The Origins of Criminology
The knife was raised for the first time, and it went down plunging into naked flesh; a spring of blood flowed cascading and covering all in red. The motion was repeated several times. Abel fell to his death and according to scriptures this was the first crime. Cain who wielded the knife roamed the earth until his demise. The fratricide that was committed was the first recorded murder and the very first crime. A colleague tried to be smart and pointed that the first crime is Eve’s violation in the garden with the apple, but I did point out that according to Helena Kennedy QC, she was framed! In the least Eve’s was a case of entrapment which is criminological but leaves the first crime vacant. So, murder it is! A crime of violence that separates aggressor and victim.
The response to this crime is retribution. In the scriptures a condemnation to insanity. In later years this crime formed the basis of the Mosaic Law inclusive of the 10 commandments and death as the indicative punishment. In the Ancien Régime the punishment became a spectacle on deterrence whilst the crowds denounced the evildoer as they were wheeled into the square! In modern times this criminality incorporated rehabilitation to offer the opportunity for the criminal to repent and make amends.
‘The first man who having enclosed a piece of ground bethought himself of saying “This is mine”’! This is an alternative interpretation of the first crime, according to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762/1993: 192). In The Social Contract he identifies the first crime very differently from the scriptures. In this case the crime is not directed at a person but the wider community. The usurping of land or good in any manner that violates the rights of others is crime because it places individualism ahead of the common good. As in this crime there is no violence against the person, the way in which we respond to it is different. Imperialism as a historical mechanism accepts the infringement of property, rights, and human rights as a necessity in human interactions. The law here is primarily protected for the one who claims the land rather than those who have been left homeless. In this case, crime is associated with all those mechanisms that protect privilege and property. Soon after titles of land emerged and thereafter titles of people owning other people follow. The land becomes an empire, and the empire allows a man and his regime to set the laws to protect him and his interests. Traditionally empires change from territories of land to centres of government and control of people. The land of the English, the land of the Finnish, the land of the Zulu. In this instance the King become a figure and custom law subverts natural law to accommodate authority and power.
These two “original” crimes represent the diversity in which criminology can be seen; one end is the interpersonal psychological rendition of criminality based on the brutality of violence whilst on the other end is an exploration of wider structural issues and the institutional violence they incorporate. The spectrum of variety criminology offers is a curse and a blessing in one. From one end, it makes the discipline difficult to specify, but it also allows colleagues to explore so many different issues. Regardless of the type of crime category for any person attracted to the discipline there is a criminology for all.
Between these two polar apart approaches, it is interesting to note their interaction. In that it can be seen the interaction of the social and historical priorities of crime given at any given time. This historical positivism of identifying milestones of progression is an important source of understanding the evolution of social progression and movements. Let’s face it, crime is a social construct and as such regardless of the perspective is indicative of the way society prioritises perceptions of deviance.
Arguably the crimes described previously denote different schools of thought and of course the many different perspectives of criminology. A perfectly contorted discipline that not only adapts following the evolution of crime but also theorises criminality in our society. When you are asked to describe criminology, numerous associations come to mind, “the study of crime and criminality” the “discipline of criminal behaviours” “the social construction of crime” “the historical and philosophical understanding of crime in society across time” “the representation of criminals, victims, and agents in society”. These are just a few ways to explain criminology. In this entry we explore the origins of two perspectives; theology and sociology; image that the discipline is influenced by many other perspectives; so consider their “origin” story. How different the first crime can be from say a psychological or a biological perspective. The origins of criminology is an ongoing tale of fascinating specialisms.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, (1762/1993), The Social Contract and Discourses, tr. from the French by G.D.H. Cole, (London: Everyman’s Library)
Do You Remember the Time? At the Lynching Memorial
On September 11, 2021 I visited the Lynching Memorial, which is near the newly expanded Equal Justice Initiative Museum, From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.
At the heart of the “National Memorial for Peace and Justice” (Lynching memorial) is a vast collection of giant, rusty metal, rectangular pillars, hanging tightly together like a neatly planned and well-looked-after orchard.
