Monday, August 28, 2006

Justice, Revenge and the Media

The bloodthirsty media sharks sunk their teeth into a wounded John Mark Karr and picked away at his carcass until he could only be seen as being a shell of a man - if even that. It was a mad frenzy worthy of the beach-clearings in Peter Benchley's Jaws.

This situation, of course, is just one in a long series of tabloid-style journalism becoming acceptable fare on so-called 'reputable' networks like CNN. Had Mr Karr actually had his day in court, could anyone be certain he would have received a fair and impartial jury?

This isn't all about him or the Ramsey case, however.

These days, amidst the availablity of vast amounts of news, gossip, speculation and de facto convictions by so-called experts who've never even seen any evidence or met with the person involved, justice in western society seems not to have evolved much since the days when witches were burned at the stake.

The much-acclaimed jury system, in which one is supposedly tried by 12 peers, has long been open to corruption in the form of bribery, not to mention the reality that group dynamics can certainly browbeat any person who faithfully believes in the innocence of a person being made to submit when others become angry and forceful - just to get a trial overwith. It's a concept with some serious flaws.

While some may argue that it's the best we have, I have to wonder if that isn't just a surrender to convential wisdom that has already proven to be problematic. When you add, on top of that, the fact that in the west judges and prosecutors are just political appointees or elected officials who can also be easily corrupted, the entire system would seem to be due for a major overhaul.

The insights made into forsensic science, most especially DNA, the last few years have shown mere mortals that sometimes their personal judgments based on hunches and the weight of the evidence and the charm of the lawyers before them is not enough.

It takes a rare act of courage to admit those errors and, more importantly, to do something about them:

Monday, January 13, 2003 Posted: 1:54 AM EST (0654 GMT)

Source: Associated Press

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Outgoing Illinois Gov. George Ryan announced Saturday that he had commuted the sentences of all of the state's death row inmates and said he would "sleep well knowing I made the right decision."

He delivered his unprecedented speech at Northwestern University.

"Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error: error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die. What effect was race having? What effect was poverty having?

"Because of all these reasons, today I am commuting the sentences of all death row inmates," Ryan said.

Ryan's successor, a Democrat, had this to say about the Republican governor's decision at that time:

Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich, the Democrat who will replace Ryan, told CNN on Saturday that he disagreed with the governor's decision.

"I think a blanket anything is usually wrong," Blagojevich said. "We're talking about convicted murderers, and I think that is a mistake."

It is that kind of blindness, that kind of self-righteousness, that kind of vengeful belief in the death penalty and a system that has proven to be so horrendously flawed that allows public feeding frenzies like those we keep witnessing to flourish and grow.

As of August 28, 2006, The Innocence Project has led to the exoneration of 168 former inmates who were wrongfully convicted. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. That any country with such a politicized and defective system could still maintain a death penalty is beyond belief.

In 2005, 94 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA.

Iran executed at least 94 people, and Saudi Arabia at least 86. There were 60 executions in the USA.
Source: Amnesty International

Strange company indeed.

What was presented by the media to the worldwide public the past couple of weeks following the arrest of John Mark Karr, who many commented resembled Lee Harvey Oswald just to add more spin to the story, was nothing short of a public lynching. Reporters probed into absolutely every aspect of his life as if he was, in fact, the assassin of a president. Ironically, during the same period of time, they often had discussions about how they had completely overblown this one little girl's murder from the very beginning - but they just couldn't help themselves and continued to do the same thing 10 years later. You can bet on the fact that you'll now hear more than a few commentators saying that they believe he's still connected the case, despite proof to the contrary.

So, this is the culture that we live in. Does justice even exist anymore in the face of all of this mass hysteria? Are the media to be forgiven because they just give the people what they want? Is a society that panders to the lowest common denominator worthy of being considered evolved or civilized? Are the majority of us so shallow and shark-like that we continue to believe there might actually be some sort of twisted virtue to be found when we are blasted with endless specualtion that is treated like fact?

What has justice become if not a farce of deadly proportions? More importantly, why do so few people care and why are so few demanding changes?

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