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Should the killers of James Bulger be released?
June 18, 2001 3:57 AM   Subscribe

Should the killers of James Bulger be released? 8 years ago, two 10-year-old boys killed the toddler James Bulger. Now 18, having served the minimum of 8 years of their juvenile sentence, they are eligible for parole. Have they changed, as some say? Are they safe to be released back into society, albeit under new identities to protect them? Or are the protestors right that they should stay locked up for life? For those not familiar with the case, check this link.
posted by emc (109 comments total)

 
Geez, this is a tough one. Seriously.

I'd like to think that in most cases of youthful offenders that there is a real chance of rehabilitation. In this sense, most kids who commit crimes shouldn't be penalized forever for youthful indiscretions.

But these two boys beat a helpless toddler to death with a brick, poured paint in his eyes and mutilated his genitals. What's more, they did it in cold blood.

This sort of cruelty seems to suggest some very faulty hard-wiring. If these two kids were never even "habbed," how can they be "rehabbed"?
posted by bilco at 4:21 AM on June 18, 2001


Agreed: it's a tough one.

If they're not released, they'll go into young offenders' institutions: the sinks of the British prison system, usually regarded as the breeding-ground of hardened criminals. And since they can't conceivably be kept inside for the rest of their lives, it's probably best to let them out now, and give them the chance to rescue their own lives. At some point, a line must be drawn.

Yesterday's feature and op-ed in the Observer are a fair reflection of my views on this, as well as dispelling some of the falsehoods peddled in the red-top press. There's an utter hypocrisy, as well, in the behaviour of the tabloids: if you're a certain type of East End thug, you're eminently worthy of rehabilitation; if you've been the most difficult test case the juvenile custodial system has ever dealt with, you're not.

As I said to my dad yesterday, if you can rehabilitate the child soldiers of Sierra Leone, taken from their families and taught to kill without emotion, then you can rehabilitate these two. If anything, it simply reminds you that the play of little boys, unchecked, has a cruelty that can shake our sense of humanity.
posted by holgate at 6:20 AM on June 18, 2001


"In 1993 they were capable of taking a two-year-old and dropping him on his head, abusing him, throwing paint in his eyes, throwing bricks at him, hitting him with metal bars and finally placing his body on railway tracks in the hope that a train might cut it in half. " -The Observer

These are monsters in my book. I expect that eight years in juvie only made them worse. How's that gulag in Alaska coming along?
posted by fleener at 6:51 AM on June 18, 2001


what do you mean- should. they can only be kept until their 21st birthday. Sierra Leone kids are just implements. Check out what the Khmer Roughe did to Cambodian children. Lock them up, you deny the human right to redemption and coming through a tragedy, let them go you risk them being what...manchurian candidates-yes holgate?
STOP BEGGING QUESTIONS. I see alot of this lately and it gets my Ire up.
posted by clavdivs at 7:17 AM on June 18, 2001


Why, always, this spectatorial lack of compassion and/or any attempt at understanding.

How can we possibly judge those boys, their lives, their motivations?

How effective is the threat of "going to jail," really? How much does it really stop anyone from committing crimes? The stupid criminals think they won't get caught, the clever criminals don't get caught, the rich criminals buy their way out, and the child criminals don't even think about consequences.

Jail is a weak deterrent, and it's not as if locking criminals away prevents more criminals from being bred. A tendency towards criminal behaviour isn't something genetic. Jail isn't much of a solution. It's just like medicine - locate and treat the cause, not the symptoms.
posted by kv at 7:17 AM on June 18, 2001


If anything, it simply reminds you that the play of little boys, unchecked, has a cruelty that can shake our sense of humanity.

Children are subjected to so much meanness -- from adults, from other kids -- you'd think that there'd be a case like this every week, a case where kids internalize their own abuse and turn around and aim their anger at someone more powerless than themselves.

Yet 99.99% of kids -- including kids from rough backgrounds -- don't go whacko and do what these two boys did. For this I am tremendously grateful.

The fact that most little boys when playing, even unchecked, don't in fact torture and kill their playmates is heartening. When taken this way, this case doesn't shake my sense of humanity so much as it solidifies it.
posted by bilco at 7:23 AM on June 18, 2001


Not that it matters to this thread, but ironically enough, here in Boston we are concerned with a completely different James Bulger story.
posted by briank at 7:34 AM on June 18, 2001


How can we possibly judge those boys, their lives, their motivations?

We judge their actions. Their actions are beyond inhumane. They are monsters. I'm against the death penalty and am all for rehabilitation, but I draw the line at monsterdom.
posted by fleener at 7:35 AM on June 18, 2001


We judge their actions. Their actions are beyond inhumane. They are monsters. I'm against the death penalty and am all for rehabilitation, but I draw the line at monsterdom.

We judged their actions, their actions were beyond inhumane. They were monsters.

Perhaps they have reformed. Who are we to judge when we don't even know them and haven't worked with them. I agree that what they did was horrific, but what if they were your children? Surely you would believe that they could be rehabilitated
posted by twistedonion at 7:46 AM on June 18, 2001


So, fleener, somebody kills your mother, and you grab some hard object and hit out, and that person is killed. We shouldn't take into consideration your motivation? Just judge your action? You just killed someone, off to jail you go.
posted by kv at 7:50 AM on June 18, 2001


kv - I can understand what fleener said. Those boys didn't have any real motivation other than some twisted game. You can't really compare self defense to some kind of sick game played by kids with the most horrific consequence. All I'm trying to say is that we should give the kids a chance to prove that they have been rehabilitated.
posted by twistedonion at 8:00 AM on June 18, 2001


How can we possibly judge those boys, their lives, their motivations?

In America, motives are frequently taken into account in homicide cases. Whether the crime was committed in a state of passion, whether it was premeditated, whether it was a result of negligence, whether a person was sane when the crime was committed -- all of these sorts of things are taken into account.

The question is, What sort of motivation would ever make sense in this case? Your example of someone killing the person who killed his/her mother would make sense to some jurors; however, I don't think there is a motive like this present in the Bulgar case. And I think that's the point.
posted by bilco at 8:03 AM on June 18, 2001


But how do you know that? If they tortured and killed animals previous to this murder, don't you think they had some serious issues?

Do any of you really believe that some people are just born evil? I don't know what happened to make these kids behave so abnormally, but it's not a simple matter of them being "monsters," as if they are two-dimensional cartoon characters who are either evil or good.
posted by kv at 8:05 AM on June 18, 2001


One can understand that sociopaths have issues; one can believe that sociopaths aren't wholly "evil"; one can even feel sorrow and compassion for sociopaths.

This doesn't preclude one from thinking that some sociopaths are still better off removed from the general population.
posted by bilco at 8:19 AM on June 18, 2001


I don't believe anybody is born evil. I believe some people become twisted and sick and disturbed through a variety of causes, but that (basically) lots of love and good therapy will cure them. Call me naive, call me soppy, but it's a belief I hold quite dear.
Telling these children that they are evil will certainly not help them on the way to sanity, which is why I sincerely hope that they will get new identities and that no vigilantes will come after them in some twisted campaign to get 'justice for James'.
posted by schoolie at 8:26 AM on June 18, 2001


Like I said before... ~SIGH~ How dare you judge murders?? You inhuman curs! Where is your humanity? Show them they are loved - free them, and if they kill again, show them we understand their pain...
posted by Perigee at 8:26 AM on June 18, 2001


Yeah, how can we judge people? Let's just let everyone go free. Judge not lest you be judged.

Gimme a break.
posted by fleener at 8:30 AM on June 18, 2001


There is a difference between passing judgement and meting out punishment and writing off people for ever because of a thing they did when they were ten years old. They went to prison, they did time (nearly half their lives to date), let them go.
posted by schoolie at 8:34 AM on June 18, 2001


but it's not a simple matter of them being "monsters," as if they are two-dimensional cartoon characters who are either evil or good.

