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2.11.2004

Over (and Under) Reactions 

I watched Wonderland the other day, which was basically a movie about murders in Southern California. It was based on a true story, and at the end they had a series of blurbs about what happened to the people involved. In 2000, the person who ordered the extremely brutal, multiple murder crime, was given 37 months (just over 3 years) for his involvement. He is now a free man. Almost everyone else involved was acquitted.

The man - Ed Nash - was rich, and knew people in power. He was a big name.

Bill Janklow is spending 100 days in jail for ending the life of Randy Scott. He was speeding and went through a stop sign, killing Scott. Janklow will be able able to leave jail for part of the day after 30 days for community service.

According to the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics for 2002, the average length of sentencing for this kind of crime is between 10-20 years. Bill Janklow is a former U.S. Congressman.

I was listening to the radio yesterday, and the talk show hosts were discussing the things that should be done to Carlie Bruscia's suspected murderer, Joseph Smith. Smith apparently has a rap sheet that includes heavy drug use and a kidnapping charge he was acquitted of. The general response to the radio show was that Smith should have been identified as a potentially dangerous predator, and never released from or acquitted of earlier crimes. It was a show where people called in to the radio station, and by and large it was an encouragement all around to say the laws aren't strong enough, people aren't punished enough, things have to be harsher and harder and meaner.

Not once did I hear any mention of the possibility of innocent people being harmed by stricter laws. Just cry after cry for the blood of any possible offender arrested.

These things should throw up red flags for us, asking us to notice that our court system does not encourage justice all the time...and often, neither do we.

In the fight against crime, more and more officials are listening to the people who want to see horrific crimes - like the murder of Carlie Bruscia - punished. And I have to agree, it is ridiculous that people with severe criminal or sociopathic tendencies can get off lightly. But a civilized country cannot afford to go ballistic every time it is faced with a tragedy. Harsher laws I agree with, but not at the expense of the innocent. If there is to be a debate about the ways and methods of punishing suspects and criminals, then it must include a way to protect the innocent.

And it must happen in equal proportions. If there is to be no way a criminal can get out of punishment, as so many people desire, then there must also be no way an innocent will be punished for a crime they did not commit.

But politicians who want to appear hard on crime will do nothing to aid the innocent, as they respond only to political pressure and the demands of the majority of constituents. The responsibility falls to those constituents to also recognize and speak out against the fallacies of the system, and too often they do not even know of them. And so they are helpless when that system becomes a real threat to them, or those they care about. They don't see it coming. That is how it is with Kirstin Lobato's case.

If we, as a nation, keep reacting so brashly to every threat to our well-being, it will not be long before mindless and brutal reaction becomes our way of dealing with things. That cannot be the behavior of a civilized country.


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