A Question of Value
Americans do a lot of killing. Although we do not lead the world in homicide, our national rates far exceed those of any other industrialized nation. Indeed it is the violence of our crime rather than the overall numbers of crimes committed here that constitutes the special problem of American crime.1
The American homicide problem may be approached, truly must be approached, from a number of different perspectives. We need all of our collective skills: we need the work of novelists and movie makers and lawyers and police officers and social scientists and therapists and doctors and community activists and spiritual leaders, among others. Each asks a different question about crime that leads to different insights and suggestions for action. But what do we do with all these questions and answers? How do we reconcile the many truths that different approaches reveal? How do we decide on a course of action?
A typical criminal case will illustrate the challenge. Consider David, a young man who faces the judgment of a criminal court. David grew up in a chaotic family without much love and no parental guidance. In his early teens he developed a serious drug addiction and committed a series of burglaries and stole cars to keep himself supplied with drugs. Eventually he turned to armed robbery to support his habit. After several robberies he sought drug treatment, but found that all area treatment centers were full. He committed a final robbery, but this time his victim resisted and David killed her. What should we do with David? The answer to this question will depend at least in part on whom we ask.
The police officer who arrests David and the district attorney who prosecutes him will seek his conviction and incarceration. A psychiatrist called into the case will emphasize treatments to foster David's physical and mental health. A social reformer will take the case as an example of the need for better public support of families and more drug rehabilitation facilities. As long as all professionals work within their own area, their different ap-