Fine. Perhaps they have some good in them - no one is purely evil, certainly. Gacy did charity work with children; Ramirez had a very well maintained yard and was polite to all his neighbors; Everyone loved Bundy, he was a "nice guy."

And yet....

The thing here is, these kids will NEVER get better - how can they? They crudely and coldly murdered a small child. EVEN if they realize the depth of the callousness that their actions presume; EVEN if they a truly sorry for what they have done; EVEN if they have sworn to never do such things again - that little child, who took the hand of his murderers as they led him to his horrible death, that little child is gone FOREVER. His parents, who loved him and wanted him to grow up to be a good man, who poured their lives into him, had their son, whom they, if they are typical of most parents, loved beyond the love they hold for their own lives, stripped from them as casually as you'd slap a mosquito. James is dead, horribly so, but dead - he is beyond any more pain. But his family, they live with this horror every day. And to know that, even as their son wil never know what it's like to go to school, to meet a girl, to get a job, to have a family, the children who killed him will have an opportunity to do exactly that, as if what they have done could simply be melted away by the passage of mere time.

If these children are truly cognizant of what they have done, what unimaginmable cruelty they meted out to their victim and continue to mete out to his family each day, they really would have no choice but to commit suicide. Who, after all, could continue to live with the overwhelming guilt of such horrible actions? Since they still live, I have no doubt they have not truly comprehended their actions. And therefore, I believe they should continue to be imprisoned.

There is one other condition that brings me to that conclusion as well. IF these boys had murdered MY son, and I knew they were going to be freed, I would certainly kill them. I would hunt them down like the foul, rabid little animals they are and put them out of their misery, and punishment be damned.

But hey, that's just me. Perhaps James' father feels differently. Happy Belated Father's Day, Mr. Bulger.
posted by UncleFes at 8:38 AM on June 18, 2001


Yeah, maybe these boys are better off being hidden away from the dismissive, unforgiving general population.
posted by kv at 8:42 AM on June 18, 2001


That is almost certainly so. Most people tend to take the murder of their children badly. It makes them angry.
posted by UncleFes at 8:43 AM on June 18, 2001


There is a difference between passing judgement and meting out punishment and writing off people for ever because of a thing they did when they were ten years old.

Except that the thing they did just happened to be torturing and beating and killing a defenseless two-year-old.
posted by bilco at 8:45 AM on June 18, 2001


Don't forget that they singled him out, lured him away from his parents, brought him to a nice, deserted place and THEN tortured hime, beat him, and murdered him. Not exactly the actions of confused little boys. More like the actions of demons from hell.
posted by UncleFes at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2001


I have a solution: We don't call it "Judgement", we merely call it "Moral Criticism".

And I frankly don't like their work. No Ethic Funding for them, back in the Hole with you.
posted by Dagobert at 8:47 AM on June 18, 2001


true bilco, but I am a completely different person now than when I was ten - ok I may not have wanted to go out and bludgeon an innocent baby to death but if I have changed so much why can't these kids have changed also - for all we know they could be feeling extremely sorry for what they have done. We don't know them so how can we judge them.
posted by twistedonion at 8:51 AM on June 18, 2001


but what if they were your children? Surely you would believe that they could be rehabilitated

And yet another false appeal to emotional response. Whether or not their parents or anyone other than the justice officials of Britain feel that they can be rehabilitated is irrelevant.

I think that bilco hit the nail on the head, though - can you rehabilitate someone who was never habilitated to begin with? If a child can reach the age of 10 and still have no compunction about committing a brutal murder, are they equipped with the basic principles of decency, compassion and humanity that would be necessary to enable them to live amongst society again?

Even if you agree with the philosophy of the tabula rasa it would be, I believe, hard to fathom instilling the ideals of peaceful humanity into 10 year olds, now 18 year olds, who seemed to lack any semblance of those ideals to begin with.

Schoolie said: There is a difference between passing judgement and meting out punishment and writing off people for ever because of a thing they did when they were ten years old.

So eight years is fitting punishment for the brutal murder of a child in your book? These boys did not care that Jamie Bulgar was a baby. having lived a merely 20-odd months. They gave him absolutely no consideration based upon his age, his innocence, his lack of knowledge or understanding. Why should we give them any better?
posted by Dreama at 8:51 AM on June 18, 2001


We don't know them so how can we judge them.

We judge them by their actions. They are torturers and murderers. They do not deserve to ever walk amongst us again.

I simply don't understand how you can excuse their actions so casually. And, if they have truly changed, how could they possible ameliorate the guilt they would surely feel?
posted by UncleFes at 8:55 AM on June 18, 2001


why have the parents gotten away clean on this issue?
posted by mcsweetie at 8:56 AM on June 18, 2001


Learn a thing or two about child psychology before jumping on the "we can't judge them" bandwagon. They've passed their formative years where they form a sense of right and wrong. They're messed up. "Oh, but that just means we have to show that much more compassion to them." Uh huh. Let them live in your house then.
posted by fleener at 8:58 AM on June 18, 2001


I am not at all excusing their actions. Personally, I feel that if they show no signs of having been rehabilitated then keep them locked up. But people do have the capacity to change and if they have changed and the parole board feel that they have served their time, then they should be let out.
posted by twistedonion at 8:59 AM on June 18, 2001


Yeah, UncleFes. Your logic is superb - they are OK if they feel guilty and commit suicide, but they should remain incarcerated if they don't commit suicide.

Boy, I hope you and your kid(s) are perfect.
posted by kv at 9:02 AM on June 18, 2001


Did they really pass their formative years? I don't know anything about child psychology but I would assume that you don't really pass them until your late teens at the earliest.

At ten I wanted all fenians (Derogatory term for Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland - I don't mean to offend) dead, I wanted to join a 'kick the pope band', I was a 'true Loyalist', if someone had handed me a gun and told me to shoot someone because they were republican (in the Irish sense) I would have done it. I am the total opposite now thanks to spending high school in south africa and understanding that prejudice of any kind can't be tolerated.

But I did think like that at 10 - I still felt like that at 12, does that mean I am beyond help?
posted by twistedonion at 9:07 AM on June 18, 2001


Oh course, for some people it's better to have these two young men locked out of sight and demonised, because it makes them "other": "born evil", inhuman, monsters. Better to wash your hands of them, declare them something other than human at the age of 10, than to possibly admit that you might possibly have something in common with them.

Making monsters of the things we can't face up to is more than just child psychology: something of which, fleener, you patently know very little.
posted by holgate at 9:10 AM on June 18, 2001


"We don't know them so how can we judge them."

What could you possibly tell me about them that would make me not want them to rot in jail for the rest of their lives? That they were abused children? That they're mentally ill? Hopped up on drugs? Sorry. It might explain their actions, but it will never excuse them. People that cross a heinous line like that should not be allowed to walk the street.
posted by fleener at 9:10 AM on June 18, 2001


show no signs of having been rehabilitated

I wonder what the signs are that one has sufficiently been rehabilitated from the torture and murder of a two-year-old.

feel that they have served their time, then they should be let out

Ah. And when, do you think, will the Parole Board bring back James Bulger? When will he be let out? When will the Parole Board take away the crushing grief James' parents must feel? When will the Parole Board erase the hatred for the two murderers that the public reportedly feels? When will the Parole Board assuage the horror that gnaws at every parent's guts when they read this story, thinking that James' hellish fate could befall their own child?

Boy, I hope you and your kid(s) are perfect.

I know that I am not. It is likely that my kids will not be. But it is my hope that my children never grow up to torture and murder smaller children. I will work diligently toward that end - not only because I want my children to grow up to be people who do not murder children, but also because I want your children not to be murdered.

As far as my logic, I don't see any holes in it. Does anyone else?
posted by UncleFes at 9:10 AM on June 18, 2001


I am a completely different person now than when I was ten - ok I may not have wanted to go out and bludgeon an innocent baby to death but if I have changed so much why can't these kids have changed also...

