First - and I know that this will seem cold to some - but it was a reaction from the justice loving gut that still resides in many of us.
When, early last Tuesday morning, I heard the news that Maurice Clemmons - the individual who’d murdered four Lakewood, Washington police officers - had been put on an express train to hell, I had to stifle the “Yes!” that I wanted to shout out loud for fear of waking everyone in the house. I settled for a tight grin instead.
Not very compassionate is it? Honest, however, to the core.
Now, with that out of the way, the second thing is a simple question.
Can we get serious?
A few weeks ago, after a spate of violence in the news that included the murder of Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton, I wrote the following:
“I cringe at how we plea bargain horrendous crimes down to a lower offense. At how we convince ourselves that many of these individuals have been ‘rehabilitated’ and can safely rejoin society. At how we ignore the history of many who’ve returned to the streets only to begin their carnage again.”
Never in a month of Sundays could I have imagined that, just a few weeks later, I could use those words again, unchanged.
That I could do this was due to the case of Maurice Clemmons.
To review the bidding:
According to news reports, Mr. Clemmons was no stranger to the law. In fact, one story noted that: “Clemmons’ criminal history includes at least five felony convictions in Arkansas and eight felony charges in Washington. The record also stands out for the number of times he has been released from custody despite questions about the danger he posed.”
“Clemmons had been in jail in Pierce County for the past several months on a pending charge of second-degree rape of a child. He was released from custody just six days ago, even though he was staring at seven additional felony charges in Washington state.”
And, yet, we still think we’re serious about getting criminals off of the streets.
I say we’re just plain nuts.
This time the toll was four police officers dead, four families devastated, and nine children orphaned.
It’s taken some fairly horrendous incidents to begin getting our attention but, maybe, just maybe, we’re starting to get fed up.
Fed up with the fact that common sense is too often ignored. Fed up with repeated reminders that when we let these individuals loose among us, we’re literally gambling that it won’t be our name that’s being featured in the “Breaking News” that always follows the rampages of these individuals.
Maybe we’re finally ready to start asking: “What the hell are we doing to ourselves?” Maybe we’re finally ready to demand that the people who might decide to free such individuals actually stop to consider the long litany of what these people are capable of when they’re free.
I know that there’s an argument that people can and do change. That they can turn their lives around and become productive members of society.
But when we’re presented with individuals whose histories run to page after page of lawlessness and depravity, I believe that our response should run the gamut from tough to severe with a visit to extremely harsh. I believe that, for some individuals and for some crimes, there should be no reduced sentences, no plea bargains, and no parole. In fact, in some instances, the death penalty should be applied in a timly manner because it’s darned well called for.
Perhaps, to help prevent the tragedies we now see far too frequently, we should convince our legislators to consider passing two simple laws.
The first would make it a requirement that, whenever individuals such as Mr. Clemmons were being considered for release, their victims would be given a vote on the matter.
The second would be that, if release was still on the table after hearing from the victims, every member of the decison-making group (minus the victims) would have to draw straws.
The member who drew the short straw would get to have the thug, pervert, rapist, or child molester about to be released live in his or her neighborhood for the remainder of the original sentence.
Pass that last one and, then, let’s see how serious we can get.