A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, August 24, 2007

Redemption and Salvation in Philadelphia

There was once a time in Western culture when if a person made a mistake, endured the consequences of that mistake, then redeemed himself or herself by devoting their time to good acts, then the past mistake would be forgiven. This concept has been instilled in all of us either in our churches or in our homes by our parents. Now it appears that my hometown, Philadelphia (the City of Brotherly Love), has suddenly decided to drop out of Western culture.

Here is the full story: in November of 1966 a Philadelphia policeman, William T. Barclay, answered a burglary call. The suspect, William J. Barnes, shot him while escaping, and the wounds left the officer paralyzed for life. Barnes was later arrested, convicted, and served nearly 15 years for the charge of attempted murder. Barnes has had a few more run-ins with the law, but in more recent years he has reformed and turned his life around.

A few days ago Barclay died, and the deputy coroner attributed his death to complications from the wounds he suffered in the shooting 41 years earlier. Philadelphia police now charged Barnes with homicide and arrested him at his work place, a Shop-Rite food market. The case is now in the hands of the DA whether to go forward or not.

The police admit that they are wading into uncharted waters in prosecuting Barnes again. Although state law allows them to pursue another conviction, this may be a case when just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Law enforcement is a difficult enough job without resorting to the legal shenanigans as this case is turning out to be. Why make your job harder, Philadelphia Police Department?

Granted, Barclay’s life was utterly destroyed that night in 1966. He never realized his full potential, and he probably suffered a great amount of pain for many years. The original sentence given to Barnes may or may not have been appropriate for the crime – many people might argue he should’ve received more time – but society will always second-guess sentencing guidelines.

This is not a matter of a bleeding heart liberal taking the side of a convicted felon who deserves a break. This is about the concept of double jeopardy or that guarantee that a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice. Yes, the authorities will argue that this is a new charge, but it is still based on the same criminal event for which the culprit has already served time.

The DA should also consider if moving forward with this case at this time is practical. It’s not like they have anything else to do at the moment except for the 270 odd murders in the city this year. Wouldn’t this old case take away resources from other recent cases that also deserve to be tried? In the time it would take the DA to try the Barnes case, potential witnesses of the other cases may reconsider testifying, die, or be killed. The witnesses testimony could also become less credible as time goes on and memories of events fade. This could mean the difference between a conviction and a release for a career criminal.

Let’s put ourselves in Barnes’ shoes. Yes, we would admit that we made mistakes, but we would still long for the chance to correct our lives and make things right, or as right as possible. However, if we know that society could still persecute us for an event for which we have already served time, then the incentive to be a better person would be lost. We could rightly think to ourselves, “What the hell! I got caught once, but I won’t get caught again,” and we would revert back to our criminal ways.

These concepts of redemption and salvation are the incentives to all humanity to make the world a better place. Once we take away these ideas, then our Judeo-Christian legacy will break down into a society that spirals downward into self-destruction. I’m hoping that these ideals do not go the way of the vinyl record – a quaint, obsolete notion that no one wants anymore.


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