Niet schieten ik ben met de pers

There are certain phrases which I always try to learn in other languages. With Flemish, as part of my “new” life, I chose “Ik hou van jou” which means “I love you”, rather than my first (self) interest, “Don’t shoot, I’m with the press”.

Not that I was ever a working foreign correspondent, I just felt it was the safest thing to say in a confrontation. Being a member of the press has always been as safe or safer than being with the Red Cross, and these days even Doctors without Borders are finding themselves under fire.

Reporters have seen the shield of the press fading, not just in war zones, but even in their home countries. The outrage over this seems a little out of sync with reality. Respect for the press is a little much to expect when the media has been repeatedly been exposed as being biased. With trust that the press will present an unbiased picture of events lost, the expectation that press credentials are protection would seem rather foolish.

We are rapidly descending into a world with many similarities to Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange”,  with people killing at random out of “boredom“. I would genuinely like to understand how limited a person’s options are that murder is the only interesting possibility on a Saturday night. It’s not only an American problem, teen shootings occur everywhere.

I was never terribly affected by tragedy, but I remember friends breaking down in tears after they witnessed a traffic accident. I’m sure the world is still full of such people, I see outrage expressed over violence and loss of rights, but there is a growing sector of society that is numb, feeling no compassion at all. After a child at the local high school committed suicide, there were grief counselors at the school for days. Where do these “feral” people come from? How could they never have been exposed to compassion?

There is a reason, probably thousands, that people can feel disconnected from society, but there is no excuse. Such people are evidence for our need for a justice system, and the lack of a functioning system of justice is probably the main reason children can grow up and kill without remorse. One person is locked away for a relatively minor offense, and scores more are given a slap on the wrist, or never prosecuted, for major offenses.

A lesson in law enforcement that stood out to me years ago was “a man will jump out of a barbers chair in the middle of a haircut to put a coin in the parking meter, because he is sure he will get a twenty five dollar ticket, but the same man will rob a bank because he doesn’t believe he will be caught”. Okay, I haven’t been to a barber in decades, but the lesson is still true. The other side of that analogy is that I wouldn’t bother with worrying about a parking ticket in Philadelphia, because the price of the fine if I got a ticket was less than the price of a parking garage for all the times I wouldn’t be ticketed. Punishments need to be more severe than the odds of prosecution in order for laws to have a deterrent effect.

Our legal system will entertain any defense, one attorney representing a young man who shot an infant in a stroller tried blaming the parents, because they had collected the life insurance on the child.Any excuse is considered appropriate, in traffic court last week a young woman argued that a collision wasn’t her fault because the other car had parked to close to her. She was the only one driving a car when the collision took place. It’s always someone elses fault.

At some point the concept of justice was replaced by “getting even”. Somehow these two concepts have been confused as both the victim and the perpetrator are removed from the legal process. Courts are merely a stage for attorneys, leading to trial by media, and its bastard child, “Street Justice”. The president stands before the cameras and says “This is a nation of laws“, after stirring mob violence throughout the Trayvon Martin case, and in the midst of his continuing violations of the law. Multiple threats have been made against Syria, that if the “red line” of using chemical weapons is crossed, we will respond. Now that the line has been demonstrably crossed twice, there is still no response. The idea that refuge may be taken in the law is evaporating on all sides of the political spectrum.

When we see Egypt descend into mob rule, and refuse to call a situation in which a leader is replaced by the military a “military coup” so we don’t have to cut off military aid, It becomes obvious that lawlessness exists at every level.

The solution doesn’t come from the top, or either side. It comes from within. Attempts to teach “self respect” turned into “self esteem” which resulted in overblown and undeserved “self importance”. You cannot teach your children or your peers self respect if you do not respect yourself, and you can’t respect yourself if you don’t understand what “respect” is.


2 comments on “Niet schieten ik ben met de pers

  1. A couple of stories via my alma mater, Hampshire College:

    Sander Thoenes, a Dutch Journalist killed in East Timor, ‘Year of Living Dangerously’ style, in 1999:

    And a minor classic by an acquaintance, from 2004:


  2. julie says:

    “Shame” has gone out of style.


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