Enough Is Enough

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What is there
about the United States that we delight in sending people to prison
for long periods of time? Why do we spend an incredible amount of
time and money for police officers to lie in wait to catch that
most dangerous of criminals: the speeder? After all, if we didn’t
catch those who exceed the speed limit, the world as we know it
might not exist, and pedestrians and other motorists would undoubtedly
perish by the thousands. Why do we devastate entire communities
by locking up everyone in sight for using or buying drugs? Has legalization,
as we did with alcohol last century, occurred to anyone? Actually,
in a recent editorial in the Washington Post, it was gratifying
to see two former police officers support just such a policy change
which is long overdue. Until that occurs, we will continue to lock
people up and throw away the key. As a culture, we seem to delight
in sending people to jail for anything and everything.

There are three
areas of modern American life which affect just about all of us
in which governmental authorities try to regulate our behavior and
force our mores to correspond to their laws: driving; use of drugs;
ownership and use of guns. In all three areas, officials attempt
to force acceptance of evermore numerous and stringent laws through
escalating monetary penalties, and in two of the three, stiff jail
sentences, to send a message to the perpetrator and to the rest
of us to shape up and accept these policies, or it could be our
turn next. Most of the time, many of us simply ignore the news or
mutter beneath our breath about the latest monstrosity imposed by
our leaders or those in authority affecting any of these three areas.
However, the news that football player Plaxico Burress was hounded
into a plea bargain of two years in prison for the crime of “shooting
himself” strains the credulity of any thinking person and cries
out for the response “enough is enough."

Mr. Burress
ran into the prosecutor mentality that dominates our judicial system
on those three issues when he had the audacity of accidentally “shooting
himself” with a handgun that he was not licensed to carry. I am
not suggesting that he should have been carrying a gun in the circumstances
of the situation, or that he should have walked away with no penalty,
but the imposition of a two year sentence in jail for this offense
is so egregiously disproportionate to the crime, that it can serve
absolutely no useful purpose other than to show the “sheeple” who
is boss in our society and to intimidate anyone from wanting to
have a gun. Why could not reason and intelligence have been employed
in what could be a “teaching moment," especially given that
Mr. Burress is widely known as a professional athlete? He could
have been given a minimal or suspended sentence, community service,
and opportunities to discuss the incident in ways that both the
authorities and Mr. Burress would agree would be fair and productive
for both sides. However, as in the use of drugs, any offense involving
a gun is run up the flagpole to inflame public opinion, distort
the issues, and to intimidate anyone from even considering having
a gun. Yet another arrow in the quiver of public intimidation affecting
one of our constitutional rights!

The official
reaction to gun usage, both legal and illegal, is so predictably
severe that one must wonder what the real motives are. Actually,
it is not difficult to discern the real motives, which are to disarm
the populace and to intimidate us with outrageous responses to any
use of guns. This prison sentence is another example of the widespread
use of inappropriately lengthy prison sentences for “crimes” that
do not deserve such punishment. There appears to be an official
attitude that, if we give enough people lengthy jail time, then
the “correct” attitudes toward these crimes will be encouraged,
and we will have less of those “crimes." Rather than having
that desired result, this attitude of putting people in jail for
long periods merely fosters resentment, makes it more difficult
for those so sentenced to be productive members of society, and
it polarizes the electorate into those “for” and “against” long
prison terms for “crimes” that demand more just and equitable treatment.
The descent of our culture into one with less liberty and more government
intrusion into our lives has resulted in a situation where reasonableness
has disappeared when the crime is in one of these three areas. The
result is that we have a society full of vengeance rather than one
that is full of freedom, common sense, and trust in the citizenry.
This ridiculous sentence for Mr. Burress, which was motivated by
intimidation rather than a sense of justice, is just the latest
example of an officialdom run amok, and it is way past time for
Americans to cry out to their elected officials who apply these
sentences, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

24, 2009

Robert Foss
[send him mail] is
a retired government employee who lives in Arlington, VA with his
wife and libertarian son.

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