Posted by Matt Choi Our daily lives are saturated with bad news, whether it comes from TV, word of mouth or the Internet. The question most people ask themselves, if they bother to dwell on the news at all, is what if someone I love was there when that mass-shooting/ rape/ armed robbery/ bombing occurred? Empathy with the victim is the initial reaction to most cases. A question no one ever asks is what if I knew the perpetrator? We always wonder what we would do if something bad happened to someone we love, but we rarely ask what happens when someone we love does bad.
Recently, I found out that one of my oldest friends has been accused of rape. He was the most intelligent and most trustworthy of my friends. He was one of very few people who I felt comfortable telling my exact emotions to at any one time. He was also apparently capable of carrying out a heinous crime. I'm still trying to reconcile the person I knew with the person accused. I don't have many answers but I've since reflected on my attitude towards criminals and anti-social behavior.
I think my change in attitude is best explained by looking at how I used to react to bad news. Last year, I was disheartened by a friend's continued relationship with a guy who had said some terribly racist things. "Write him off," was basically what I told her. "You cannot, and should not, associate with people who behave like that." I believed, and still do to a large extent, that when people do something wrong banishment is a suitable punishment. Having experienced racism at times in my life, my anger stemmed from my natural empathy with the victims. It bothers me, especially at Skidmore, when people easily assimilate back into everyday life after being guilty of racism, violence, or whatever. I think people have a responsibility to show that members of a healthy society cannot engage in this behavior and expect to be accepted by others.
But since my friend's accusation I've realized that a lot of this concept is reliant on the belief that criminals, or people who engage in anti-social behavior, are totally separate from the rest of the society. I, and I think most of America, conceptualize criminals as belonging to some far off class of people. This is why we don't worry too much about locking them in our plentiful prison complexes.
But when these people become our loved ones it becomes impossible to hide them away in some other section of society. Even though my opinion of my friend has changed drastically for the worse, I still feel a lot of the same levels of attachment towards him that I did before his crime.
I care deeply about a rapist.
I'm not condoning the terrible thing he did, but to follow the advice I gave last year and banish him from my life is as impossible as banning my own blood from my veins. I think punishment and banishment have places as tools of justice, although I now question whether these should be justice's main tools. Certainly other countries have developed modes of justice that focus on treating the criminal as a part of society. If this sounds like a nebulous recommendation, it's because I'm still figuring out my feelings and am by no means an expert on criminal justice. I just urge people to think next time you hear some bad news: what if I cared about the criminal rather than the victim? You may find yourself looking at our attitudes towards justice differently.