I stumbled upon this 2002 made for TV movie about a true story that happened in the San Diego area of California in the years prior to the film. My revulsion and outrage surprised me, as I don't recall ever having such a strong reaction to the testimony about a true story, at least not with this intensity.
I've heard and read many times before about stories of erroneous accusation and conviction, and my own faith is based on Jesus Christ, who was falsely accused, summarily sentenced and executed around 33 A.D. I need to write as I reflect and attempt to understand the nature of my outrage.
How is it conceivable that policemen, detectives, representatives of the law would torment an innocent boy until they succeeded in breaking him and extracting from him a phony confession to suit their own hasty theory to explain the murder of his little sister? Mind you, long gone are my illusions that torture and the extraction of phony confessions only happened in the Middle Ages, or today only happen in "third world" countries, or totalitarian states. Could it be that in some ways America fits into one or both of these categories? Unthinkable, or is it?
For more than two days the detectives mercilessly manipulated and tormented the boy, without his parents' knowledge, and demonstrated they had no interest in discovering the truth about his little sister's murder, because in their genius brains, they had already come to an absolutely certain explanation of what happened. No element of evidence or testimony that did not fit their theory mattered or merited their attention or investigation. What kind of person or character does such things?
Most of the Americans I've ever met were wonderful people. What I don't understand is how their America has evolved to no longer represent them. Take for example their latest debate over health care. It seems evident to any outsider who knows of America and listens to the debate, as it is to many Americans, that some form of publicly funded health care system that would take the monopoly for health care out of the hands of insurance and health business interests would be better for the whole population, especially the 75 million plus citizens who can't afford insurance, let alone health care. Yet no one expects it to change, because America seems irrevocably committed to capitalism above human beings, profit over life, corporate health over human health.
I've always heard the americanism that money talks, and I never believed it until now. Those who can afford lobbyists in government circles can wear down and tie up legislators and under the threat of paralysis influence legislative outcomes in their favor, and the ordinary citizen is powerless to do anything about it. American cities begin to look more like "third world" cities all the time, with the sharp contrast between desperately poor and desperately rich increasing. We read articles about the disappearance of the middle class in America.
Perhaps part of what has come to be is simply the fruit of what was in the beginning, when, as in Canada, European settlers invaded the land inhabited by the first nations, spread contagion among the native population, and engaged in "ethnic cleansing" exercises whenever they could get away with it. Then again part of what we are derives from the arrogance with which we set ourselves apart from our European ancestors and as morally superior.
Part of what outrages me about the tragedy visited upon the Crowe family by those police detectives who didn't do their job is the arrogance with which they decided what the truth was in advance of a thorough investigation. Why is that? Have they become so accustomed to dealing with real criminals that they can no longer recognize a normal person when they see one?
What could possibly explain the way in which they mistook the boy's distraught state over the death of his sister as the guilt of a murderer? His behaviour didn't fit their image of a grieving brother. His mother noted that they didn't know him. Isn't that part of the reality of life, that we cannot possibly tell whether a person is telling the truth or not unless we know them well? Actions speak louder than words, and the parents knew the boy couldn't and wouldn't have done any harm to his sister, no matter what disagreements or rivalry there may have been.
In the world of science, scientists are also investigators, and they are true scientists when they follow what is called the scientific method. Facts precede theories that are to be elaborated in order to explain the patterns detected in the facts. Any scientist who starts out with a theory before investigating is limiting, narrowing his field of investigation, consciously or subconsciously eliminating fields of data potentially hazardous to his precious theory.
That is bad enough in science, but in law the results are extremely damaging to real people. It wasn't enough that the Crowe family experienced the devastation of the brutal murder of their little girl. The police department, who are supposed to be able to tell the difference between the victim and the criminal, trampled all over this family, doing them further harm. I understand that laws have been made brutal in order to deal harshly with hardened criminals, lest these do unending harm to society with impunity, but what happens when these brutal laws are applied to innocent citizens?
What would happen to these macho detectives were they to be subjected to their own tactics, I wonder? Take away all their supports and rights, torment them for days on end, lie to them about what is happening and fabricate all kinds of evidence and testimony against them.... and do it in convincing and brutally intimidating ways.... I wonder whether their arrogance would take a hit, whether they might change.
However, the 1969 movie starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis comes to mind.... "The Out of Towners". I had always remembered that the man in the story wisened up at the end and began listening to his wife and to others, but I watched it again recently, and he didn't really change. What is it about people that causes them to love the sound of their own voice, as they go on and on making judgements about everyone and everything as though they alone possessed all the truth and no one else knows anything. I found it hard to watch the movie this time and had to fast forward through most of it.... I just couldn't take the abuse with which he treats his wife, putting her down as though she were stupid and never listening to anything she says. At least a dozen times, if he had shut up and said, "OK dear, let's try your idea." their troubles would have come to an end and they would have gotten some rest and comfort, but no, he just wouldn't do it.
