Like so many of us, I have been anxiously awaiting the verdict in the trial of Larry Sandusky, former Penn State University defensive coordinator. I was pleased to see justice prevail late last night when the verdict came back finding Sandusky guilty of 45 of the 48 counts of child sexual abuse. Now in custody, Sandusky awaits sentencing in 3 months which, if he gets the maximum allowable by law, would put the 68 year-old Sandusky away for 4432 years.
Shortly after the verdict was announced, Twitter went nuts. We were understandably happy to find out that Justice has prevailed and that the suffering of all of those young men and boys will be honored and Sandusky will pay for it by losing his freedom for the rest of his life.
I was very disturbed, though, to note a trend in comments like, "You know what they do to child molesters in prison" and "He'll get what's coming to him in prison." These are references to a well-known fact that in the "code of ethics" among inmates in U.S. prisons, pedophiles are singled out as the most heinous of criminals because they prey on defenseless children. That's right; Even rapists and murderers think they're better than pedophiles. Child sex abusers are often beaten, raped, and murdered in U.S. prisons with the full-knowledge of prison guards and Wardens who turn their watchful eyes, allowing this "Texas-Style Justice" to go on. Here's my issue with that; That's not justice.
Justice is a trial in court, having adequate legal representation, a jury of your peers review and decide your fate. Justice is when you are convicted of the crime you committed. And the punishment for that crime is a loss of freedom. You no longer are allowed to live amongst the brotherhood of mankind. You are removed from your community. You home. Your family. Your life. You are taken away as much as a punishment for you misbehavior as you are to remove the threat you pose to the rest of us in society. And that's what is happening here, and that's JUSTICE.
But in 2012 moralizing, do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do Christian America, we see something else- we root for violence. We voice our hope that beyond justice, there will be retribution and vengeance. We hope someone who took advantage of weaker children and physically and sexually assaulted them will, when in prison, be the weaker inmate who is himself physically and sexually assaulted. People are quite literally rooting for him to be raped, beaten and murdered. That would not be justice- that would be a corrupt system whereby We The People (represented by our prison system) are reduced to the same level as the criminal (by allowing for his abuse, rape and murder). It is my same argument against the death penalty for murderers, as it add nothing to justice. Rather, it just makes the state a murderer and lowers us as a society to the level of the criminal. This is retribution and vengeance, not justice. Like how, in Iran, if a man is caught stealing, they cut his hand off. If a man is convicted of rape, they castrate him. That is violence, not justice.
In the old days of Roman Gladiators, the blood-thirsty crowds of onlookers would root against convicted criminals, often out-skilled and over-powered by their Gladiator opponents. Crowds of otherwise decent people would cheer on the bloody "good death" for these criminals. The masses would get whipped up into a frenzied excitement anticipating the brutal, violent end to these condemned men. I dare say, that's what we're doing with Sandusky today in a virtual Galdiator's arena of public opinion.
Is Sandusky a model citizen? Hardly. He was a child sex offender- a predator- who covered up his crimes and has yet to come clean in admitting his wrongdoing. He is a very sick man. Despite this, I know that good people can do bad things and that what you do and who you are often two different things. What I do know is that our criminal justice system was worked and found him to be guilty of having done horrible things. For those crimes, he will pay with his freedom for the rest of his life in prison. His family and friends, though innocent, will pay for this too, by losing him from their life. I suggest, though, that we look at ourselves and our salacious desire for brutality and violence. It should suffice us all to know that a criminal has been caught and will be brought to justice and, even as we revile the heinous acts and crimes this man has committed, we owe it to ourselves as a society of compassionate non-violent people to celebrate Justice, but reject the violence of vengeance and retaliation.
When Christian America refuses to "love the sinner but hate the sin" we create a culture where that same violence sows it's seeds and a new Sandusky is born.