Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Reverse Nimby

I was looking through a bit of junk mail the other day, and saw a piece of really good translation in the Maxima supermarket chain's circular. Accurate, idiomatic, native - something this type of publication never seems to boast. For a while, I thought I might actually be starting to get my faith in humanity back. Obviously that didn't last.

Someone commented on a recent post that I am at my blogging best when I'm angry. Well, buckle up, cause you're in for a treat.

I first heard about the arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland from the Keith and the Girl podcast. I didn't pay too much attention to it, although I was a bit surprised at the fact that the French Foreign and Culture Ministers saw fit to publicly decry the US-requested arrest, and that representatives of the Swiss film community in effect said they were ashamed of the behaviour of their government. As the story made its way around the news sites and opinions started to come in, I became ever more astounded.

You can get the details elsewhere, but briefly, the facts of the case are these: in 1977, Roman Polansky, then in his mid-40s, was doing a photoshoot of a 13-year-old girl for a magazine. He gave her alcohol and drugs, and raped her. He was arrested, and pleaded guilty. After the conviction, but before the sentencing hearing, he left the US and went to France, which would not extradite him.

Now, a bunch of filmmakers have signed a petition against his extradition. And their argument is that he should not made to serve his sentence, because... he's such a great filmmaker.

Now, we already knew Woody Allen was a pervert. But other people are defending Polansky as well. Including people I know; people for whom I had a lot more respect before today.

It is a subset of a phenomenon I've seen before, the reverse of the Not In My Back Yard syndrome. Let me give you an example. A few years ago I was hanging out at the local Honda forum, and there was a thread about a particularly bad car crash. The party at fault had been pretty clear from the news reports, a forum member who had been driving extremely stupidly. The posters were all saying how much of an idiot he was... until one of them got offended, saying he was the driver's close friend. And to my utter dismay, the others apologized.

I've seen the same behaviour in other places, too - while growing up in Lasnamäe. No matter how evil someone had been, it was unacceptable to say anything to the effect of "he got what he deserved" or "I hope they put him in jail" in the presence of someone who'd been close friends with the bastard. You don't talk shit about my friend. The classic NIMBY is the desire for something particular to happen, but somewhere else, not in the vicinity of the subject himself, where it would have a chance of inconveniencing him. And the reverse NIMBY is the sort of mentality where justice and morals suddenly become relative, and mercy or consideration needs to be applied exceptionally, simply because the accused is someone you like.

Or someone whose movies you like.

Yes, Polansky does not appear to be an actual pedophile (there was no report of sexual abuse on his behalf before the incident or since). And yes, his wife was murdered by a serial killer while pregnant with their baby. And yes, the girl in question was someone who'd been in the adult world at the time, and was probably already sexually active, and her mother was a malevolent stage parent type who put her in harm's way. And yes, Polansky fled the country after he'd learned that he would probably be going to jail, instead of the psychiatric treatment and probation he expected to get. And yes, he'd been an Auschwitz prisoner. And yes, he made some great films.

But this was not statutory rape; this was not overreaction by the parents of an early-bloomer sixteen-year-old who was fooling around with her nineteen-year-old steady boyfriend. This was a 44-year-old man drugging a 13-year-old girl and violently raping her while she was begging him to stop. And if you can, in your heart, find any crumb of justification or excuse for Roman Polansky's actions, then you fail as a human being.

Roman Polansky must be extradited to the US, sentenced in court, and forced to serve a real jail sentence, and to suffer through whatever happens in jail to men who rape thirteen-year-olds. And if he dies in jail, I will not shed a tear. Because maybe all that will mean that some years from now, the threat and inevitability of punishment, even for someone with money, connections and public admiration, will serve to prevent another monstrous lapse of judgement, and another little girl's life will not be shattered.

20 comments:

vulturesign said...

I can understand why extremely poor countries are willing to accept hazardous/toxic waste (reverse NIMBY). Despite the Basel Convention developed countries continue to trade or transfer their toxic waste problems to developing countries. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/toxics/toxic-trade

But what the fu@k is wrong with France. Are they really so culturally deprived/depraved?

Flasher T said...

It's not anything specific to France. Ultimately no different than Naomi Campbell doing community service in a gown, or Paris Hilton getting out of jail time for a DUI. "The guy I know couldn't possibly be this bad" is a human reaction, though one that civilization needs to eradicate.

Mingus said...

Funny how everyone comments about economics, politics and so forth, but write about rape and celebrity and everyone pretends not to be reading.

Doris said...

another "interesting" argument for Polanski's release is that the crime occurred 30 years ago and should therefore not count.

but a) I don't think a rape should ever be "too old to be charged" and b) it's not really about the rape. it's about the fact that he was conviced, fled the country and now everyone is in a huff over the fact that he might actually have to carry the sentence that he was legally appointed. I mean, what the hell?

Doris said...

I meant convicted of course, I shouldn't type before having my morning coffee...

Kristopher said...

The problem with rape and publicity is that above all, the given victim doesn't want this rehashed.

