Let me ask you mano-a-mano: If you had the opportunity to kill someone – without fear of punishment or blame – who had committed a vile, heinous act upon you or a loved one — would you?
Before you answer that, my only admonishment is to remind you that a fool says what he knows, while a wise man knows what he says. In other words: Many people see things but few understand them.
And the reason I am asking is because in the last few days two depraved acts were inflicted upon friends of mine. And the uproar has been harshly stentorian and gruffly visceral.
From me, too.
Both were crimes indiscriminately carried out under the overhead glare of the midday sun when there are few shadows from which gutless-evil cravenly lurks.
Natalie was viciously pistol-whipped about the head and face by two street punks. She apparently didn’t hand over her pocketbook quick-ain’t-fast-enough. Or perhaps not as hurriedly as her girlfriend, who was toting a very young baby.
The dissolute violence occurred just a block off Passyunk Avenue, South Philadelphia’s hip street of trendy restaurants, taverns and fashion. Natalie, a popular barmaid at one of the avenue’s popular pubs, is the sister-in-law of a Philly cop with whom we all smoke cigars.
And when news reached us at the Twin Smoke Shoppe the uproar was both vociferous and unanimous. Historically, the South Philly smoke shoppe is a comfortable living room for one and all to gather and disagree without being disagreeable. So the Jews, gentiles, muslims, blacks, whites, Arab and Asian professionals and tradesmen all blow good-natured smoke in each other’s bawdy faces.
But now the angry cry of “Animals!” and the murderous demand for ugly justice ripped through the heavy air. It hung there as the fuming cigar smoke was indignantly puffed into hangmen nooses.
When this occurs in distant countries we may take notice with little more than passing pity. But when it happens in our back yard, we all breathe the vengeful fire of furious dragons. “Don’t touch our women and children! You scum!”
Which is probably why the same hue and cry was not quite raised a few days earlier when Ian got the bullfeathers kicked, clubbed and punched out of his bony bag of flesh and blood. We were saddened and distressed. But Ian is a guy, after all.
And Ian is also a beloved fellow cigar and pipe smoking Twin Shoppe aficionado with “too many halves.” Half Italian, half Korean, half Philippine and the other two halves misunderstood. (That’s an odd number of halves, isn’t it?)
Ian comes up with a lot of UFO, alien, Sci-fi and conspiracy working-theories. And this either makes him extremely brilliant or extremely halved in what he should be swallowing in psychotropic drugs.
Hmm… pretty much like the other half of us.
Anyway, Ian delivers fish and collects payments for a seafood distribution center. And the other noon, in an open North Philly warehouse he was slugged from behind by a big thug wielding a heavy blunt instrument.
Ian was pummeled severely about the face, head and shoulders. And then robbed of over $2,682. And change…
He was left laying there, dazed, with an angry surfeit of what many folks would consider to be racist thoughts. That is, a person who hates blacks, honkies, Degos, Spics — and most anyone else — more than he is supposed to.
Now Ian is about to undergo surgery. They’ve got to put screws and a plate in his shoulder where the bones were separated beyond natural resurrection.
Both he and Natalie, who received scores of stitches and staples in her less smiling face and head, will undoubtedly recover physically. That is, in time. Ian said the doc told him he will need a good three months or more of rehab. And then, of course, he’ll need even more anxious time to recover from missing work and missing-wages woes.
In addition — and perhaps more importantly — how much more time is it going to require to heal the emotional and psychological echoes screaming on rewind between their ears?
Time is that most valuable commodity. It can never be recovered. Nor replaced. In time you may heal, but do you ever forget? Time is marked from today, which is the tomorrow we were anxious about yesterday.
I haven’t spoken with Natalie, yet. Her Philly cop in-law, Gary, told me that when they were driving her home from the hospital she got frightened and apprehensive as they passed near the scene of the crime.
And before you, duh reader, get to answering the question I posed in the first paragraph of this epistle, I’d like you to hear what Ian told me when I asked him what he reaped from his sea of misery. In other words: that which doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger – in what way, Ian?
His Charlie Brown face sweetened into an understanding smile.
