In Wasilla, Alaska, a community about 250 miles south of Fairbanks, a young man fell in with a bad crowd and ended up bludgeoned to death. Five other young men are now accused of his murder.
I don’t know anyone involved. I feel compassion for the family that lost their son, who by their account was a good kid … although I would note that he was hanging out with this other kid who is now accused of killing him, which makes me wonder about the nature of this relationship. Generally, teenagers don’t kill one another over baggies of pot. It’s usually something bigger than that.
But I don’t know the details and ultimately, it probably won’t matter to me because I don’t live in Wasilla. Except … the Alaska Dispatch News has a comments section and people are going crazy on the thread, essentially advocating that these young men be executed without a trial and disparaging a recent criminal justice reform bill that Alaska passed. They reached a bridge too far for me when they started talking about “all the other thugs” in the Valley that need to be “dealt with” BEFORE they can commit similar crimes.
I don’t make any secret that I think the criminal justice system in the United States stinks like last week’s fish left out on the counter. Alaska has one of the toughest presumptive sentencing schedules in the country. We needed criminal justice reform for lower level crimes because our jails are overcrowded with a revolving door population. But as soon as something like this happens, people start freaking out about how this or that law needs to be toughened and advocating for the death penalty, insisting that this will reduce crime.
Does it? The statistics say tough-on-crime bills don’t reduce crime as much as armed homeowners do and I know peole in the Valley are armed. What tough on crime legislation basically does it just guarantee prison guards have jobs.
But more … a boy who grows up with a father in prison is twice as likely to go to prison himself.So, we’re not just guaranteeing prison guards jobs today … we’re guaranteeing their children jobs as prison guards in 25 years.
First, we need to realize that human nature isn’t good and so things like this are bound to happen. We used to know that, by the way. The Bible tells us that human beings are all depraved. Some of us are just less depraved than our base nature.
Second, we need to realize that when you lock young people away for decades and then release them, you pretty much guarantee that they’re going to return to a life of crime because they have to feed themselves somehow and most states don’t provide much of anything in the way of re-entry services beyond halfway houses, which have such convoluted rules about curfews and number of hours you’re allowed outside of the facility that it is virtually impossible to maintain any of the few jobs felons can get.
Third, we need to stop putting people in jail for non-violent crimes. It sure doesn’t rehabilitate the incarcerated, but more it does nothing to make the victim (if there is a victim) whole. Whatever happened to the idea that if you broke something, you bought it? If you vandalized the neighbor’s fence, you built them a new fence. My mother’s tribe used to make a man who killed another man responsible for the dead man’s family. He wasn’t allowed to neglect his own family either, so he had a lifetime of hard work ahead of him instead of being dead or sitting on a cot staring at four walls for decades.
Ultimately, though, what we really need to have a serious talk about is the idea that whole classes of people are deemed murderous thugs simply because of the actions of a few. Right now in the Valley, there are people calling for the expulsion of certain people because they are related in one way or another to the five young men who allegedly murdered this young man. “If the police won’t do anything about it, the community must.” I have to wonder how many of the “good” citizens of the Palmer-Wasilla area are harassing the families of the accused. They’re certainly free with their opinions in the Dispatch about how the parents ought to be held responsible too.
From an outsider’s perspective, the “good” people with their violent rhetoric are no better than the “thug” members of their community. When you’re pointing that finger at the “other”, you might want to notice that there are three fingers pointing back at you.
On the thread, someone said this was about keep the community safe and I thought … armed as I am, do I feel safer potentially interacting with criminals or with lynch mobs running around looking for a criminal behind every spruce tree?
I think I’d take my chances with the criminals.