Last week when I posted about writing a murder mystery, HonourTheGodsBlog came in with some powerful comments. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’ve no first hand experience of how murder impacts on people. I was however a teen in Gloucestershire during the Fred West case, and that certainly had a widespread impact on many people in the area, not only those who were directly affected.
Crime is something we tend to treat as a very individual issue – with individual perpetrators and individual victims. It remains difficult to do anything about situations of negligence that harm people in more subtle ways. If a person steals because they are hungry, then framing the crime as the theft, and not the hunger has significant implications.
I’ve poked around in this as an issue before – it’s something I raised in the novel Letters Between Gentleman – which had a Victorian setting. The deaths of workers in factories and as a result of industrial processes was widespread, but it wasn’t considered to be murder. That’s a political choice with a lot of implications. We’ve seen considerable improvements in labour laws, but we aren’t currently looking at the enormous damage to health and quality of life caused by work stress and insecure work. It’s not like beating someone up in an alley, except that in some ways, it’s exactly like beating someone up in an alley.
We don’t treat wage theft by companies with anything like the attention we might give to someone who stole from the till. Politicians don’t end up in court when their policies cause people to starve to death, or freeze to death, or die homeless on the streets. Even when the lines of cause and effect are perfectly clear, we don’t treat these deaths as crimes or as murders. We’re more likely to take to court someone who killed accidentally and do them for manslaughter than we are to challenge someone whose policy has demonstrably killed multiple people.
The difficulty is that murder is framed as the intentional killing of a specific person. We aren’t really set up to deal with the deliberate killing of non-specific people. We’ve got international laws about doing it based on race, but nothing to hold to account someone whose deliberate and knowing choices result in the deaths of thousands of elderly people in care homes.