Sunday, July 29, 2007

Character vs. Rule of Law

Like everyone else I have heard a lot of talk about the Michael Vick case. Being from the Atlanta area I am particularly interested. Although I am a Falcons fan and a football fan in general, my real interest is not generally with Michael Vick or the Falcons or for that matter the NFL. My interest lies specifically in the concept of right and wrong. I’ll try to be brief.

In my eyes there seemed to be a historic turning point in responsibility when then President Clinton dodged the responsibility for his action by trying to redefine his actions through semantics. Even though the lapse in character was well known and documented, many of his supporters, even to this day, rally around the fact that he was not convicted of any wrong doing and therefore somehow less culpable of his actions. This to me set the stage for being judged guilty or innocent in a Court of law as the ultimate indicator of character. Somehow we now feel that the only correct and fair thing is for our actions to be judge by the legal system and not “the court of public opinion.” Somehow the public view of right and wrong should no longer carry weight in our culture.

We seem to gloss over the impact of the Rules of Law, the set of laws and precedence that govern the legal process. These laws and precedence’s do not govern guilt and innocence, but procedure. They are to protect the defendant from illegal acts by law enforcement that breach individual protection. A police officer can know that an individual is a drug dealer. If that officer then breaks down the door without due cause and catches the man with a 100 pounds of cocaine, under Rule of Law that evidence does not exist and can’t be used in court. Is the man innocent? In court he could be found not guilty, in life he is still a scumbag. He is what he is, despite the court ruling. It will be a matter of time before he screws up and goes to jail. Failure to be convicted does not necessarily make you a good guy.

The judge makes these decisions. The Judge can rule that the jury is to disregard a fact when contemplating the verdict. If they do not, the defendant can appeal the conviction. Interestingly, with the concept of double jeopardy, if the judge throws out evidence that could have clearly changed the verdict to guilty, we the public, cannot appeal the acquittal. It might be an error in judgment by the courts that cannot be reversed.

Mike Vick is guilty of extremely bad judgment at the very least and possibly more. For him to profess total ignorance of a felony act, not to mention enormous cruelty, on his property using his business license is somewhat suspect. If true it shows very poor judgment unbefitting a person who is paid over $6mm per year to be the figurehead and premier employee of an organization.

Something we cannot ignore is that criminal psychologist have proven that acts of animal cruelty are one of the strongest indicators of deeper more violent problems. That is not to say everyone who has acted cruel toward an animal is a sociopath. But it is clearly a big red flag to be monitored. To think that a person would harm anything capable of feeling pain and fear just for entertainment is not normal by any standard. To even know that there was the potential of this going on and not reporting it is hard to fathom. If one of our children saw a neighbor act in the way the indictment said dogs were treated and did not report it, we would be gravely concerned for our child. We would be concerned that our child did not see the enormous act of cruelty as anything worth reporting. We might wonder what else our child had seen or been involved with that did not strike them as sick and perverted. We wouldn’t say “you haven’t been convicted of anything therefore what you did is OK.”

The battle cry for Michael Vick is “innocent until proven guilty”. Somehow having this go on under his nose and doing nothing about it shows acceptable character. After all he has done nothing wrong until the courts say he has. The other side is that he is so out of it that he could be used in an extremely heinous way and be clueless. I would rather be thought of as unwilling to act, then so stupid I didn’t know. Both are very poor character traits for a multi-million dollar man. He is not going to learn to take responsibility until someone makes him step up and pay a significant price for his actions. It is for his own good. Yet so many people don’t get it. He is a young man. Calling him out at this point in his life may be the best thing for him over the next 60 years. Not doing it may be the worst.

It is true that until the court rule him guilty of a crime he should not and will not serve time in a correctional institution. Ultimately it is not up to the courts to determine his character.

"Indifference is the essence of inhumanity." — George Bernard Shaw

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