Follow-Up: CHS Attackers’ Ringleader

In an impressive follow-up in this week’s Hook, Lisa Provence follows up on the early 2002 kerfuffle over the black Charlottesville High School students that repeatedly assaulted white and Asian college students, apparently for fun. There were televised community meetings, meetings of the black community, accusations of press sensationalism, attempts to keep the attackers from being expelled, guilty pleas, and finally convictions. Lost in the shuffle of the whole thing were the victims — instead, the outpouring of support was directed to the attackers, with Rev. Alvin Edwards heading up a community effort to raise money for their defense. Once the white supremacists got involved and Rev. Edwards got started with his own outrageous racial comments, it really got messy. After the story ended up in the national spotlight, Lisa Provence wrote a story about the obvious racial tensions, and how they’d divided the community. As things were left, though, these were said to be good kids who did something stupid (four times). As Lisa Provence makes clear in her follow-up, about convicted attacker Vernon Howard, that clearly wasn’t true for all of them — he’s got quite a criminal record just two years later. As Howard told The Hook, in response to accusations that he got off too lightly: “Tell ’em to deal. Tell ’em to kiss my ass.” The Hook, of course, has the story.

41 thoughts on “Follow-Up: CHS Attackers’ Ringleader”

  1. I know my message is not popular. But it is real and true. Like the thousands of other events juts like this one all over the country, our civilization is at the edge of self-destruction. Those who refuse to see it say things like: “every generation pushes the envelope and there’s always been a few bad eggs”.

    Anyone that has children today know THEY dominate our lives from the earliest of ages. Even a parent who wishes to educate and fashion their children to higher standards fights un uphill battle not only against the natural tendencies to resist from the young, but also the most formidable foe of all: our own civilization. How can the elder impart their wisdom when the young call the shots??? So, now, the elder are just out for themselves. It’s a vicious circle.

    How is this relevant to Waldo’s forum subject? Because – and forget religion in this mix – no one knows what is right and what is wrong anymore. There are no proper standards to follow. And as 90% of people are simply followers, if there are no rules, then this is what happens: chaos, crime, sin, or just plain bad behavior. You call it what you want.

    This nation needs a complete overhaul of everything from ethics, to architecture, to values, to lifestyles, to spirituality, to JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING. To anyone with a modicum of critical eye, it is obvious.

  2. this kid’s rap sheet is growing and growing, and he’s spent a whopping FOUR DAYS in jail for all of that. he plead guilty to felony assault. he’s got drug charges, driving on a suspended license. what is this??? does charlottesville now have a "300 strikes and you’re out" policy for people like this? unbelieveable.

  3. Politicians are so afraid of minorities, they will do and give anything to avoid a confrontation.

  4. Sympatico, I believe you are on track but the part about the young calling the shots, although I think correct, requires the parents to allow this behavior.

    The difference between well behaved kids and those who are not indicates the difference in parenting ( what a stupid word) among families.

  5. agreed. the young are only in control if the old allow them to be. but our culture does prohibit a lot of "traditional" parenting that could mean the difference between a good kid and a thug. there’s a fine line between strict parenting and abuse, but i think the "soft" approach that most psychologists and lawmakers endorse nowadays is doing nothing but manifesting a generation of goons who have no regard or respect for what’s "right", as you say.

    to me, race should not have been an issue in this case. or it shouldn’t have been as big an issue. black or white, someone who does what he did is still a thug, regardless of motivation. that’s why i think hate crime laws are a joke, anyway. when was the last time you heard of someone assaulting someone else because they liked him?

  6. Unless you join an Amish settlement, or adopt a Mormon stronghold, parents have less and less authority to really influence their children. Sure, from zero to 2, you’re in control. If you work and need to have daycare, from 2 to 5, they’re already under the influence of MickeyD’s, Disney Kids and whatnot. From Kindergarten until Middle school, it is your last chance to have any lasting impact. From 9 years on, they’re done with you.

