I keep coming back to two key words: blame and responsibility.
We’ve witnessed so many senseless events recently that have cost lives, and in most cases for no real apparent reason. Someone feels wronged, and where there is a wrong there must be someone or something to blame. People who commit these acts seem full of excuses and give reasons for certain behavior but are short on accepting personal responsibility.
As a society, we are quick to determine that there must be blame attributed to every event. The simple fact that we need someone or something to blame, we are told, provides closure to the injured parties. But what does it really close?
So as we think about the recent legislation banning New York City’s stop and frisk law, or Delbert Belton the World War II veteran who was senselessly beaten to death, the Australian college student shot and killed in Oklahoma just for fun, or the kidnapping and nearly decade long imprisonment of three young women in Ohio, we try to rationalize and make sense of it all. How do these events happen in our midst, and what role should our society accept for fostering such heinous acts?
By nearly all statistical accounts, stop and frisk saves lives, especially in crime-ridden neighborhoods. Yet the courts have ruled that offending someone by profiling them is far worse than preventing a more serious crime. I recall a few years back, my wife and I were pulled over by the police while driving through Lake Placid. The officer had his hand on his gun as he approached the car. Being perplexed as to why we had been stopped, the officer explained a car matching the description of our car had been involved in a theft. He asked for details on our activities and asked to inspect the inside of the car. We were happy to oblige, knowing we had nothing to hide. He apologized, which in our minds was not at all necessary since he was doing his job — a job we recognized as valuable — but the fact that he offered an apology was a sign of respect and a necessary part of the stop.
When an officer stops someone who may pose a threat to someone else, provided both parties are respectful and peaceful, it needs to be an accepted fact of life, especially if safety for all is the underlying purpose. No one with anything to hide should ever be offended, yet many are offended as they feel singled out, embarrassed and blamed for doing nothing wrong when they are stopped. Perhaps any of us could feel this way if we were repeatedly stopped, but I have to think if I lived in a dangerous area I would welcome the inconvenience especially if I had nothing to hide. How can we ever prevent a crime if we can’t be proactive?
Is there a broader blame that should be considered? In almost every case of wrong doing, the guilty party in some way felt justified for the actions they had taken. The people who brought the case against stop and frisk feel justice is not served when Blacks and Hispanics are stopped in their neighborhoods, even though many of the crimes in these neighborhoods are committed by Blacks and Hispanics.
In the case of Ariel Castro, the man who held and repeatedly raped three women in Ohio for nearly a decade, he attempted to defend his actions by pleading not guilty. His claim was that he was abused as a child, which, combined with a society that promotes sexuality, caused his actions.
Our society must begin to shoulder some responsibility for the attitudes of people who are quick to blame others for their actions instead of recognizing their own failures. These offenders are a product of a society that tolerates and in some cases promotes unacceptable behavior, right up to the flash point of a media blitz, then becomes outraged at the act while accepting zero responsibility for being a catalyst.
If we are to judge people by their personal character and actions alone, we must all take steps to seek new solutions.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.