Friday, September 18, 2009

in which i struggle with justice.

It happened again.

This morning was full. We walked out of the door at 8:30 a.m. to visit Asher's new class. (As an aside, Asher literally flung open the doors and announced, "This is my NEW SCHOOL!" He had a blast. He stayed in his class for a bit while I toured and completed paperwork, and he just waltzed around that little room like he owned the place. He starts next week (!).) Anyway, school tour at 8:30. Followed by the library hour at 10:00, which was packed. Easily fifty mothers and toddlers were in one conference room, dancing to Tooti-Tot, fidgeting during the story, painting with bubbles. The library hour was TEEMING with life, friends. We left the library and spent a full hour with our friends at Chick-fi1-A, watching our children lap the indoor play area (where Silas had his first taste of freedom, climbing up the steps and barreling down the tunnel - I'm a little sad to think he's old enough to do that, but mostly relieved there is one place where I don't have to say, "feet on the floor"). Asher and Silas paused for a few minutes to eat a brief snackish lunch (who has time to eat when there are steps to climb?), and by 12:30 we were all ready for nap. About 12:45 I pulled up to our house, and see that my driveway is blocked by police cars.

This is not good.

It seems my neighbor saw a girl steal our wagon, which we keep beside our fence, in the corner of the driveway. She called the police, the police found the girl, and they brought her - and the wagon - back to my house. Once the officer explained what happened, he asked if I wanted to press charges. I said yes. He told me to follow him down to the juvenile hall to file a warrant.

Thus begins my struggle.

Do I really want to press charges? I kept thinking. We got the wagon back. It's just a wagon - it's not even my purse, like last time. It's a hundred bucks, is it really worth pressing charges?

"Where am I going after I leave my house?" Asher asked, puzzled. "We're going to the police station," I said. "Somebody tried to take our wagon, and we're going to say you can't do that." "Oh," he said. "We're going to say, 'mine'?"

That got me.

What about turning the other cheek? What about giving your cloak also, and going the mile not required? Isn't the teaching of Jesus that I should have given her the wagon if she was in need (and she was using it to carry groceries home), rather than demanding it back? And here I am, putting this girl in jail? Over a wagon?

And yet, this is also how peace continues to reign. By taking the law seriously, and allowing the system to work, I am freed from violence. I am freed from the responsibility of owning a gun, because I am allowing the safeguards of our society to function properly. If I don't show respect in upholding the law either - if I don't hold my neighbor accountable to it - then what good is it?

I don't know.

I debated all the way there. And then I discussed my options with the officer. Theft in the third degree carries jail time. Am I honestly comfortable with a fifteen year old girl sitting in jail over my WAGON? And yet, this girl has been picked up for petty theft before (obviously not a very GOOD thief, but that's beside the point), and no one has pressed charges before. Still, is it my job to measure mercy? But the only way to keep our neighborhood safe is by all of us taking the law seriously.

What would you have done?

In the end, I decided to press charges. As I said, the only way the law works is if it is enforced. But I've also decided that I will take whatever opportunity I have before a judge (or prosecutor) to request that she does not receive jail time. I have a social responsibility to honor the law,but I also have a moral responsibility to show mercy whenever I can. Maybe I will have the chance to show mercy to this girl. Or maybe I missed my chance by not giving her my wagon today. I don't know.


Mercy's Maid said...

What a struggle! I see where you're coming from. On one hand, if she never has consequences, what does she have to lose by stealing stuff, but on the other hand, what is her situation and why is she stealing stuff in the first place?

mary said...

It's interesting to read this inner struggle you went through because the very first thing we learned in criminal law was that the major difference in criminal law from everything else we learned is that there isn't a plaintiff. The government prosecutes crime, not the citizen. When someone breaks the law, it is a crime against society, not just the victim. Ultimately a government prosecutor has to choose to prosecute a case or not. A person could commit first degree murder and the victim's family can't really force the government to prosecute. It's a governmental choice (obviously they always choose to if they find the perp, but its not required). Anyway, as a practical matter, obviously for petty crimes like this, the police were passing the buck to you. But, that's not really how criminal law works in theory.

Just my two cents. Maybe it will make you feel less guilty?

Sorry you had to spend your day dealing with that.

ljkgates said...

You are so very compassionate. That is one of the things I love about you. As hard as it was for you to press charges you may have saved this girls life down the road.

Laura M. said...

I agree that you did the right thing to press charges. I know it must be hard and in the end it is just a wagon.. but in the end it is the issue of right and wrong and it is better for her to learn at 15 over a wagon than maybe over 18 over a car, or an in store item, or money in a bank. Put your place in her mother's shoes and consider how she may be thankful that this child was caught and dealt with now as opposed to someones later with less mercy who may have taken the law into their own hands. you did the right thing.

okierivermama said...

It is a hard choice, but I think you made the right one. I think part of the reason the juvenile crime is on the rise is because we are too lenient until it is something out of control.

Madame Rubies said...

What a delimma. I probably would have given her the wagon, but I can't say for sure, having not been there. And I agree, this way she sees there is a consequence to an action. I dunno though. Consequence vs Kindness. A long-going battle for us.

Michelle said...

I think this generation of kids is lacking in consequences and rolling in a sense of entitlement. What she did was wrong and there should be a punishment. She is not entitled to have the wagon because she may be poor, etc. I would have pressed charges. But, I would also like to know what her family situation is that she has to steal a wagon for grocery hauling and depending on what I found out I would probably go buy them their own wagon and fill it with groceries.