the man the authorities came to blame

A cheery moral dilemma for a sunny Friday afternoon.

One afternoon, at one of my former jobs, I entered the break room to find a petition sitting on the table. The petition had a lengthy, handwritten spiel attached to it. One of my coworkers had left this there.

In the attached document, she averred that the man who had murdered her daughter over a decade ago was coming up for parole. She wanted signatures for a petition to present to the parole board, in order to keep this man in prison.

On the one hand, I knew this coworker well enough – by face and by name, if not on lunching terms. I had no idea that she’d had a daughter, to say nothing of the circumstances of her grief. I have a soft heart and have no problem with little gestures, like a signature, to console someone I know.

On the other hand, I had no idea of the circumstances of this man’s conviction. I had only heard one side of the story, and a biased one at that. I had a hard time signing my name to a petition that a complete stranger, who’d never done me wrong, should stay in prison another decade or so.

On the other (other) hand, one signature would not make or break the difference on this man’s parole. Hell, there’s nothing to say that this petition itself would have made a difference: I don’t know the weight that parole boards place on these things. So signing this would cost me little, would hurt this convict less, and would make my coworker happy.

On the other [other (other)] hand, I feel pretty strongly that sentencing guidelines should be left to the judge, the jury (where the law allows) and the penal system. Not put up to a popular vote, which this petition seemed to be attempting.

I won’t tell you what I did. Instead, I’d like to know what you would do and why.

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2 Responses

  1. Not sign – it likely wouldn’t have an effect and, like you said, I’d want to know more details.

  2. Moral Relativism in Action:

    If the woman who created the petition, or a close friend, were watching, I would sign. If not, I would not. The crux of the issue seems to be the balance between supporting a person you like (-ish) and not showing support for what could be a bad conviction, much less an emotion-driven system of justice.

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