Last week arrests were made in the day after the presidential election burning of the predominantly African-American Macedonia Church of God in Christ. Benjamin F. Haskell, 22; Michael F. Jacques, 24; and Thomas A. Gleason Jr., 21, all of Springfield MA, face a minimum of ten years in prison for violating the civil rights of the Macedonian congregation.
Judging by what I read on Springfield's Masslive forum and what I heard in the community before the arrests, many whites were sure the burning wasn't arson or if that it was, it wasn't a hate crime, and many African-Americans just knew the burnings were related to the election of Barack Obama-- and so it seems to be, although there are rumors the young men were involved in other arson fires in the city.
Now comes the trial.
Sometimes I have a war going on between the more primitive parts of my nature and the parts that have been educated by the emotional, spiritual and intellectual experiences of my life.
Someone steals the battery out of my car.
A woman yanks the hair of her child to "make her behave."
A man grabs an elderly woman's purse and knocks her down.
A well-known sports figure organizes dog fights and kills other dogs with impunity.
A financier steals millions of dollars and ruins the lives of thousands who believed in him.
Three young white men burn down a predominantly African-American church because they're angry about Barack Obama being elected.
I'd be lying if I said that revenge is not one of the first impulses in my mind. How about if I pull your hair so you can feel what it's like? How about if I tie you up in the back yard and hit you with a baseball bat?. How about if we burn down your parents' houses?
And then what? Have we made our world safer or better?
In theory, incarceration serves three purposes: keep society safe from the offender, punish the offender, rehabilitate the offender.
Even if we were to agree on the purposes of incarceration and other aspects of the criminal justice system are what they should be, we must also agree that the standards are unevenly applied. Bernie Madoff is at home under house arrest and as of Monday, so will be the three young white men accused of burning the Macedonian Church of God in Christ to the ground. Think that scenario would be repeated for the Latino marijuana dealer or the African-American check forger? And do we really think Bernie Madoff's punishment will be proportional to the fifteen year sentence a Shreveport man received for holding up a bank for $100?
So what does the community think should happen to the three men if they are found guilty-- and why? I'm conducting my first-ever poll on this blog, and I'd like to know what people think.