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!
August 24, 2009