Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Shootout in Arkansas

As you know, late last week, a teenager, Jacob Robida, walked into a gay bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and bludgeoned three patrons. When local police later searched his home, they found evidence of Nazi paraphenalia. From the beginning, there has been no doubt that the attacks on the three men, in the bar, were hate crimes. What's worse, while no one is saying this publicly, these assaults may even have been a backlash against the popular movie "Brokeback Mountain." Were he to be given his day in court, the teenager would have been charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and violating the civil liberties of others.

After wreaking havoc in New Bedford, Robida then drove to Arkansas where he picked up what police believe to be a female acquaintance, shot and killed her, then proceeded to murder an officer who ostensibly pulled him over on a routine traffic stop. Under Arkansas law, the 18 year would receive capital punishment just for killing the police officer, let alone his other victims. A statement from the New Bedford district attorney's office made it perfectly clear that they had no intention of extraditing the youngster to face charges in Massachusetts, had he survived.

Instead, in what increasingly looks like a rival gang shootout, police fired twice into Jacob Robida's head. Critically wounded, he was taken to the hospital where he died early this morning. Undoubtedly, this youngster engaged in among the most horrific crimes, but doesn't our system of justice provide for a trial by jury, and conviction by 12 of his peers, before he is sentenced, or have we perfected fast forwarding such that law enforcement can now indict, convict, and sentence all with the flip of a trigger? I, for one, would like to have seen young Mr. Robida go through the long, and ugly, trial to which he is entitled by law, and that his hateful crimes deserve.

Clearly, while seeing one of their own cut down in such a senseless, and execrable, manner may have been devastating for the officers involved, what gave them the right to shoot this obviously deranged teenager twice in the head, execution-style and, in effect, carry out the death penalty on the streets of Arkansas. Wasn't there some way Robida could have been subdued that would have allowed him to survive, and stand trial? More importantly, who has the moral high ground here-- was the reaction of law enforcement in defending one of their own substantially different from what this twisted teenager might have argued he did to a perceived threat to his way of life? Is it ever okay for the police, or the state, to take the law into their own hands?