“You know, Drew, I have been known to stereotype people. And sometimes pretty badly. But here I was. Injured. Hurt something awful. But it happened here in America. I was transported to a wonderful health facility at Temple University Hospital. Where I was immediately in good hands. And there was this beautiful black emergency room nurse…”
Hmm… Ian then offered me an X-rated sidebar on just how gorgeous this black beauty was.
“She tended to me. She looked after me all the way through. And then there was this big black orderly who was kinder and nicer to me than his union contract required…I guess I have to admit: You can’t stereotype everyone for one man’s actions. One person’s gruesome crime. They didn’t do it. He did…”
At that I wondered, more than a tad sardonically: And it took a harder than normal whack to the head for you to finally awaken to this blunt epiphany?
“I guess so,” Ian admitted. “I guess you could say something good came out of something terrible.”
But of course! What a wonderful Christmas story. Perhaps a Hallmark Card or made for TV movie. You know, with one of those sickening sweet, tooth-decaying suburban endings: Everyone singing carols, snow falling neatly on their ceramic, Spanish-tiled roof tops. And Santa banging the neighbor’s tattooed wife while Rudolf ruts anxiously for his turn in the barrel.
But now here’s what I think about all this and that question posed to one and all.
Punishment is justice for the unjust. And humans, being mostly inhuman, unjust sodomites, would eagerly kill, or get someone else’s smiling consent to kill, much more avidly if there was no G-d, nor his laws, nor man’s laws. Punishment doesn’t prevent all that much, obviously, it is mostly just good business.
And if you happen to be hypersensitive, or just overly squeamish, put me in with a chain saw, coach, because I wanna butcher, shake and bake my breakfast. Start the day chomping down on something severely wounded but not quite dead. You know, still hemorrhaging the red gravy long after the cock-a-doodle-doo!
Sadly, there are no ineluctable facts to support one side of this bombastic messy argument or duh other of apt punishment to fit the crime. Besides, the facts never speak for themselves. We speak for them. It provides the intellectual traction, an ability to weigh the claims being put forward to justify the selection of facts.
Of course, there are those L.L. Bean tree huggers. They like to insist that punishment just doesn’t work. Well, obviously, neither do the people whose job — sinecure or not — it is to see that it does work.
And from what I understand love and forgiveness hasn’t had much luck either. Just look at the 55 percent divorce rate, not to mention murder, suicide, war, foreclosure, killing me softly with lying words, deceit and warranties that get you nuttin’ but a day in incivil court.
Yet, I definitely do agree that some penalties, like capital punishment, are about as fundamentally wrong to cure crime as charity is to cure poverty.
However, give me some options here to satisfy my need to smack, beat and kick some sense into these slithering usurpers of civilized co-existence. A man may lose his line of sight between his follies and desperation. But he knows when he’s done wrong. And he definitely needs to be reminded… painfully. And not just sit placidly behind bars.
And meanwhile, doesn’t it seem like it is easier to keep the war rather than the peace. We all are possessed with this innate need to hate and destroy. Instead of preserve and create, we destroy and kill. So let’s not kid ourselves. Penalties like capital punishment may only kill one killer at a time, but until we have a better idea at the foul line we gotta do sumting to satisfy my savage demand for doing-unto-others- as- they-did-unto-me.
And doesn’t death seem to be a much less bitter pill than death delayed? Although I prefer it to be slow and painful, like the g-ds inflicted upon the likes of Sisyphus, Prometheus, Midas and so forth. Not to mention the rest of us serving our life sentences.
Yet, there is no real solution – except perhaps if I were King.
We all recognize – or should – that punishment, at best, only teaches an obedience to authority, not a self-respecting self-control.
Then again, so what?
Sadly, in today’s world where sins have been reduced to so-called ‘curable’ diseases, punishment is now unfashionable.
Well, as someone wrote, it creates moral distinctions among men, which to the democratic mind, are odious. We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility.
Hmm… But of course.
Like I said: There are no absolute facts. Reality doesn’t conform to expectations.
But then there was, and is, Aristotle. And thousands of years back his genius, that laid the foundation of modern philosophy, put it simply:
“…In general, men are naturally apt to be swayed by fear rather than reverence, and to refrain from evil rather because of the punishment that it brings than because of its own foulness…”
Now I know he said this was “in general.” But in the meantime, do you really want to wait until the tide goes out to find out who is swimming naked?
And dats yDrewIS on DIS penal colony…