By John F. Di Leo, Opinion Contributor
Thousands of people are shot, stabbed, beaten, run over – assaulted and murdered – in America’s inner cities, every day. In ones and twos, in fives and tens. Drug crimes, gang wars, imagined insults, intentionally-taught hostility – a cult of violence.
When the law-and-order minded conservatives – known as the Right – remind the public of the reasons behind this violence – the welfare state, the pop culture, the easy jail sentences, the early release of prisoners who should have been kept in jail – the Left often accuses us of disregarding all other inputs, and basing our policies on the color, the poverty, the “challenges” of the perpetrators.
We explain, again and again and again, that our concern isn’t for the perpetrators (other than making sure they get a fair trial). Our concern is rightfully for the victims, both past and future. But the Left is obsessed with the criminals, with finding tortured, twisted justifications to excuse them for their crimes, as soon as possible.
Well, today’s heartbreaking news provides an opportunity to see a clean example for review. Should sentences be short or long? Should those who are proven to be violent be released back into the community, or should they be kept away? The scene in Bowdoin, Maine this week is a perfect illustration of this terrible phenomena.
Joseph Eaton is a 34-year-old recent ex-con whose parents had arranged for housing for him in Bowdoin, Maine. He was going to live with two good friends of his parents, also senior citizens, when he was released from his most recent eight-month prison sentence last Friday.
Even at 34, his parents wanted to take care of him until he got back on his feet.
Well, Joseph Eaton is in the news today because, on Tuesday, April 18, he showed his gratitude by killing all four of them – yes, both his parents and their friends, and then fleeing the scene – shooting up an innocent carload in their family car along the way, because he just assumed they must be plainclothes police chasing him. And he injured three of the passengers, one quite critically.
We don’t know everything about the case yet, but we know this much: with a lengthy rap sheet, Joseph Eaton has been in and out of jail, including convictions for at least 15 felonies since 2013. These crimes included simple assault, aggravated assault, and similar violent charges, including a number of probation violations.
His most recent stint was just eight months for aggravated assault – eight months, and within days of his release from that, he murdered at least four people.
(Gentle Reader, in case you’re wondering… we are not using the word “alleged” here because Mr. Eaton has confessed to everything).
As awful as this story is – and there are lots of stories just as awful, every day, in a nation of over 300 million – it is a learning opportunity… not about this week, but about a year ago, when he was sentenced to eight months that now, in hindsight, should obviously have been a lot longer. Years and years longer.
The question of the day is this: Why do we have a criminal justice system, after all? What’s the purpose of police and prosecutors, judges and courtrooms, jails and prisons?
This system is meant to serve two primary purposes: to an extent, to avenge the victims of past crimes, but much more importantly, to protect the potential victims of future crimes.
We aren’t just sentencing a man to jail time because he hurt somebody, or robbed somebody, in the past. We put a man in prison so that the rest of the public will be safe from him in the future.
Society puts the man in prison because it has been proven – in a court of law, usually by a jury of his peers and time-honored rules of evidence – that he presents a danger to the population, so, society must keep him out of that population for a long time, hopefully, long enough to so that he’ll have lost the inclination or the ability to do evil by the time he is set free.
This means that sentencing is a bit of guesswork, but it is educated guesswork. It cannot just be based on the amount of damage he has done. It must be based on the amount of damage that he has proven himself likely to do in the years to come, if we don’t remove him from the public now.
And that means, after someone has done something minor once or twice, you give him second chances. But once he has done something major – proving that he has the will and the ability to inflict severe pain upon innocent people – then it’s time to remove him from society, not for days, not for weeks, but for decades, so that he can no longer jeopardize the lives of other people.
Our fundamental error as a society, in the arena of criminal justice, over the past half century, has been that our system has lost this fundamental perspective.
We say “a fifty year jail sentence is too much for beating up one guy in a bar once, or for carjacking one car once, or for raping a girl once.” We can debate that question all we want, and we will never come to agreement.
But what we must do, is recognize that, now that he’s done it once, we know what he’s capable of, and what he’s inclined to do in the future. We must lock him up for 50 years, so that he doesn’t beat up hundreds of guys in the future. So he doesn’t carjack hundreds of cars in the future. So he doesn’t rape hundreds of girls in the future.
The Left wants us to feel compassion for the criminal. The Right recognizes that he has forfeited any right to such compassion. The Right recognizes that we must feel compassion for all those future victims, and so we must lock him up, remove him from society, for the good of everyone else.
This is the issue at the heart of a functioning criminal justice system. It’s about the crime committed, the likelihood of his continuing to commit the same crime, over and over, for years and years to come. It’s about protecting every innocent from his abuse.
This is about recognizing what society has to do.
Society must remove the guilty, in order to protect the innocent.
Or it isn’t a society at all.
Copyright 2023 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer, and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, and former president of the Ethnic American Council, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009.
A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.
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By John F. Di Leo, Opinion Contributor