Thursday, July 22

New Bush Commercial

A Bush commercial running in heavy rotation in our area on the cable news channels states that while John Kerry missed several thinly described votes (and those are worth a post each by themselves), he...

...found time to vote against the Laci Peterson Law, that protects pregnant women from violence. ...

First, Democrats objected to a portion of the bill that described a fetus in terms that give it the status of its adult mother in order to add further penalties, when they could have avoided the subject and simply added the penalties. It's clearly a foothold toward establishing legal precedent that could be used to move against reproductive choice. (We could take a lesson in persistence from this effort.)

But another assumption made in this statement is more insidious, and goes beyond the choice debate. The law set a punishment for a crime already committed. Even had it been in effect at the time of Laci Peterson's death, she would likely still be dead. She was not protected by the existing laws against murder, and they serve now only as retribution.

There are times when retribution is justified. I struggle with the issue of the death penalty when I read about the many cases where DNA evidence has exonerated Death Row inmates. It seems that perhaps we aren't wise enough to make decisions about these matters. I struggle with it more when I read about crimes of a horrible nature, where the perpetrator has been caught beyond shadow of a doubt. It's a hard question. But whatever way you think about the death penalty, it is not protection, but retaliation.

Putting someone in prison is retribution. It doesn't change what they did, restore their victims, or bring people back to life. It might prevent additional crimes by that person, but only if they're never let out again. Often, ex-convicts, brutalized by a Lord of the Flies prison culture, no better educated than when they walked in, and virtually unemployable, go on to commit other crimes. Many others spend their lives as drifters, sinking further into the substance abuse prevalent in our nation's prisons. Is this really the best form of protection we can think of?

Protection is putting more police on the streets. It's about giving those police training that allows them to inspire the trust and confidence of their local communities. It's about giving people a head start through education so that they don't grow up desperate and alienated, feeling that they owe nothing to their society. It's about providing early childhood healthcare and support services to families who can't afford them, so that undiagnosed conditions don't interfere with learning. It's about addressing and changing a culture that glorifies violence, through whatever means seem most productive. It's about making sure that counseling is available to families when they're having communication difficulties, and that there's a safety net to catch them when they're having financial difficulties.

Protection is necessarily a matter of prevention. And admittedly, there are some things that can't be protected against, people who can't be helped, and problems we can only come to deal with too late. But there are so many things that we can prevent, that we can protect ourselves and our families from, that it doesn't make sense to muddy the discussion by confusing protection in advance and retribution after the fact.

This country now imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world. Maybe it's about time to start talking about other ways to protect our society.


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