Columbine after a Decade: So you think you know why this happened . . .

Jocelyn Schneider testified in the Brandon Craig trial (March-April, 2009) that at age 15 she was forced out of her own home by a father who preferred to live with his girlfriend. Within a year she was distributing drugs for Mexican gangs, accepting stolen vehicles from drug dealers, involved in illegally obtained firearms, and then—one night—involved in the brutal murder of three high-school students.

When I argued that teachers, school counselors, and parents in that small community must have known what was happening to this young woman, readers of this blog voted in the poll that they “disliked” what I was saying.

Please read Education Week’s “Lessons Sifted from Tragedy at Columbine.”

If you don’t have time, then here’s the bottom line: Abused and neglected children can become abusive, murderous teenagers. Psychosis begins to manifest itself in adolescence. Mentally disturbed adolescents “signal” the adult world that they need help—and far too often no adult pays any attention. Sometimes the adults around troubled teens either abandon them or try to help them hide their internal chaos from the world.

Time for schools—especially—to step up to the plate. Do what you’re being paid to do. Educate and mentor our young people. When you know that “things at home aren’t quite right,” do something about it. Get involved.

Yes, Americans value privacy. But I think what happens in these cases is that the community uses privacy concerns as an excuse to do nothing.

The Brandon Craig trial was reported in the media as an adult murder trial, because it took ten years for the perpetrators to be brought to justice and by then they were adults. But, if you consider this tragedy in light of the Columbine massacre, which happened in the same year, it looks very different, doesn’t it?

Sandra Cantu’s Body Found: There is something we can all do reports that a suitcase found yesterday in a pond contained the body of little 9-year-old Sandra Cantu, last seen skipping joyously in front of surveillance camera at the mobile-home park where she lived.

Now law enforcement has the unenviable job of tracking down her murderer and constructing a case against him so solid that no jury will have any doubt of his guilt. Once again, a jury of twelve conscientious citizens will be asked to perform this noxious duty.

We can do something about this. Every one of us. The American Civil Liberties Union will object and take the issue to the Supreme Court, but, hopefully, some decent lawyer will defend the civil rights of citizens and little girls in the lawsuit. I’m a staunch supporter of individual freedoms, but the first freedom we all need is the right to live, the right to live free of fear from murder. Children are particularly vulnerable.

This carnage has to stop—here in America. Let’s make this country safe for little girls.

1. The U.S. can install a system of surveillance cameras like the British have had for many years.

2. Every American household can install a surveillance camera to survey their neighborhood.

The British CCTV system has been controversial since its inception. I foolishly found it oppressive myself in the late 1990s when a Brit told me about it. He also said that at that time the Brits had come to appreciate the system for its measurable crime-deterrence.

Since 9/11 the U.S. has begun to install more surveillance cameras. They’re everywhere now. They’re saving lives and saving tax-payer money in innumerable ways. Just think about the number of surveillance videos you’ve seen used by law enforcement in recent highly publicized crimes and how they helped juries to bring a modicum of justice to our lives.

A few years ago in my neighborhood a civic group installed “safe house” signs in the front windows of houses all along our street, indicating to children that they could safely knock on the door and would be welcomed inside if they felt threatened. Of course, from the look of the surveillance camera that caught little Sandra skipping down the street, she didn’t feel threatened.

Imagine what would have happened if one or two other mobile homes on that street had inexpensive cameras surveying the same street. They might have caught Sandra’s path (a clue) or even caught her murderer approaching her (the way a car-wash camera caught Joseph Smith actually abducting Carly Brucia). If a camera had caught the abduction of Sandra Cantu she might still be alive today, because she was reported missing promptly.

Is CCTV the Government’s Tool for Oppression (Big Brother is Watching You)?

Yes, it could become that. But there are several mitigating forces.

