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Moral Outrage Culture and Unintended Consequences

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RealityCheck

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In the American Southwest lies a hypothetical college town called Reflejos, AZ.  It is a clean and quiet place only disturbed by the occasional school event.  The peace extends from corner to corner of the city with once exception, a notorious street near the downtown area ironically named Church Ave.  This area is rampant with criminal activity, drug dealers, prostitutes, gangs and has been common knowledge to the residents for decades.  If you’re a law abiding citizen, you avoid this place and no harm will come to you.  If you are a sketchier person then you’ll go there to indulge your every vice at your own peril.  A mere couple of blocks away are the town’s main attractions, the music venues, clubs, coffee shops, etc.  This downtown core has been expanding in lockstep with the growth of the college.  One day, a college girl, who we will call Rachel and her friends wandered out of this area and into the worst part of Church Ave.  Their buzzed state from the craft beer place combined with their unfamiliarity with the town led them there.  Unfortunately, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time as a shootout broke out across the street due to a botched drug deal.  One of the stray bullets hit Rachel in the chest causing her to collapse and bleed to death before help could arrive.

 

Rachel was the quintessential young adult with potential.  She was well into medical school and was the first of her family to attend college.  She had a cute inviting look which was complimented with a loving personality.  The news quickly spread through the college and let many questions unanswered.  First and foremost, if it was common knowledge that Church Ave was a cesspool of criminal activity (much taking place in plain sight), why did the police department turn a blind eye?  Why wasn’t that issue being addressed?  Why did patrol cars seem to graze by and ignore everything?  Why was the person who fired the weapon still at large?  The students who knew Rachel were having none of this and started a #justiceforrachel campaign.  Though the power of social media this hashtag went viral and spread across the nation.  It brought into question the effectiveness of police departments in a climate when cops are already seen with suspicion.  Eventually, all of this boiled over and the Reflejos was inundated with protesters.  The protests would eventually turn violent causing property damage and would be in national news.
 

The RPD (Reflejos Police Department) was under pressure to act.  They started an unprecedented crackdown of the street from end to end.  Tens of high profile drug dealers were arrested, prostitution rings were dismantled, and illegal weapons were confiscated.  Furthermore, the city moved to demolish abandoned buildings that were known meeting places of this criminal element.  Finally, something was being accomplished at it seemed that the area’s crime rate was plummeting.  The perpetrator of Rachel’s death was caught and charged with manslaughter. By this time though, the news cycle had moved on to something else and the moral outrage machine rolled away.  The campaign died down and the students at the college felt that they made something positive occur.

 

Months later, a disturbing trend emerged.  Violent crime was starting to occur in quiet neighborhoods.  There were drug dealers popping up near high schools and other sensitive areas.  College students became prime targets causing an epidemic of armed robbery and muggings.  Nobody felt safe going out and the vibrant downtown area saw business plummet.  The randomness of these events is what had everyone thrown off.  Law enforcement could not keep up with the spike in the crime rate and once again, outrage built up.  You see, there was a reason why the police department ignored the happenings of Church Ave.  They knew that they did not have the resources to deal with city wide crime. They had no way of procuring extra funds or resources to do so either.  Instead they practiced a policy of containment by allowing crime to stay in one area.  There was still violent incidents, but none like after the crackdown since as I mentioned earlier, law abiding citizens knew to avoid the street.  When the police moved in the criminals scattered like rats all over the place.  Now their activity is impossible to track.  The situation is now far, far worse than it was initially.  By now nobody from the outside cares anymore, the Rachel incident has passed and people have moved on to their next crusade.

 

The following has been a hypothetical but plausible scenario.  If you feel strong emotions when you hear this type of story then it means you’re human.  However, it seems that the masses have the emotional control of children regarding these issues.  We want instant gratification, we want to get rid of the problem now.  Solutions need to be acquired like a game of chess, you must think of your next few moves as well as those of your opponent.  Outrage culture permeates everything now fueled by social media and traditional news seeking to bolster their ratings.  If we see ourselves as skeptical, freethinkers then we must analyze the nuances of a situation and consequence of every action.  We cannot be governed solely by our feelings.

 

For the readers, I’d like you to leave in the comment section any real life situations where an outrage driven solution made a problem worse.  I can think of a few historic examples (like prohibition) but I’m looking for what you’ve notice more recently.

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