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Hot Weather Ethics Quiz

logic traced to its end

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 24, 2002.

There are a series of old jokes about old drivers who never get into accidents and have great driving records. But they cause thousands of accidents. So, here’s the situation. A little white girl in California is playing in the yard with her sister. A guy stops his car, tells them he’s looking for his lost dog, grabs the girl and roars off. The sister gives a decent description of a Hispanic male and the apparent perpetrator - who looks like the drawings and has a record of just this sort of thing - is arrested and his DNA matches evidence found on the child. Enough said.

In Pennsylvania, a seven-year-old black girl is kidnapped and offered for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in ransom. She is left on a bed wrapped in duct tape. She chews it off, gets help, alerts the police, and the hunt is on for two black men she knows and identified.

You may be offended by the race references; you should be, but they are necessary to my point.

Regardless of race, I bet nobody thinks the guy in California ought to live. Kidnapping, rape, and murder of a five year old cannot be patted into any sort of philosophical shape. Worse, he took her right from the family yard, kicking and screaming.

In Philadelphia, the race of the victim and the perpetrators are apparently the same. The child was not intended to be killed, and was probably taken as compensation for some sort of drug deal gone bad in the ghettos of Philly. Further, the perpetrators were neither bright nor competent, given that the seven year old escaped and fingered them. Do they deserve to die when they are convicted, as surely they will be?

Kidnapping is a capital offense, like murder, and the kidnapping of a seven year old, like a five year old, is heinous beyond the norm. Both children fought, but one was raped and murdered, the other apparently had little physically wrong when examined. One was doomed by a diseased lust, the other targeted for money.

I’m willing to bet that all three men would die by the hand of the state if the law could be retroactively changed. Is that right? Problems arise.

The California guy justifiably should fry, without any hesitation absent new exculpatory evidence. But the two cruel bozos in Pennsylvania? What they did was awful, and a life sentence would not be inappropriate, but they did little more than what crazed parents do in contested divorces. They kidnap children to whom they were not granted custody, they sometimes tie them up and gag them till they can be calmed and imbued with the Stockholm Syndrome in the new parent, they use them as bargaining chips in divorce. I don’t recall a single parent being sentenced to death for kidnapping their own child, even though custody issues allow it. In race conscious Philly, if it’s only a black on black crime, what would the sentence be?

So how about this little quiz. If you saw someone taking your struggling child from the front lawn into his car, would you stop him? Would you kill him if that were the quickest way to insure the safety of your child? Would you kill him if you were only pretty sure it would increase the safety of your child? Uncomfortable, but we know what to do, right?

Okay, what about a neighbor’s struggling child? What about ANY child? Would you simply take down the license plate because you might not be sure what the issue was, or would you make it the job of the perpetrator to explain it to you before he could drive off? Would you be willing to go to court to convict him in a domestic custody case when maybe things weren’t all that black and white, even to our President? Would you risk your own life for an unknown child seemingly in danger in visual range?

Okay, what about someone who drives around in a car in your neighborhood? Maybe he was the guy who was freed because you wrote down the wrong license plate number or something. Would you wait for the inevitable? Or would you polish him off in his own neighborhood to spare your and the neighbors' children a traumatic experience. Would you do it in front of his child, knowing that he will eventually rape, kidnap or kill your child or a neighbor’s child? In so doing, aren’t you saving more than you are destroying? Yes? No? Are you sure?

Because the decisions we make in these sorts of situations essentially explain why we’re in Afghanistan. Crude template, but you know, it works. Would Zimbabwe be better off today if we had bombed the hell out of Robert Mugabe's strutting army and killed some innocent civilians and sent in UN monitors and allowed a focused and relatively peaceful revolt to take place? What about in the Congo? What about in Yugoslavia years before we did? What about in Haiti, years before we did? If you could save a thousand Haitians tomorrow would you risk killing a hundred today? And is your decision based on ethics or your own comfort found in being able to say "I didn't kill anyone?"

Because in virtually all these cases, there was a time when someone could have stepped in and turned the path of the perpetrator, could have saved the child, could have done the right thing. There is a series of old jokes about old governments who never intervene and kill anyone and have great human rights records. However, their inaction causes...................... Well, you know the old joke.