This past week we’ve seen yet another public act of violence. Jeffery Johnson felt he had the right to take a life because of issues with his boss. The result of this perpetrator’s actions is that he and his intended victim, Steve Ercolino, are dead and several innocent bystanders – people who had no part in this feud, but who were going about their daily lives – were injured. Recent reports indicate that Johnson had no intention of returning to his apartment, clearly indicating he was anticipating his death by police or by his own hand.
Johnson’s feud with Ercolino is not uncommon. Many of us in the workplace have issues with our employers or co-workers; many neighbors have issues with each other. Disagreements are part of our daily lives. Sometimes we are the victims of the thoughtless actions of others; sometimes we are the ones who inflict the pain. But in no case does this give any of us the right to take another’s life – simply to settle a score. And that appears to be exactly what Johnson has done.
In a democracy like ours, we have public institutions that are designed to safeguard our rights and to protect our liberties. The emphasis on “our” is intended. When someone like Johnson decides he has the right to take a life, he has struck a blow against our public institutions, our public values. He has, in short, attacked all of us who want a civilized society that lives by the rule of law rather than the whims of man.
It is true that, at times, that our public institutions fail us. It is true that juries are often indifferent, prosecutors overworked or disengaged, and those who are guilty go free. But the answer isn’t to circumvent the system and take a life. The answer is to engage in the process and ascertain that corrupt judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and indifferent jurors are removed from the judicial process. It is imperative that all of us take a greater hand in the institutions which have been entrusted to us by our forefathers and which we will pass on to on posterity. It is incumbent on all of us to maintain institutions in which we can place our trust. Without them, we are disconnected – fragmented – into over 300 million individuals, each with their own idea of what constitutes justice. And where does that leave us?
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