    Now I’m referring to normal confident children. Of course, any handicap and the equation changes possibly in the parents favor. On the other hand, mix in divorce or other family complications and you might as well give write them off as casualties of [cultural] war.

    The bottom line is America has not only a fascination with youth, but the adoration goes to such an extent that age is almost always a perceived detriment (unless you’re filthy rich, in which case you’ll get your way). Who does your son aspire to? My oldest (teenager) would be caught dead rather than acknowledging basic and simple values above Kobe Bryant or the latest arss-hole rapper. How can we blame them? Omnipresent Enron scandals, Bush election tampering, lies about WMDs, tax laws that are so complicated, even a CPA may need a second opinion… etc…

    My point is: our world is no longer a little village where parents may go so far as to dictate their children’s lives (this is the other extreme). Parents have very little impact, unless these are bad parents, in which case they’ll only make matters even worse.

  7. it’s true that popular culture makes it really hard for parents these days. (here’s my usual "capitalism to blame" angle–the main thing our society values is consumption, "values" are a distant, distant, distant second, a thing we pay lip-service to, but really Consumption is King, and consumption generally works to undermine the Values we supposedly hold high.)

    it is really hard to fault parents fully for not being the most powerful voice in their child’s life–the competition from television, advertising, sports culture, marketing, etc., is just overwhelming. and, as Symp sez, when you throw in the fact that in many families both parents work and the fact that much of what passes for daycare in this country is pretty lame, then the Forces of Marketing Evil really take over.

    You have to be pretty unique as a parents–either uniquely wealthy, uniquely well-educated, uniquely committed, uniquely isolated–to fight off the power of consumption. Most parents, it seems to me, lack that edge. Either they don’t have the money (because it does cost money to do it right in today’s world), they don’t have the educational background or habits of thought and reflection that allow them to take stock and realize what has to be done, they don’t have the fortitude (becaues it’s hard, and for better or worse most people just kind of coast, in every area of life–work, relationships, school, and parenting)–they don’t have what they need in order to be a more meaningful and important presence in their child’s life than Ronald McDonald is.

    think about it–the vast majority of people are just okay at what they do, in terms of work, school, etc. we get by; we’re average; we’re not too bad, but not superior either. we know this is true because the ones who ARE superior really stand out–in sports, in business, in intellectual or scientific pursuits–those are the freaky committed driven excellent people that we kind of admire but also kind of think "what a weirdo–glad i’m just an average guy, not like that freak." this is not lake woebegone, where all the children are above average. this is america (and the world) where most are just okay. and where we’re suspicious of the guy who tries to hard.

    so apply that same logic to parenting: i contend that good parenting is actually on the same level as earning a Macarthur Fellowship for your scientific work or being drafted in the first round of the NBA. it’s incredibly hard work that requires commitment and talent and training and all that genius stuff. it’s not something you can achieve by just getting pregnant/siring children and then continuing on as you normally do. Average parenting is not good enough–average parenting cannot stand up in the face of marketing, calls for consumption, popular culture. But average parenting is what most of us do. and that’s why it’s all going to hell. Average parenting may have worked in ye olden times, but not any more, not in the face of the marketing juggernaut.

    now i feel like going and kicking someone’s ass.

  8. please. there aren’t untold numbers of white offenders who manage to get off time and time again and grow a huge long rap sheet and never spend what you think is the right amount of time in jail? and minorities have all the power?

    i think the reasons why this kid keeps getting off have more to do with race-neutral factors about how the justice system works and doesn’t work than about Fear of the Black Man.

  9. yep, all that is true… and heaven forbid you are divorced, like myself, and your ex is of the high-consumption disneyworld superficial type. in fact, the prevailing aspect of our demise is we couldn’t reconcile our glaring cultural differences.

    as a man, it has been terribly difficult to remain an influence for my children, as men are not expected (or supposed to by American standards) to care that much.

    to make a long story short, the comments we can read and hear so often, such as "you made those children, they’re your problem" or the 100’s of other comments shrugging off society’s resposabilities of the children of the world is typical, shortsighted, and often just plain ignorant.

