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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Answering An Injustice With Injustice

I'll be the first to admit, despite learning first hand that no good deed goes unpunished, that I don't like seeing bad things happen to people and I am usually the first to intervene in order to stop something I think is wrong. This problematic behavior on my part isn't limited to what happened a bit over a year ago, it goes back quite some ways and even continues today. But there is a difference between doing a good deed in response to a wrong and answering a bad deed with another bad deed.

Let me explain...

When I worked my way through college in the 90's I did a stint of time as security at a local bar. It wasn't in the best part of town and most of the bands were better ignored, but it was work and the people I worked with were nice enough. When the occasion arose that I needed to throw someone out, I would always try to reason with them, and in failing to do that I would only use the force necessary to get them out. Again, I don't like to see people suffer and I'm of the firm belief that answering suffering with more suffering only makes things worse... that revenge is not something to be confused with justice.

For example, one time while working the door I saw a woman being attacked by some guy. While not part of my job to intervene, I did anyway and ended up having to chase the guy down and detain him when I found out he stole the woman's purse. When I caught him I didn't beat him up, or even punch him, I got him in an arm bar and leveraged him to the ground where I held him until the police came. It wasn't my job to be judge, jury, and executioner... It wasn't my place to determine what punishment he deserved even though the police seemed to have hoped I roughed him up before they got there... those things are for the justice system to determine and do, not for a single person in the heat of a moment to decide and act upon. I did what I had to, got the purse back, put the guy off the streets, and everything was better in my small part of the world that night.

In Seattle, it's different. Out here it seems that lynch mobs and vigilantism is commonplace and encouraged... apparently being part of a drunken angry mob makes one qualified to determine someone's guilt and what punishment is merited here. It wasn't just my case that showed me this, there are others. Consider the case of what happened to Zsolt Dornay that was published below this post. Sure, Dornay has a questionable history with the police department, but was the crowd really justified in beating him down for what they claimed he did, even if he did do those things? And, in the process of taking justice into their own hands to hurt him more than was required to stop what he was doing they put events into play that resulted in the off-duty officer shooting a person who, by all witness accounts, wasn't even a party to the assault. A wrong wasn't righted that night, one wrong was answered with another to make a bad situation even worse.

Just today there was yet another example of Seattle's love of drunken justice, Jonah at The Stranger wrote about another case of lynch-mob justice in Seattle. Seems a young man was tossed out of a local bar for pinching a young woman's butt. The drunken patrons of the establishment convicted the accused and sentenced him to a brutal beating in the middle of the street that even included the use of a nearby folding chair. Seems that mob justice determined that the crime of pinching a buttocks is heinous enough to deserve attempted murder. Of course, anything done that results in a beating by an angry mob in Seattle is considered as a crime worthy of attempted murder by the law here.

The police won't likely do anything about it, they support vigilantism as evidenced by how they treated what happened to me when it turned out that I was an innocent victim of mob-justice. Even if they did do something, which they only do when it's one of their own that is the victim of mob-justice, the prosecutor would likely refuse to do anything about it because any accusation of crime gives an angry mob legal justification for acting as judge and executioner in this city. Even so, the people of Seattle see nothing wrong with it as well. After all, the responses to Jonah's article range from "he deserved it" to "why is this even worth posting?" as if mob rule by a group of angry drunkards were a sufficient replacement for a justice system with checks, balances, and a presumption of innocence until trial.

I suppose that Seattle is so far northwest that it's still backwards and firmly in the old west, where mob rule was the law of the land and if you were strung up on a tree you must have deserved it somehow. The problem is that... sometimes, the angry mob is wrong and the drunken pursuit of justice is easily transformed into an injustice that was worse than the alleged crime. When that happens, not only does the drunken mob punish an innocent victim, but they also let the real culprit get away and become accessories to the crime themselves.

A beating from a lynch-mob is every bit as unjust as a beating done by a bad cop, and in many ways, it's worse. But in Seattle, while citizens may complain about police brutality the angry drunken mob is revered by them. Such vigilantism is encouraged by the city through it's tolerance of such beatings and the people accept the occasional beating of an innocent person a worthwhile price to pay. So long as this type of behavior is tolerated and encouraged in Seattle, it's only going to continue unabated until some angry mob administers a death sentence on an innocent person... and when that does happen, the city will be just as much to blame as the people who administered the fatal blows.

Because, in the end, a brutal beating at the hands of an angry mob should never be confused with justice, that's not the intent of an angry mob. The intent is retaliation, the intent is to cause harm under the alibi of an accusation, and a wrong answered with a wrong only multiplies the suffering caused by the first wrong. Ultimately, adding an injustice to an injustice in such a way never gives us justice as a result.

2 comments:

Five Before Midnight said...

Hi,

Very interesting and informative site. These issues are not easy to blog about as I have learned in the past several years but they are still very important and it's important to shine a spotlight on what most cities want to keep hidden.

I think in Seattle, there are probably people out there who do care. But in many cities with these serious problems, it's hard for many people not to be afraid to speak out because of harassment. I think most cities are the same in many ways. Weak civilian oversight of police agencies which sorely need good independent oversight but definitely don't want it.

Packratt said...

Hi,

Thanks for visiting and thank you for the comment... even though I think you meant to respond to the article above this one.

It is indeed very frustrating to work hard to bring these issues to the public's attention and then see some progress as a result that only gets dashed in the political backwash. I suppose that makes it feel like nobody is really listening, especially when you combine that with the fear of reprisals that people might harbor which prevents them from participating in the process and public debate surrounding it.

I guess it's up to us to continue as we can in the hopes of other chances to improve the situation and restore the balance in the justice system that the founders of this nation intended.

Thanks again, and all the best!

 
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