When Do You Lose Your Right To Be Treated Humanely

It always fascinates me the way ‘Joe (and Jill) Public’ start venting in the comments sections of news articles and social media when there has been some type of head-line grabbing violent crime reported.  It’s true the media themselves tend to make, what I call a, hash of reporting, because they report what it suits them to report, what will get them readers (and ultimately revenue) rather than what we, the public, need to know.

But it’s what the everyday reader has to say that really grips me because suddenly it seems as if the article is not about a human being but rather some ‘non-human’ (some people use the term ‘animal’ but I am reluctant to use that term because animals don’t general commit violent crime).

I have never been in the shoes of a person who has lost a family member, or loved one to violent crime, and so I can only begin to imagine what a terrible experience that must be.  In what I am saying I don’t mean to take away from the grief of people who have just had a loved one ripped away from them by a crime.  Nor am I commenting on the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviour of the perpetrator. Rather what my focus is on what point do we as the general public decide that a person’s crime or behaviour is so bad that they don’t deserve to be treated with compassion as a human being?

Most recently in the news has been the case of Christopher Dorner, the ex-LAPD officer who went on a killing spree.  From various comments I have read today, it seems few have much regard for his humanity.  It was the same for Adam Lanza who killed 28 people in Connecticut in December, 2012.

“I have no sympathy for him”

“He’s a nut job”

“He doesn’t deserve to live”

“He clearly needed mental help”

And on the comments and judgements go.  It’s like suddenly the public view is that this person (the perpetrator) is no longer human.  If he burns alive in a cabin, then somehow he deserves it, for the things he has done.  So often people in this situation get written off as being presumed to have a mental illness.  What else would make them act like this?  And if they have a mental illness then they don’t deserve any better.

Well actually let’s just remember that the majority of people with mental illness don’t act like this.  What’s more, if they get the treatment and support they need, when they need it, such violence can be prevented.  But instead the Christopher Dorner’s and Adam Lanza’s of our world get written off.  “No longer human kind, they deserve what they get.”  By the way I’m not saying either of them had a mental illness, but it does seem to be the reason given for so much crime like this.

I’m wondering though, what it feels like to be the family of these people who have committed horrific crimes.  Actually I think that is almost beyond our comprehension.  It’s too easy, in my mind, to forget that these people had families.  They may have had friends.  They had people who love them.  And how must it feel to be those people, firstly having to bear the weight of what their loved one has done, and then carry the general public’s judgement of their loved one.

Actually it must be almost crazy-making to be in that situation.  How do you grieve for your loved one, while the world hates them?  Grieving for the loss of a family member is hard enough usually, but to carry the hate of the world against that person you loved?  That would be too much.  I suspect that’s why the media seem to avoid the Dorner family or the Lanza family.  Not because they don’t want the ‘dirt’ but because it doesn’t sit right on their conscious to feel sad for them in their loss, and to balance their hate  for the perpetrator.  It’s not about wanting to give them space to grief either.  It’s just too damn uncomfortable.

If we can start to express compassion for the families of those people, then maybe we are on track to realise that in spite of their crimes, these perpetrator’s are/were human beings… just like us.  Surely for some to inflict such crime, something has gone terribly wrong somewhere.  While I don’t for one moment condone the crimes committed, I can’t help but ask “what went wrong?” and “how could this have been avoided?”.

I’m sure there are lots of answers to those questions.  Some of them we know to be around mental illness and treatment.  In other cases it might be some other type of illness, or something completely different.  I just hate the thought that we write people off as human beings so easily.  I hate their crime, but to me, they will always be deserving of as much care as I deserve.  Their families deserve as much compassion as the victims’ families.  For really, in these situations, actually, everyone involved has become a victim.

“It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality.” 

―    Rick Riordan,    The Lightning Thief

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23 thoughts on “When Do You Lose Your Right To Be Treated Humanely

  1. I have often had these same thoughts. Let’s not forget that those who like to comment are populists. Their view is not 100% of the population, they have been bullies in a recent past and now they have all the freedom. You don’t want to anti-comment cause their replies will be hard on you. So the internet with its anonimity gives a great voice to the people with the biggest mouth.
    This might become a danger to the ethics of society sooner than later. Its a good thing that you react and let your voice be heard this way.

    1. I agree totally. The internet’s anonymity is scary in that respect. As you say people with the biggest mouths just say anything they want. I’d like to think that the general population is a little more compassionate.

      1. They probably are. However they are easily taken by the speeches of the people with the biggest mouth, and as sheep they follow the bullies in their nonsensical argumentation.

  2. I too hate that they are dismissed as nut cases and written off. Had Adam’s mother lived, can you imagine the guilt she would have carried? That she should have parented better, done something differently? I can’t imagine. I can imagine the absolute rage at losing my young child. I would not be rational then. But these random posters who have nothing to do with the situation? What is their excuse?

