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It’s Time to Stop Tinkering

Most of us have that person in our life—maybe we even are that person—who hates to throw anything away and thus, despite multiple problems over a length of time, will tinker with something in an attempt to patch it up enough that it remains functioning, at least in part. My dad would do this with cars, borrowing parts from other cars, painting over scratches, and attempting to jimmy-rig whatever he could to get a few more drives out of the old Caprice Classic. At some point, though, he realized that it’s just not a good plan to have to jumpstart the car every time before you drive it. Having such a broken vehicle is cumbersome, inefficient, and prone to other bigger problems, like leaving the drivers stranded somewhere dangerous.  A desperately broken car can even be deadly. The time comes, sometimes, to just get a new car.

This is how I feel about many vexing social issues in the U.S.  Take the death penalty.  It has been decades since the Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia (1972) that the processes used by states to impose death sentences were far too arbitrary and issued a moratorium that lasted four years.  Since that time, many states have elected to abolish the death penalty, but others carry on, despite continued requirements to make an array of adjustments, including ensuring only judges issue death sentences, prohibitions on executing the mentally ill and juvenile offenders, and more. Justice Harry A. Blackmun renounced such “tinkering with the machinery of death” in February 1994. Repeated cases before the Court could have been “the one,” the time when they finally decided enough already.

But no. The Court has not yet had the courage to do more than monkey around with the desperately broken systems of capital punishment. For example, the Court’s decision in Hurst v. Florida this year has prompted my  current home state of Florida to Macgyver their system once again, rather than stop tinkering and abolish the death penalty altogether.  The time has come to get a new car, people.  Stop tweaking this fatally flawed system.

Then there is the issue of gun laws. Hotly debated and politically charged, the conversation is almost always focused on tinkering with our laws—adding here, removing there—a brutal catfight that has resulted in a total hodgepodge, all revolving around the interpretation of a one-sentence Amendment adopted 225 years ago. This despite the fact that a recent study found more Americans have died from gun violence since 1989 than from all combat since the Revolutionary War. Stop tinkering, people. Abolish the Second Amendment and make all guns illegal. There, I said it.

Another unrelated issue on which tinkering can no longer be our answer: Football. Not only do numerous studies show the physical damage to players, with high rates of concussions and data showing that professional football players have life expectancies some 20 years less than both white and black males, but new research is also linking football games to increased rates of sexual assault on campuses. A report by Shankar Vedantam on NPR on February 17, 2016 noted that on home game days, there was a 41 percent increase in rape reports among 96 Division I universities with football teams. Enough, already.  No amount of tinkering can change the fact that football is inherently violent. Let’s end this violent sport and allow gifted athletes to pursue other less dangerous (individually and socially) athletics.

I doubt this perspective will be popular. That’s fine. I am not out to win a popularity contest. Rather, I wish only that the U.S. would be brave enough, strong enough, creative enough…all those qualities on which we pride ourselves, which are viewed as quintessentially American…to stop messing around with deeply broken systems and to pursue radical transformations that will make the U.S. a better country.

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Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Barry University Department of Sociology & Criminology and is syndicated by PeaceVoice.

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