I have been giving a lot of thought recently to the curious fact that it has been so difficult for us to get law enforcement in Sauk County Wisconsin to even look at Stephen Sydebotham’s crimes. Although in recent days we believe we have gotten to the bottom of the reasons Sydebotham is being protected, along the way I have maintained that, if the state will not seek justice, then it is our right and responsibility as citizens to create justice ourselves the best way we can.
This morning I woke up with the thought that this position places me in an uncomfortable situation similar to someone who is organizing a vigilante mob—that it is almost as if we are, in a figurative sense, working ourselves up to a public stoning.
Everything I know of stoning says it is a primitive, barbarous, and ignorant act. Whether we are Christians or not, almost everyone in our culture is aware of Christ’s Biblical admonition, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”
In middle school almost every American child is introduced to Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, in which the backwards residents of a small town conduct an annual lottery to see which one of their own will be stoned as a sacrificial victim to assure a good harvest. “Lottery in June, corn will be heavy soon,” says Old Man Warner, one of the characters in the story. Everyone in the town goes along. It is no random coincidence that The Lottery was written by Jackson and published in The New Yorker in 1948, at the dawn of McCarthyism, when a complacent postwar America was scrambling towards mindless conformity.
Here is a short dramatization of the story in case your memory of middle school is fuzzy.
Interesting enough, the image of public stoning is achieving prominence today in the controlled media to engender mindless fear of Islam and Muslims. In Shariah law, stoning to death (or rajm) is a specified punishment for the married adulterer and adulteress (although some Muslim scholars take the view that stoning to death is not Islamic law). For the last couple years a lawyer in Murfreesboro, Tennessee has been leading an effort to block the opening of a mosque there. “We don’t want Shariah law. We don’t want a Constitution-free zone in Rutherford County, Tennessee,” says attorney Joe Brandon, who considers the implementation of Shariah law in Murfreesboro “a probability” if the mosque is allowed to open.
Any time you allow a mob to administer justice, there is a great probability that it will be imperfect justice. (Because stoning is the one form of capital punishment in which the entire community participates in the execution, no one person can be held responsible for an injustice. Even in a mob lynching, one person can be identified as having placed the noose around the victim’s neck.) This is why in our system we rely on the integrity of the police, courts, and due process to ensure that honest justice is done.
When the police and courts fail to faithfully do their jobs, the result is a miscarriage of justice such as we have seen in Lawrence County PA, Kosciusko County IN, and Shelby County TN. But at least there is the possibility of an appeal to correct the wrongs. But when the police refuse to even look into crimes because of a court’s decision to defer certain legal matters, and the police and prosecutor choose instead to protect an offender (such as is the case in Sauk County WI), we are left with no other prospect but the mob—even if it is a virtual one.
In such a situation, it is just as likely that a Sheriff and DA who are protecting an offender will themselves be pelted with “stones,” as well as the criminal who is the primary target of the lapidation. Next time I go down to the post office, I’m going to send off a couple stones (but no threats) to Sauk County as a reminder that their continued official inaction is a politically perilous policy.
If you, too, wish to send a reminder to these recipients, they are:Sheriff Chip Meister Sauk County Law Enforcement Center 1300 Lange Court
Baraboo, Wisconsin 53913 Patricia A. Barrett Sauk County District Attorney
Sauk County Court House
515 Oak St.
Baraboo, Wisconsin 53913
Even a small pebble will send a message.
Groove of the Day