  3. John Richardson

    I think the first thing that we need to remember when we hear these awful stories is that there is a presumption of innocence, at least in some countries, that we need to respect. We shouldn’t have hardened opinions about people until we have all the facts, and they seem to change depending on what is being reported at the time. Then we need to understand, to the extent we can, why each of these tragedies happened in the first place. Even when we have determined that a person has committed a horrible act we need to remember that how we punish that person defines us and not him. While we are learing all the facts surrounding each case we should also be trying to figure out how to prevent this sort of thing from happening again. In my country we do a pretty miserable job, in my opinion, of providing the mentally ill with the medical care they need. Many of these crimes don’t just reflect on the person that committed them, they also reflect on the sociiety that created the conditions that allowed them to happen in the first place. We are all God’s children and we need to treat each other as such.

  4. Very interesting. Once you start getting into backstory of criminals it’s easy to understand how a person has turned out as they have, but then you think about the people you know with just as crappy family histories / school life / illness and that they haven’t committed a crime and have become pretty good people, so what is is that separates the crime doer from the innocent?

    Also with the news in the first part, I remember when I did some work experience for a radio station and was asked to sort through the faxes of news for the ‘interesting’ stories. I never realised at the time that I was dictating what the public would hear that day!

    1. I’m sure that whoever works out the reason why some people turn bad while others with the same experience don’t, will be a very wealthy person. Can’t wait to see what they conclude. 🙂 As for your experience in the radio station, why does that not surprise me? 😉

  5. I completely agree. At least in the state that I live in, there was yet another bill to cut mental health funding that was not covered on the news. Also, the news never posts about how hard it is to pay for treatment or any of the people who are mentally ill and successful!! Maybe more people would come forward if there were less stigma.

    1. I get seriously worried about how much the news media influences such things. It’s so wrong. And yes, that issue of funding is really worrying. Only yesterday I read an article about a woman with BPD killing herself because her family had run out of money to pay for her treatment.

  6. Personally? I withdraw my respect at rapists, or people who condone or make excuses for them. To answer the question in the title.

    Beyond that, if half the things Christopher Dorner claims to have seen in his manifesto are true (including the physical abuse by cops of a suspect with schizophrenia) he’s the least of the problems with the LAPD. And I don’t doubt that much of what he claimed had merit.

    1. I guess one of the big issues I see is when the media (and so often the general public next) make assumptions about people. To withdraw your respect for people who have been tried and convicted of a crime seems quite different to the type of accusations and assumptions that have been made so far in these two examples. That said, they are only examples but it is something I have observed with increasing regularity. Personally I don’t think that is fair on the person or their families.

      1. True, but if Christopher Dorner was telling the truth (and again, it seems plausible to me that he was though I don’t know for a fact) he described any number of instances of police treating suspects (not yet tried or convicted) brutally, what he was describing was epidemic among those in power. The commenters on the internet would be mimicking in word what the LAPD did in deed. Unfortunately, systemic violence is permissible in degrees depending on who you are and your status in society, and equally as often those who have experienced abuse are silenced or denied the right to their anger or feelings, unless directed at an “acceptable” target, often one the media or government has pronounced “the bad guy”. I’m sorry, this is all over the place. I’m saddened by how a number of things played out in both examples…

  7. This is an interesting take on things. It’s the same sort of issue I was talking about in my latest Canvas post, but from a different perspective.

    I remember that at first people thought it was Mario Lanza’s brother Adam who’d committed the crime. Can you imagine being falsely accused of something like that? And then you learn that your brother has killed both himself and your mother?

    I was watching a true crime show last night about a man who allegedly killed his wife. His family believed he was innocent, and his wife’s family believes he was guilty. Based on the evidence, it seemed to me as if he was guilty . . . but I also felt badly for his parents. What if you did have a child who did something like that? Would you hold on to believing their innocence despite contradictory evidence? It might break you to admit otherwise.

    Some of the crimes are incomprehensible, and I think that’s why random people make comments like the ones you’re talking about. It’s the only way they can find to make sense of the incident.

    1. I agree that they are incomprehensible and maybe because of that it makes sense the way they comment. Just to imagine myself in that situation is impossible but it could happen to any of us. It would be nice to think that we would be treated with some compassion at least to some degree. I haven’t yet read your latest on Canvas but will go and hunt it out now. 🙂

  8. I think when people become violent, it is their most human nature executed to the maximum. I have always found-perhaps wrongly due to my own condition, I take the possibility into account- that the concepts of ethics and morality are alien to the human kind, acquired into our comportment like foreign words get acquired into a language. It is something that should never be said, that should never be spoken of, but deep down I think most people are capable of violent crimes. It takes a bad past, traumas, mental illness, brain damage, whatever… for it to come out in some people, but it is inside us all. Just like a shocking event can make someone forget the “right” word for something, I think environmental, chemical and other conditions can make the acquired pattern of behavior falter.
    People like to think of themselves as “morally just” by nature, but perhaps they subconsciously know they’re not. That is perhaps why they want to distance themselves and their precious humanity from violent criminals, to convince mostly themselves that they would never ever do something like that.
    A buddhist monk once told me that the source of irrational hatred is seeing your own weaknesses in other people, and thus your hatred is directed towards yourself more than towards the person you’re angry at/disgusted with/…

  9. Pingback: Definition of Stupid | Infinite Sadness... or hope?

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