But twisted, that's my point -- you would never do what these two boys did, would you? Most kids in the world, no matter how badly they've been raised, would commit a crime as heinous as these two boys did.

I don't know you, but you've probably got a conscience along with some compassion (I'm assuming this from your posts). You're projecting yourself into the selves of these two boys -- you even compare yourself to them above as a way to get a handle of understanding on this issue.

But here's the thing: you're not like them. I'm not like them. Most people on this planet are not like them. You can't really apply your personal growth to theirs.

There's a reason why there's a field of study called dysfunctional psychology. Some folks like to do things that most of us would be sickened by. I think what the two boys did to James falls into that category.
posted by bilco at 9:11 AM on June 18, 2001


Regardless of the hideousness of their crimes, and whether or not the government's plans for the men are equally hideous (and men is what they are now, let's stop pretending they're still little kids), I'll make this prediction: Venables and Thompson are doomed. The information and discussion about their new identities has to be floating around multiple government computers somewhere, and some hacker will eventually access it, and happily spread it all over the net. (Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if some disgusted government employee were to intentionally leak it first anyway.) As such, the very best these two can hope for is a lifetime of looking over their shoulder, always fearing that the next person driving up the street is a vigilante coming to kill them. Far more likely, IMHO, is that they will indeed be killed by somebody, and that it will happen surprisingly soon after their release; the amount of anger and rage on the public's part is just too great, and there are going to be possibly millions of people dreaming of getting their hands on these guys.

And if that does happen, the first place the fingers ought to be pointed is at the UK justice bureaucracy, which appears to be out of control, or at least out of its collective mind, if it think this is a rational plan.

(I feel the need to add that last night I was watching Police Camera Action on MeFi's favorite network, TLC, watching dozens of nutcases lead police on incredibly dangeous high-speed car chases. Many of them resulted in rather severe damage both to police cars and to innocent bystanders' vehicles (as well as to the perp's car, which is stolen from an innocent person as often as not), and nearly killed any one of hundreds of people along the way. And almost invariably, the had mentions at the end that the criminal was sentenced to a whopping six to eight months in jail. Combine this with the fact that on last night's show, said host spent almost five solid minutes demonstrating how British police, in their quest to catch drunk drivers, have started to use a radical-but-effective technique, created by the Americans, called "roadside sobriety tests" (touch the tip of your nose, count backwards from 100, etc) ... well, I can't help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, the UK doesn't quite grok the whole law and order thing too well.
posted by aaron at 9:12 AM on June 18, 2001



Unclefes, do you feel a lot of guilt for things you did when you were 10? Do you even remember much of what you did when you were 10?
If children are as culpable for their crimes as adults, then really, why should we even consider age an issue at all? Adults should be able to have sex with children, children should be able to drink, and smoke, and I, for one, believe that 4 year olds should be able to vote.
Dreama, cause they were 10 years old. That's the answer to your question. They were not ABLE to give the victim those considerations because they were little stupid children. We, I hope, are not.
If a child walked up to another child and pulled his hair, and smacked him in the face, nobody would consider sending that child to jail. If I did the same thing to anyone here, I very well could end up in jail. What's the difference?
posted by Doug at 9:13 AM on June 18, 2001


This case isn't quite unique in Britain. In the 60s, there was a child killer called Mary Bell. On adulthood, she was judged to be rehabilitated, and released into anonymity. (There was no internet in those days, where up-to-date pictures could be posted.) She has since led a blameless life, raising a family. She was only "outed" a couple of years ago - I don't remember the circumstances - and her daughter had no idea about her mother's past.

Whether this has any relevence to Venables and Thompson I don't know, but it goes to show that we don't treat adults and children in the same way for a very good reason. 10-year-old are not hopeless cases. As much as sometimes we want to see vengeance for the suffering they caused, the best that can happen is that the two of them will become productive members of society again. It is possible, and our justice system would be failing them if it wasn't doing all it could to ensure it happened.
posted by salmacis at 9:13 AM on June 18, 2001


But twisted, that's my point -- you would never do what these two boys did, would you?

Exactly. We're not talking about typical infractions such as shoplifting, stealing a car, swiping mail, etc. I'm agnostic, but "evil" is the only way I can describe this crime.
posted by fleener at 9:16 AM on June 18, 2001


But I did think like that at 10 - I still felt like that at 12, does that mean I am beyond help?

Thinking and doing are two totally different things, yes? Seriously, I doubt you're much like the two boys in question or you'd be in jail right now for slaying a couple of Papists. They didn't just dream -- they acted. You sound, well, too human for that sort of thing.

And this is coming from an Unrepentant Fenian Bastard. ;-)
posted by bilco at 9:17 AM on June 18, 2001


They didn't just dream -- they acted. You sound, well, too human for that sort of thing.

I guess I am, but I felt real hatred at the time and if one of my 'mates' suggested something similar, who knows what I would have done, children have a capacity for doing horriffic things without needing much persuasion. I remember two young children in my neighbourhood beating up a pet dog seemingly for fun. They were punished by their parents, made to understand what they had done, and they have grown up to be normal adults. I just truly believe that there is always a capacity for change within us. If there isn't then maybe the death penalty is the only answer (and a sad day that would be).
posted by twistedonion at 9:29 AM on June 18, 2001


Far more likely, IMHO, is that they will indeed be killed by somebody, and that it will happen surprisingly soon after their release.

Geez, did Lyndon LaRouche just walk in the building? Oddly enough, there aren't many (percentage wise) post-prison shootings. I can't even think of any in recent memory. A change of name does wonders. Look at child molesters, they practically have to wear a T-shirt saying "I boned an 8 year old" and I don't see any vigilantes.

As far as the original question goes, I see two choices. One being released to see how they fare in society. Two being locked up for increasing periods of time which usually equals a strong education by their *real prison* peers involving common cons and crimes, gang initiation, sodomy, etc.
posted by skallas at 9:34 AM on June 18, 2001


Adults should be able to have sex with children, children should be able to drink, and smoke, and I, for one, believe that 4 year olds should be able to vote.

I think someone remembers my posts on global warming, and is trying to get me to be unduly provocative, which I have sworn not to be anymore:) You tempter!

a child killer called Mary Bell

I remember that, they had a thing about it on NPR. I remember thinking how horribly unjust and foul it was that this woman, who basically destroyed another family, was allowed to have a family of her own, and live out a "normal" life. The whole thing reaffirms my position as an athiest - there is no god, for is He existed, He would surely have stopped such heinous injustice, with blue bolts of lightning from a cloudless sky, or even something so prosaic as a freak auto accident.

My ultimate question is, why does anyone care what happens to the two murderers? Where is the outpouring of sympathy for the victims in this? Everyone is falling all over themselves to give the two boys a second chance, when they themselves never gave James a first chance. Have our societal priorties gotten so out of whack? Have we grown so callous, that the foulest of murders rates eight years in the slam? Do we really believe these boys can be rehabilitated, or are we simply cowardly shirking our responsbilities to our fellow man, the responsibility to make sure that our neighbors, our countrymen, and the rest of the world, are as safe as possible from those who would torture and murder children? Are we simply avoiding the ugly, but ultimately necesssary, job of punishing those who do evil?
posted by UncleFes at 9:37 AM on June 18, 2001


Skallas, I wouldn't be surprised... I was working in London when these guys were sentenced. As an American, I really was shocked by the outpouring of sheer, unadulterated hatred coming from what we (stereotypically) think of as the "more reserved" British. If I were one of the perps in this case, I'd probably want to stay in the State's custody, simply so I could stay alive...
posted by m.polo at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2001


bilco, UncleFes etc.
We are like them. I find what they did horrifying (I never found pulling the legs off of insects to be amusing as a child. I feel sorry for roadkill.) but I know they are my fellow human beings. I know it's comforting to simply claim that everyone who commits a terrible crime is somehow inhuman but it's important to recognize your shared humanity so that you can be all the more on your guard. If you refuse to believe something is possible you won't seek to avoid it.
posted by Octaviuz at 9:45 AM on June 18, 2001


"Perhaps they have reformed. "

hmm... baby killing children raised in jail for almost half of their ENTIRE lives...

what could they have possibly reformed into?!?
posted by jcterminal at 9:51 AM on June 18, 2001


We are like them.

