Justice, Mercy, Victims on All Sides, and Imperfect Balancing
By Ken K. Gourdin
It’s worth remembering that there are innocent victims on all sides of a crime. The friends and relatives who enjoy the companionship of their loved ones who end up on the wrong side of the law are victims, too. Very few parents rear their children expecting them to end up in that position, nor do their brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, their other relatives, or their friends expect them to meet such a fate. Someone, somewhere, loves or regards even most of the worst criminals. These people, too, are victims. So it is with the family of this man, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from attacking a police officer, as reported by The Salt Lake Tribune in this article (last accessed today): http://www.sltrib.com/pages/comments?cid=56149052. While God is able to balance the virtues of justice and mercy perfectly, the same cannot be said of less-merciful, less-just human actors who are, nonetheless, charged with protecting society. All they can do is the best they can do, imperfect though it may be. I posted the following in response to a defense of this man, purportedly by his mother:
I do not doubt that the man who attacked this officer was not the son you reared, and to that extent, you have my sympathies. No mother rears her children thinking that they will ever grow up to commit serious crimes which will lead them to spend significant amounts of their lives behind bars. (Even most of the worst parents are, at the most, indifferent.)
If you have an image of your son’s jam-smeared face from his boyhood as he brought you a bouquet of sunflowers, I say, hold on to that image. I hope it will carry you through the diffiicult times which no doubt lie ahead for you and your family.
That said, at the same time, the boy who sported that jam-smeared face is not the same person who attacked this officer, and the criminal justice system owes society a duty (however imperfectly executed) of expending its best efforts to see to it that the law abiding are not preyed upon by the dangerous.
Update, April 15, 2013: I posted the following in response after she expressed gratitude for my support. As it happens, I have experience both with the criminal justice system and with the media. Sometimes it can be hard to strike a balance between the right to privacy for a person’s family and friends and the public’s right to know under the First Amendment:
I agree, cases should not be tried in the media. Satisfying the public’s right to know under the First Amendment while protecting the privacy of family members, friends, and acquaintances of those charged with crimes (and of those who plead guilty to them) is a very, very tricky balance, one which the media and criminal justice system stakeholders often find hard to navigate.
Perhaps the only alternative to risking having cases tried in the media is to repeal the First Amendment altogether, and as bad as that risk is, the results of that alternative would be even worse. One of the media’s roles is to shine the bright light of day on government actions to ensure that those actions are above board, and one of the ways the media does that is to provide coverage of incidents such as this one.
None of which, of course, makes life any easier on you, your son, the rest of his family, his friends, or his acquaintances. Hopefully you are able at least to understand the media’s proper role, even if we can debate whether it oversteps its proper First Amendment bounds in any given case.
Again, may you and your family find peace and strength to face the difficult times ahead.