Monday, August 3, 2020

Mistaken Mischief

For Graham Ivan Clark, the online mischief-making started early.

By the age of 10, he was playing the video game Minecraft, in part to escape what he told friends was an unhappy home life. In Minecraft, he became known as an adept scammer with an explosive temper who cheated people out of their money, several friends said.
From Minecraft Tricks to Twitter Hack: A Florida Teen’s Troubled Online Path
But offering to sell a digital artifact to someone for $50 dollars and then disappearing with the money without delivering isn't "mischief" or "a trick." It's fraud.

And this article gets at a lot of what I think started the original push for Black Lives Matter. It's something that's been lost in the current environment of protests and clashes with authority, but it's important nonetheless.

There are a lot of differences between wealthy people and poorer people that aren't immediately obvious. One of them is the way they commit crimes. Now, it's not for me to say that Mr. Clark actually carried out the frauds that he is accused of in the article. For all we know, someone just wanted to get their name into The New York Times by showing themselves to tagnentially related to someone who made the news. After all, it wouldn't be the first time. But let's presume for a moment that he is guilty as accused. This is the sort of thing that simply goes without investigation. It's not hard to find people complaining about being scammed in this way, and asking if they should notify the police, and the answer is almost invariably: "Go ahead, but nothing will be done." It's taken for granted that any given police department lacks the time, manpower and/or expertise to investigate such things.

Robbing a convenience store or a gas station, however is another matter, even though it's pretty well known that the sums that the thieves make off with are often barely higher than what Mr. Clark is accused of stealing from one person. There's a certain conventional wisdom that holds that these sorts of hold-ups are ludicrously ill-advised, because they come with risks completely out of proportion to the amount likely to be gained.

But a kid whose family is unable to afford a computer that can run Minecraft doesn't have the wherewithal to steal money from fellow players. A lot of "white-collar" sorts of crimes are unavailable to them. And so they become the ones that the police are investigating, arresting and booking into jails. And the resources devoted to them are, in a lot of ways, a decent part of the reason why more affluent youth can cheat people out of the price of a digital cape without fear of being investigated. And because they have to commit their crimes in person, they're much more likely to be clearly (if not always accurately) identified, and this has the side effect of making their cases easier for prosecutors to win.

Before Mr. Clark found himself in jail in connection with a bitcoin fraud backed by gain access to Twitter's customer service tools, he'd been accused of involvement in multiple schemes, from false offers of desirable Minecraft usernames, to the heist of more than three-quarters of a million dollars in Bitcoin. But there were no consequences. Even when effectively caught with 100 stolen Bitcoins, there was no arrest, no charges filed. There's no way that a person could participate in the theft of more than eight hundred thousand dollars of physical commodities and be let go without further engagement from law enforcement, minor or not.

The story on Mr. Clark in The New York Times reads as a recounting of a person who has done bad things, rather than the story of a bad person. Contrast that with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton's "superpredator" comments from 1996:
We need to take these people on, they are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators. No conscience. No empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel.
Now, granted, 1996 may as well be ancient history, so I don't quote Secretary Clinton as a means of making a direct current comparison. But the general thrust of Secretary Clinton's remark, that these are bad people, and controlling them is a more pressing need than understanding how they arrived at where they have, is still pertinent, because, generally speaking, people who commit crimes that are broadly considered frightening are held to be worse people than those who don't.

And that takes us back to Black Lives Matter. Because of the wealth gap between Black and White people in the United States, Black youth are more likely to be poor. And this means that they are more likely to commit poor person crimes. And although not all poor person crimes involve the face-to-face threat of violence (419 scams, for instance, are also poor-person crimes) those that the public is most attentive to do. And while Secretary Clinton had called for superpredators to be brought to heel, there is little remorse if they happen to be killed in the process. But since more affluent youth are less likely to be considered dangerous, violence is not considered necessary to deal with them.

For being involved in a federal crime, Mr. Clark was not arrested. He considered this a "second chance," one that he apparently went on to squander. But had he been involved in street level drug dealing or robbing gas stations, being caught would have been more more likely to lead to charges, closing off most of the second chances that he and people like him are often granted.

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