Oh, please. Yes, we're fellow human beings. I never said they were inhuman. Get your posts straight.

But I'm unlike them in one important way -- I didn't torture and kill a two-year-old. I find it a bit odd that you see this difference as negligible.

To me, it is a big difference. To each his own, I suppose.
posted by bilco at 9:55 AM on June 18, 2001


aaron: if you're judging the British legal system on Police, Camera, Action, allow me to judge American law enforcement with the aid of Cops. Both are nothing more than cheap light entertainment. A friend works for the production company: it has as much to do with representing police work Survivor has with, um, survival.

And to be honest, Thompson and Venables will have to live out a very real Survivor of their own. They will, no doubt, be hunted down, with the tacit encouragement of the tabloids, and any vengeance meted against them will be done by responsible adults, who have not even the shadow of an excuse for it. And shame on them.

This isn't about sympathy. It's about grimly recognising that in utterly exceptional cases like this, there are a set of grotesque choices: some of which have an almost animistic character.

If horrific aberrations could be driven from the world through revenge, perhaps it might be worth that kind of pact. If blood sacrifice were proven to wash away the sins of the world, then perhaps. But I don't see that. And I don't see mob justice setting any example to ensure that little boys' fantasies of violence don't become reality again.
As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport.
Two meanings at once: that the gap between child's play and adult cruelty is a slender one; and the manner in which that cruelty manifests itself leads us to question our faith.
posted by holgate at 9:58 AM on June 18, 2001


you people condemning these boys...keep in mind that you know nothing of them outside of the crime they committed. there is the potential for a tremendous girth of information to be present regarding the boys upbringing, the enviroment they lived in, mental problems, etc. and these things have the potential to really make all the difference.

I'm not saying there is a clear justification for what they did. but if you don't know the facts, hold your tongue. you are not impressing anyone with your moral dichotomies ("these boys are clearly wicked, so lets kill them!").
posted by mcsweetie at 10:12 AM on June 18, 2001


Look at child molesters, they practically have to wear a T-shirt saying "I boned an 8 year old" and I don't see any vigilantes.

Then you're not looking. A quick web search will pull up dozens of articles and hang-wringing op-eds about how these Megan's Laws have indeed resulted in vigilante actions. Now, in America I don't think very many of these have turned violent ... for the most part the "only" result is that these men have had their lives ruined, unable to get hired, unable to rent any living space, basically left at the mercy of their families for support (if they still have a family that wants anything to do with them), or who just either end up homeless or intentionally commit another crime in order to go back to jail, the only place willing to feed and clothe them.

But in (guess where ... oh come on, pretend to be surprised here) the UK, a number of the vigilante actions have been extremely violent and came damn close to killing the released molester. Or, occasionally, innocent people mistaken by rampaging mobs for a certain released molestor. (I'm thinking specifically of the recent decision by The Mirror to print the names of convicted sex offenders so that the entire nation knows exactly who they are.)

aaron: if you're judging the British legal system on Police, Camera, Action, allow me to judge American law enforcement with the aid of Cops.

Be my guest. They admittedly represent the more extreme, sensationalized end of what police offers must deal with, but they're not fake. Unless Alistair Whoozits is LYING, these criminals being profiled are indeed getting hideously light sentences for their multiple felonies. If I recall correctly, on the episode I saw last night one of the chases resulted in so many criminal charges that the person's rap sheet ended up being three pages long, just from that one chase. And he STILL only got about a year.

(ObCredentialsBattle: Many men in my family have been officers, and some have been involved with Cops in the past.)

And I don't see mob justice setting any example to ensure that little boys' fantasies of violence don't become reality again.

I don't see that as the intention of the mobs.
posted by aaron at 10:18 AM on June 18, 2001



We are living in a time when 'faith' is quickly becoming 'myth', holgate; and not that you are pointing in this direction, but it does bring up something that has been tugging at the back of my mind in these threads.

As society pulls away from fear of divine retribution, there is a percentage of society that will surrender social mores in favor of personal pleasure or gain.

Those of us without 'faith' must determine where we stand. Having no luxury of a comforting God and the promise of ultimate justice, we must look to what is here and now as all there is.

'Vengence is Mine', sayeth the Lord. The Lord God claims Vengence as a right. He has created a hell for the eternal torture and separation of those who has displeased Him. No one may speak for the damned - no one can interceede, and no one can unlock those gates to the inferno to release on probation those who have 'suffered enough'.

I can appreciate and understand why some might believe me cold in my feelings towards those who have failed their responsibilities; but I am no more cold than the Lord God Almighty, who sits in final and eternal judgement in Judeo-Christian dogma. Fault me, and you fault him; if my thoughts are horrific, than his, being perfect and omnipotent, must surely be worse.
posted by Perigee at 10:21 AM on June 18, 2001


As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods.

Note that Gloucester refers to flies. He doesn't say "As toddlers are to wanton boys, are we to the gods." There is a difference between flies and toddlers.

Kids killing kids in cold blood as part of play is not that common; that's because it's often a big jump from fantasy to reality especially when it involves severe cruelty. Most people have a mechanism that filters the crossover from thought to deed; a few folks do not.

Even most 10-year-olds have this sort of mechanism. Yes, boys can be mean. Yes, boys can even be violent. But most boys are not torturers and murderers. That seems to me to be a big distinction.

And I don't see mob justice setting any example to ensure that little boys' fantasies of violence don't become reality again.

Agreed. Killing Thompson and Venables solves nothing. For that matter, any sort of revence on the two solves nothing. I hope our only choices are not 1) let them free or 2) have them hunted down like animals.
posted by bilco at 10:23 AM on June 18, 2001


"these boys are clearly wicked, so lets kill them!"

Who said we should kill these two? And who, if they said that, would find it impressive? Seems you're sort of setting up a strawman here. Shame.
posted by bilco at 10:25 AM on June 18, 2001


"Vengeance is Mine" also means, in the context you are citing, that it is not yours.
posted by redfoxtail at 10:27 AM on June 18, 2001


IF you believe that there is a God to administer such, red. I do not. Actually, this question doesn't apply so much to this thread (I'd say see what the psychologists say about the kids - they've done more time than most murderers..) as it does the concept of Vengence being an acceptable concept. If we say vengence is not acceptable, then we say that God is morally beneath us... No?
posted by Perigee at 10:32 AM on June 18, 2001


And, not for nuttin', but "these boys are clearly wicked, so lets kill them!" is not a dichotomy, moral or otherwise. (It's barbaric, but it's no dichotomy. There's no contradiction between these clauses, rhetorically speaking, just faulty causation.)
posted by bilco at 10:33 AM on June 18, 2001


I know they are my fellow human beings.

Ahh, it's the Pastor Collins philosophy (from War of the Worlds). "I think we should try to make them understand we mean them no harm."

A person who commits an inhuman crime is not human in the sense we think of humans. They do not mentally operate on the level of what we consider "normal." It's like sticking your hand out to pet a wild animal, thinking it will enjoy being touched because it's so cute and fuzzy. You have no idea what's going on inside its head. Wild animals have a place in this world - in the wilderness. Wild humans have no place. Some people say "give 'em capital punshment." Some people say "give 'em life in prison." Other people say, "They did their time. Let 'em go free." I say, "Oh boy, more wild humans being let loose on the street. This has a predictable ending."
posted by fleener at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2001


If comparing someone to Hitler in a political thread is its death then surely the mention of God in a crime thread does the same.

The whole thing reaffirms my position as an atheist - there is no god, for is He existed, He would surely have stopped such heinous injustice, with blue bolts of lightning from a cloudless sky, or even something so prosaic as a freak auto accident.

