Excerpt from The Gift of Fear
Our criminal-justice system often lacks justice, and more often lacks reason. For example, America has about three thousand people slated for execution, more by far than at any time in world history, yet the most frequent cause of death listed for those inmates is "natural causes." That's because we execute fewer than 2 percent of those sentenced to die. It is actually safer for these men to live on death row than to live in some American neighborhoods.
I explore capital punishment here not to promote it, for I am not an advocate, but rather because our attitude toward it raises a question that is key to this book: Are we really serious about fighting crime and violence? Often, it appears we are not. Here's just one example of what we accept: If you add up how long their victims would otherwise have lived, our country's murderers rob us of almost a million years of human contribution every year.
I've presented these facts about the frequency of violence for a reason: to increase the likelihood that you will believe it is at least possible that you or someone you care for will be a victim at some time. That belief is a key element in recognizing when you are in the presence of danger. That belief balances denial, the powerful and cunning enemy of successful predictions. Even having learned these facts of life and death, some readers will still compartmentalize the hazards in order to exclude themselves: "Sure, there's a lot of violence, but that's in the inner city"; "Yeah, a lot of women are battered, but I'm not in a relationship now"; "Violence is a problem for younger people, or older people"; "You're only at risk if you're out late at night"; "People bring it on themselves," and on and on. Americans are experts at denial, a choir whose song could be titled "Things Like That Don't Happen in This Neighborhood."
The high price of denial.