  10. Cecil,

    I expect there is merit in what you say. I think merit also exists in my post.

    My thoughts had nothing to do with race. I expect if I had used the term "special interest" instead of "minorities", it would have been a better expression of my thinking, and those terms are, to me, in this case, nearly synonomous.

    The thrust of my thinking was to express my views of actions by easily swayed politicians dependent upon the wind of the moment. They would be the same regardless of whatever influence by whatever group in matters of this nature.

  11. Your entire argument amounts to "You know what the problem is? Its society man!"

    Come on! McDonalds and Disney did not make these kids commit a violent crime.

  12. You’re joking, right? If not, let’s hear an explanation.

    Where has accountability for our actions gone? Despite violence on television, and the influence of Disney and McDonalds, at 17, this criminal knew that attacking people because they didn’t look like him was wrong. I’ve been exposed to the same media and commercialization as this kid, but I don’t commit hate crimes. Why not? Because my parents taught me better. Blaming society for the misdeeds of our children is an excuse. They are only given over to the influence of popular culture when the parent shirks responsibility and won’t teach them better. So our community stood up to defend the criminals in this case, teaching them that assualt isn’t wrong, but excusable. We sure set Howard on the right path didn’t we? We are all responsible for our actions, including the act of bringing a child into the world. The consequences of our actions include raising and properly educating those children, and jail time for any hate crimes we might choose to commit. Stop making excuses!!!

  13. Sympatico could it be that you want to blame society because you feel quilty but don’t want to accept responsibility?

    Vernon Howard beat up people knowing it was both illegal and wrong but he wanted to so he did it. There is no excuse. He should have been locked up for a long time. The fact that he was allowed to continue to commit crimes is the fault of the judge.

    Incidentally, the victim in the assault that he was convicted of was selected for two reasons: race and gender.

  14. 1. I’m not making excuses for this kid: accountability must be a top priority for any civilization

    2. Only idiots cannot see trends. America has been trending into a state of civil warfare between the social classes for 2 decades at least. What is your excuse for being an idiot?

  15. 1. I’m not making excuses for this kid: accountability must be a top priority for any civilization

    2. Only idiots cannot see trends this BIG. America has been trending into a state of civil warfare between the social classes for 2 decades at least. Incidentally, what’s your excuse?

  16. You’ve already explained what a quality parent you are. You’d love to blame class struggle trends so no one will look your way when junior steps into his school with a shotgun. Don’t come on here and blame an omnipresent society for letting its children be parented by Disney. Society isn’t some lurking shadow, its made up of you and me, and you’ve done more than your part to lead us toward blaming ‘the man’ for our problems. The only social class is the one you put yourself into. Yeah, we all earn more or less money, but its all on a gradual scale, not group A vs. group B. There’s no classes until someone sets the benchmarks and tells you that you should feel guilty for being in the upper class and look the other way when the lower class steals your wallet. In fact, criminals and good folks fall on both sides of the imaginary line. You’re allowed to act like a proper human being regardless of which social class you feel you belong to.

  17. A little touchy now aren’t we? Well just call me an idiot and then you’ll feel better and that’s what’s really important.

    I’m glad you agree that the kid should be held accountable but you seem to want to also blame the entire culture. He has a free will and contrary to what you say, the difference between right and wrong is well known in our culture. He chose to do wrong and now he has gotten the message that he can continue to choose that path and he will only get punished occassionally and then weakly. That message came from the judge and the "community" support generated by Alvin Edwards.

    My excuse for what? Do you know my kids? I make no excuses for them but I do have high expectations for them and me.

    BTW, I think you generalize way too much.

  18. Amen. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Urbanitas.

    You think you know something about life, but you know not.

  19. He has a free will and contrary to what you say, the difference between right and wrong is well known in our culture.

    You’re kidding me, right? You can’t possibly believe that horse-manure, do you really? Americans are not confused about what’s wrong or right? We can’t even agree on a PG-13 rating! Man, people are SO F&^%#CKED UP!!!