First, the ability of any authority to monitor the whole country in real time does not yet exist technically. Think about it: even if the government were a single monolith in this country (feds, 50 states, territories, counties, cities, and unincorporated areas) the amount of data collected by taping everywhere 24/7 would be so huge that no one could afford to store it, let alone watch it.

Second, even if the government created a huge public works program (a.k.a. stimulus package) to hire armies of people to watch CCTV continuously so that someone’s eyes were always on each and every citizen, these watchers would have no way of telling whether an activity like the Brucia abduction was suspicious or not.

In addition, being seen in public isn’t a violation of anyone’s rights. Every time you put on a bikini and walk on the beach you’re being seen—and it’s all out there. Every time you attend a sports event, paint your face, hold up signs, and shout stupid slogans you’re probably being videotaped and you’re definitely being watched.

You can’t wear a mask to hide your face and walk into a bank or most businesses or public buildings without being grabbed by a security guard.

In other words, there’s no right in the U.S. Constitution to hide your face in public, unless you’re a Moslem woman—and even that right has been questioned recently.

Privacy Rights

Our rights to privacy are limited. Yet we give them away every day. We blog; we post comments on blogs; we publish websites; we chat online; we sign up for discount cards at stores that then collect information about all our purchases (no matter how personal); we use credit cards to buy gas and groceries so the credit companies know exactly how much we spend and what we buy . . . .

Every time you go to an ATM for cash, your picture is taken. Every time you enter a bank, a store, a parking lot, your picture is taken. In Chicago, every time you drive down a street above the speed limit, your picture is taken. Every time you drive through a toll booth, your picture is taken. Every time you drive through a red light, your picture is taken.

The only people who aren’t constantly being tracked by cameras in this country are criminals.

A Coherent CCTV System

All we need to do is install a few more cameras around homes and schools to make sure children are being watched. When a child is missing, all the cameras in the area should immediately be made accessible to law enforcement so that the child’s path can be followed. (Even Hansel and Gretel knew the value of leaving a trail of crumbs behind when you went into the forest.)

In addition, we should make affordable GPS tracking devices available to all families. Chips can be embedded in shoes. Chips are available in cheap, prepaid cell phones.  RFID chips can even be embedded in clothing. (You can search for this yourself. All you’ll find are “big brother” fears, but this is ludicrous when it comes to children. Parents, don’t you agree?)

Before there were jury trials – – –

In my historical novel, “The Posthumous Wife,” the congregation of the Torah Talmud calls for a bet din, that is, a rabbinical trial, to determine the truth or falsehood of several life-and-death matters. A bet din is a panel of rabbis, scholars of sacred texts and analyses of theological matters (similar to priests and ministers in Christian churches).

In the past, many, if not most, European “trials” were conducted under the auspices of religion. The European Inquisition was a trial by priests–it was intended to ferret out heresy and blasphemy, but most “crimes” were viewed as sins and they were often handled by the Inquisition, too. Political crimes were dealt with by the civil authorities, usually without any form of trial–other than the trials of torture, fire, and water.

In my research into the history of jury trials, I’ve found that the Greeks were the first to institute a sort of jury trial. They determined a defendant’s fate by “the black ball” method. Every citizen cast a vote by dropping either a white or black marble into a container. A majority of black balls was a conviction. It was a jury of peers–if the defendant was a citizen. If not, my guess is he just died by the sword.

After that, though, the next iteration of the jury was brought to us courtesy of the Vikings (yes, those marauders were democrats). Every Viking who was the head of a household would sit on a jury panel in all disputes. In some of the sagas, these householders included women, too. I believe that when the Danes invaded Britain they brought this tradition with them.

So, we really owe the right to a trial by jury to those wild and woolly Vikings. Thank you, Bluetooth, et al.

(It just occurred to me that it is rather odd that the Bill of Rights is so specific about certain aspects of trials. Why were the framers of the Constitution worried that these aspects of British Common Law might not be respected in the United States when they left so many other aspects of common law unstated and implicit?)