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“Attack Leaves Voter, 73, in Pain and Fear,” the headline said. A 73-year-old woman had just voted in the primary election in Boston, Massachusetts. As she walked home, two men rushed up, grabbed her purse, and knocked her down. She later said, “In this situation, you don’t think too much. Only, you get scared when people try to take everything from you.” A neighbor who came to the victim’s aid recalled, “I heard a woman in distress, screaming for help. I just jumped out of bed and looked out the window. And I could see an elderly person on her knees, crying.” The police later arrested a 19-year-old suspect for robbery and assault and battery. The city’s district attorney said of the crime, “It’s despicable. Only a coward would attack a 73-year-old woman from behind. He’s brought shame to himself and his family, and he can count on an extremely aggressive prosecution.” (Ellement, 2008)Ellement, J. R. (2008, September 18). Attack leaves voter, 73, in pain and fear. The Boston Globe, p. B1.
This terrible crime was just one of millions that occur in the United States each year. A central message of this book so far is that society is possible because people conform to its norms, values, and roles. As the sad story of the 73-year-old Boston voter illustrates, this chapter has a different message: that people often violate their society’s norms and are sometimes punished for doing so. Why do they commit deviance and crime? What influences their chances of being punished? How do behaviors come to be defined as deviant or criminal? Recalling this book’s emphasis on changing society, how can crime and deviance be reduced? These are questions that sociologists have long tried to answer, and we explore possible answers in the pages that follow.