Friday, March 4, 2011

Open Bar Policy

Remember how, as a child, you learned to be disinclined toward certain behaviors because of the looming consequences?

It all started with the parents, as does most of our learning.  Throw food from your highchair: dinner's over.  Talk back during dinner: go to your room.  Get caught making illegal contributions to The Committee To Reelect Richard M. Nixon: be deemed a felon.  Get caught being Richard M. Nixon: resign in disgrace, and then go on tv blubbering about your mother. 

Very few of us run afoul of the criminal justice system because, once incarcerated, one's job prospects dim considerably, not to mention being stuck with only basic cable.  We tend not to rob banks because they'll send you to jail for that.  (Quick question: do you think there has ever been a guy arrested for robbing banks whose name was Rob Banks?  What a defense!  "I lived up to my name, your honor!") 

What about his industrious, hard-working brother, who did all he could to save money?  "Phil" Banks!

So we're agreed, most of us stay within the law, for moral reasons certainly, but also, partially, because of the fear of punishment?  

What punishment is it, when a 24-year-old (allegedly) shot and killed a high school senior at a gas station early one Sunday morning here recently - and that 24-year-old was convicted in 2003 of second-degree murder, robbery and using a handgun during a crime in Baltimore City, was sentenced to 20 years, with half of it suspended,  and then got out after serving seven years—from August 2003 until his release on June 28, 2010.

He KILLED someone and someone else let him out of jail!

And then, he was arrested on a drug charge in October, but no one said, "OK, back to the hoosegow for you."

And then, last month, he allegedly committed murder.  Of a high school guy, who will never have the chance to get out in the world and live his life. 

So, all those thoughts of life sentences for murder, all those scenes from James Cagney movies with Cagney going to the gas chamber with that crazy look in his eyes, all the things you always thought to be the consequence for taking another life: meh. Seven years, you're out to do it again.

Really a deterrent, I have to say, but where is the debate, the public outcry?  We're all worked up about paying another dime for a beer or a gallon of gas, and should those two women you know be able to be married, but we let murderers out of jail so they can commit murder again.

As Bob Dylan said, bury the rag deep in your face; now is the time for your tears. And that was about another murder in Baltimore, where a rich guy got six months a few years back for killing a barmaid.  Some years later, the same rich guy, William Zantzinger, got 18 months and a $50,000 fine for unfair and deceptive trade practices when he rented out horrible shacks.   Zantzinger passed away two years ago, and we can assume that he is working out his sins in the proper fashion.  For those on earth below, the lesson hasn't gone far enough.

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