Monday, 31 March 2008

The right to be different

The latest in a seemingly endless round of 'violent youth' news stories - 'Boy Convicted of Goth Park Murder'

The victim was attacked, according to the reports, because she and her companion had stood out as being different to their attackers. As 'goths' they were instantly recognizable to their teenage pursuers and were apparently subjected to an appallingly violent assault for this reason alone.

There are a number of questions that this story prompts. The first, and most obvious, is 'what should be the punishment to fit this crime?'

If you read my earlier post you won't be surprised to hear that I believe incarceration is appropriate, and I will be following this story to see what sentence is handed out. A commentator on that post brought up the subject of capital punishment, and if there is a case that better deserves such a penalty for the perpetrator then I struggle to think of one. However, such a sentence is not in the arsenal of UK courts so I will not take that line (for now).

The second question, for me at least, follows from the first and is 'What duration of prison stay fits the crime?'

There is a tendency within the UK justice system, it seems to the common man, that when a criminal is sent down there is no certainty that he will serve his full time. Indeed 'life' seldom means life anymore. If our lawbreakers know they will regain their liberty before the end of their sentence, surely this diminishes the deterrent value of incarceration? And what is the law-abiding citizen to conclude of a system that threatens a hard blow but pulls its punches? Surely 5 years should mean 5 years, 10 should mean 10...and lifers should never see the outside of their prison again? I am in favour of rehabilitation, sure. But let's get the punishment right first.

A third question begs an answer, and that is 'If alcohol fueled this attack (as was reported), then should it be banned from sale to minors?'

You'll again not be amazed to hear from me that in my view, yes, alcohol should be made unavailable to minors. I see no reason why society should tolerate drunken under-21's roaming our streets. Not every drunken 16 year old is a murderer, but how many attacks would be prevented if little Jimmy had been denied his Super Strength Lager on Friday night?

There is, of course, a civil liberties issue awaiting the NoBollocksPolitician here. Should society deny all of the innocent, law-abiding youngsters the right to have a good time? To cast them all in the same role, painted with the same brush?

Well sadly, I think it must to a degree. If a contingent of the populace cannot act responsibly then greater society, perceiving a threat, should have the right to act to correct them. There is a principle at stake and it is that 'the needs of the many outweigh those of the few'. Of course we must narrow our aim as much as possible (age ID for alcohol sale, zero tolerance of drinking on the streets, prosecution of retailers caught selling to underage drinkers). But for every tearaway prevented from wreaking drunken havoc using such measures we have to accept that an innocent person has a liberty curtailed through no fault of their own. That's regrettable, but still the preferable alternative.

A final question, which I shall not answer but leave for thought, is 'What would be the best way to prevent crimes of this type happening in future?'

There are many factors - policing, parenting, social engineering to name a few. All are in the hands of the real politicians to change. Who knows, if one comes along who can be believed when he/she says they will make those changes then perhaps they might earn a few votes.

The victim of the crime reported was exercising a right to be different. I cherish that right and I believe that society has a complementary right - to use a firm hand with those who would deny such liberty.


steadyneddy said...

Government has to take aportionment of the blame, after all they uphold the laws that these little ****s break on a regular basis. The law courts are the one's who are meant to implement them, but unfortunately fail to a greater degree. Certainly where one lives will dictate your opinion. Someone living in fear of their life on a crime-riddled council housing estate is going to be less tolerant of someone living in the middle of nowhere in the country. But they shouldn't. Crime, after all, is crime. If the law declares that a life sentence be imposed upon someone, then surely that should mean life...? A large part of the problem is society in general. We have all become too detached and remote from family life compared to 'the good old days'. There is no sense of community anymore; there is certainly very little respect and absolutely no discipline! Does this come full circle back to the Government? When they make whitewash rules like 'you can't smack a child' how is our supposed 'evolve' society meant to meter out punishment in a form an under-five year old can understand? You can't reason with a child that age. Have you tried to sit down a two-year old and explain the vagaries of not sticking your hand in the blender? I think you'll find that won't work.... a slap across the hand or back of the legs does though. They learn a simple lesson but one with grave importance. Society ought to 'go back to basics' and re-evaluate what 'society' is all about. We need rules, we need guidelines, we need discipline and we need punishment for those who willingly denegrate the rights and freedom of others.

MrVeg said...

Again, good points.

The issue of 'respect' in our society, or the apparent lack of it, is one I want to take on in a future post. It's true to say that each generation believes it has more freedom than its parents and less than its children. Is that the cause of respect's demise? I suspect it has a hand. Sociology and psychology are fascinating and essential tools to the politician, and I wish I had greater knowledge of them, but often common sense is a good surrogate and some of the issues you mention here like breakup of the extended family, isolation within communities, dump estates and perhaps even modern day liberal views on chastising misbehaving children, all smack of good old common sense. There's a whole tree to branch out to in this discussion!