest-to-goodness record store over on Lyons Avenue. In this mecca of music, one could buy vinyl records, cassette tapes, and just coming out were those shiny CDs in the brittle clear plastic cases. 

Lots of tempting music treats, all lined up to catch one’s eye, right out where you could “touch ’em.” 

Our whole family shared enthusiasm for the B-52’s, REM, Talking Heads, DEVO, and so much more of the wonderfully fun music of the time. One of our kids was really into music and had developed an admirable collection of cassette tapes. 

And one day, that kid crossed the line from music aficionado to music shoplifter. 

Coming home from work, I noticed some new tunes wafting out of said kid’s bedroom. 

On an upstairs visit it was subsequently discovered that the new music was resonating from a cassette tape that was lifted, not purchased, from the very record store that had become a music-temple. Our kid had shoplifted the tape. 

This didn’t fly well with the parents. This behavior was out of character and required quick intervention to ensure this was the first and last time shoplifting was going to happen in our home. 

The next day, Carrie took said kid to the record store where kid met the store manager and handed over the tape. 

This didn’t go down as a “you’re a nice kid, don’t do it again please” sort of thing. Rather, the manager took our kid into the back room, photographed kid, and stuck the photo of the kid on the wall of the store behind the counter, next to photos of other shoplifters and bad check-passers. 

Kid was told in no uncertain terms he would never be welcome in his favorite store again, and if he did again enter, he would be detained until the cops came to pick him up. 

This Newhall temple of 1980s music took crime very seriously and our kid got the message. 

Humiliated by the experience and disappointed in his own behavior, kid never shoplifted again and continued the brighter side life to an exceptional high school and college career. 

The point is, “there were consequences” for bad behavior. There was an immediate “comeuppance” for shoplifting – sufficiently severe that any desire for making off with cassette tapes was swamped with the revulsion of guilt and fear. 

Consequences are necessary.  

Rules with consequences are the guardrails of proper and civil behavior in our society. From petty theft by young kids, or smash-and-grabs by gangs, to rich dudes criminally bending tax rules – laws and consequences should operate as an electric fence against criminal behavior, repulsing us away. 

It’s great when we all want to do the right things for the right reasons all the time. But that’s not quite human nature, as exhibited by my otherwise good-willed kid. Rules and consequence, “law and order,” must be part of our social construct. Consequences are the enforcement clauses of the civil contract we have as Americans living together. 

We send the wrong messages when we pull consequences away. Giving a wink and nod to bad and criminal behaviors only invites more of the same. 

Imagine what would happen if we separated the “burn your hand” from the “playing with fire.” In short order we’d have kids disfigured and way too many homes in ashes. 

Consequences for our actions are what serve to teach us to behave safely, orderly and appropriately in our society. 

We hope that consequences for crime are administered fairly and justly. 

America has a history of racial injustice, often perpetrated by the law itself. Right here in L.A., we still have intimidating “sheriff gangs” – our very own “enforcers” sporting gang-allegiance scalp tattoos, covered up with crew-cut hair! 

In our desire for order, we must accept that our judicial past has been biased and aspects remain flawed yet today. We must fix these injustices. 

So, we’ve attempted sentencing reform and revised policies seeking to correct institutional errors built into our systems. 

Yet at the same time, to remove consequences from bad behavior encourages more crime. What lessons would have been learned had the record store owner simply allowed the theft? It’s “just a cassette,” right? No big deal … 

Except that “no big deal” would have been exactly the wrong message at an inflection point. That’s what we’ve done with lax or zero sentences for many misdemeanors and light felonies. 

Smash-and-grabs must seem like a walk in the park when store employees are taught not to intervene, and sentencing is a wrist slap.  

Bleeding hearts might shrug and say crime is a cost we jointly bear for an inequitable society. But a far better response than accepting criminality as normal would be to raise education and health outcomes in impacted areas, even as consequences are plainly made known and regularly enforced. 

Want to cure crime? Start with consequences for bad actions. 

But lasting solutions also require hope for a better life. Equal, enriched, high-quality education brings the hope and potential to motivate people to do the right things. And the healthy respect of real consequences should reenforce the lessons learned. 

Real hope through quality education. Public order through healthy respect for law and consequences. 

There’s an election up for our embattled district attorney. You can vote for consequences.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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