Monday, September 7, 1998

Week of 09/07/1998

Guilt By Inactivity?
How Blame Assessment Is Destroying Personal Responsibility
- by David Matthews 2

In the 1950’s a young woman by the name of Kitty Genovese was brutally attacked outside a New York apartment building. Her attacker mercilessly slashed and stabbed her while she was screaming for help from any of the tenants. Although it was the middle of the summer, many tenants who were present closed their windows, turned up their televisions and radios, or simply ignored the screams from the fatally wounded woman. Amongst the whole building, not one call to the police was made even to complain about the noise.

Fast forward forty years. It’s May 25, 1997. A seven year old girl in a Nevada casino was taken into a bathroom stall and was sexually assaulted before being strangled. 18-year Jeremy Strohmeyer was charged with the girl’s death. But what has gotten the ire of this country is the suspect’s friend, David Cash, who supposedly saw him take the girl into restroom without even raising his voice, nor did he report his friend’s actions to the police when the man allegedly confessed to killing her. His crime? Doing nothing at all.

Well now the blame assessors are running rampant on whom should be blamed for a seven year old girl being assaulted and killed. Blaming Strohmeyer is almost a given, even though his defense attorney is claiming her client was on drugs, was adopted when he was 18 months old, and was otherwise incapable to determine right from wrong.

David Cash is now being treated as an accomplice, simply because he neither helped nor hindered the suspect. Why didn’t he say anything? Why didn’t he tell the police that his friend had just assaulted and killed a little girl? Why didn’t he stop Strohmeyer when he supposedly saw him struggling with the little girl?

Good questions. I’m sure he was probably asking himself those very questions over and over again.

Truth be told, I’m sure what David Cash did or did not do that night will eventually haunt him for the rest of his life. And if not, our obsessive social busybodies will see to it that he be reminded of it at every turn.

You know, our moralists and social crusaders would have us believe that this situation is just a sad testimonial to the shocking "immorality" of our younger generation. That when faced with a clear situation of evil, this new breed of citizens will simply do nothing. The "Bevis And Butt-Head" Generation. The "Slacker" Generation.

Unfortunately, our so-called "moral champions" are far from such. This is the same generation that used to turn their radios and TV sets up when the couple next door were having a fight, or when their kids were getting "unruly," or when a young woman like Kitty Genoveese was getting attacked. Mister Pot, meet Mister Kettle!

But the blame game doesn’t end with Jeremy Strohmeyer and David Cash. No, the blame game continues.

Well, the first question is "Where are the parents?" Or in this case, where was the father? Well, Daddy was gambling in the casino. Absurd, yes, but bear in mind that it was 4am when this supposedly took place. Where would YOU think a seven-year old girl would be at that time? Sleeping, of course!

The next target of the blame game would have to be the casino staff. After all, what was a seven-year old girl doing up and about on the casino floor at that time of the night? High-tech equipment is employed to spot the most complex of numbers players and the employees who might skim every three chips off thirty, but nothing is mentioned about a little girl who is wandering the floor at four in the morning.

And since we’re talking about a casino, you KNOW the next target will be the gambling business itself. After all, where would the girl’s father be if he wasn’t gambling? With his daughter, of course! But, no, the evil obsessive, compulsive, manipulative, irresponsible (not to mention fiscally successful) gambling industry will be getting their share of accusations in the blame game.

The editorial staff at USA Today would go so far as to have all of the classmates of Strohmeyer and Cash who heard about the ghastly act be responsible for the murder as well. Why? Because they HEARD about the murder and didn’t do anything! Yeah, right, I can just picture how one of their supposedly "moral" students would report something like that to the police. "Uh, well, I don’t know, officer. You see, I really didn’t SEE or HEAR the act taking place. But my brother’s girlfriend’s best friend who knew some guy who was dating this girl in school said she heard that this guy killed that girl. You should, like, arrest him or something."

While we’re at it, why not blame the whole university where Strohmeyer and Cash went to? After all, they helped facilitate this apparent "immoral" streak. Or perhaps their parents? They raised the kids that would be so "immoral." Their friends? After all, we know what the power of peer pressure does to kids. Their neighbors? Sure, why not? After all, what were their neighbors doing in the past that might have contributed to this tragedy? These examples are about as absurd a notion as blaming classmates for not "doing" anything.

Listen folks, the blame game in this matter has got to stop and stop right now. Let’s have the legal system do its job concerning Jeremy Strohmeyer. That’s what the system is there for.

As for David Cash, the worst thing that will result of his activity is that now there will be a rash of "do something" laws that will treat potential witnesses as criminals if they don’t "do the right thing." While these seem good esthetically, our politicians will once again be committing an even worse offense by legislating morality.

Suppose a crime was committed, but you were so horrified by the incident that you blocked it out of your memory? In the eyes of the "do something" law, that’s no excuse. You were there. You were a witness. If you didn’t act right then and there, you’d be guilty of a crime. How about if the suspect threatens you into silence? Well under the letter of a "do something" law, you’d still be guilty. How about if you saw something that might have contributed to the crime, but you didn’t think it was important to warrant reporting? Angry guy at the bar, fuming about his wife, next day she’s dead, and the police want to know why you didn’t report that you saw the guy pissed off about his wife so they could prevent him from killing her. Sounds absurd? Well that’s precisely how a "do something" law would be used.

For what David Cash saw or didn’t see, there is already a recourse for action in the form of civil court. Negligence to report a crime may not be a criminal act, but it can warrant serious fiscal punishment in civil court.

Look folks, the last time we tried to legislate morality on a major scale was Prohibition, and guess where it led us? It made criminals rich, it made otherwise law-abiding citizens into hardened criminals, and it encouraged even more abuse of alcohol than ever before. This happens every single time we try to legislate personal moral decisions. You can’t make a person "do the right thing" through force of law. That comes through personal and moral decisions.

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