(this is an update from a June 12 column)
For the record, it didn’t have to be done.
The “it” I refer to are the vigilante killings of two sex offenders, Gary Blanton and Jerry Ray, carried out by one Patrick Drum. The two shootings on the Olympic Peninsula, which occurred on June 2 and June 3 of this year (Trib 6/4), were the result of Drum’s violent frame of mind and his decision that, “it” in his words, “had to be done.”
If that is true, then we have truly made no progress as a civilized society since, well…at least the twelfth century, when Henry II of England formalized the jury trial.
On Tuesday, Drum was convicted in Clallam County Superior Court on two counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison (Huff Post). His actions continue to generate praise, however, for a simple reason – where sex offenders are concerned, we are a mob armed with pitchforks and torches. It explains why one commenter who ready my June column, which vilified sex offenders AND denounced vigilantism, fumed “YOU are the problem. YOU facilitate child rape.”
If I strongly disagree with this reader’s assessment, I do understand the rage. Sex offenders like Jerry Ray, who pled to raping two small boys in 2002, prey on the bodies and souls of the most vulnerable among us. Their crimes are repulsive. Not surprisingly, I found most of the sex offenders whom I interviewed or arrested to be repulsive individuals as well.
Such personal judgments are why many readers still support Drum, a vigilante who killed two humans to appease his personal sense of justice. Who among us doesn’t harbor a secret taste for revenge, but its sweetness should also be recognized for what it is – an instinct harbored in the primitive part of our brain. If we continue to tap into this cranial section to dispense justice, we may as well erase a thousand years of civilization.
Vigilante killing is a violation of every painful step our society has taken towards a fair judicial process. We are still taking those steps, because, let’s face it, our system is not the blind and objective pinnacle of justice to which all men and women can turn. We have a long way to go towards that point, especially when our appeals process in death penalty cases, for example, can be measured in decades rather than months.
But execution, whether on death row or at the hands of a vigilante, is not an abstract idea. The lifeless form of another human being dominates a crime scene, is a visceral reminder of our fleeting mortality and has a huge impact on the deceased family (or as Patrick Drum called the family’s grief, “collateral damage”).
Our justice system, for all its faults, is the product of our collective will. It was created to honor a belief that life is sacred and that people deserve a chance to defend themselves before their peers. Its creation repudiates the idea that justice should be delivered by the presumptive judgment of one person.
Now that he has been convicted of murder and faces a life sentence, Patrick Drum will have plenty of time to consider that fact.