Environment gets tagged as culprit in violence

August 22, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

SEAN MACTIRE, dressed in black jeans and a blue denim shirt and with his pony tail, frizzled hair and mustache making him look like a throwback to the hippie days of the late 1960s, sat in his chair and scoffed.

Men do not, Mactire insisted, commit more violent crimes than women. Violent crime is a raceless, genderless phenomenon that is linked more to mental illness, said Mactire, author of several books who has worked with brain injury survivors for more than 10 years.

Women, Mactire believes, are every bit as deadly as men. I'm skeptical, but I agree to meet him for lunch anyway. Even if we disagree, a guy who's a fan of the classic Buffalo Soldiers movie "Sergeant Rutledge" can't be all bad.

"Kipling was right," Mactire said. "Women are the deadlier of the sexes." That's probably because Kipling never had the dubious pleasure of meeting Josef Stalin or Adolf Hitler, I think. But Mactire said he's done research to back up his claim. Some of history's most notorious serial killers, he notes, were women.

"Marie Becker went on a serial murder spree in post-World War I Belgium," Mactire said. "Belgium after World War I was almost a zero violent-crime country. All of a sudden [Becker's] committing stabbings, poisonings and beatings to get money for drugs. She went totally wild."

Western society has a "cultural bias against seeing women as perpetrators of crime," Mactire charged. Thousands of women murder their children annually, Mactire said, a phenomenon known as the Medea syndrome. It's named for a woman in Greek mythology who murdered her children as revenge against a philandering husband.

"There really wasn't a name put on it for some years," Mactire said of the Medea syndrome. "But these types of crimes have been around for some time. No one's certain of how many victims or how many perpetrators there are, but a pathologist told me to take the numbers and multiply by 50 and I'd be close."

Mactire then made a statement destined to arouse controversy: Most social service agencies, coroners and police chalk up to accidental causes many infant and child deaths that are probably murder.

"If there is no history [of child abuse], any story will sometimes wash," he said.

Studying crime has been Mactire's passion for some time. His latest book is "Malicious Intent: A Writer's Guide To How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists And Other Criminals Think."

"When you look at the history of human beings, it's mostly crime," Mactire asserted, adding that even the history of wars has a criminal factor.

"There isn't a war in the history of humankind that didn't begin with murder or some other transgression that somebody regarded as a crime," he concluded.

This is not a man inclined to shy away from controversy. Even the D.A.R.E. programs that schools and police have instituted to steer youngsters away from drugs don't escape Mactire's critical eye.

"The D.A.R.E. program is one of the worst wastes of money in the system," he claimed. "It does not get a strong enough message across to children. By the time they reach a certain age, the lessons are long lost."

The problem is one of environment, Mactire said. Some children go home from the D.A.R.E. session and get a totally different message about drugs from the streets and, sadly, in some cases from their own families.

Environment is central to Mactire's philosophy about crime. All crime, he says, can be looked at as an environmental problem.

"If you look at violence as a disease, it's a health problem," he declared. "When you look at the causes, it's environmental."

I decide to challenge him on this point. If we legalize drugs, then all the drug addicts now considered criminal will no longer be criminals. Isn't one aspect of the crime problem one of definition?

Not really, according to Mactire. Changing the drug laws is tantamount to changing the environment. But definition and power are even greater factors than environment. Fugitive slaves and people helping them to escape were considered criminals. Anyone who turned in a fugitive slave was considered a law-abiding citizen, but the fact is that slaveholders were all criminals and and their entire slave-catching apparatus was a criminal enterprise.

And sometimes -- perhaps all too often -- criminals do indeed come to power.

Pub Date: 8/22/98

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