Etched in each are the names of (known) lynching victims by date.
We can see that, at times, entire families were lynched.
The pillars are hung so cleverly that one has to experience this artistic installation in person.
Nonetheless, the subject of white terrorism in the deep south is heavy,
Which is perhaps why Guests are invited to visit the nearby museum before the Memorial.
One needs time to prepare.
Naturally, sandwiched between enslavement and mass incarceration exhibits,
The museum also has an array of material on lynching.
This included a giant mural of jars surrounded by videos, infographic murals, maps and
An interactive register of every known lynching by county, date, state, and name.
I’m still stuck on the mural of snapshots of actual lynching advertisements, and
Pictures of actual news reports of victims’ final words.
These were the actual final words of folks etched forever in these hanging, rusty pillars.
Ostensibly, written by war correspondents.
Standing in awe of the museum’s wall of jars, I chatted with a tall Black man about my age.
He’d traveled here from a neighboring state with his teen son to, as he said,
“See how this stuff we go through today ain’t new.”
I recounted to him what a young man at the EJI memorial had showed me a few years ago:
A man’s name who’d been lynched early last century for selling loose cigarettes –
Just like Eric Garner!
Yet, even since then,
We’ve gotten the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,
Or even Michael Brown, Walter Scott and Philando Castile.
Amadou Diallo was shot 19 times in 1999, standing on his own stoop
And while Jayland Walker got 46 bullets this year while fleeing on foot.
Tamir Rice was a little boy.
A little boy playing in the park. But his mere presence terrified a white man.
So he called 9-1-1 and the police showed up and shot Tamir within seconds!
We can watch the tape.
All of these martyrs are included in the museum’s growing timelines (sigh).
After their own legal work in representing the wrongfully imprisoned for damn near life,
EJI began collecting jars of dirt near every known lynching, and
If invited by local officials, EJI would offer a memorial plaque and ceremony commemorating that community’s recognition of historic injustice(s).
An open field sits next to the suspended pillars, filled with a duplicate of each pillar.
These duplicates sit, having yet to be collected and properly dedicated by each county.
These communities are denied healing, and we know wounds fester.
The field of lame duplicates effectively memorializes the festering denial in our body politic.
There are far too many unrecorded victims and versions of white mob violence, and intimidation, not just barbarous torture and heinous murder.
Outside of these few sorts of memorials,
We do have to wonder how else this rich history has stayed in our collective memories.
Too many Black families were too traumatized to talk and didn’t want to pass it to their kids.
We know many fled after any minor incursion,
Just as someone had advised Emmet Till to do,
And there’s no accounting for them and the victims’ families who fled and
Even hid or discarded any news clippings they’d seen of the events.
Yet, whites must have kept record.
Did whites collect the newspaper ads or reports of a lynching they’d attended or hoped to?
They made and sold lynching postcards, curios, and other odd lynching souvenirs.
Where are the avid collectors?
Plus, apparently, terrorists don’t just kidnap and hang someone to death,
So what did they do with all the ears, noses, fingers, and genitals they cut off?
Or eyes they plucked out?
Or scalps they shaved?
Many victims pass out from the immense pain of being tortured and burned alive, but still
I doubt all those pieces and parts got thrown in the fire, because, of course,
Plenty of pictures show entire white families there to celebrate the lynching like (a) V-day.
And in many ways, it was, and
The whites looked as if they would’ve wanted to remember.
Looks can be deceiving, but the ways whites were also bullied into compliance is real.
Still, my mother swears that some white families’ heirlooms must include
Prized, preserved pieces of Nat Turner.
Ooh, wouldn’t that be a treasure that would be.
Plus, given the spate and state of anti-Black policing and violence,
Our democracy, nay, our Constitution itself, is as rusty as these pillars.
The pillars resting in the field remind us not only the work left to do, but also, it’s urgency.
How many more pillars may we still need?
How many amendments
did will freedom take?
It goes to show how great thou art now!