The lamentable deaths in Deltona and the shockingly seething rage that led to these deaths are difficult to understand and to make sense of. In light of this difficulty, Sheriff Johnson’s reactions as quoted in the News-Journal are most regrettably wrong-minded. The News-Journal quotes Johnson as saying, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my career. [All the suspects] are a danger to society” [and deserve the death penalty]. The same sentiments are echoed by one of the victim’s relatives who says, “These people don’t deserve this system; it’s too civil.” One wonders whether to right the moral balance of the universe, these persons really wish to be equipped with bats to bludgeon someone themselves in equal rage.
People are innocent until proven guilty, and a law enforcer particularly ought to know that fact and thus should exercise great restraint in making any public statement. At age 18 and younger, people’s moral consciousness is not equal to the moral awareness of adults. My own experience in attempting to teach young people a sense of morality and ethical analysis suggests that eighteen-year-olds are conscious of authority and have not found the power of independent reasoning yet. To declare such people as being not worthy of living, as the Sheriff did in an interview with Channel 2 News, is certainly a tremendous leap of vindictive ignorance, intolerable in a public official or anyone in a civilized society.
No person makes completely free choices. In characterizing Troy Victorino, News-Journal writer Mark Harper writes: “Having spent eight of the last years in prison, Victorino was the most experienced criminal.” The implication is that one gains in experience as criminal whilst spending time in prison, a most shocking admission of failure. The implication that prison time might inculcate such preponderances of seething rage is even more shocking. Add to that Victorino’s reported bi-polar disorder, and we have a system that has a seriously impaired and ill person fall through the cracks of a non-existent health-care system into a non-rectifying and non-rehabilitating correctional system. What should be on trial along with the four perpetrators is a very sick society in which expressions of vindictive rage are tolerated all around and are referred to as “sense of closure” for victims’ families. What is also truly puzzling, for this bumper-sticker proclaimed most God-blessed and most Christian of all nations, is that no one except the Reverend DeNoyer has managed any public compassion at all for the murderers.
After 9/11 and again after these acts of seething rage, I am deeply disturbed about the apparent inability of our culture to ask some frank and probing “Why?” questions. Why was it that some people were driven to such seething rage to have killed themselves in an effort to hurt this nation’s establishment with the 9/11 acts? Why is it that these four young men are driven to such rage as to harm others in such a severe fashion that is contrary to all common human sense? These should be serious questions to be probed sincerely before one strikes back in equally blind official rage. We need to find out about the failure of our prison system and the failure of our stunted health-care system in the rehabilitation of Troy Victorino. We also need to find out what elements of our social system place such heavy stress on young people that leads them to such mad rage.
I do believe that we are all responsible for our actions and our decisions; however, not one of us acts alone on some desert island. And so we also react to economic pressures, to pressures of our social environments, to pressures from peers, and to pressures of our own emotional and mental make-up as well as the resulting low sense of self-worth. Given such complexities, I am very much impressed by Reverend DeNoyer’s willingness to reflect and withhold judgment, and I am extremely perturbed by Sheriff Johnson’s mindless slumming in vengeful thinking. While I have great sympathy for the relatives’ rage, I have no tolerance for a social system that supports and encourages that rage and thinks it to be all right without need of revision.
I suspect that the right of the stronger underlies the acts of violence. I also suspect that the Sheriff’s and others’ howling for blood will perpetuate the sickness of the system. One must sorrow over the senseless deaths of the victims; however, one must now also lament the breaking of the minds of these four perpetrators. In a civilized nation, these four young men would find a secure home in a state institution because society does have a right to be kept harmless of their unpredictable rage; in a civilized society, these four young men would have a lifetime to make amends to all whom they have harmed. They would do so by constructive labor, by learning regret, by growing beyond what they now are. And as a society, we have the obligation to provide such an environment. The “hit ‘em harder” mentality does not solve problems; it is the very source of these problems.
The Pope has rightly stated that society has a right to protect itself, even to the point of killing a perpetrator, if no other means of reliable protection can be implemented; that is, a police officer’s shooting a perpetrator when that is the only way to make him or her desist from causing further harm to a victim is a form of an acceptable killing. However, putting a perpetrator to death when s/he is in secure confinement is overstepping allowable moral boundaries. Not being Roman Catholic and not being Christian, I believe nonetheless that the Pope is right and that Sheriff Johnson is terribly wrong.