Let’s get this out of the way right up front: This is a horrible story. Everything about this story is horrible, terrible, bad and awful. There’s no right or wrong here, because it is, simply, all wrong. Every single thing about it: all wrong.
It is still nonetheless a complicated story.
Here’s the general gist of it: An 8-year-old girl was sexually abused by a man, who was tried and convicted and sent to jail. This man served five years and was released from jail; five years following his release, the girl’s father allegedly found him and shot him dead. The girl's father is now charged with murder. Some are saying, in response, "Good for that dad for exacting the punishment that abuser deserved!" Others are saying the opposite: "No man should take the law into his own hands! This is murder, full stop."
I’m somewhere in the middle, honestly. I think that what prosecutors say that father did is wrong. I can also imagine wanting to do the same thing myself.
This is precisely what makes this story so complicated (or, I should say, the question of how we should respond to it so complicated): even someone who condemns that father’s alleged action and believes that what he did was, in fact, murder, can -- especially if that someone is the parent, never mind a parent of an 8-year-old girl, as I am -- fully and completely understand the urge to bring down fiery vengeance upon someone, anyone, who hurts their child.
I am as dedicated a pacifist as any other liberal-leaning Canadian raised by hippie Catholics, but if someone hurt my daughter -- or my son -- in so intentional, violent and transgressive a way, I would want to rip them limb from limb with my bare hands. Even the thought of it makes my nerves tremble. I know -- I KNOW -- that I would become savage, unrestrainably savage. A mother grizzly would have nothing on me.
But I would know -- as I know now, sitting placidly in my office with only the Internet to terrify me -- that it was wrong. I wouldn’t care, or I wouldn’t have the rational capacity to care, but I’d still know it. Killing people is wrong. Even killing bad people is wrong. It’s a wrong that can be difficult to wrap your head around -- or perhaps more accurately, a wrong that can be difficult to wrap your heart around -- but it doesn’t change the core, foundational fact: Killing people is wrong. It is, to put the most understated point on it, something to be avoided.
This is a lesson that I work hard to instill in my children: Strive to do no harm. Don’t hurt living beings. Lizards, ladybugs, cats, humans -- try, really try, to not hurt them. Yes, you will sometimes be compelled to stomp on a spider or squash a mosquito; that’s self-defense. Self-defense is a defensible reason for causing harm, although even in the case of self-defense there needs to be some proportionality, and some guiding principle of justness. This can be difficult to explain to, say, a 6-year-old boy who is really into ninjas and space rangers and "fighting bad guys,", but I try: “Only hurt the bad guy if he’s trying to hurt you. Only hurt the bad guy to protect yourself (or, you know, the universe.)”
And of course I want them to do that, to protect themselves, in no small part because I want them to be able protect themselves from real-life bad guys like Raymond Earl Brooks. But self-defense is, again, something very different from vengeance. And what the father of the poor girl in this story allegedly did wasn’t self-defense, it was vengeance. What I would do, were this my story, would be vengeance. And vengeance is not OK. Even when it feels like it’s the only thing to do, even when it feels like you wouldn’t be able to go on without releasing it, even when it feels right, it’s not. It’s wrong. What prosecutors say this poor father did was wrong.
The details don’t matter. If the allegations are true, he sought his revenge years after the fact, he shot wildly and without regard for the safety of others, he seemed motivated by something other than strict revenge for the crime perpetrated against his daughter. Those details make it easier for us to condemn him, but we would do well to remember this: Even if he did this a week after the crime, even if he did this in the most precise and careful way, even if he did this in the overwhelming, pure spirit of revenge… it would still be wrong. We could better understand it, better forgive it, but it would still be wrong.
That it would be something that I can imagine -- fully, passionately, deep-in-my-gut imagine -- makes it no less wrong. Which simply means this: that I know, if something like this happened to me, I might be tempted to do wrong, too.
Maybe this story isn’t so complicated after all.