The Least We Can Do

3579096098_41f2b10826_b“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”  – the 8th amendment to the U.S. Constitution

A few weeks ago in Chicago (the big city just down the road from my house), a cop was convicted of killing a kid. There didn’t seem to be much doubt that the cop killed the kid; it was captured on bodycam and he shot him 17 times.

Everyone agreed 17 shots was a bit excessive. The only debate (which continues) is whether the sentence was severe enough.

But for this discussion, please just accept – for the sake of argument – that the cop was guilty and the sentence what he deserved.

Off to jail went the cop. And shortly thereafter he was severely beaten by other inmates in the prison.

Apparently, that is expected if you are a white cop who kills a black kid and gets sent to a prison with a great many black inmates. It would seem that some of the prisoners are not model citizens.

I’m sure there are many folks who think the cop got what he deserved. But that goes against the 8th amendment – as well as my sense of right and wrong.

When a judge passes sentence on a convicted criminal for a serious crime, he gives him time in jail. That is a punishment because it deprives the individual of freedom. It also protects society from the possibility the criminal will offend again. And, at least we hope, it offers the criminal time to reflect and repent, and, perhaps, get training or education that will help him when he returns to free society.

Notice that the judge never says, “I’m sentencing you to five years in prison, on the conditions that you will be beaten by your fellow inmates and suffer rape and other sexual humiliations.”

Unfortunately, this particular cop was beaten. And unless all the stories about sex in prison are made up, many inmates suffer what can only be called cruel and unusual.

This is a disgrace. And we are a society with strong enough morals – and the means – to stop it.

I know some will call me naïve and soft on crime. It would cost a fortune. These are the dregs of society and we shouldn’t waste time, energy, and money coddling criminals.

Yet, a society truly will be judged by how it treats the least of its members. And these are in so many ways the least of us. They have failed. They are being punished. Let’s make sure they are punished by our standards, not the standards of the jungle.

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