What It Says About Us

Sometimes we are removed from a decision, have nothing to do with it, and still it says something about us–the us that is part of that collective we call society. I had nothing to do with the decision to deny Susan Atkins a “compassionate release” from prison but it was obliquely at least done in my name, and so whether or not I like it, I am involved.
As part of the gang around Charles Manson, Susan Atkins murdered Sharon Tate in the 60’s. Now after 37 years in prison, 60 herself, she has brain cancer, had one leg amputated, is partially paralyzed, and was given 3 months to live. While the current Los Angeles County district Attorney wrote a letter to the parole board asking that the request be denied, the case prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, wrote on her behalf. He said the idea that “just because Susan Atkins showed no mercy to her victims, we therefore are duty-bound to follow her inhumanity and show no mercy to her” is wrong. He went on, “…what mercy are we giving her? It’s not like she has six months to live, and we’re letting her go home and she’s going to have fun with her family. My view is that anyone who opposes her request, other than relatives of the seven Tate-la-Bianca victims… is either being robotic or extremely callous. The mercy being requested now is almost too minuscule to speak of because she’s in bed and she’s going to die.”
The people who made the decision, and those who side with them and support it, no doubt think it speaks for justice, and feel entirely justified. But it seems to me that this decision says more about us than about justice. It says that we as a society are not able to exercise compassion, to know the difference between justice and harm, that we are blinded by notions of right that have nothing to do with mercy and love and those values that help us truly determine what is right. The social contract under which we all live may grant the parole board the right to have denied the request, but they did not speak for me, and I am glad they also did not speak for Mr. Bugliosi and others who agree with him.