Monday, January 29, 2007

Should Victims Dictate Public Policy?

An interesting editorial in the New York Times this morning, “A Public Memorial”, addresses an ages-old problem: How much can the most grievously affected victims of a crime be allowed to be the arbiters of justice? This article is about a small group of families of those who died as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center. This group wants to make the final decision about a fitting memorial at ground zero. This is not about lynch mobs. And yet, the two issues are not unrelated. The lead paragraph of the editorial says: “For a while, it seemed as if the emotional issue of how to place the names of the dead at the 9/11 memorial had finally been resolved. And for nearly everyone, including most of the 9/11 families, it has, thanks to a compromise engineered last month by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But a small group of victims’ families has regrettably decided to mount a public campaign against the compromise.” The article goes on to say: “They are trying to discourage contributions to the memorial until the victims’ names appear exactly the way they want them, listing the age, corporate affiliation and floor on which each person worked. We fear that this effort will only add to the distress of other families who have been waiting for years for what is, after all, a public memorial.” The NYT’s point is that it is fitting and right for this small group to create a private memorial exactly to their liking. But, the NYT says, “the public memorial must be more expansive than that.” And although this group as been listened to and accommodated to by New York Governor George Pataki and everyone else involved in creating a public memorial, still, “As painful as the private loss of this small group of mourners is, it must be accommodated as part of the larger public loss.” Time after time I have seen the families of victims of horrendous crimes berating our justice system for not meting out death penalties to the perpetrators of these crimes. And each time, I have thought, these people need to be heard, but not heeded. Indeed, the wish for revenge from victims cannot be heeded. Wanting revenge is understandable but it can’t be enabled. And no memorial will ever be good enough, big enough, respectful enough or detailed enough to honor those who died at ground zero, at least not in the minds of the most sorely affected. But in the end, the memorial is not for the living who have been the most affected. The memorial at ground zero is for those who have been the least affected and who need to reflect on the enormity of what happened on September 11, 2001. True justice can never meet the demands of a victim. Justice is a huge and beautiful concept. But justice can only satisfy the legal community’s fictitious “reasonable man”. Justice can never satisfy the victim.

No comments: