Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cats in the Cradle

I’m going to do it again.  I’m going to not be funny.  I know I promised a slightly humorous take on things, but as soon as I said so, things took a turn for the serious.  Today, I have only an observation that leaves me with questions. 

Last week, a cat met an unfortunate end.  You can read about it here.  As it turns out, a wrinkle in Missouri animal abuse laws forecloses any criminal charge against the cat’s owners.  Once word of the cat’s demise got out, it spread like wildfire.  Facebook lit up.  Online petitions acquired over 1200 signatures.  Candlelight vigils were held.  The switchboard was clogged with concerned citizens.  People responded passionately in whatever way they thought best.

During the same week, a man was charged with trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. In the last few weeks, defendants have been charged, pled or been found guilty of rape, statutory rape and child molestation among other things. There is a STILL an unsolved case in which an  infant was put in a plastic shopping sack and left on the side of the road.  No Facebook posts.  No online petition.  No candlelight vigil.  Why?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not trying to minimize what was done to this animal.  What is legal and what is right are not always the same thing.  It seemed to me an interesting contrast though.  How is it that the death of a cat elicits a more active, passionate response than the exploitation of our children, or sexual violence? 

Show me what a society finds outrageous, and I can tell you what that society values. 

If you want to get passionate.  If you want to DO something about sexual violence and/or child abuse…give your time, treasure and passion to organizations like this (MOCSA) and this (Synergy Services).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Zimmerman Telegram

I can’t resist.  I just can’t risk being the only human being on the internet that didn’t post about the George Zimmerman verdict.  Trayvon Martin’s death is a tragedy that could have been avoided.  The conviction of George Zimmerman is a tragedy that was avoided. 

The verdict doesn’t mean that Trayvon Martin’s death is acceptable.  It isn’t.  It doesn’t mean that George Zimmerman’s actions that night were okay.  They weren’t.  It doesn’t mean that racial prejudice, profiling and gun violence aren’t real issues to be addressed.  What it means is that the system of justice we created for ourselves worked.  We didn’t get the verdict that the media expected.  We didn’t get a verdict driven by popular opinion.  What we did get is a jury of regular folks doing their best to apply the law to the facts as presented in court.  They did what the rule of law and a free and just society demand; they held emotion in check, ignored the media frenzy, and did something that was likely uncomfortable for all of them.  They honestly admitted that they had reasonable doubt…and they acquitted him.  From what I’ve seen, it was the right call.  I don’t know what happened that night.  Neither do you.  I’ll not second guess other prosecutors, but I’m not sure there was ever a time in this case when reasonable doubt didn’t seem to be an insurmountable legal obstacle…IF a jury applied that standard. 

It’s not supposed to be easy to obtain a conviction and deprive a citizen of their liberty.  In fact, it’s supposed to be hard.  The criminal justice system has the highest legal standard known to the law.  Beyond a reasonable doubt is a tough standard to meet.  Ask any prosecutor.  I have had more than one juror tell me (after the trial) they believed the defendant “did it”, but they just weren’t sure beyond a reasonable doubt (or words to that one says “reasonable doubt” except lawyers, right?).  Its hard to be upset with that…not impossible, but hard.  Even jurors professing a “hang ‘em high” attitude usually sober up very quickly when the power to actually do so is placed in their hands.  That is as it should be.  It is not a light or easy thing that we are doing in the courthouse. 

I am reminded of a passage in Zechariah 7:9 that often comes to my mind as a prosecutor.  “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.  In your hearts, do not think evil of each other.”  If ever we reach the point of finding ways to convict the accused of “something” just to avoid a riot, discontent or criticism, we will have lost any semblance of true justice.  Fortunately, at least in Sanford, FL, these six women left our justice system alive and well.