Really, what does this have to do with anything? Pick your favorite philosophy that contains a non-interfering god. Multi-gods, non-benevolent, etc. If 'bad things' or the xtian god is the bedrock of your atheism I'd suggest some more thinking.

Here's another winner:
As society pulls away from fear of divine retribution, there is a percentage of society that will surrender social mores in favor of personal pleasure or gain.

That would be a crying shame wouldn't it? Hedonism without guilt, condoms for all, etc.

This thread is dead.
posted by skallas at 10:43 AM on June 18, 2001


Predictable ending? Others mentioned a woman called Mary Bell who was successfully rehabilitated into society.

Deez arguments dont make no sense.
posted by kv at 10:47 AM on June 18, 2001


bilco, the statement in question was meant to be taken as hyperbole. sorry for the confusion.
posted by mcsweetie at 10:49 AM on June 18, 2001


I don't mind you exagerrating for effect, honest. Just don't attach my name to it. Fair?
posted by bilco at 10:52 AM on June 18, 2001


Yes, boys can be mean. Yes, boys can even be violent. But most boys are not torturers and murderers. That seems to me to be a big distinction.

There's a reason why Lord of the Flies is taught on school syllabuses.
posted by holgate at 10:56 AM on June 18, 2001


There's a reason why Lord of the Flies is taught on school syllabuses.

Um, you know that Golding's book is fiction, right? Just checking.
posted by bilco at 10:59 AM on June 18, 2001


I knew I should have put "literature syllabuses".

And Leviathan isn't a true story either, but it's still worth reading for the moral.
posted by holgate at 11:07 AM on June 18, 2001


holgate --

I hope you're not misunderstanding me. I think there's a lot to learn from King Lear, Lord of the Flies, Leviathan, etc. I agree that there are dark impulses in everyone -- including so-called "normal" little boys.

But I think impulses and actions are two different things. That's the point I was trying to make.
posted by bilco at 11:21 AM on June 18, 2001


I also think there are levels of actions to consider. Pulling the wings off flies is disgusting and cruel; but I wouldn't put that on the same level as what happened to James. That's all I meant.
posted by bilco at 11:23 AM on June 18, 2001


Dreama, cause they were 10 years old. That's the answer to your question. They were not ABLE to give the victim those considerations because they were little stupid children.

That's just outrageous on its face. The overwhelming majority, to the twentieth decimal point of 99.99+% and beyond, almost every single ten year old on the planet can and does extend the consideration to the people around them not to brutally kill them for fun. These two did not.

The suggestion is that they be given consideration as though they fit the mold of routine ten year olds, who do deserve second chances when they do bad things -- but the bad things that routine ten year olds might accomplish very rarely run toward violent, depraved murders.

Their age alone is no justification for downplaying the enormity of their act. Their age alone is no justification for suggesting that eight years detention is punishment befitting the crime. Their age did not ameliorate the severity of what they did, it should not ameliorate the severity of the price they should pay as a result.
posted by Dreama at 11:24 AM on June 18, 2001


Killing Thompson and Venables solves nothing.

What is there to solve? The worst damage has already been done. Anything that happens or doesn't happen to these two is hair-pulling after the fact. Whether Thompson and Venables live or die is irrelevant in the face of their crime. They simply aren't worth saving. Nothing they could possibly do with the rest of their lives can make a whit of difference to what they have already done.
posted by UncleFes at 11:27 AM on June 18, 2001


That would be a crying shame wouldn't it? Hedonism without guilt, condoms for all, etc.

That wouldn't be bad at all - however, you have to look at both sides of the coin. That also means that there will be those who will find it easier to take than to earn, to force rather than pursuade... The question is, in such a world, how does a society devoid of the comforting promise of an eternal, wonderful existence and the threat of eternal, torturous punishment police itself?

God has not been brought into the thread, skallas - what has been is the question of the rights of a society devoid of these promises to act in a manner that was once attributed to their now-dead God. You discount one side while lionizing the other - it doesn't hold water. The thread may be dead for you, skallas.. but the question remains open, and will have to be faced someday.
posted by Perigee at 11:31 AM on June 18, 2001


The overwhelming majority, to the twentieth decimal point of 99.99+% and beyond, almost every single ten year old on the planet can and does extend the consideration to the people around them not to brutally kill them for fun. These two did not.

Exactly.
posted by bilco at 11:31 AM on June 18, 2001


I think impulses and actions are two different things.

True. But at what point do you declare that someone has forfeit the opportunity of rehabilitation? Because that, in itself, is an action that stems from an impulse.

To say that someone is beyond redemption ("simply aren't worth saving") establishes a moral prerogative that makes me just as uneasy as to say they "must be forgiven". To regard yourself worthy enough to emulate that self-imposed ability to declare their lives worthless... it shakes me to see others make that judgement with such moral certitude, because I know I could never make it myself. And that, to me, reflects the difference between impulse and action.
posted by holgate at 11:58 AM on June 18, 2001


old enough to kill, old enough to die.

and besides, if these two kids were put down like the animals they are, the chances of them doing this again becomes ZERO.

that's right, ZERO.

let's err on the side of caution.
posted by jcterminal at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2001


To regard yourself worthy enough to emulate that self-imposed ability to declare their lives worthless... it shakes me to see others make that judgement with such moral certitude, because I know I could never make it myself.

It isn't so because I say it's so; it's so because they have damaged someone in a way that is impossible to repair. Rehabilitation assumes that one can make good for what they have done in error. This is impossible in this case. Thompson and Venables have no way to make good on what they have done. That being the case, their lives are rendered meaningless. I have nothing to do with it.
posted by UncleFes at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2001


Rehabilitation assumes that one can make good for what they have done in error.

You're thinking of restitution. Rehabilitation means making them so they won't do it again.
posted by claxton6 at 12:09 PM on June 18, 2001


Because that, in itself, is an action that stems from an impulse.

Actually, all actions stem from impulses. My point was that not all impulses do or should lead to actions. Seems commonsensical to me.

To say that someone is beyond redemption ("simply aren't worth saving") establishes a moral prerogative that makes me just as uneasy as to say they "must be forgiven".

Well, I don't know who said that the two guys weren't worth saving. I can only speak for myself and say that my concern is that they probably haven't been or can't be saved, which is a different matter. This is why the decision whether or not to release them into the general population should err on the side of safety.

This might seem unfair, especially if the two are truly rehabbed (or habbed, since they never seemed to be habilitated in the first place). But actions carry consequences, and one of the consequences of torturing and murdering people is that most other people won't tend to trust you much after that.
posted by bilco at 12:13 PM on June 18, 2001


Rehabilitation means making them so they won't do it again.

Sort of like locking the barn door after the horses have left, then? Then the argument is even more moot, if that's even possible.

But AFAIK most criminal rehabilitation procedures involved taking responsibility for your crime and making amends. Which is not possible in this case. And I still contend that anyone who tortured and murdered a two-year-old and subsequently was able to conceive clearly and truthfully the enormity of that crime would feel such crushing guilt and anguish that they would simply give up living.

I guess what I'm getting at is that there is no such thing as successful rehabilitation for this kind of crime. To do so would precipitate one's suicide or, at the very least, a lifetime of brutal guilt and depression such as would keep one from ever being a reasonable, productive member of society.
posted by UncleFes at 12:18 PM on June 18, 2001


...unless, of course, you were never really rehabilitated at all, which I think is the case with Mary Bell. I don't think she ever "got better," I think she just sectioned off that portion of her life and made do with the rest. Which isn't exactly any consolation to the family of the child she murdered for sport, is it?
posted by UncleFes at 12:22 PM on June 18, 2001


Then the argument is even more moot, if that's even possible.

Not if what you want to accomplish is the greatest decrease in crime for the least amount of pain caused. I'm not saying it works, just that it's not automatically ruled out.

But AFAIK most criminal rehabilitation procedures involved taking responsibility for your crime and making amends.

