Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vigilante Justice isn't Nice: Haiti

This isn't the cheeriest post topic, but the Lemming thinks it's important.
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"Stoning death a case of 'citizen justice,' witnesses say"
CNN (January 22, 2010)

"In the middle of the street lies a young man who appears to be dead, a pool of blood beneath his head. A large concrete block is next to his shoulder, with shattered pieces of it around him. Blood trickles down the road.

"Witnesses say he was a thief trying to steal people's money Friday amid the chaos from last week's earthquake.

" 'This is robbery. He went to rob the people. He went to steal money -- American dollars,' said a man at the scene who identified himself as Frederic Mano, a Haitian sportswriter...."

"...Mano said the young man was one of several thousand prisoners who escaped after the earthquake struck.

"He did not deserve to be killed, Mano says, 'but anyway, he's dead. That is destiny.'

"Other witnesses gave a similar account. They said they believed the man was a thief and might have been a prisoner who escaped.

"In Haiti at this time, there is no immediate way to confirm the man's identity...."

Funny thing, though. As soon as something like that 7.0 earthquake, Tuesday before last in Haiti, breaks the trammeling shackles of a stultifying society (or is it shackling trammels?): one of the first things survivors do is either fix the old shackles, or make new ones. Or trammels, if that's the word.

Like the folks who broke a concrete block over that young man's head.

A few questions came to mind.
  • Who was he?
    • Good question
  • Did he really steal?
    • Maybe
  • Is he dead?
    • Yes
      • Sincerely
  • Was an he escaped convict?
    • Maybe
  • Did he deserve to die?
    • Probably not
  • Is stealing right?
    • No
    • Usually
    • Depends on what you mean by "steal"

Stealing is Wrong, Right?

Don't get me wrong: there's a reason why "don't steal" is part of what Moses carried down from Sinai.

But consider a hypothetical situation: You survived an earthquake. The town you live in is mostly knocked flat, but at least now many of the fires are out. It's hot. You helped pull a few people out of the grocery down the street. You can tell from the smell that others didn't make it. The local police force, fire department - the whole city staff - are either dead or putting out fires - literally - on the other side of town. The people you're responsible for are wounded, sick, and haven't eaten for days.

Is it wrong to salvage food from the grocery, while it's still edible? Maybe not.

Is it wrong to salvage your neighbor's plasma screen television? Probably.
Update (January 23, 2010)
There's more: there's always more. ("Life, Death, Theft, and Catholic Teaching: Who Said This Was Easy?," A Catholic Citizen in America (January 23, 2010))

Living Free, Staying Alive

I don't know how fashionable this old notion is today: that most or all of humanity's problems come from the stultifying inhibitions of a repressive society and the shackles of conformity.

I'm not very good at conforming, myself, and understand the appeal of living "as free as the wind blows, as free as the grass grows," and all that. Which makes some of my major decisions seem - odd. ("I'm Not Awed by Authority, I Don't Conform Easily: So I Became a Catholic?!," A Catholic Citizen in America (September 19, 2009))

I sympathize for the young man - that encounter with angry people and a concrete block lowered his life options to zero.

I sympathize with the folks who killed him, too. From the looks of it, they've been under a bit of stress lately.

Problem is, right now it's hard to tell if the young man actually stole something or not. Not that it matters. He's dead.

If they people who killed him got the right man - assuming that theft took place - they've got one less thief to be concerned with. But I don't know that, even in their circumstances, killing him was necessary. Convenient, and emotionally satisfying, probably. Necessary? When there's work to be done - and apparently enough people to overpower him, if he decides to leave?

Like I said: it doesn't matter now. He's dead.

Vigilante justice: At the moment, it may bring about emotional catharsis. But later, there are a lot of questions to answer, and a body deal with.

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