  20. I am not kidding. The difference between right and wrong is well known. You know it’s wrong to beat up people for fun…don’t you?

    I have nothing to do with rating movies and I generally ignore them and decide for myself.

  21. You know it’s wrong to beat up people for fun…don’t you?

    I do. You may. But how about the abused since birth kid from a druggie mother and a pimp father? I know nothing of this particular bad kid. I am not defending him. What I am saying, is that America is severely f%@*&cked up and you need to hang your little pinkey out in the storm to gauge how bad it is out there…

  22. i’m looking out my office window, and i’m not seeing any homeless people with pitchforks and torches storming my building.

    maybe us idiots can’t see this "trend", or, maybe the paranoid, left-wing, "sky is falling" nuts are just making this shyte up.

    when the have-nots revolt against the haves, where will those of us in the middle fall? this isn’t turn-of-the-century russia…although i’m sure you and those like you would have us believe it is.

  23. You start with generalist buzzwords and follow up by calling people idiots. Yeah, you obviously know more about life than I do.

    Lars caused a 17 year old to jump a white kid, and Madman and I are idiots because we think anyone would know that that was wrong? Care to explain, or do you just want to call me an idiot again? You’ve got plenty of theories about the downfall of society, but no facts. Spiraling toward class warfare for the last two decades? Do you think everything was sunshine and lollypops before that? There has always been friction between the rich and poor, but has it only recently become a problem and we should now socially engineer a solution? I don’t believe that letting this kid off easy does anything to shrink your perceived rift between the classes. What would you do to heal the social inequity?

    Lets have some discussion and drop the childish name-calling.

  24. i’m looking out my office window, and i’m not seeing any homeless people with pitchforks and torches storming my building.

    You are looking out of your office and you can’t see folks with pitchforks. Holy cow, then you must be right! Wow, I’m glad I consulted you about this issue! What would I do without your vision, el nino?

  25. What would you do to heal the social inequity?

    First, I would put folks like you in a concentration camp off of Guantanamo Bay. Second, I would create a torture chamber that repeats this every other 30 seconds from 6AM until midnight every day, except Sunday:

    “idiot – cretin – idiot!”

    And on Sunday, the message would change to:

    “idiot – Hallelujah – idiot!”

    There! How’s that for and “adult” discussion.

  26. Lots of bitching, no solutions. Typical.

    Your level of informed banter is too much for me sir. Should I ever care to debate who is or is not a poo-poo head, you’ll be the first I contact.

  27. what would you do? my guess would be ‘continue to allow the people on this board to live in your head rent free.’

  28. I am part of America and so are my kids. We are not severely troubled.There are problems but they’re really not all that bad nor are they insurmountable.

    I think you enjoy your cynical rage. Personally, I think focusing on realistic solutions is more pleasant and productive than throwing ones hands up in despair, cursing and calling people names.

    I have a good life with a nice family and we are reasonably content. We aren’t rich and sometimes money is tight but our future looks pretty good. Assholes like Vernon Howard are not crowding the streets and there is no storm of violence raging. I am safer on Charlottesville streets, particularly West Main than I was two decades ago.

    As for the abuse excuse: The abused know, better than you may realize, that what was done to them was horribly wrong and many don’t repeat the wrong. I believe that even those who do repeat the abuse still know it’s wrong. Many of the victims also have learned that those who abuse, like their own abusers, committed those wrongs with impunity. If they had seen some just punishment they might be less likely to follow in their abusers footsteps. Also, there are abusers who were never beaten or molested.

  29. Why is it that recognizing and naming ALL the factors that come together to make a person into the person he or she is–factors like genetics, parenting, brain chemistry, early exposures to social conditions (like exposure to violence and hatred v. exposure to love and understanding, like being abused b. being loved, like starving v. having everything you need supplied for you)–leads, in some people’s minds, to "blaming society" and asking for excuses? What’s the problem with acknowledging that human moral development is a complex rather than simplistic phenomenon, that TONS OF THINGS come to have an impact on shaping who each one of us is?