That's a method rather than an end-goal. A lot of these punishment philosphies (justice/retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, restitution) intermingle a great deal, even in theory.

Fes, your last paragraph ("I guess what I'm getting at ..."), to me, reads like wild speculation. Guilt and/or depression wouldn't (and here I'm equally speculative) necessarily lead to suicide or non-productiveness. It seems reasonable (still speculating) that a rehabilitated person -- one who has owned up to their guilt, and brought themselves in line with society's norms and mores -- could devote themselves to giving back to the community, in an attempt to make general amends. I'm not saying everyone would be like this; in fact, I don't believe everyone would be like this, probably only a tiny, tiny fraction. My point is: rehabilitated criminals would probably run the gamut of responses.
posted by claxton6 at 12:31 PM on June 18, 2001


Everyone has the capability within them to be depraved homicidal maniacs, even in childhood. What defines 'sane' are the boundaries that not only keep us from doing such, but lead us to be of the opinion that doing such would be horrific and monstrous.

It's called a conscience, in which respect for human life is/should be deeply incorporated.

Where do we learn these things as children? Parents, school-teachers, community and religious leaders. They do often use some "shady" methods of ingraining this into us, like using the concepts of "God" and "Hell"--the threat of the divine and Divine Retribution is what makes keeps many a man/woman/child on the straight'n'narrow--but it works.

I think it is safe to say that if a child were divested of all of the above influences, they could quite possibly turn into the cold-blooded little beasts that killed a toddler. So the question is--what the FUCK were the parents doing (or rather, not doing) to/with these two boys where they had -no conscience- whatsoever? Where were the teachers, where were the pastors/preachers/etc. This by no means excuses them, but they are definitely questions worth poring over.

Should they be freed? I've only seen mention of being held in juvenile detention--I've seen NOTHING about being placed in mental hospitals where trained professionals could have at them. What you had there were two young boys who did not possess at age 10 the level of conscience--read, sanity--that most do.

In other words, those two boys were insane.

And to just toss two monstrously criminal insane children into lock-up for 8 years without intensive attempt to find the cracks in their little minds and fix them would be like being diagnosed with Cancer, yet never doing a thing about it.

It doesn't just go away after 8 years; chances are, if you're still alive, it's spread to the point where there is nothing that can be done about it except wait for imminent pain and death (in the case of these two boys, I get the eerie feeling that we'll be hearing about one or both of them "recreating" that childhood incident in some skewered, insane attempt to reconcile.)

Hell no those two shouldn't be released. They're bloody insane.
posted by precocious at 12:45 PM on June 18, 2001


My point is: rehabilitated criminals would probably run the gamut of responses.

Probably true. And I agree with you on the speculation end. However, I contend that a lifetime of making general amends could not even the score. And that's what it's all supposed to be about, right? Justice. My point in that last paragraph is that the two murderers obviously have no concept that other people are also people. The finality of death eludes them, as does the normal consequences of action. If you begin from this point, and then somehow manage to teach the murderers these things - where they really understand, they really get it - only then would they be truly rehabilitated. And if they were truly rehabilitated, and understood what they had done....

Put yourself in that place, and think of what you'd feel, what you'd do. I simply cannot imagine carrying on in life in that fashion, with that on my conscience. I don't believe such a burden can be borne.

Yes, it's a catch-22 - but one the murderers willfully threw themselves into, and one that the English system of justice created. And while they bandy aspects of law, the rest of us - not the least of which are James' family - must dissemble the thornier package of what's right.
posted by UncleFes at 1:01 PM on June 18, 2001


I have a confession to make.
When I was ten years old, I took a kids face, and pressed it into the dirt of our playground. He got very angry, and wrestled with me, and eventually I let him up. Hfought with me, and I punched him.
If anyone reading this is a law enforcement agent, please, come and arrest me. After reading these posts, I realize that I am clearly the same person who did those acts. I'm as capable today as I was then of hurting a person. For the protection of society, please, put me away before I strike again.
Despite all I've learned, and all that has happened to me in the past decade and a half, I am the same person I was then. We are all, morally and ethically, the same exact people we were before our pubic hair grew in.
posted by Doug at 1:13 PM on June 18, 2001


precocious: not just detention. Eight years of forensic psychiatry, supervision, therapy. No matter what you think of child psychology, this is its test case. I doubt that any juvenile offenders have received such attention: not just for their own good, but in the hope that others, without their terrible culpability, may benefit from what has been learned. They will be released before their nineteenth birthdays, simply because those who have to make that decision know that to send them to young offenders' institutions will write off those eight years, as well as the next however many they live. Somewhere between Winston Smith and Alex in A Clockwork Orange: they make you perfect before they kill you.

Centuries ago, the monasteries would have kept them.

::

And had they, or had Mary Bell been left with a bottle of barbiturates and a knowing glance by their wardens, would that have brought consolation? As I suggested, we're in the territory of King Lear, not Julius Caesar. Look around for some kind of just resolution, and you won't find one. One dead; two living dead; a queue of vengeful others waiting to join the ranks.

None of our actions can be erased, but some can be overwritten: some, never so well that they obliterate the original. I don't presume to judge, because I look for justice and see it nowhere.
posted by holgate at 1:15 PM on June 18, 2001


And that's what it's all supposed to be about, right? Justice.

Mm, perhaps. Maybe not. I'm kinda skeptical of justice, particularly when it's Justice. Why can't the point be to decrease the overall incidence of crime?

I don't believe such a burden can be borne.

But are you willing to condemn them in perpetuity on the basis of this, as you conceded, speculation?
posted by claxton6 at 1:17 PM on June 18, 2001


I have a confession to make.
When I was ten years old, I took a kids face, and pressed it into the dirt of our playground. He got very angry, and wrestled with me, and eventually I let him up. Hfought with me, and I punched him.
If anyone reading this is a law enforcement agent, please, come and arrest me. After reading these posts, I realize that I am clearly the same person who did those acts. I'm as capable today as I was then of hurting a person. For the protection of society, please, put me away before I strike again.
Despite all I've learned, and all that has happened to me in the past decade and a half, I am the same person I was then. We are all, morally and ethically, the same exact people we were before our pubic hair grew in.
posted by Doug at 1:17 PM on June 18, 2001


If anyone reading this is a law enforcement agent, please, come and arrest me.

Good enough for me - get him!

Because, as we all know, pressing a kid's face into the ground is the exact moral equivalent of kidnapping, torturing and murdering a two-year-old.
posted by UncleFes at 1:19 PM on June 18, 2001


But are you willing to condemn them in perpetuity on the basis of this, as you conceded, speculation?

For the murder of a two-year-old? Yes, yes I am. I condemn them, and feel no shame in doing so. Conversely, are you willing to let them free, not knowing for sure whether or not they will do this again?
posted by UncleFes at 1:23 PM on June 18, 2001


Nawww, Fes - he's saying that if he pushed a kid's face in the dirt, and he grew up fine, than these two MUST be ok, because they grew up. It's the reverse of a logical fallacy called unrepresentative sample.

A good answer would be - "I should be president of the united states, because I got drunk in college too."

(of course, in this case, the argument may be valid, considering.. ~Grin~)
posted by Perigee at 1:29 PM on June 18, 2001


Mary Bell ... just sectioned off that portion of her life and made do with the rest. Which isn't exactly any consolation to the family of the child she murdered for sport, is it?

Not like her head on a stick would be, you mean.

The tracking of Mary Bell was the most significant of recent Tabloid actions regarding child-killers. Essentially they love telling and retelling the stories of Jamie Bulger and the Moors Murderers. It sells newspapers, the pornography of grief and righteous anger. But Mary Bell got away - when she was tried in the late 1960s, there was a kind of court order created (named after her) preventing the media from saying where she was, what she was calling herself, identifying her in any way. Because, whatever she did, she was below the age that the law considers a child to be culpable for their actions.

