(Source: Rolling Stone)
As many of you may know, I am a massive true-crime fan. I listen to true-crime podcasts, record Dateline every week, and I binge watched the entire series of “The People v. OJ” in three days. Ask me sometime about my opinions on famous murder cases – I’ll talk your ear off about JonBenét Ramsey or Ted Bundy. Don’t flag me as crazy just yet. my love for true crime doesn’t stem from a dark place; I enjoy the mystery surrounding crime, but more so, I like the satisfaction that comes when justice has been served.
For example, one of my favorite true crime cases is the story of Tara Grinstead, a woman who disappeared from her home in rural Georgia over ten years ago. Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had never made any arrests in her case, her body was never found, and despite an exhaustive search effort, no evidence found at the crime scene. Her disappearance truly was the perfect crime, that is, until last month. Police announced they had received a tip leading to the arrest of two men who were responsible for Tara’s murder twelve years ago. Details are still coming to light, but it seems as if one of will be charged with murder and the other has taken a plea deal resulting in lesser crimes. Police are still searching for Tara’s body. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be Tara’s family, for all this time, never having closure, always wondering who, if anyone, harmed your loved one. I also can’t imagine how they feel now that they know what happened to her – there must be some sense of relief in knowing Tara’s fate.
The sad truth is that Tara’s family is far from alone, but instead part of a large group of those who often suffer in silence: the families of victims. In 2015, there were 15,696 murders in the United States.
The United States Declaration of Independence recognizes three fundamental rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” I believe that while the violent crime rate has improved, the United States is doing a poor job at recognizing and preventing the deprivation of the most essential of the three fundamental rights: life.
How should the government offer protections and prevent homicide? What steps can it take to lessen violence? The work of Rachel Louise Snyder, although it focuses specifically on domestic violence cases, proposes one method to combat homicide: assess who is at risk to create a crime and collaborate to prevent them from doing so. Snyder’s article focuses on the actions of one community to prevent crime before it occurs. I couldn’t help but think that this notion could be applied, in a more general way, to reduce the number of homicides across the nation. So, I did some research about programs around the countries specifically designed to lower murder rates, and I found that there is already a shift to implementing preventative measures to combat the underlying factors behind violent crime.
In 2006, there was a comprehensive study done in Jacksonville, Florida, with a goal to assess ways to reduce murder rates. Conclusions drawn from this study emphasize the need for implementing prevention programs, stating that, “while the community must adequately fund a criminal justice system to respond to violent actions, to solve the problem prevention problems must be as high a funding priority as law enforcement” (JCCI, 2006). Prevention programs should not be limited to simply those who may be at risk to commit a first-time offense, but those who may already have been convicted of a previous crime. To combat the “cycle of criminal activity” that offenders may be caught in and prevent escalation, measures should be taken to provide education, job training, and drug treatment, as well as address the burdens that a criminal record can have. This holistic approach to addressing violent crime charges multiple agencies with the weight of murder, instead of simply law enforcement or the legal system.
Specifically, the Jacksonville study gives nine long-term solutions to combat homicide. They are: admit and address racism, provide adequate funding for preventative programs, provide strong positive male role models, improve economic opportunity, improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community, address the culture of violence, differentiate drug traffickers from users, target domestic violence, help children succeed in school, and rehabilitate inmates and ex-offenders.
Some of these goals, if not all of them, may seem common sense. But, that is only more evidence to the fact that our communities are currently not doing enough to implement change in the way homicide is combatted. If we want safer communities and to do more to protect our unalienable rights, then why should we not make greater efforts to save lives? I don’t see the harm in trying.
As for Tara Grinstead, details surrounding her case few and far between, as there is an ongoing investigation. However, it was concluded that at least one of the men charged had a previous violent record. Who knows? Maye a preventative measure, such as a rehabilitation program, could have steered him away from homicide and Tara would still be alive.