Saturday, December 17, 2011

Skepticism and the Criminal "Justice" System

Despite the cries of doom all around us by apocalyptic believers and the perennially depressed who do nothing but piss and moan over how much worse the world is now than it was in the 50s, violent crime rates are actually on the decline in the United States. So when there is a homicide in our sleepy little Mississippi towns, we tend to take notice.

New Albany has been reeling from the shooting death of Amanda Price for about a week now. It seemed a senseless, rather random crime. For the first few days, law enforcement had no clue who had done it or why. Things didn't look very good for those who wanted to bring the killer(s) to justice.

But now there are some new developments in the case. Like everyone else in the general public, I'm not privy to the details. I don't know who is in custody and I don't know what evidence has been recovered to link the suspects to the shooting. What I do know is that the lack of public knowledge has not prevented people from making gross assumptions and becoming lax in their habits. Take for example these three statements from the neighborhood:

"Well, I'm so relieved they finally caught the killer because it was tragic right around the holidays. It's a blessing they got them," New Albany resident William Frazier said.

"Whoever did that should not have done it and I'm glad everybody can start opening up their doors and coming out," New Albany resident Melissa Judon said.

"I didn't know the Price family. It's justice and I feel like it's a really good thing," New Albany resident Courtney Browning said.

First, we haven't seen any charges filed, must less had a trial and convicted the suspect. We cannot know at this point that the killer was caught. Nothing in any of this story can reasonably be construed as any sort of "blessing."

Second, why would you start "opening up" your doors? No charges, no trial, no conviction. You can't just assume the guys in custody are guilty and start leaving your door open as if such a thing could never happen again. If the people in custody are actually innocent, then the killer is still out there.

Third, there's been no justice yet. There's a process and that process is just beginning, not ending. Until we know more, it is not reasonable to presume that we can just sound the all clear and move on.

"They're relieved of course that they have the person of interest in jail and because it kind of gives them peace of mind that they're not coming back," New Albany Mayor Tim Kent said.

I'm sure it does give them peace of mind but it's a false peace of mind at this point. Fortunately, the mayor seems to realize this:

"They're going to make sure they have every t crossed and every i dotted, but I feel good about the evidence that they do have," Mayor Kent added.

I certainly hope so because, at this point, only two things matter to me: 1) everyone who is charged gets a fair trial, and 2) the guilty person is the one convicted.
Americans need to stop blindly accepting police authority and understand that the criminal "justice" system (which I actually now simply call the "legal system" since I see little justice in it) is set up to put away more people for less reason. Private contractors make billions on running prisons. Prosecutors went elections and get promotions based on their conviction rates - not on how well they actually do their job. And law enforcement can score more arrests faster on simple drug possession charges than on actual violent crime cases. There's a great of motivation to rig the system so we must be extra skeptical.

But even if the system were pure, isn't skepticism what it is founded on? What happened to the whole idea of "innocent until proven guilty?" Why do we automatically assume that the guy they picked up and threw in jail is the one who did the killing? Maybe they're right and maybe they aren't. But until there is a trial, we really can't know.

I can understand people's need for an explanation and their desire to feel safe again. However, until the process has fully run its course, we have no way of knowing if the police have the right guys. As with so many other things in our ordinary lives, it really pays to stay skeptical.