If you had told me one of Marquette’s student newspapers had published an editorial apologetic for vigilantism, the Tribune would not have been my first guess as to which one it was. But this week’s The Warrior was one of the most civil they’ve ever put out, and it was the Tribune which ran a piece by columnist Michael Murphy tactically arguing for the exoneration of a man who killed his alleged abuser.
Murphy undermines his own case by opening with an analogy to a fictional sociopath:
I am a huge fan of the show “Dexter.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it’s about a psychopath who has honed his thirst for killing only those who deserve it most: serial killers, rapists, pedophiles, etc. The idea of man taking the law into his own hands is certainly a concept that’s been rationalized and celebrated by Hollywood, but rarely do we see these instances of citizen justice in reality.
…because the real world doesn’t work like a televison show. He then gives exposition to an easily-understandable (but difficult-to-condone) case study:
That brings me to Aaron Vargas. For more than 20 years, Aaron was sexually abused by a known pedophile, Darrell McNeill. Despite accusations to the police from other victims and McNeill’s ex-wife, no further inquiries were made and no investigation was conducted.
Fort Bragg, Texas, resident Todd Rowan was one of the victims who came forward with allegations of sexual abuse against McNeil.
Rowan told the University of Arizona’s newspaper, the Daily Wildcat, that he was abused from ages 15 to 19. “He’d give me pot and beer and he’d get me stoned and a little drunk, and he took advantage of me that way,” Rowan told the Daily Wildcat.
Rowan claimed he brought his allegations to the Fort Bragg Police Department, but like others, nothing was done. Over the last 20 years, McNeill continued to haunt Vargas and others. Four years ago, one of his victims committed suicide. McNeill stalked Vargas to meet and babysit Vargas’ daughter.
Now let’s all ask ourselves a question: If a man molests you a number of times and then proceeds to stalk you and your family for years, what would you do?
“When I got news that he’d been shot, the first thing I thought was, ‘Who got him? Somebody got him. Who else did he do it to?’” Rowan said.
Vargas answered that question on Feb. 8, 2009. Authorities said Vargas drove to McNeill’s home outside Fort Bragg and shot him in the chest with a Civil War-style pistol. McNeill died shortly thereafter and Vargas was arrested.
Then, a loaded question:
Now ask yourself another question: Who do you feel worse for, the man who was murdered or the man who was arrested?The majority of you would probably say the man who was arrested.
For the minority who answered they feel worse for the murdered man, they’re hopefully citing the fact that it’s never alright to take the law into your own hands.
Strange examples and poorly-thought out qualifications:
If every person decided to make a right when they felt the judicial system failed them, cities would be burned to the ground and the clear line of justice and injustice would be irrevocably blurred.
If someone jaywalks in front of your car, it’s not morally right to hit the person so they don’t do it again. But in the case of Vargas, there’s no line. McNeill lost his right to live the moment he took away those children’s innocence.
That’s a somewhat arbitrary supposition, one clearly rooted in understandable and justifiable personal rage, but not the law Vargas “[took] into his own hands.” In the state of North Carolina, where McNeill was shot, the death penalty is only applicable to those convicted of first-degree murder.
But even if McNeill did “lose his right to live,” what empowered Vargas to take it? Murphy concedes if everyone took justice into their own hands, it would be anarchy–but then just leaves that concession hanging. He doesn’t explicitly say under what conditions it is permissable or necessary to resort to extrajudicial means, but we only get hints. Murphy implies anything is fair game against those who have “[lost] their right to live,” though no such concession of right-to-life exists in the legal code. Vargas dictated his own standard of justice. Murphy approved it, but leaves us with no satisfying reason to believe in the action’s legality. What if Vargas had burned down a police station for their failure to act? Would there have been ” a line” there?
That makes Vargas a hero. A hero for every man or woman who has ever been victimized by a rapist or pedophile. A real life caped crusader for those who have seen sexual abusers walk free.
I just find it tasteless that Murphy is comparing someone clearly, deeply and tortuously disturbed as Vargas to Batman, or any fictional character for that matter.
Apparently, our subjective court system feels the same sentiment. Despite a tremendous amount of evidence stacked against him that points to first-degree murder, Vargas was recently found guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, and will serve a maximum of 10 years.
Since the revelation of the crime has been made public, a number of people have come forward claiming that McNeill abused them as well. “The Today Show” has covered it, rallies have been held, petitions have been passed on the Internet and moral debates have transpired across the country. Even though Vargas received a generous sentence, requests for leniency are still being filed.
Clearly many people, and the government to some degree, have decided that taking the law into your hands is somewhat acceptable…
Despite what some people say, there are those in this world who do not deserve to live. Darrell McNeill was one of those people. Aaron Vargas simply did us all a favor.
The “some people” who say everyone deserves to live include the Catholic Church, which I very much doubt Murphy is a part of. For entirely selfish reasons, I hope he isn’t an atheist.
Now, McNeill was a monster, and what happened to Vargas was a tragedy. It would even be understandable if he was given the absolute minimum sentence for his crime. But it was still a crime. If Vargas was given clemency, it would set a poor example for other would-be “caped crusaders” with their own scores to settle–and they would almost certainly be less righteous scores than Vargas’.
Also, it must be said: The abuses Vargas suffered appear to have broken him. The best thing for him likely entails close observation. He might not be rehabilitated–it is too much to ask for remorse in this crime–but he might get some help he desperately needs, and obviously wasn’t getting.
Right now, I’m undecided as to whether or not it was irresponsible for the Tribune to publish the piece. In a small way, in claiming pedophiles “lose the right to live,” it encourages violence, if only by the state.
They of course have the right to publish the piece–the violence encouragement is neither explicit or virulent enough to reasonable fall under incitement–but just because they can doesn’t mean they should. It can be tricky gaguing fringe opinions. A member of the KKK, being on the outermost reaches of the fringe, can hardly expect to see in print their letter-to-the-editor on the Jewish plot to taint Aryans’ precious bodily fluids. It would be such a poorly argued and incendiary piece, there would be no benefit from printing it. But here, I think, we have a genuinely ambiguous case. I’m not willing to say whether or not this is extremist. There are probably a lot of people who would like to see child rapists shot on sight; Murphy at least seems willing to wait and see if the judicial system can deal with molesters first before resorting to mob “justice.”