    I get the impression from those who gripe at others for "blaming society" that they imagine a very simplistic progression from blank-slate infant to adult moral actor: somehow, you either just try real hard (like the self-righteous speaker in these situations), pull yourself up by your moral bootstraps, and make the right choices, OR (like the Evil Others out there) you’re just too lazy and evil and you just choose the wrong thing. It’s a very simplistic view of human behavior, but it seems that simplistic, black-and-white thinking is in vogue these days, having been ratified at the highest levels of our government. Detecting nuances = Kerry = bad. Seeing nothing but Evildoers on the one hand and valiant white knights on the other = Bush = good. apparently.

    I didn’t hear Sympatico saying "mcdonalds did it" or even "give the kid a break." In fact, I think that Symp is one of the least likely on this board to give anyone a break–he sounds like crusading hard-ass to me. But, and bear with me, here, IT IS POSSIBLE TO RECOGNIZE THAT MULTIPLE FACTORS AFFECT HUMAN PSYCHOLOGICAL AND MORAL DEVELOPMENT WITHOUT DRAWING THE CONCLUSION THAT NO ONE IS TO BLAME FOR THEIR ACTIONS. Do you want to know how you do that? Simple: you say "Lawbreaker X, it’s clear that you’ve had a tougher time than most of your peers because you were abused as a child/grew up in total poverty with crackhead parents/suffered a brain injury in kindergarten that negatively affected the area of your brain that controls moral reasoning/saw your mother raped and murdered by your father when you were 2/etc., BUT, even though we recognize these factors, we still need to deal with your propensity to rob people and hit them over the head, so we’re going to lock you up/rehabilitate you (depending on your level of cynicism regarding our criminal justice system) because, no matter how you got the way you got, you can’t be trusted to run around right now."

    See, that’s how you do it. You acknowledge reality (instead of inventing this fantasy world in which individual humans somehow come to moral maturity completely on their own, uninfluenced by anything at all, like they’ve grown up on their own little desert island) AND you deal pragmatically with the problems caused by that reality.

    I just don’t get this panicky hysteria that suggests that if you acknowledge that there IS such a thing as an "influence" that you then end up with lawless anarchy where everyone has an excuse and no one has to pay for their decisions.

  30. I’m going with Symp, again, here. Maybe on the starkest, least complicated cases, most Americans know right from wrong–beating up people for fun = wrong, probably a safe call.

    But Symp (I think) alludes to a real problem–there are tons of more complicated moral issues that we can’t agree on. We think "telling the truth is the right thing to do" in the abstract, but give us a specific case and we start to fall apart. Is whistleblowing the right thing to do? what if you signed a contract that says you won’t divulge company secrets, but you know that one of the secrets is hurting customers? what’s more morally sacred, truth-telling to benefit the public or loyalty to your employer and contract? how many people DO blow the whistle? what happens to them when they do? they usually get crucified, that’s what–is that the sign of of a morally correct society?

    what about stealing? yeah, it’s wrong of course. in the abstract. but what about what Enron did, or what that local guy did (the one who set up the check-kiting scheme)? looks like stealing, too, in that it’s acquiring money from others under dishonest means. plenty of apologists out there for the Enrons and check-kiters of the world. does that look like a society that has all of its moral schema figured out and clarified?

    I could go on, but my point is that the US is as confused, contradictory, and backwards about right and wrong as you can be. Convenience and personal profit trump the more difficult, morally correct decision more than half the time. our entire culture (popular culture–it’s fun and entertaining to watch people blow other people up! and it makes lots of money for the entertainment companies so it must be sacred! financial culture, which is based on me-first and chicanery through and through) sends massively self-contradictory messages about right and wrong. you’ve got this feeble little ignored, usually church-related voice saying "love thy neighbor and thou shalt not covet…" and it’s getting clobbered by all the voices saying "me first me first me first" and "buy this buy this buy this."

