In ancient times, it was known as “Tribute” – a city or town paying barbarians not to attack and destroy their homes. Sometimes it worked, and the barbarians went away. But more often than not, the barbarians happily took the tribute and then attacked and looted the city anyway.
The city government of Washington, D.C. is looking to revive the practice by paying criminals up to perhaps $9,000 a year not to commit any crimes.
Under the bill, city officials would identify up to 200 people a year who are considered at risk of either committing or becoming victims of violent crime. Those people would be directed to participate in behavioral therapy and other programs. If they fulfill those obligations and stay out of trouble, they would be paid.
The bill doesn’t specify the value of the stipends, but participants in the California program receive up to $9,000 per year.
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, a Democrat who wrote the legislation, said it was part of a comprehensive approach to reducing violent crime in the city, which experienced a 54 percent increase in homicides last year. Homicides and violent crime are still down significantly since the 2000s, and even more so since the early 1990s when the District was dubbed the nation’s “murder capital.”
McDuffie argued that spending $9,000 a year in stipends “pales in comparison” to the cost of someone being victimized, along with the costs of incarcerating the offender.
“I want to prevent violent crime – particularly gun violence – by addressing the root causes and creating opportunities for people, particularly those individuals who are at the highest risks of offending,” McDuffie, a former prosecutor, said in a letter to constituents last week.
Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has not committed to funding the program, which would cost $4.9 million over four years, including $460,000 a year in stipend payments, according to the District’s independent chief financial officer. Without the mayor’s support, it would be up to the Council to find money for it through new taxes or cuts to existing programs.
The program would be run independently of the police department, and participants would remain anonymous. Its goal would be to recruit people who are at risk of violence but don’t have criminal cases pending.
How will modern-day barbarians respond? Probably the same way the Visigoths or the Mongols responded: if your city was a sitting duck and they could attack without severe losses, you were toast.
If someone is predisposed to committing violent crime, he will refrain from doing so as long as he believes he will be caught and punished. But if he thinks he can get away with it, I suspect no matter what behaviroal classes he has attended, he will go ahead and offend.
Perhaps D.C. should take that money and hire more police rather than pay a tribute to barbarians, at whose mercy D.C. residents will be.