There are, the good judge declares, those beyond the pale. They are, he says,
utterly beyond redemption, and must be caged
And he offers, as exemplum, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, identified by the New York Times as the now-arrested suspect. Look, he says, reprinting a picture of a very sullen looking Mr. Roof from the Times (I'm not reproducing it), this is
what evil looks like.
Which I suppose gains some traction if it turns out that Mr. Roof is in fact the person who shot and killed all those people, though I'm just enough committed to the Constitution - and to doubt - to want to hold my declaration until he's actually convicted of something. And even then.
I want to be clear about this. I don't doubt that the killing of nine people is an horrific act. And killing them because they happen to be African-American (and how convenient that they were all in one place) is particularly unsettling. I hope the authorities track down and prosecute the right person (if it's Mr. Roof, fine, though I'd hope they don't get so invested in their certainty that they ignore leads that may point to an alternative, or additional, suspect.
But really, and aside fro the rush to judgment, the issue for the moment (and for Judge Kopf - hey, that's who I'm writing in response to) isn't about what did or did not happen. It's about young Mr. Roof, or whoever. It's about
And it's about redemption - or its possibility. And about throwing away the key now, because we know, just know.
Because this is
what evil looks like.
Except, well, maybe.
Maybe Roof (or whoever) can't be redeemed. Maybe he's the Golem. Maybe he's Satan frgodssake.
Like Judge Kopf, I've dealt with a whole lot of people who've done monstrous things. Unlike Judge Kopf, I've gotten to know some of them quite well. I've looked at where they came from. I've looked at how they came to do the things they did, how they came to be the people they are.
And I've concluded that, in the last analysis, I don't know.
I know about continuities. I know about mental illness and trauma and what growing up in a setting where a day on which you're beaten virtually senseless is one of the better days can do to a person. I know about epigenetics. I know about young men and women unleashed on a world they cannot cope with, that they were never taught to cope with.
I know about how the only identity that's valued is the identity of drug dealer or killer. I know about cravings, for drugs, for sex, for the thrill of killing someone that reminds you that you're alive.
I know how good people are driven to do terrible things. And I know people I'd rather not see out on the street.
So, you want to have ________ over for dinner?
said a prosecutor who called me after I filed a motion for bond for a guy who'd just been convicted of multiple homicides and sentenced to a minimum of 64 years in prison and a realistic maximum of until you die or some other inmate kills you.
I had a client, a terribly violent man. Violent as a small boy. Violent as a teen. Violent as an adult. He committed one murder. Did his damndest to commit another. The miracle was that he hadn't committed others. The first time I sat in a room at the jail with him I could feel the violence bubbling up. It's not that he wanted to hurt me, but that he would. Or so it felt.
Then they got the drugs right.
It was Shakespeare that did it for Larry Newton. For others it's finding some religion. Or meditation or discovering a friend or therapy. Or just time. Or maybe it's a miracle.
And of course, there are others for whom nothing.
When I teach at death penalty seminars, I often say that there's no case that can't be won, no matter how horrific the crime. There's no case, that is, that can't end up with something other than a trip to death row. Because you never know what will happen, what can happen. But if there's no case that can't be won, it's also true that not every case will be. No matter what. No matter how good. Sometimes the verdict will be death. And you can't know for sure, not ever, until the jury comes back.
Which is the problem.
Are there people who do terrible things, who have no compassion, no feeling, who simply prey? And who will, forever, and no matter what. Yeah, probably. I think I've met a few of them.
But see, I don't know who they are. Neither do you. It's easy to recognize the monstrous act. Call it evil if that makes you feel better. But the monster? The person beyond redemption?
Out there? Perhaps. Identifiable with any certainty? Fraid not.
Which doesn't mean that there aren't people who should probably be locked up forever. It does mean, though, that we don't really know who they are - certainly not in advance. We can throw the key away put 'em all in solitary forever, send them to GITMO (turns out we haven't been too particular about who we did send there). Hell, we can just execute everyone we don't like.
Or we can recognize that one of the things that keeps the monsters monstrous and turns the maybe monsters into monsters is denying them hope.
And since we don't really know who's who.
Which brings us back to Mr. Roof. Who, if he is in fact the killer in the pews, did a monstrous thing. But that tells us virtually nothing about who he is.
Let alone about who he will be.