On Facebook, I’ve been seeing floods of posts from my friends who are mothers to sign the petition for Caylee’s Law, which would make failure to report a missing child or death of a child within a certain number of hours a crime. All news articles on this law have been accompanied by heart-rending pictures of the murdered girl. I am the mother of a wonderful almost-six year old who reminds us every day of her almost-status. Have I signed this petition? No. Does that seem cold and careless and anti-child, or pro-murderer? I’m sure that lots of people might think so, but here are my reasons, not in order of importance:
1. People are reacting viscerally to their belief that Casey Anthony murdered her little girl. That is a horror story that this entire nation has become swept up in. And while the presented facts do seem to indicate guilt, the fact is, that a jury found her innocent. Add to this that without question, we have not heard all the facts, and never will. What gets admitted into a court of law is bound by so many restrictions as to give one brain damage if it were contemplated too hard. But these restrictions on what is allowed to be heard goes both ways, against the defense as well as prosecution. So there is no question in my mind that we do not know Casey Anthony’s whole story either, things that might otherwise have acquitted her before this. I am not trying to defend a murderer of a child. I shouldn’t have to anyway. Because this particular suspect has been found innocent. Whatever any of us thinks about the efficacy of the court system, her peers had reasonable doubt, and no number of adorable pictures of her daughter is going to change that. Nor does it make the statement that her death was not a tragedy, just that no one really knows what happened to her.
2. And just as flashing her daughter’s picture at every possible opportunity doesn’t make Casey Anthony guilty, it also does not make enacting more restrictive laws a useful way to solve the problems that led to little Caylee’s death. The big questions on everyone’s minds were ‘Why didn’t she report her child missing, why didn’t she report her death?’ Those are great questions. For the purposes of this case, we will never know. For the purposes of future cases, why doesn’t anyone report anything? In future cases, there are some key reasons, other than guilt, that I can think of why someone wouldn’t report a child missing. The world is dangerous. Yes, we have freedoms. But ADT security systems do not do the business that they do in this country or any other because we live in a warm and fuzzy community full of always-well-behaved people. It seems to me that skittish kidnappers may instruct their parent victims to keep authorities out if they want to see their child again. The numerous crime drama shows that depict this scenario got this idea from a real situation at some point in time, and so it seems a valid fear. And to make parents’ lives in this possible scenario even more difficult by prosecution doesn’t seem to be solving any problems.
If you do not think this particular example valid, there is a different example that shouldn’t come as a surprise since it has been around since the founding of the nation, the very reason we split from England and became our own country: What about parents who have had negative interactions with abusive civil authorities, and understandably do not believe that they will receive help, only further abuse? Whether those interactions are on the scale of minority interaction with police, or colonists’ interaction with Red Coats, the mechanism is the same: mutual ambivalence or even hostility, and lack of trust. I know whole communities that are wary of the police, not because they are not ‘law-abiding citizens’ but because they have had either prior bad interactions with police here, or were themselves victims of political/civil abuse in their own countries by the people supposed to protect them. This problem will not be solved by creating more opportunities for prosecution or abuse of power that led to the desire to avoid the law. Ultimately, trust between law enforcement and community cannot be legislated or forced. That only destroys any trust left, and fosters a more pathological relationship between civil authority and disenfranchised populations, and widens the disparities that create civil problems. Trust must be built with repeated positive interactions, which prosecutory measures completely eliminate as a possibility. Which brings me to the third and most important point.
3. This country has become so litigious already that prosecuting actual criminals and preventing making criminals out of regular citizens has become almost impossible. The legal system is broken, this is not news. I simply do not believe that creating two more laws that can be used at the whims of politicos as a pundit and career-climbers as a case win is going to solve the root of the problem. We cannot legislate our way out of human misery. We cannot legislate our way out of the problems that caused whoever killed Caylee to commit this atrocity in the first place. I have seen again and again that more legislation creates more victims. If we assume that this mother killed her own child, why are we not addressing the very question of how it came to pass? This is not bleeding heart liberalism but simple behavioral logic. Why are we shutting down social programs that provide emotional or physical or family support? Why are we cutting the education that allows the average number of people in the population to go on to be productive adults in society? There is no excuse for killing a kid, but in public health, prevention is more effective than reaction. Spreading pamphlets around doesn’t reduce the burden of any disease, mental or otherwise. Going into communities and making them strong prevents disease because it creates the day-to-day resilience that keeps the average population of people from turning into monsters in the first place.
Nothing is going to bring Caylee Anthony back. Creating laws that produce more bureaucracy and more top-heavy legal squabbling wastes money that would be better spent in addressing the reasons people murder in the first place. In my opinion, this is the difference between designing the future and reacting pathologically to the past.