Reasons & Theories Why People Commit Certain Crimes

There are numerous reasons and theories that explain why people commit certain crimes. One of these explanations is that criminal activities are performed in such a way to resist the state/society. There are obvious and well known examples of resistance against social structures, such as rioting, conspiracy, , however, there are more subtle, in-depth ways in which people resist the state. Along the same lines of strain theory in criminology, some people commit crimes of resistance because the society that they live in oppress them in ways that disables them from achieving higher levels of education, wealth, employment, etc. (Rios, 2012, pp. 49).

Due to these disadvantages that set marginalized groups apart from the rest of society, people may resort to other means, “organic capital”, to achieve their goals (Rios, 2012, pp. 49). Rios, the author of Stealing a Bag of Potato Chips and Other Crimes of Resistance, labels those who fit the profile as resistance identities (Rios, 2012, pp. 50). Oppression in these cases are not only associated with income inequality, but also with how society intentionally/unintentionally criminalizes certain groups.

For example, the described interaction between Rios, the teenagers and the store clerk asserts the idea that the store clerk was socialized into believing that teenagers in that neigbourhood were violent criminals, despite the fact that they made clear attempts to show that they were not going to steal or become hostile (Rios, 2012, pp. 52). The theft that proceeded that interaction was intended to make a point; to resist against the social structure in which subordinated them (Rios, 2012, pp. 52). As Rios sums up, “…criminality was one of the few resources the boys could use in response to criminalization” (Rios, 2012, pp. 51).

In contrast, some may argue that these crimes are not an act of resistance; that these subordinate groups are colluding with their own oppression because they choose to take part in criminal acts even though there’s little to no chance that it will benefit them and the chances of getting arrested are fairly high. However, the tangible gains of these kinds of acts are not important. Through his research, Rios found that many of the teenagers he interacted with intentionally committed crimes to either prove a point, help reclaim their dignity after criminalization, create a mockery of the system, and/or to resist inequalities and the stigmas associated with them (Rios, 2012, pp. 53).

Although this specific case is from the U.S., it is still relevant in Canada because there is plenty of research that proves that Canada suffers from inequalities. The most prominent example would be the oppression of Aboriginal communities: Many Aboriginals are subject to poor living conditions, education, and healthcare through years of engrained instituational racism and oppression. (Loppie, Reading & De Leeuw, 2014). If some Canadians suffer from inequalities and marginalization, then these crimes of resistance could very well be happening here too.

In terms of assigning blame to a person associated with these crimes of resistance (the youth for stealing a bag of chips, the store clerk who criminalized the teenagers from the start), it seems to be a deeper-rooted issue of societies’ marginialization and criminalization of certain groups. Charging the youth would only apply a “bandadge fix”, confirming societies notions of criminals while ignoring the larger problem at hand. Although it is much easier said than done, we need to create initiatives and programs to assist youth and provide them access to socities social and cultural capital to level the playing field.

03 December 2019
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