One of the things that happens if you are a reporter is that you get detached from the stories you write about, because you have to on an emotional level. I can, for example, write about how outrageous American foreign policy is in Colombia, but at the end of the day you won’t find me losing any sleep about it either.
The one topic that I get very emotional about and causes my blood pressure to start rising is the way the justice system treats people who kill infants. I have a manila folder somewhere in my house just of press clippings of such cases. For those of you not familiar with this area of law, usually such murders get very light sentences unless there is an aggravating circumstance such as a sexual crime. A person who say molested an infant and then committed murder would probably get quite a bit of jail time, but if the same person simply shakes the infant to death, it is unlikely he or she would serve more than 3 to 5 years.
A case in point is Brian Peterson who is back in the news thanks to John Rocker of all folks (Arrest at baseball stadium may put killer back behind bars). Raymond Maniaci, a New Jersey resident, threw a bottle at Rocker during a recent Yankees game. Peterson was sitting next to his friend Maniaci and was arrested for interfering with police. He claims he was trying to comply with the officer’s order to move.
In 1996 Peterson and his then-girlfriend, Amy Rossberg, murdered their newborn son in a Delaware motel room. He turned state’s evidence and testified against her. Peterson got a 2 year jail sentence; Rossberg 2 and a half years.
Peterson got time off for good behavior and was out of jail after serving only 18 months.
That’s downright obscene. Typically these people get short sentences because they are young and generally have no prior arrests or convictions. In addition, often prosecutors reach plea agreements for manslaughter convictions rather than go for a murder trial, since often there are no witnesses other than the defendant and for some reason juries tend to buy the claim that the defendant lacked criminal intent to murder, for example, when a person shakes a baby to death. Peterson was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter for what was clearly a crime of pre-meditated murder.
Aside from the very elderly, it is hard to think of a more vulnerable population than newborn infants. The sort of person who could help kill his newborn son and then several years later casually go to a New York Yankees game is not the sort of person who needs to be walking the streets a free man. People such as Peterson need to serve 8 to 10 years, not 2 to 3 years for their crimes.
Unfortunately this seems to be part of a larger societal trend in which people seem to shirk their moral and ethical duties to children. I have seen so much bizarre stuff that most of it doesn’t even shock me anymore. From the neighbor across the street who has watched pornographic films with his 9 year old son, the next door neighbor who has several kids in high school who have a Playstation but have to come to us to borrow a dictionary.
The other thing that really gets me is kids who die in hot cars. A couple years ago there was a case in Arizona where a couple of men took their kids mushroom hunting. The men left the kids locked in a car with windows closed and after 4 or 5 hours of mushroom hunting were surprised when they returned to find the kids dead. If I remember the prosecutor there did charge them with manslaughter, but how someone can be so callous and indifferent to human life is beyond me. I wouldn’t leave my cat in a closed car in Michigan’s relatively mild summers, yet alone leave my daughter even for an instant in a hot car in the middle of the Arizona desert.
The other day the local news broadcast ran an item about a support group to help new parents cope with juggling parental duties with their other obligations like work, etc. I think such groups are often extremely condescending, and I told my wife that with the barrage of support groups, offers of government aid, and other things that we hear about it’s almost as if there is this belief that we are the first generation in 50,000 years to have kids. As if people haven’t been dealing with the problems (and wonders) that children entail for literally millennia.
Then my wife reminded me of the way the neighbors treat their kids and the news stories we share by e-mail of parental abuse, neglect and indifference, and that ended that conversation.
Having children — even engaging in sex that might lead to a child — involves assuming a vast web of moral and ethical duties. Please don’t have kids if you’re not willing to accept such responsibilities.