Judging from the recent news, America’s sense of justice is all askew. Actor Isaiah Washington, condemned in the court of public opinion for using the word faggot to describe his gay colleague, has been sentenced by ABC to undergo sensitivity training for an unspecified period of time. Like Michael Richards, Isaiah has already apologized but this is not deemed sufficient for our morally outraged culture.
I’m not sure how counseling is an improvement over a threat to lose a privilege, in this case, his job. Do we really care about changing this man’s core attitudes or is the main concern that he not embarrass his employers and make them answer to vocal gay rights groups and other outspoken fans. It seems logical that an overpaid actor with a steady job in a hit show would respond to the exigencies of the latter without our needing to go through the motions of therapizing his biases.
Joseph Lepore and Sean Michael Ryan, the two former students at Seton Hall University who pled guilty to arson and witness tampering, were given sentences of just five years. The dormitory fire they purposely set killed three students and maimed others, yet they can be out on parole in as little as sixteen months. No one has mentioned sensitivity or morality training for the prosecutors who negotiated this plea bargain or for the sentencing judge, but I’m not alone in being nauseated by this insult to the worth of human life.
Time and again, people who kill or attempt to kill are punished with light sentences because of mitigating circumstances. In the name of expediency, we encourage plea bargains that build a stronger case against one criminal while the other gets a slap on the wrist. Delia Hernandez and her boyfriend Jose Munoz faced attempted murder charges for the torture of Xctasy, Delia’s four year old daughter.
Undoubtedly named for her mother’s drug of choice, the toddler was burned with cigarettes, had her arm broken and was nearly blinded with laundry bleach, but in exchange for testifying against her boyfriend, Delia will plead to felonious assault and will serve a maximum of seven years in prison. She will probably be out in three.
Celebrity potty mouths like Isaiah Washington, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump engage our collective venom. Spurred on by publicity machines, the media encourages the endless ruminating about their oral sins and the silly posturing that often ends in counseling with beacons like the Reverend Jesse Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton. While we practice our moral indignation on the soft cases, the hard cases slip by.
More and more children are abused and killed by mothers and their live-in boyfriends; child welfare agencies in the tri-state area cannot keep up with their growing caseloads. Instead of sending a message that would force women to take responsibility for their actions and inactions, we treat them as helpless victims and perpetuate the cycle.
If we devoted as much print space and media time to Xctasy’s mother and the two arsonists who shattered so many lives, perhaps there would be swifter changes in our justice system. Perhaps more women would think twice before allowing violent boyfriends to inhabit their homes.
And maybe prosecutors and judges would understand the utter travesty of sixteen months in jail for arsonists who extinguished three promising lives and ruined countless others. Until we get our priorities straight, until we make the justice system accountable for setting the moral bar where it belongs, society will be complicit in the depraved indifference respresented by the above cases.
While we ponder that, we can continue to wag our fingers at movie stars and celebrities who say such naughty things!!
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