And she is reformed - a child who was already damaged before she comitted a heinous act has grown up (by all accounts) into a responsible adult and a good mother. This is a success story. A little less evil in a situation which seemed almost irredeemable.

However unpleasant the boys are, I am more afraid and repelled by the lynch mob that gathered outside the courtroom where they were tried and the bizarre fantasising that takes place through the medium of the tabloids - lock 'em up and throw away the key, and... and what, exactly? The logistics of permanent incarceration of these two young men - the expense, where they are to be housed, under what conditions (The Great British Public demands that they be allowed no comfort, no distraction, that there suffering is eternal and unremitting) and that in order to achieve this we would need to transgress their basic human rights.

"But what about Jamie's human rights? They didn't pay any attention to those, did they?"

No. Because they were fucked-up children. If we flatter ourselves with the belief that we are adults, we need to behave better than fuck-up children.

Even if they are not evil people (I'm not sure I believe in any such thing), this is a thoroughly evil situation. Unless we can see our way to some kind of rehabilitation, we will never reclaim any of that evil as Mary Bell did (as child killers in other cultures have managed to do).

Phew. I'm glad I got that off my chest.
posted by Grangousier at 1:29 PM on June 18, 2001


((Good post, Grangousier!))
posted by Perigee at 1:34 PM on June 18, 2001


(((Cheerleader posts SUCK!)))
posted by aaron at 1:46 PM on June 18, 2001


And she is reformed - a child who was already damaged before she comitted a heinous act has grown up (by all accounts) into a responsible adult and a good mother. This is a success story.

Except for, like I said before, the children Mrs. Bell murdered for sport. It is decidely not a success story for them (I believe it was two little boys).

I guess I have to ask is, why did the legal system go to such pains to protect Mary Bell when by rights it should have abandoned her to a fate (the head on the pike) she so richly deserved? Why do we rush to protect children who torture and murder other children, but so willingly forget the pain and horrific suffering of their more innocent victims??

Your relief at Mrs. Bell's fate and the reclamation of some evil is, like the rest of those who would excuse murder rather than punish it, pitifully small consolation to the parents of her victims. Nothing I've read here addresses the real victims of these crimes - the brutally murdered children everyone seems to want to forget. I find that to be fairly disingenous of those who proclaim they act out of mercy, since their actions only lead to more suffering for the victims, and new opportunities to murder for the murderers.
posted by UncleFes at 1:46 PM on June 18, 2001


Fes: Nothing can address those children. Rehabilitation doesn't do it. Restitution can't do it. But "Justice" doesn't do it, and "Punishment" can't either, and acting like they can is as disingenuous as letting them slip by the wayside.

What's more, justice and punishment do not, except as side-effects, do anything at about relieving suffering for the victims or decrease opportunities to murder. (The sole exception to this is, of course, removing a criminal from society or life, but, as you say, isn't that "Sort of like locking the barn door after the horses have left".)
posted by claxton6 at 1:54 PM on June 18, 2001


I didn't actually think I'd have to explain that post, but...
Perigree, you're misreading the intent of the post. I am not saying that I am fine, and thus they are fine. Rather, people change, and are not who they were in their childhood. To say, with no facts whatsoever, that these children could not possibly be reformed, and capable of living in society is as absurd as me feeling lifelong guilt for being an asshole on the playground.
UncleFes got it so wrong I don't even know how to respond.
posted by Doug at 1:57 PM on June 18, 2001


Doug's story is perfectly apposite. Some of you are arguing as if there's an implicit law that if one is such-and-such at 10, one must be such-and-such in adulthood. He's providing a counterexample to that "law".
posted by rodii at 1:58 PM on June 18, 2001


But "Justice" doesn't do it, and "Punishment" can't either, and acting like they can is as disingenuous as letting them slip by the wayside.

I disagree. We address the advent of murdered children as best we can. And that means making sure that the people who murder children, regardless of their age, never ever have the opportunity to do so again. It is my responsibility to you and your children that this be so.

(The sole exception to this is, of course, removing a criminal from society or life, but, as you say, isn't that "Sort of like locking the barn door after the horses have left".)

So which is better - my barn door or your barn door? Neither will bring back the dead child - but mine precludes more dead children from the same murderer, where yours does not. I think that is enough to warrant it.

UncleFes got it so wrong I don't even know how to respond.

I don't even understand what you were trying to say, Doug. Your analogy seemed so ludicrous that it defied my attempt to ridicule it.
posted by UncleFes at 2:04 PM on June 18, 2001


I was going to repeat myself, but shan't. UncleFes has announced his certainty in knowing beyond doubt what people "deserve", which is a power that greatly outstrips mine. Let's hope he wields it with more care than did those he casts judgement upon.
posted by holgate at 2:11 PM on June 18, 2001


UncleFes has announced his certainty in knowing beyond doubt what people "deserve", which is a power that greatly outstrips mine.

I find it difficult to believe that you all don't know what people deserve when they torture and murder children. I think you're playing with me - I think you do know what Thompson and Venables deserve. I just think you're unwilling to say it out loud.

Looks like deadlock. I'm done here.
posted by UncleFes at 2:15 PM on June 18, 2001


I want to amend what I prophesized before. I think that, before the hackers get their hands on the precise information, someone's going to take the 8-yr-old pictures of these murderers at age 10 and have the "what would they look like today" CGI job done to them. These graphics are then going to start showing up on web sites all over the world (not hosted in the UK itself of course, since anyone that posted that there will go to a REAL jail, unlike Venables and Thompson), and the result is going to be a vigilante action or two against some poor innocent college guys who are unlucky enough to look like the killers.

Anyway, we seem to be once again sinking into the quicksand of absolutes here. Either you're pure and support capital-R Rehabilitation for these poor kids who might have so much to give to the world, or you're a heartless fuck who's just after capital-R revenge. And as usual - hell, far more than usual this time - this case isn't anywhere near that simple. AFAIC, rehabilition is not, and never really has been, the be-all-end-all of justice. It's a best-case scenario that should certainly be attempted when it's rational to do so. For example, someone who gets themselves pulled over a number of times for misdemeanor driving errors is going to be ordered to take a remedial driving course, not thrown into maximum security. But it's not some unquestionable bedrock that must be tried 100% of the time, no matter the heinousness of the crime and/or the wanton disregard for human life shown by the criminal. Believe it or not, there are some crimes that are so heinous, and committed by people who are simply so unhinged in some form or another, that the perpetrators should never ever be trusted in public again. We could perhaps argue over whether this pair actually could, and has, had their brains rewired into some semblance of normalcy, but we can never argue about the hideousness of their original act, an act so beyond the pale that I believe they have forfeited their rights to ever live freely in society. There are some crimes so evil that, once done, the perpetrator can never really be trusted again. (To save a little space, I won't go much into the fact that the justice system has always been about a combination of potential rehabilitation and, yes, actual punishment. And in this case, the murderers have not been truly punished a day in their lives.

One thing I find myself wondering about is how things like English society's well-known class envy might be playing into this. It seems to me that to at least some of the British protesters, it's not the attempt at rehabilitation itself that's so bad, but rather the fact that these kids have been, as someone called it above, hideously "mollycoddled" by a justice system that almost never ever does such things. They have been granted a level of schooling and constant attention to their every need that "regular folks" couldn't get from their government in their wildest dreams. That these guys are going to be given entirely new lives, and be entirely supported by the government, somewhere ... and that somewhere could be in an obscure corner of the royal family for all the public knows, but in any case they almost certainly aren't going to just be dumped into a run-down council flat. It's that in the eyes of many, these guys are practically being celebrated, treated as if they won the lottery, for killing that 2-year-old. And all of this is happening for no other reason than that the British justice bureaucracy is so acutely aware that almost the whole of the country considers the murderers' "sentence" to be such an affront to actual justice that they will take matters into their own hands if given the chance. When you get to the point that the government has to protect the criminals from the public rather than the other way around, well, there's a bit of a cockup somewhere along the line, as they say over there.
posted by aaron at 2:21 PM on June 18, 2001


No offense intended, Doug. ~smile~ As I stated earlier, they've had more time in jail than many of our murderers here in the good old US of A. In the end, the rule of law must hold; if the law says they are free, then they go free.

