Thursday, April 22, 2010

Crime and Punishment

Recently the Washington, DC area has been the scene of some horrific crimes involving minors with semi-automatic weapons. In one incident, armed youth in a stolen van driven by an 11-year-old boy sprayed a gathering with bullets and killed several people. The attack came following the theft of a gold-colored bracelet. A few days after that, a young man killed a younger woman over the preparation of a sandwich. He wanted one, she didn’t want to make it. In both instances, the DC police, responding to public outrage, quickly nabbed all responsible parties. There will be trials, and more trials, and appeals, and it will cost the community millions of dollars, partially because several of the accused cannot be tried in an adult court of law.

Here’s a concept: Screw that. If you commit an adult crime, you will should treated as an adult in court and receive an adult sentence. Let’s save money, save time, and get some folks off the streets—regardless of their ages.

For centuries human life has been divided into four, seven or twelve periods, according to the four cardinal points—or the four elements—the days of the week or the months of the year. The age of reason was thought to be seven years old. In the Western World, this was when a boy might leave his family to be trained as a valet, or, in the countryside, when he would be made responsible for a flock of sheep or a herd of cows.  Seven was considered the age when one would naturally recognize right from wrong, when one was first able to make decisions with moral overtones. At 12, a boy might swear fealty to a master. At 15, he could become king.

With these responsibilities came commensurate rewards and punishments. The system was relatively simple and based on common sense. The overwhelming majority of us knows the difference between right and wrong, and if we don’t it is not so much from ignorance as from denial, or from a determined unwillingness to learn.

Over the decades and centuries, our system has changed. What was once designed to protect a law-abiding majority from the excesses of a law-defying minority now does the exact opposite. The minority is insulated from responsibility and given every opportunity to use the letter of the law, rather than its intent. We excuse egregious behavior with an alphabet of justifications—bad neighborhood, bad schools, bad parenting, bad role models—none of which either alleviate or solve the problems of violence by youths on others.

So back to square one: Get these nasty folks—young, old, in between—off the streets. Re-establish penal colonies if necessaries, where the violent can live a life of violence that will not affect the rest of us. Some people are simply rotten and can’t be saved.

OK. That’s the rant of the day. Now I feel better.

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