This week, I finished a homicide case. The case had been pending for over a year.
Two parents were charged with child abuse resulting in death. They entered pleas of guilty to child neglect resulting in death and to conspiracy. Each was sentenced to a long penitentiary term.
The why’s and wherefore’s of trial preparation and plea negotiations and so forth are things I will never discuss about any case. No matter, that’s not the point this evening.
The victim was, let’s call her, “Baby Jane,” a 22-month-old little girl.
The facts as reported in the press and the public file are disturbingly simple:
Baby Jane was discovered without pulse or respirations at home. The mother was present. The father was at work. The mother called in-laws, who lived nearby, who in turn called 911. The in-laws came to the home before fire and EMS arrived. Grandpa did CPR on his granddaughter.
That is hard duty.
The was no evidence of a traumatic causation nor of immediate medical causation. Subsequent toxicology tests showed that the cause of death was methadone toxicity, in other words, a drug overdose. The test of hair samples showed that the child ingested methadone periodically at least over some few weeks.
The legal case is concluded. There will be no appeals that I know of. I will not discuss any other facts about the defendants. I will not even discuss the ultra-high emotional content of the sentencing hearing.
Today’s discussion is about villains in general and others involved in this one drama. These are the “unindicted co-conspirators,” to borrow a phrase from Watergate.
Some of them are easy to figure out.
Others, we know pretty well – to borrow a line from Pogo, “We have met the enemy and they are us.”
Of course, there are unindicted co-conspirators very close to the chain of causation. These parents – both drug addicts – did not go to the methadone factory and buy the pills. There is a distribution chain. It’s very likely that the first couple of links in the chain were legal. And then the drugs passed into the hands of the drug dealers and drug sellers, a scurvy lot who are an inflamed boil on the buttocks of the body politic.
Some sellers of drugs are themselves addicted, and spread their infection to support their ever-more expensive highs. At some point as we go up the distribution chain, we will find people too smart and too greedy to take the drugs themselves. Naturally, they’re the ones who make the most money. They’re the ones who might whisper to you that they “live the dream.” They are the Pablo Escobar/Tony Soprano wannabes who are “dangerous men.”
(At the higher distribution levels, the great majority of offenders are men.)
Incidentally, these folks mostly are dangerous when they get hopped up and hang around in groups. Individually, they are a bunch of pansies.
At the low-end of the distribution chain, we often find those with legitimate prescriptions who sell off part of their scripts for a little mad money.
And then there are the methadone clinics and buprenorphine (e.g., Suboxone®) clinics. These are medical offices where opiate addicts go to receive controlled, ever-diminishing doses of opiates so that they can quit without going through the holy hell of withdrawal.
One practical consideration is that most of these clinics are strictly “cash & carry.” At $300 cash per ½ hour visit plus the cost of drugs, the last thing some of these outfits want is to create ex-customers. Those taint the clinics which really do try to do some good. These outlaw clinics are basically licensed drug dealers. A lot of the opiates which get into the illegal distribution system start there.
Oh, let’s not forget the drug industry! The companies get paid when the first link in the distribution chain is forged. The more drugs, the more money. They have to be responsive to regulations meant to limit illegal distribution, but they don’t have to like it. When something threatens gross sales, drug companies are quite effective in”lobbying.”
Oh, I’m a cynic – I put “lobbying” in quotation marks because it’s often only half of whisker away from bribery.
Seldom do you and I see the hands of the drug companies in this lobbying. Rather, they set up false “grass-roots” lobbying groups with innocuous names like “Citizens for Fair This” or “People for Good That.” Those do-good groups are funded, of course, by the drug companies.
Last winter, the West Virginia Legislature considered a proposal to make pseudoephedrine a prescription drug. Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in Sudafed®, Claritin®, and many other brands of allergy medicines and decongestants.
Also, with a little dangerous home chemistry, pseudoephedrine can be converted into methamphetamine. Meth is one of our most addictive and destructive illegal drugs. Particularly, it is ravaging rural areas in the United States.
In response to the legislation, drug companies through their false-face proxies ran ads about government restricting the rights of the people. Specifically, the right to cure their own sniffles.
A 2012 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that “up to 35%” of the methamphetamine sold illegally is made from pseudoephedrine medications. Funny, the ‘”citizens” groups’ ads don’t say anything about that.
:::: Sniff ::::
Well, that’s enough miscreants to fill all our reservoirs of self-righteous indignation. The nerve, the gall, and by God somebody needs to do something!
Hey, you didn’t Harrumph! Harrumph, dammit!
And if that somebody doesn’t do something, knowing full well that these drugs are killing adults, youth and babies, don’t they qualify for their own time in the pillory?
Yes, they do. We do. We the people, friends, me included, are at the edge of the unindicted co-conspirators.
The death of citizen participation has been a theme – or pedantic hobbyhorse – and these Dispatches before.
We have convenient and unrealistic expectations of the justice system as a whole, particularly law enforcement.
It’s convenient because if it is law enforcement’s duty to prevent all crimes, we do not have to participate, and so the failure to prevent crime is not our fault.
It’s unrealistic because law enforcement really doesn’t do very much direct prevention. Law enforcement primarily is reactive. Something bad happens, someone calls the police. Yet we expect every police officer to be the blue-suited Santa Claus, the one who “Knows who’s been bad or good.” And then we hope that the villains will “Be good for goodness’ sake.”
Which belief is part of the continuing triumph of hope over experience.
So if not the police, who?
Take drug dealing, the acts which helped kill baby Jane. Did neighbors or friends know that drug deals were going on? Some of them, probably. Did those who knew or suspected call on law enforcement? Probably not. Would most citizens be willing, voluntary witnesses in a drug case? I haven’t seen very many yet. Why?
We’re back to a formula which comes from my friend Justice Richard Neely. He wrote a book called Take Back Your Neighborhood: Organizing a Citizen's Patrol Force to Fight **, (Ballantine Books, 1991). In it he talks about how citizens have divorced themselves from their personal stake in the safety of communities.
Citizens as a group are disinterested. And lazy. And scared.
Disinterested – It’s not our job. We have better things to do.
Lazy – We're people who whine if we don’t get electric windows in our automobiles. “Minutemen,” hell, we won’t wait a minute for the microwave popcorn.
Scared – Criminals are scary. They posture as really tough people. They depend upon that appearance, that intimidation to keep citizens on the sidelines.
And while most of them are pansies, some individuals are dangerous.
So that threat is brought to us.
I don’t know how to answer the question about how any particular person should respond. I can no more define honor than Congress can create morality by the prestidigitation of statute.
I do know that unless the dynamic changes, all of the Baby Jane’s will just be on their own.
A final word about law enforcement:
It needs noted that we treat police officers like pimps at the church picnic. We bitch in the presence of our children if we get ticketed for stupid driving. We pay them very poorly. We applaud government saving money by defunding pensions, even those of officers still in pension systems which preclude them from Social Security retirement.
Sometimes I wonder why they stay on the job.