    I’ve got next to nothing in common with religous conservatives but I think they have a hell of a point when they call for boycotts of the big entertainment companies, for example, on the grounds that all that mindless violence and gratuitous sex sends the wrong message about what to value. I just think it’s sad that they’re so naive as to think that in America anyone cares about the right values–all we care about is profit. oh, and imposing the values that we don’t actually respect on other countries. that too.

  31. Well, a day later no more comments from the sheeple. I guess you gave them too much veritas for them to handle.

  32. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m tired of wasting my time. Your cynical arguements have failed to persuade me. Bye.

  33. Here’s a question:

    What are the implications of a rule of law that isn’t applied uniformly?

    This certainly isn’t to say that we are applying laws uniformly at present, but our system is based on an attempt to do so – sentencing guidelines, etc.

    It wasn’t clear in your post whether we acknowledge that a person had a rough childhood and sentence them softer because of it, or just acknowledge it and sentence them as we would now (uniformly). I got the idea it was the former.

    The idea behind law is that we fear the punishment, so we don’t commit the crime. If we water down sentencing for the disadvantaged, we give certain people less incentive to follow the law. If we’re going to think about this from a big, societal point of view, isn’t preventing crime (maintaining order)the goal? It may not amount to chaos and anarchy, but it amounts to different laws for different people. (or even different laws in different places, like Compton v. Crozet) I don’t think that’s doing anything positive for the state of society.

    Some people love to make everything a grey area, but in the end, law is black and white. Its either legal or illegal, guilty or not guilty. At some point someone has to decide. We’ve based everything up to this point on laws that are based on that fact. Is it time for a change now?

  34. This discussion has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE LAW! Stop spinning everything… your are just like everything today: if you can’t win on the issue, spin it!

    This discussion is far more profound. It is about why America is so adept – and better than ever… and better by the day – at producing crime, poverty and, I’ll add my own pet-peeve: xenophobic ignorance. Most of you conservatives hail America as a powerful economic force. So, why are so many falling through the cracks? We’re not talking minor failures, we’re talking millions upon millions of people that are so uneducated, they can’t read or write. We have 20 million children living under the poverty level, nearly 1/3rd of our nation doesn’t have access to proper healthcare.

    You know what automakers latest trend is, just as an anecdotal indication of the crime rate throughout America today? Larger fuel tanks because people are ‘uncomfortable’ at gas stations maybe getting intimidated, mugged or raped. I could go on and on, but none of this will change your mind, will it? Until the implosion or holocaust, you sheeple will turn a blind eye… You will continue to seek refuge in closed-gated communities and pretend things are just okay. Well, be ready for 100’s of more cases like this bad kid at your own doorstep. I know what you are good at: praying. Pray that next time, it’s not your kid that gets beaten up, mamed or even killed. Keep him/her away from the world. Hey, home schoolong is WAY on the rise. Ever use just a little of that grey matter to understand why???

  35. I was really hoping for a reply from someone who wants to respond to the discussion instead of simply rant. Hopefully later.

    But for now Symp:

    This thread is topped by a headline about a kid’s repeated run ins with the LAW, and is a discussion about how crime is a symptom of a faltering and ignored lower class in some people’s view. Furthermore, our society is organized by a rule of LAW. Its what makes this country different from any other – you said this social division was a problem in this country for at least two decades, I assume you think some other country has solved it. You like to throw around ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ – well they’re philosophies of governance (hence LAW). Society governs and manipulates itself by making and enforcing LAWs. The LAW is presumably what you think the man is using to keep you down then.

    Its great fun to listen to you rant about how the sky is falling and praise yourself for being profound, but you do nothing to explain why this trend is evident or how we might treat individual cases of crime in a way that acknowledges disadvantage, stems a further rise in crime, and repairs a social gap.

    Better yet, tell me how you’ll do it without using LAW.

  36. This kid is probably a real bad apple. If proven so, he’ll go into a penitentiary following the LAWS of our land. As he should. There can be no civilization without respect for LAWS. Discussion closed for you? The law has been applied? Are you happy? Have you put your head in the sand far enough?

