Friday, April 12, 2013

"He's going to use me to get into heaven." An Answer to Thane Rosenbaum.

I had managed, in my simple way, to avoid writing about Thane Rosenbaum this time.  Scott Greenfield did; Paul Kennedy did; Mark Bennett did; I suspect a couple of the other blawggers I regularly read did, but I wasn't taking notes and am perhaps having a senior moment with my memory.  

Anyhow, I didn't write about Rosenbaum this time because I had better things to do with my time.  And I'd written about him before, had already said what there is to say.  He's a law professor who doesn't approve of our legal system.  It's not that he thinks it's racist or corporatist or too slow.  He's not complaining about unelected judges or elected ones.  He may or may not dislike those things, too.  But they're not where he makes his mark.

He doesn't like the system because (at least in criminal cases) it demands that jurors decide guilt based on whether the evidence admitted in the courtroom and challenged by cross-examination amounts to proof beyond a reasonable doubt which means some people the public believes guilty go free.  And because the defense doesn't join with the prosecution in its effort to prove by some lesser standard (j'accuse!) that the defendant did it.  And because our punishments don't sufficiently satisfy the bloodthirsty cravings of those crime victims who, like Rosenbaum, think an eye for an eye, a rape for a rape, a torture execution for a torture murder is the minimum appropriate punishment.

It's fine that he wants to live in that sort of system.  It's foolish to keep carping that we don't have it, except that he keeps getting a forum to do so.  Fordham Law, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the Huffington Post, the New York Times.  (No links, sorry, I'm not out to help the guy.)  And he's got a new book coming out extolling the glories of the legal system he imagines to be the only moral one - one modeled directly on the Hatfields and McCoy's which involved, you'll recall, decades of reciprocal killing.*  In his world, the law should be about satisfying our worst impulses. 

As I say, it's fine for him to want that sort of system.  I'm sorry that he isn't alone.  (Consider Grace, Nancy.)  But it isn't ours.  For which we can give thanks.

Anyway, I wasn't going to write about Rosenbaum because there's not much to say about him besides,
  • He's wrong.
  • He's an asshole.
  • Nobody should give him a forum and what's wrong with all those seemingly responsible folks who do? And of course
  • OH MY GOD, we fucking let him teach our children and talk to would be lawyers?  What the hell is wrong with us?
But then, I read about Michael Rowe and Anthony Colón.

It was June 13, 1992, when a gang of drug dealers came upon 17-year-old Wilfredo Colón.  It was no accident.  They'd gone looking for Wilfredo, described as "a chesty, aggressive drug dealer," by Jim Dwyer in the Times.  When they found him, they killed him.  Michael Rowe and at least two of the others.  Shot him 13 times in all.

Rowe entered a guilty plea to the murder and to manslaughter in another case.  He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.  He served those 20 years, all of them.  Served them productively.  He went in a high school dropout.  He earned a master's degree.  He and his wife, Nicole, have three children "all conceived and born during his sentence." He got out a couple of days ago.

Then there's Anthony Colón.  Just 15 when his brother Wilfredo was gunned down.  Dwyer tells how it affected him.
To Mr. Colón, who was 15 at the time of the killing, the death of his brother drove into him like a corkscrew.

Wilfredo had kept him off the streets. So he raged at his parents for not having taken better care of their children: he hated God, himself, the people who had killed his brother.
For two years.  Then a friend took him to church and he became a devout Christian. 
"I forgave my mother, my father, the men who killed my brother."

It was what he found in the Bible. And it was liberating.
Years later, Anthony was in the visiting room  at the Eastern Correctional Facility in upstate New York.  He was visiting an old friend, doing time for something or other, when he noticed a guy across the way.  That guy, bespectacled, charged with taking pictures of visitors with their inmate friends and relatives, was of course Michael Rowe.  They recognized each other immediately.  Rowe was, for obvious reasons, nervous, hoping that Anthony didn't know who he was.
Then, across the visiting room, he noticed a smile stretch across Mr. Colón’s face. “It seemed like a smile. He didn’t have any mal intent — a genuine smile, of, I’m happy to see you,” Mr. Rowe said.

Then Mr. Colón approached him, still smiling, his hand out. “When I stood up, I’m still in a defensive stand,” Mr. Rowe said. “Got him lined up. Because in my mind, I was, ‘Yo, this can’t be for real.’ ”

It took Mr. Rowe several minutes to lower his guard. Mr. Colón shook his hand. “He said, ‘Brother, I’ve been praying for you. I forgave you. I’ve been praying I would see you again,’ ” Mr. Rowe said.
And so formed an unlikely friendship.  They wrote back and forth.  At Rowe's graduation last year, it was Anthony Colón who put the robe on him.  

Thane Rosenbaum would be, I suppose, appalled.  Michael Rowe should have been killed to satisfy the blood lust and anger Anthony Colón once felt, should have continued to feel, and that Thane Rosenbaum presumably does continue to feel on behalf of  . . . well, I'm not quite sure on whose behalf.  We would be better for it, he says.  It's a moral necessity, he says.  Revenge, he says. Hit 'im again, he says.

Michael Rowe and Anthony Colón met again Thursday.  This time on the outside.

Two men, joined forever.  First in ugliness, heartache, pain, anger, loss.  Then in something very like beauty and grace.
“I don’t think I could ever forgive myself for the things I’ve done,” Mr. Rowe said, but he hopes to keep other young people from going down his path. To earn, inch by inch, something like forgiveness.

As for Mr. Colón? “He’s going to use me to get into heaven,” Mr. Rowe said.
It's more than most of us could manage.  But it's something to aspire to.

Lincoln spoke of "the better angels of our nature."  Thane Rosenbaum wants to honor the worst in us.

Me, I'm with Lincoln.  And Anthony Colón.

*Disclosure:  I know members of both families, descendants of the feuders.


  1. Well said.

    Nancy Grace has got the worst case of bitch face a man is likely to see in a long day's walk, but that isn't the crime. The crime is her bully pulpit and the way she uses it.

    As for Rosenbaum, he's the sort to be hoist by his own petard and then whine bitterly about the unfairness of it all while the crowd is heating up the tar.

    This is one of your better efforts.

  2. I actually had a tear in my eye (and I'm not religious and don't believe in a god). Thank you, not for the tear, but for the article.

    1. You're welcome.

      I'm not religious either, also don't believe in god. But I believe in mercy. And in grace.