Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Decency

Alas, poor mission acquaintance
Once or twice a year, I check the unofficial alumni page for my old mission. Like most of them, my mission has an "In memoriam" page that mentions any returned missionaries who have died.

When I checked recently, I saw that one of the guys I knew on my mission had died in an accident. I was sad to hear about it. I didn't stay in touch with him after the mission, but I'd known him fairly well while we were there, and I'd liked and even admired him. He was a smart, hard-working guy, serious about the mission, but never a dick about it. I'd wished more missionaries could be like him. Hell, I'd wished I could be a little more like him.

So I looked up his obituary. And I found out he'd been a lawyer, and he'd had an impressive career. From what I'd seen on my mission, it didn't surprise me at all that he was so successful. He'd clerked for a Supreme Court justice, and he'd risen high in his state's legal hierarchy. He'd argued some cases prominent enough for me to have heard of, cases in which, as it turned out, I disagreed with his position. So his politics were different from mine, but honestly, I didn't really care. I just remembered what a good guy he was on our missions.

And that seemed to be a theme in his obituaries. (Yes, he was prominent enough to have more than one.) He was such a nice guy. Not just doing church work, but looking after the junior members of his firm, things like that. One of the people quoted in one of the online obits mentioned "decency" as his defining characteristic.

But I read a little further, and I found out what he'd been working on when he died. He was representing his state in its fight against the right of a convicted prisoner to introduce new DNA evidence that could exonerate him. Get it? He was fighting -- actively fighting, using all his knowledge, training, experience, and ability -- to prevent a potentially innocent man from gaining access to a tool that could overturn what might be a wrongful conviction. [Edit: I should have mentioned that the man is on death row, so if he's actually innocent it would be a wrongful execution, not just a conviction.]

How can anyone who would do that be called "decent" by anyone? What possible moral justification could there be for doing something like that? It's not politics, it's not some abstract point of Law with a capital L; it's simply inhumane. It's indecent.

So that's who my old mission friend was: a man who was actively fighting to maintain an indecent, inhumane, immoral policy. (Not to mention unchristian; Jesus, after all, said that everyone will be judged by how they treat six kinds of people: the hungry, the thirsty, outsiders, the sick, people lacking clothes, and prisoners.)

And that left me... confused. I don't want to be glad that someone is dead -- especially someone I used to know and like -- but I was glad to know that my old acquaintance could no longer pursue his inhumane agenda. It wasn't quite the same thing as rejoicing in his death, but it was uncomfortably close. I don't feel all that decent myself when I think about that. But at least I've never fought to keep an innocent man in prison.

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4 comments:

  1. Wow. Talk about complicated!

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  2. I love this post. As someone who has to fight against inhumane prosecutors -- who should have nothing to fear from DNA evidence if their true goal is to promote justice (and that is their official role according to the supremes) -- I thank you.

    There are a lot of innocent people in prison. Lots. Last time I checked the Innocence Project website, 17, SEVENTEEN innocent individuals had been executed for crimes they did not commit before they were exonerated by DNA evidence. How do prosecutors who fight justice and truth sleep at night when they know they've killed innocent people as a matter of official policy?

    Unfortunately the prosecutor's mentality is too often "win at all costs." I've seen it. Justice does not always factor into the equation, not nearly as often as people would like to believe.

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  3. I should have mentioned that the prisoner in this case is also on death row. I don't know if he's innocent or guilty, but he's finally won the right to access the DNA evidence, which should prove what happened one way or the other. It's still a mystery to me why anyone would try to prevent that.

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  4. Meh. You can't help your gut reactions to something that seems disgusting to you. It's behavior that counts. And his behavior sucked.

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