Threats in Rhode Island
So this has been all over the blogosphere since yesterday, I may as well weigh in. Jessica Ahlquist, the evil little thing who noticed that her Cranston, RI high school was breaking the law and told them to stop, got a letter in the mail.
I’ll put it below the fold. EDIT: I’m following Jessica’s lead and taking down the letter for now. I might put it back up later. Let’s just say it includes threats of violence and rape and claims to be from many “Crusaders”, that should be enough for this post to make sense.
Remember, what she did to provoke this was point out that a prayer banner in her public high school was illegal and should be removed. Which eventually required a court order to achieve.
I wasn’t really planning to write about this, because what can I say that blindingly obvious? However, while wandering through the internet this morning I saw a post by JT Eberhard that sparked off some thought. JT asks:
How evil does she have to be for these people to be the good guys?
It’s not a fair question, because it doesn’t matter how awful or wicked she might be, there’s no way anybody sending this could be the good guys. Seriously, a crime is defined by the act, not the actors, and not the victim. Lynching Hitler is still murder.
Frankly I doubt the person or persons behind this letter thought about it very much. Maybe they’re the type who assume that anything they do is okay, because it’s them doing it. Maybe they think it’s acceptable or even encouraged to treat people who transgress against their group or authority figure this way. Maybe nobody ever taught them that two wrongs don’t make a right. Maybe they’re just stupid, thoughtless teenagers who did a stupid, thoughtless thing. There’s no telling, and we’ll probably never know.
But take a look at what that letter is for a moment. Look past the petty cruelty and poor grammar and see what it does, what it could only be intended to do. It’s meant to intimidate and terrify a teenager. This isn’t an act of self-defense, it’s aggressive hostility that cannot be justified by anything Ahlquist did or could have done.
Perhaps the problem here is that people see that we allow for extenuating circumstances in many criminal trials and assume that this applies to all crimes. Self-defense is an excellent example, under certain circumstances one person can kill another and not be considered a criminal. Perhaps some people assume that this means it’s okay to kill someone who’s trying to kill you.
They’re wrong. It’s not okay, it’s necessary. We have exceptions like self-defense in our laws because the world doesn’t work in smooth, orderly ways that neatly conform to standards, real life is messy. Someone exonerated on a murder charge for self-defense is not considered a murderer because they were reacting to a situation outside their control, and it would be an injustice to prosecute them for it. It doesn’t mean it was right for them to kill that other person, just necessary.
But some people seem to think that this is how it works, for all crimes. As though what someone does can diminish their humanity. Like Ahlquist is less deserving of basic human decency because she forced a public school to take down a decoration that illegally privileged a religious concept. Crimes committed against her are somehow less criminal. It’s ignoring the ethics of an action itself and deciding which people are acceptable targets.
That sort of thinking really has no place in a society of laws, and yet it persists. We are still creatures of habit, still far more ape than angel. You can see it in this very ape behavior, shaking sticks and howling at the other tribe. Maybe it’s nothing more than intimidation for its own sake, maybe it’s getting psyched up to attack. Either way, we really should be past this shit by now.
Be safe everybody, and take care of each other.