    Introspection is as foreign to people like you as read meat is to a life-long vegetarian. This is WHY we are going down the tubes faster than ANY empire EVER. You and the majority of Americans are so complacent. As long as it’s not affecting them, or they can blame it on “TERRISTS” (= tourists for Bush?), then it’s Brady Bunch time.

    Look, there’s nothing going to convince you, or ‘maddog’ or ‘lars’eny or el nino or any of you sheeple (I take that back: Lars is just plain crazy). Cecil may have the patience, but all I can see is that his efforts produce more often than not a contrary effect, because there’s NOTHING aside personal tragedy that will open your eyes. All he’ll achieve is getting depressed. I’m done with that. I’m angry. I’m angry with people like you, without which good folk could actually get to prod progress forward again. America voted Bush and his ilk in because we are a democracy (like many other Napoleon property-based constitutions, contrary to your ignorant assertions): what this means is there is a majority of pathetic half-brains in America today. What’s worse: this dimwitted nut-ball of a Prez, whose only claim to fame is a robber-baron family and that he resembles and talks just like a large portions of the rednecks in America, has a good chance of being reelected sine qua non.

  37. I don’t know where you get the idea that I (or lots of other so-called liberals) think the laws should be different for different people. There was nothing in my post that suggested that; I think you create this straw man.

    I am as against having different or lighter sentences for people from disadvantaged backgrounds as I am for having lighter sentences for people from advantaged backgrounds (which, you have to admit, surely happens more often than the former).

    What I am for, though, is acknowledging that for some people it’s a lot harder to make and carry out the right decision in every case than it is for other people. For me, who has never been in any real trouble in my life, it’s been fairly easy: I’ve never been desperate for anything in my life. I’ve always been financially okay (not great, but okay), i’ve always had the support of my family, I’ve been able to go to college and then get funding to get an advanced degree, i’ve lucked into enough jobs to keep going, etc. All my life I’ve gotten enough positive, believable messages that I’m safe and I’ll make it and that it’s worth it to abide by the laws. And so I’ve never majorly f*cked up and made a really terrible irrevocable decision. Does that make me morally better than Vernon Howard? Does that mean I just tried harder and had a better moral work ethic than Vernon Howard? Lord smack me down if I ever get so arrogant as to attribute my relatively straight and narrow and successful path to my own credit–I can’t think of anything much more arrogant than for me or someone like me to look at Vernon Howard, shake my head in superior disgust, and say "some people just don’t even try."

    So what does this acknowledgment that I speak of get us? Well, for one thing, it ought to wipe out some of the arrogance I hear all the time–"I never made a bad decision in my life, so Vernon Howard must just be stupid or evil or lazy to make such a bad decision." If the lucky people remember how lucky they are and develop some humility, the nation might be a better place.

    For another thing, it might shift some attention to actually addressing the real problem. In the black-and-white world view, some folks are just good and others are just evildoers, and that worldview doesn’t leave much room to work on the problems–it just leads to "lock ’em up" or bomb them or whatever. it doesn’t permanently reduce total numbers of evildoers because it doesn’t address the reasons that some (not all, but some) people end up hitting other people on the head or selling drugs or whatever.

    none of which is to say that if someone has proven him/herself to be a danger to society that the someone shouldn’t be incarcerated. The serial rapist here in charlottesville may well have had a crummy childhood, but you will not hear many people–even liberals–saying "oh, let’s give him another chance, he just had no good role models." His lawyer might do that because his lawyer’s duty is to vigorously defend his client.

    and the idea that the law is black and white–maybe the way it’s written down, but do you seriously believe that it’s black and white in its functioning? shades of grey enter into things all the time, sometimes to give the poor a break, sometimes to give the advantaged a break. NOTHING IS BLACK AND WHITE EXCEPT IN PEOPLE’S MINDS. Jesus, even the Bible is full of shades of grey if you read the whole thing.

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