Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ideological Consistency Test

Are you for or against revenge killing? That’s kind of a loaded question, but the topic has been rattling around in my head since I watched a fairly popular movie on cable TV the other day. (Bonus points if you can name the movie before you finish reading this post. Clue: 1996.) Actually, the subject matter has been in my thoughts since before that, due to two articles I read. Added together, the three items create a diverse perspective that challenges the simple nature of ideological purity.

I’ll even do you one better: one of the instances, from my personal conversations and interactions, is an example that pisses off more liberal individuals. The other instance (the movie), from my personal conversations and interactions, is one that pisses off more conservative individuals. The crime examined in each is nearly identical (though my brother will argue that they are not).

I’ll start with the opinion piece on revenge killing, which speaks very deeply to our cultural acceptance of this practice. That is, when it is an acceptable practice, it is a symptom of a systemic wrong. According to Jarvis DeBerry, “one could make the argument that the revenge killings are the horrifying but inevitable result of a criminal justice system that often seems incapable of bringing about justice.”

These words make plenty of sense to me, and I’d have to say that Mr. DeBerry is more than adequately backed up by historical precedent. In places where civil justice systems and institutions are weak or corrupt, there is almost always more violence, and revenge killings feature prominently. If the law will not stand for you, you must take the law into your own hands to protect you and yours. This leads to cultural identifications we associate with the barbarism of places where chaos and anarchy rule instead of law.

In places where civil justice systems and institutions deliver adequately in the eyes of the populace, the populace foregoes the immediate retributions of revenge and allows the impersonal actor of the state to exact prescribed retribution in their stead. Though there may be excess towards harshness or laxity in some cases, the populace tolerates this system because of the shared protections it affords.

How about those revenge killing crimes, you ask? Let us begin with the real crime, for which a real American is facing real charges. No happy ending here.
An American contractor who was working in Afghanistan is facing second degree murder charges for killing an Afghan man who was in restraints at the time he was shot. He just took out his gun, put it to the man’s temple and pulled the trigger.

Pretty cut and dry, you may say. I feel indignation rising in some readers. It is WRONG to shoot a man in shackles, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that the man who pulled the trigger had just watched as the Afghan had lit a pitcher of gasoline on fire and then doused one of the contractor’s colleagues in the burning liquid. It doesn’t matter that the burned individual suffered severe injuries to 60 percent of her body and later died. Why? Americans aren’t supposed to shoot people who are already restrained. We have problems when this kind of thing happens in our country, don’t we?

But what about Afghanistan? Not the most law-and-order place, is it? Not the most respectful of women’s rights, is it? How do you think the restrained individual would be treated by local authorities one he was turned over and charged with setting a foreign woman on fire? I doubt he’d catch a murder case. Knowing that, and knowing that he was in a jurisdiction where the criminal justice system was incapable of bringing about justice, our American shooter engaged in the horrifying but inevitable result.

Indignant yet? Is your internal morality gauge going bonkers? Because here’s the rub: some of my readers are probably horrified at the justification I have just offered, others are probably cheering it. Where is the question of ideological consistency? Take your reaction to the above scenario, horrified or understanding whatever it may be, and place that reaction – honestly – side by side with your reaction to the verdict scene in A Time to Kill.

How many of you, besides my brother, had the exact same reaction to both the real scenario and movie scenario? If you did, I’d say you pass this version of the Ideological Consistency Test. If you didn't why not?



mominem said...

She argues that the whole Iraq adventure is simply W getting even for Sadam trying to kill his Pa.

DADvocate said...

I remember 20 or more years ago a man here in the U.S. did the same to a man who had kidnapped, raped and killed his daughter. He disguised himself, waited in the airport while law enforcement returned the man for trial. He was acting as if taking a drink from a water fountain when the group walked by. He turned, put is gun to the man's head and pulled the trigger. TV crew's filmed the entire incident. The jury let him go.

I don't endorse vigilante justice but sometimes I understand it.

patsbrother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
patsbrother said...

Yes, Grasshopper, there are differences between the killings in A Time to Kill and in the military contractor story. And those differences are signficant: they're time and thought.

We commit crimes of passion when we react immediately to new information which causes our emotions to overcome our senses and when we don't have time to think things through. Back in the day, courts defined the situations which might thus mitigate the malice aforethought necessary to prove murder. These situations included cases in which a husband finds his wife with another man or when a father discovers the rape of his child.

Today we describe such a defense as "temporary insanity" and view the possible circumstances more broadly, judging on a case by case basis whether this shocking discovery caused this defendant to act out.

However, the discovery and the act could not be separated by much time. If the person consciously decided to kill the offender in revenge, no matter how fleeting a thought it was, that act was no longer committed without intent. A planned killing is one that is committed with malice aforethought, meaning it is malice murder.

The question in the contractor case is going to be whether at any point he planned on killing the guy he shot, or whether he was so overcome by the new information of his friend's condition that his emotions overwhelmed his senses.

That question does not exist in A Time to Kill. (I've only seen a small part of it, but I assume Samuel L. Jackson's character guns down the bastards who raped his daughter right after they are acquitted.) He planned their murder, laid in wait for them, and executed his plan. Yes, he was probably emotional at that time, but he committed those acts with actual malice. He was a murderer.

If there was a time to kill, it came much earlier. Had he discovered the rape and very shortly thereafter killed the bastards without consciously thinking about what he was doing, THAT would be a crime of passion.

Sure, a jury might be disinclined to convict him, but ask yourself this: would it have been acceptable for the Browns and Goldmans to have shot O.J. after that jury declared him not guilty? The answer is no.