Close your eyes and remember the worst thing that ever happened to you. Maybe you lost a loved one in a tragedy. Maybe you suffered a horrible accident that left you paralyzed or disabled. Or maybe you are one of the more fortunate ones, and the loss of an expensive diamond ring or the break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend is the worst you have experienced.
Or maybe you are like Diena Thompson and suffered the almost unimaginable—the violent death of a precious child at the hands of a rapist and murderer. What kind of revenge would you have wished on her killer? What type of payback would ease your pain a little?
Jarred Harrell is right where he belongs, in prison for life for the brutal murder of little Somer in late 2009. Would that be enough for you, or would you want more payback, more revenge?
The house where Jarred had lived and Somer was murdered had fallen into disrepair and long been condemned. Earlier this month, it was burned to the ground as part of a fire-training exercise by the Orange Park, Florida, fire department—and Diena Thompson. She participated with glee, her smile described as “cathartic” by a journalist, and, according to his interview, she felt delight in the act, proclaiming herself “the big, bad wolf this time.”
I am sure there is not a one of us who does not understand her feelings.
The media is making much of this, and beyond the local level. Is this wrong? If so, why?
One answer is found in the comments posted to the comment board of one article. They range from, “He [Harrell] should have been in it,” to, “Maybe he will be getting raped for life where he is. Wouldn't that make you feel better? And when he is 80 and some young 25 y/o comes in and rapes him and the guards ignore his screams, that will be part of justice.”
No, that will be part of something that has no place in justice. That is part of vigilantism. That is as much a part of evil as that which Jarred Harrell committed. What irony it is that, in a protest against sexual violence, one wishes for more sexual violence to be committed.
The journalist who wrote that article and played up the joy that Diena experienced in her metaphoric act of vengeance knew that comments would be of that nature, as did the media outlet that published it, as did other journalists and outlets that wrote and published like stories, and they are many.
The harm is more than just giving vigilantes a platform from which to spew their hatred, ignorance, and violence. There are, according to fairly difficult-to-gather figures, somewhere over 700,000 men, women, and children registered as sex offenders in our nation. A scant handful have come near the atrocities that Harrell visited upon Somer, but the vigilante mentality is unable to process that. To those determined to hate, stories such as this are all of the justification they require to continue the hatred, to refuse to believe the facts, to demand with every opportunity the harshest possible consequences to everyone on the registry because, you see, they all molested children; they are all rapists and destroyers of innocent young lives, and if they haven’t murdered yet, well, just give them time because they will all do it again and will probably kill their next victims.
They are undeterred by the facts that give lie to these spurious statements.
So the questions remain: Are we right to encourage hate and violence against sex offenders? Does it really help those in pain heal? And the biggest question of all, in a paraphrase of an old cliche: Does an eye-for-an-eye make the world a safer, better place to live—or just a blind one? Or, in this case, a raped one?