And yes, rodii; one argument is just as illogical as the other.
posted by Perigee at 2:27 PM on June 18, 2001


The whole issue of vengeance makes very little sense to me. Sorry.

To me it's a practical problem and one of a definition of legal competence.

In the case of Timothy McVeigh, or Brady and Hindley our anger is completely justified, whether we choose to execute them or not, by the fact that they understood what they were doing, and it is that understanding which marks the line by which we judge legal competence.

Indeed the particular evil that surrounds the Moors Murderers is that they took their pleasure directly from a precise understanding of what they were doing. They made their decisions and those decisions made it inevitable that when apprehended they would spend the rest of their lives in incarceration, however penitent or "reformed" they might be (Brady not at all apparantly, Hindley somewhat).

However, these were children, not judged to have the same legal competence. Like most such considerations, legal competence needs to be absolute - dreadful though school bullies are, we don't imprison them for common assault or extortion or theft, even though an adult behaving the way that they do would be culpable of these offences. Thompson and Venables stand at the extreme end of this consideration.

The question is about what the law is supposed to do in circunstances like this, and the law really doesn't have an answer, because this sort of situation is one that it's not designed for. If the killers had been a few years younger, if the story had been less gruesome, perhaps it wouldn't have been reported at all.

There are more killings of children by children than we realise.

There are countries (Scandinavian, I suspect) where, when such a thing happens, the killers are counselled and (hopefully) reformed (article a couple of years ago - I can't find the reference, sorry) and the parents of the dead child - though greiving, though sorrowful - do not call for a rain of fire to fall upon the heads of the killers. Because they are children.

So what would we want from them? That they be sorry? That they suffer? If it's that they suffer, to what degree? For how long? How do we measure their suffering?
posted by Grangousier at 3:18 PM on June 18, 2001


I find it difficult to believe that you all don't know what people deserve when they torture and murder children.

Such is the era of moral relativism and the victimisation culture. "But they were abuuuuuuuuused." "But they lacked proper parenting!" "But they were only boys!" Nothing is anyone's fault anymore, no one has to take responsibility for their actions anymore, everyone has a sob story that should release them from the consequences of their own choices. Boo freaking hoo. It's not that difficult to believe, but it certainly is disgusting.
posted by Dreama at 3:20 PM on June 18, 2001


One can believe that an action is someone's fault without believing that one knows precisely what that person deserves.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:23 PM on June 18, 2001


Exactly, Red, however...

Such is the era of moral absolutism and the authoritarian culture. "They're only getting what they deserve." "They didn't give the victims a chance to live!" "But they're only scum, less than human!" Criminals aren't people anymore, no one has to worry about being responsible for their welfare if we can sufficiently demonize and de-humanize them. Why think about the circumstances when we can free ourselves from the consequences of our actions by killing all offenders with equal speed and ferocity? Boo freaking hoo. It's not that difficult to believe, but it certainly is disgusting.
posted by daveadams at 3:34 PM on June 18, 2001


The "rights" of one to judge what someone deserves in a matter like this is a non-issue. True, the old adage lists God as the only one who should be able to judge. Unfortunately, if one does hold the bible to be of -wholly- accurate historical relevance, God hasn't directly taken part in human affairs for quite some while.

So, really--if we're not supposed to use our reasoning abilities to make judgements where necessary, just who -are- we supposed to look toward to solve disputes and integral matters like two ten-year-old boys who kill a 2-year-old boy in such a malicious manner?

Better question - does it make one more holier-than-thou to cast judgement on something as monstrous and blatantly -wrong- as this murder... or to assert that ours is not to judge?

Apparently, the two were not only cognizant that what they were doing was wrong, but tried to cover it up. They covered the little boy in paint to hide what they'd done to him, and put him on the train tracks hoping that the incident would be seen as an accidental death.

(And the fact that they thought paint could conceal what they'd done isn't testiment to their being too young to fully comprehend the seriousness of their actions, it proves the exact opposite actually.)

There is a difference between a ten-year-old who accidentally shoots his younger sibling with his father's poorly-hidden firearm... and two boys who spent what amounted to -hours- of time engaging in torturing and tormenting a child who -must- have been crying, -must- have been quite obviously in pain, in such a brutal and wicked manner.

When -should- we judge, if not in this? And if we shouldn't judge at all, then who the heck should?

This all makes one wonder if the old "eye for an eye" sort of punishment didn't have quite a lot of merit.
posted by precocious at 3:46 PM on June 18, 2001


Nothing is anyone's fault anymore, no one has to take responsibility for their actions anymore, everyone has a sob story that should release them from the consequences of their own choices.

The opposite implies all actions are fated, and that they happen without a reason humans are able to discern. I suppose one can believe that if they want, but it leads us to think that we can only do our best to make things right in a chaotic world. Others would think we are responsible for the world we live in, so we should try and do right by everyone.

A.k.a., the golden rule.

I disagree that actions release people from consequences, though. So do Isaac and Siddhartha.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 5:01 PM on June 18, 2001


When I was ten, I threw my dog down the stairs. I remember I was crying, and very upset about something. That moment of watching his body slide and tumble down the stairs, finally coming to a painful thump at the bottom taught me something about myself that I didn't know.

And I think, if I am still haunted by the memory of that moment, then what must it be like for those young men, who now realize what they are and what they're capable of? When we say "how can we keep them from doing it again," I wonder if they also have those thoughts, those doubts, that fear. And I feel terrible that they would have to live with that dark brooding stuff inside us all.

However. My impulse was to pick up a dog and throw, without considering the consequences. Their impulse was to stone the child, kick his face, pour paint in his eye, disrobe him, remove his genitals, shove AA batteries up his anus, and cover his head with bricks to make him less recognizable to a passerby. I'm all about empathy and understanding that people have terrible experiences that I can't understand, and God knows I realize that children are beastly when they're 10, but what these two boys did was torturous and the innocence of their age does not excuse the barbarity of their actions.

In truth, I worry much less about whether these two young men will strike again, so much as I worry about the ten year olds listening to their parents talk about it, or the slightly older kids filled with rage looking for inspiration, or at least influence. I worry less about whether justice is being served on these two in particular, as I am on whether childhood will ever be, or ever seem, safe for anyone again.
posted by alexmassie at 1:39 PM on June 19, 2001


Was the dog alright?
posted by thirteen at 3:04 PM on June 19, 2001


At the age of ten, most people have developed, to an extent, their own personality, morals and sense of right and wrong. For some bizarre reason, these two children did something that they knew, afterwards, was wrong.

In the recent documentary about this case, the background of the kids' lifes were detailed. Both had been brought up in extremely unstable homes. One was moved from pillar to post and was regularly beaten up and thrashed by his older brothers.

These two children often went out till past midnight getting up to mischief and their parents said, on tape, 'So what could we do about that?'.

In an unstable household where a child is thrashed, has no real parental figures, and is living the life of a rat, it is unreasonable to expect them to be '100% okay'. Britain's communities do not mould children.. their parents do. Perhaps if more families went to church or practiced a religion, these children would have a better sense of decency, who knows.

Now.. in many situations, we will take revenge, even when we know its wrong. Some people call this a 'blinding rage'. Heck, I've done things I knew were wrong before because I was simply so pissed off, or really couldn't care about what happened to me. I've changed, but I know what it's like. I think that these abused boys were pissed off with life, and did something they knew was very very wrong.

I am fully in favour of releasing these two back into the community with new identities. At 10, their parents should shoulder much of the blame for simply being absolutely pathetic parents. I am not so happy that taxpayer money is going to be paying for these kids to be released, but I'd rather that than have it go to some benefit cheat asshole working on a flea market somewhere.
posted by wackybrit at 5:10 PM on June 20, 2001


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