Aside Posted on Updated on
Public backlash over mild sentencing misses the point of “justice” in focusing on teen’s wealth
It’s a story so ugly, you don’t want to hear it more than once.
Sixteen-year-old Ethan Crouch drunkenly takes his dad’s truck joyriding with friends. Now, all that’s left of a local mother, her daughter, her daughter’s friend and a good Samaritan youth pastor is ashes. His joyriding friend is in a vegetative state. You can read the gruesome details here if you haven’t already.
Someone needs to pay. But how much, when the victims’ lives and those of their families are irreplaceable?
Ten years probation, according to the judge. Not a single minute behind bars — because Crouch was too spoiled by rich parents to be responsible for himself. Psychologists, and eventually the judge, bought into the idea of “Affluenza,” an unlikely hybrid of naivety and insanity.
It’s no surprise race is part of the headline. After the recent media–cash cow that was the Trayvon Martin case, we should expect people to pay attention. But it’s more the wealth aspect this time that is inspiring nasty responses.
Once again, the social-media mob has formed, demanding a popular definition of “justice” that only comes at the end of a pitchfork.
And what justice do we demand? Is Ethan Crouch’s lifelong incarceration a given?
The facts show unspeakable horrors caused by Crouch’s thoughtless and careless teenage actions. He has fractured and mangled the lives of victims, their families and their friends too.
But here’s the tough part: Crouch knows he was wrong, and he’s sorry.
Ethan Crouch will wake up thinking about this nightmare every day for the rest of his life, and it will weigh heavily on his mind every time he gets into a moving vehicle or is offered a drink. The likelihood something horrific could happen again is remote, at best.
Crouch has learned a terrible and life-altering lesson, through altering others’ lives, and the decade of probation is there to make sure it sticks with him.
For some people, that’s not enough. On my Facebook feed alone, I notice many calling for “justice” — meaning his immediate and indefinite imprisonment. Twitter’s search finds people calling for the death penalty, and even literal burning alive.
The good news for those folks: Crouch very well may hang himself in front of his parents’ living room window. Shameful, sorrowful regret does that kind of thing to a person. And his rich parents — now forever depressed and tormented — wouldn’t we all love to watch them come home to their teenage son’s lifeless body. Wouldn’t that be a big dose of delicious and redemptive justice.
The point being missed is this: White or black, rich or poor — should a youthful, uneducated, foolishly naive accidental-killer ever be able to contribute to our society again?
Wouldn’t we all benefit if he did?
Historically, criminal “justice” has been synonymous with “correction,” and traditionally it has aimed to rehabilitate as well as punish. But perhaps we’ve evolved to crave the pain of someone else’s punishment — even if we’re thousands of miles away scrolling through our Facebook news feed.
Is that really who we want to be?
“Justice” isn’t correction or revenge. It is simply doing what is just.
I’m not defending his very apparent actions, by any means. He is responsible for the killings of four and the serious injury of nine more. You shouldn’t be able to get away with that.
But 10 years probation isn’t getting away with anything. And for a traumatic crime like this, there really is no getting away from it, ever.
How should we deal with the idiotic mistakes of a child? Should a society allow itself to forgive, if someone has learned their lesson?
I can only assume the judge ripped a few massive bong hits before buying into “Affluenza” as a primary defense, but perhaps this time justice truly is a decade of probation and harsh self-examination.
And couldn’t we all use a bit more of the latter.