Deserve's Got Nothing To Do With It

My first guest post is up at The Agitator.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    This is a really beautiful, provocative piece, Ken. Being a vapid reality TV devotee, I watched Rodney King on Celebrity Rehab. The irony is that you probably couldn't find someone more ambivalent about whether or not he was "deserving" of what he got, than Rodney King himself. He remained perplexed by why he was being treated like a hero until the day he died. At the end of the day, he was an alcoholic and a drug addict who desperately wanted to get better, but simply could never find a path that would lead him to recovery. If our system had approached him as a citizen with a disease, instead of a citizen "deserving" or "undeserving", things would have turned out much differently.

  2. mojo says

    He messed with the bulls and got the horn. In my world, that's what we like to call "par for the course".

  3. A Nonny Moose says

    When I was in the military, we would get constant briefings about the Law of Armed Conflict, the Geneva Convention, and policies on POW and detainee treatment. This was even before Abu Ghraib was a big deal, but the briefing frequency picked up after that little gem got out.

    The one point that was driven home to us, time and again, was that it didn't matter WHY you detained a person. It didn't matter WHAT he had done. Once you take a prisoner, they told us, you are responsible (legally and morally) for his care and safety. And even if the person is horrible, it's not for some low-ranking enlisted guy on the field to decide his punishment– we have courts, tribunals, and formal justice systems for that.

    The inevitable question during the briefings was "But why?" After all, we couldn't expect such treatment at the hands of an Iraqi insurgency group. Or from the Taliban. So why should we, who are subject to horrible, torturous deaths (quite possibly for inclusion in propaganda videos) at the hands of our potential captors, refrain from even slapping a detainee who might have just shot and killed one of our own?

    The answer was always simple: because we are better than that. Because we have decided to take the moral high ground (inasmuch as that's even possible in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). Because we have a strict code, and even when bloodlust and revenge tempt us, we stick to that code. Because we have the integrity to do what's right, even if we can get away with doing something else.

    I'd like to say that the argument won over most of the people who heard it. And I think it DID work for a lot of folks, but I realize that not everybody shows restraint in the field. I'm sure more than one zip-cuffed local national got smacked with the butt of an M4 in retaliation for real or perceived wrongdoing. But I'm equally sure a few soldiers thought better of it, and had the right attitude when it came time to take a prisoner– no matter how awful the prisoner's offenses.

    The point is simple: beating a prisoner, whether he or she "deserves" it or not, is not a referendum on the moral character of the person being beaten. Rather, it is a clear statement about the moral choices of those who are doing the beating.

    We can, and should, expect more from our police than the behavior we saw during the Rodney King beating. Whether he "deserved" it or not.

    Thank you for pointing that out, Ken.

  4. AlphaCentauri says

    Thank you, it's a very thoughtful piece.

    I don't know about King, but a lot of frequent fliers in the criminal justice system have fetal alcohol syndrome to one degree or another. A big part of that is lack of impulse control and inability to learn from consequences. They are superficially capable of living independently, but you can't expect them to go into a store without shoplifting any more than you can expect them to fly. And since alcoholism itself is hereditary, they tend to be substance abusers with dismal success at quitting. It's very hard for people around them to keep things in perspective when a form of mental incapacity has such a limited scope rather than causing global mental retardation.

    I have no idea how we can do better at dealing with FAS adults humanely and within the legal protections for the rights of the mentally ill. Jailing people who will never change their behavior because of it seems an expensive, pointless solution other than to keep their behavior from affecting us directly.

  5. Shawn says

    I just have to ask based on the posts on this site i have seen regarding others wanting to guest pieces, How many ponies and/or unicorns to it cost to be allowed to do this one?

    I do think it's a good read and I happen to agree with A Nonny Moose regarding loac and pow treatment, just got done with another one of those briefings last week myself.

  6. jag says

    I'm still trying to figure out if Balko's choice of guest blogger professions was accidental or just sublime.