…dig two graves
December 6, 2012 1 Comment
Confucius said, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
Everyone has been wronged at one time or another. We have all felt the sting of betrayal and the satisfaction that comes with turning the tables on those who have hurt us. But few have experienced the peace that comes from seeking to stop others from being wronged similarly by taking the moral highroad and committing to make the world a more just place.
What about the wrongs society perpetrates on those who have committed wrongs themselves? At what point does retribution transcend punishment and become revenge? Does this happen when the rights of the most vulnerable are violated in the name of righting a wrong? When the punishment exceeds the crime? Or is the mere pursuit of punishment, devoid of compassion and common sense, just another form of revenge?
If these are questions you have not yet thought to ask yourself, now is a good time to do it. The American justice system is not just broken; it is morally bankrupt as well. However, the answer is never to ignore the problem and hope it will go away. It certainly will not become remedied on its own and the devastating consequences – many of which are unclear now – will compound over time.
That said, the first step to solving a problem is to identify it. When it comes to the juvenile justice system the problems are many. Perhaps the greatest is the mistake society makes when it holds children and teenagers accountable as adults in this one respect. One solution is to grant children the rights afforded to adults. We could change the drinking age to 10 (since there are states where children this age may be tried as adults for specific crimes). We could also allow 10-year-old children the opportunity to vote, to drive, to purchase tobacco products, to choose not to go to school, and to get married.
What images come to mind when you envision granting the above rights, and others, to children as young as ten? Is it one of mass chaos? Or is it one of harmony and peace?
Another solution is to change the law. If the justice system offers no appropriate solutions for children who are 11, 12, 13, or older who commit crimes the answer seems quite simple. Admit the system does not work. Acknowledge the laws are flawed. Construct a system that works. Demand change. But most importantly, never assume that you as a single person lack the power and resources to help facilitate this kind of change. In fact, you have the power to prevent change by doing absolutely nothing to help fix what you know is broken.
There is much I don’t know, but I know this: We should not live in a country where a 20 year old man can be convicted of felony murder and sent to prison for the rest of his life for a crime committed by others while he was asleep about two miles away in his bed. This is what happened to Ryan Holle of Florida.
I know we should not live in a society where a person must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for DNA testing to prove their innocence because their defense was inept and the prosecution was short-sighted. This is what has and is happening to Darlie Routier, who has been on death row in Texas for over 15 years.
A person should not have to beg for permission from a stubborn prosecutor to have DNA tested to prove they did not commit a crime that happened 170 miles from where they were at the time. And yet this happened to Kirstin Blaise Lobato of Nevada.
A person should not have to be at the mercy of a magistrate when the decision is made between trying the person as the juvenile they are or as the adult the prosecution wants to force them to become. I also know that no person should face what is tantamount to a life sentence because people affiliated with a gang claimed the individual committed a crime – people who likely had motive to commit the crime themselves. This happened to Martin Anthony Villalon of Indiana who was just 15 at the time.
A person should not ever face a mandatory life without parole sentence for a crime they allegedly committed at the age of 12. Yet this is what is happening to Cristian Fernandez of Florida. The judge in his case recently denied the defense’s motion to drop the charges in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling that a mandatory life without parole sentence is unconstitutional. Florida provides no alternative sentence to felony or first degree murder except for the death penalty. This country no longer sentences children to execution as of 2005.
A person should never be treated differently in the justice system than others because of race or ethnicity. However, this happened to 16-year-old Curtis Shuler of Florida who is serving a life without parole sentence for a crime his trial co-defendants have admitted he did not participate in, let alone commit.
A person should never face a life sentence for a crime their father, with a criminal background and a penchant for vengeance, admitted to committing himself. This is especially true when the prosecution has no physical evidence to link the teenager to the crime. Despite this, Josh Young has been incarcerated since he was 15 and is waiting to stand trial as an adult.
And then there is Blake Layman of Indiana who is facing severe consequences after assisting a group of teenagers in a home invasion – an event that turned fatal when the homeowner took his gun and shot two in the group, killing one and leaving the other wounded. Because of the felony murder rule, Blake and others will eventually stand trial for murder. Unless, as one of the teens have already done, they accept a plea bargain. Jose Quiroz took a plea requiring him to serve 45 years in prison. He will be 62 years old when he is finally released and the irony is he never planned a murder, nor did he commit one.
There are too many injustices to list them all. The above are just some of the ones I have come to know all too well. As I write this I am certain there will be many more I will learn about in the future. Some injustices are startlingly clear, while others require the willingness of a person to accept that there are degrees of guilt and innocence. Some injustices are perceived by many as fair applications of the law; however, something does not become right just because it is perceived by one or more as such.
Right is right and wrong is wrong. It really is that simple. And it is wrong to look the other way in the face of injustice, large or small.