Perhaps there are psychopaths who are that way because they suffered a major arrest in their psychological development in infancy or childhood, and perhaps there are psychpaths who are made that way by some of the institutions we have created in society that intimidate, threaten, and hinder people from behaving, feeling, thinking, and speaking like true human beings.
I shudder to think that some of the people keeping the darkness at bay as members of our police forces are institutional psychopaths, people who no longer listen to what their ears hear, no longer see what their eyes look at, no longer feel what their heart observes. If such people take over, then no one is safe anymore, not even in their home or in their bed. We are not far from those places in the world when they come and take you away in the night, sometimes even with the pretention of doing it in the name of society, the government, or some political or religious ideal. The KKK may no longer be thriving, but some of its principles and strategies seem to have wormed their way into mainstream society, and into the forces of law and order.
What was motivating the detectives who badgered, tormented, brainwashed, and extorted the young Michael Crowe? Did they need to fill their quota of convictions for the month? Did they have a personal issue with "Dungeons and Dragons" through some family connection or personal experience? Can they not tell the difference between a moody or shy teenager and a teenage criminal? How could they be so cocked, trigger happy, obsessed with their theory that they cut short and botched their investigation? How could they be so callous as to feel nothing themselves for the state of the victim's family and become impervious to what the members of that family were feeling? There's a black hole of unanswered questions here that beg to be answered.
Despite the good nature and character of so many Americans, I am troubled by the America that has a love affair with its guns and weapons, that is "high" or "hooked" on authority, with wearing a badge, with being part of a uniformed service. They may have been through a gruelling and mind-numbing formation process, but they have no right to spend the rest of their careers passing the abuse and manipulation on to the very people they are called to protect.
I've met a few American lawmen, police in Massachusetts when my car was stolen, and a state trooper who drove me home, and they were wonderful. I now wonder whether they would have been just as wonderful if I had resembled someone on a poster or a description of someone who had committed a crime they were investigating. America's love affair with power and might, with influence and right, seriously question me about ever wanting to set foot there again....
I have long have been troubled with France's love affair with the guillotine, and their legal system that convicts you as guilty simply upon accusation, granting you the right to prove your innocence, but if you can't, then, well, off with your head. From this side of the border, it doesn't look like American law is much better. If the police think you're guilty, then your chances have suddenly been shrunk to close to nothing.
I'll close on this thought. At one time, during sleepless nights, I'd watch some of those American late night infomercials. One of the get rich quick schemes had to do with buying up property for back taxes and then making a killing on resale. I began to wonder, how can people get rich doing that unless there are a lot of properties in that situation. Most of these are homes. Why are so many Americans, living in the richest country in the world, losing their homes? Then while on sabbatical in Chicago in the Fall of 2004 I found out one of the reasons: no health care insurance. People get sick, are in an accident, or give birth, and suddenly they find themselves penniless and homeless. Why would anyone want to live in such a country where anyone can take away your livelihood, your very life, with full protection of the law and even the encouragement of the whole society?
Well, simply put, because of America's love affair with being a "land of opportunity". Here as in the ocean, the sharks do best. Americans live in a society caught in a stranglehold at the hands of lawyers, health care and insurance industries, and every corporation that can afford lots of lawyers and lobbyists in the capital.
Why must the Crowe family go on suffering? Why won't the police simply give them the closure and satisfaction they seek? Because everyone is scared to death of the lawyers.... life is worth nothing where money matters. To my mind, that is a novel definition of hell. Yes, indeed, there is such a place after all, and not just on Earth....
I admire this family for standing up for themselves, for their dead daughter, and for their son, who in addition to being tormented with grief for his sister was cruelly tortured under false pretenses and falsely accused by police who were hasty and sloppy, and psychopathic with their institutional blindness. Bravo to the producers, directors, and most of all, the actors who brought this human tragedy to the light of day which it deserves and long awaited. Perhaps someday, the good American people I have known will be represented and protected by officials worthy of the best among their citizenry. As I said above, I have no doubt there are marvelous people of great integrity in the courts, in police stations, in the military, and in government, and it's a shame that there aren't more of them, and that they have to suffer the indignity of such poor representation.
As a Roman Catholic priest, I know what it feels like to be poorly represented by the weakest and most depraved among us. It is, sadly, part of our human condition, for which we have only one Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory now and forever.