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Knee-jerk Reactions

Here’s logic I’ll never understand: When a horrific crime is reported, the media ask, “Are our laws tough enough?” This is one of those knee-jerk reactions that fall apart on any amount of scrutiny. In particular, I’m thinking of Karen Fisher who was arrested for killing Monsignor William Costello, last July, while driving drunk. There was a round of “Are our DWI laws tough enough?” with the easy, but unjustified, answer being, “No.” It was Karen Fisher’s third arrest for drunk driving, and, while this had been the first time she killed someone, her second arrest had been made while she was driving her two children. Obviously, this is a woman with a problem. And Newsday was filled with letters asking why she still had a license. That’s a fair question, but it doesn’t get to the root of the matter. The woman is a drunk. License or no, she’s got a problem. In the above linked article, after she made a plea agreement, which pivots on a successful alcohol treatment program, Fisher’s bail had been revoked because she was kicked out of the program for drinking. Shall we ask, “Are our alcohol treatment programs tough enough?” This is an inherent conundrum when it comes to the law: Those people who break it don’t care about it. They don’t care what the penalties are. They don’t care how it will ruin the lives of their loved ones. They don’t care. But those of us who are law abiding seem to gladly make stronger and stricter laws that will eventually swallow up people who make single mistakes or are wrongly accused or do things that were once socially acceptable. You’re next smokers. This isn’t to say that drunk driving shouldn’t be illegal. It should. It’s assault with a deadly weapon with intent to harm. But Karen Fisher wouldn’t be stopped by the severest laws on the books, because she is beyond alcoholic. She’s psychologically unable to not drink until she’s drunk. This doesn’t portend the break down of society. She’s got a problem that only she will be able to stop, no matter what the law says. Knee-jerk reactions to this are worse for our society, however. Shortly after Fisher’s crime, and not too long after an equally horrific case where a driver, going the wrong way on a major parkway, killed a man and a child in a limousine, Newsday had a letter that shocked the hell out of me. I’m paraphrasing, but this was really the message:

Drunk drivers, like the guy going the wrong way and careening into a limousine, are obviously drunk. Why bother with a trial? The police know someone is drunk right away. It costs money to try these people, and there is always a chance that some stupid jury or shark lawyer can get them off scott-free. Let the police decide, then and there, the severity of the crime. Now, if that doesn’t scare the fucking piss out of you, then you can stop reading anything else I ever write.