Who says the crime does not count? No one I am aware of. If it happened the way the testimony said it did, it is a very ugly crime, even with the generally coke- and barbiturate-fuelled 1970s scene and Polanski's personal tragedies.

Certain people have a bloody-minded automaton-like view of justice. I take exception to that. I don't see any net good coming out of pursuing Polanski any further.

There are also valid reasons to oppose his extradition to the US (as I do) because of the way sentencing was handled in the case. As so often happens in the States, too much power ends up in the hands of the sentencing judge.

A number of film-makers signed a petition calling for Polanski's release, but if you read the petition, they are only against the WAY in which he was arrested. So I don't think they should be criticized. They do not say that they are against him being punished, only that they are against the film festival being used as a trap. So that part of the blog post is inaccurate.

Given that no one is in immediate danger from Polanski and the victim has made her personal peace over her ordeal, I just see far, far better uses of taxpayer time and money. How about bringing John Landis (who happened to also sign the petition) for the deaths of three people, including two children working illegally for him. People died horribly and anonymously: why is this guy walking free? Yeah, what about Landis?

Flasher T said...

Certain people have a bloody-minded automaton-like view of justice.

And certain people take enough exception to it that they refuse to recognize the merits of the case, assuming there must be something else to consider, some special circumstance.

I'm not a fan of automaton justice, but in this particular case, he did it.

There are also valid reasons to oppose his extradition to the US (as I do) because of the way sentencing was handled in the case.

Of course. It's not as if a renowned Hollywood film director could afford the legal fees of appealing the verdict.

if you read the petition, they are only against the WAY in which he was arrested.

Why? What makes it any different from a ponzi schemer being arrested when he leaves Belize to go to a business conference? The filmmakers are outraged that their precious festival was defiled by something as pedestrian as justice for a convicted child rapist. Yes, they shoud damn well be criticized.

Given that no one is in immediate danger from Polanski and the victim has made her personal peace over her ordeal, I just see far, far better uses of taxpayer time and money.

You're being either disingenuous or moronic. I think the police, FBI and DoJ have enough people between them to handle more than one case at a time. Should cops stop giving out speeding tickets until Osama bin Laden is caught?

Yes, there are far more immediate dangers to society than Roman Polansky. That doesn't mean we should just forget the whole thing.

Kristopher said...

Apparently, the US State Department and LA court system and untold intermediate bodies have been filing writs for decades every time Polanski is supposed to travel. There's probably entire forests that have been disappeared.

That's what I mean by automaton justice. Polanski is (probably) not the same person he was 30 years ago. His victim isn't pursuing it anymore. Yet the justice system is on autopilot, inefficiently.

And no, I don't think there's enough resources. Tons of cases remain unsolved, including one right in Shenandoah National Park. There are constant stories in the US press a la "there were 2 state troopers on duty in Oregon last night". The only big busts are pseudo-stories about foiled terrorism plots.

Kristopher said...

"Yes, there are far more immediate dangers to society than Roman Polansky. That doesn't mean we should just forget the whole thing."

I agree with the Author here.

Flasher T said...

The inevitability of justice is paramount to the effectiveness of a legal system. In that sense, the widespread knowledge that even thirty years later, even if the victim would rather put it past her, even a person with money and connections will be made to serve his sentence is worth every penny.

space_maze said...

"His victim isn't pursuing it anymore."

This is another argument in this whole matter that I just don't get.

Justice isn't supposed to be about victims getting back at the perpetrator of a crime. When the nature of a person's crimes is known, the victim's opinion on what punishment someone should get is irrelevant.

Giustino said...

I would like to know Jack Nicholson's view on the matter, considering it happened at his house (he wasn't at home).

Kristopher said...

Me too.

"Justice isn't supposed to be about victims getting back at the perpetrator of a crime."

But I thought that's what it WAS all about, then somewhere along the line civilization decided that it was too unseemly and outsourced it out to the state. What else is justice "supposed" to be? Why we should have an unstoppable bureaucratic beast making people's lives difficult if a victim and an erstwhile persecutor (not necessarily in this case) can in good faith reconcile? Is justice supposed to be a deterrent? Doesn't seem likely to work. Is it supposed to be an abstract notion? It's kind of lame if we mete out justice out only out of fear of setting a double standard somewhere else...

space_maze said...

Justice was, of course, about revenge in the "good old days". Private law still is, to some degree. But in modern societies, public law primarily serves two purposes: to create a deterrent, preventing people from taking the crime in question too lightly; and to protect society, by reeducating criminals where it is possible, and by putting them somewhere where they can’t do any more damage where it’s not.

A victim's forgiveness is inconsequential to both of these things.

Flasher T said...

But I thought that's what it WAS all about

You were mistaken. Vengeance cannot be outsourced. Criminal justice cannot undo a crime that has taken place, so it is concerned with neither vengeance nor forgiveness. A crime is prosecuted as an offense to society, and the purpose of criminal justice is to prevent crime from occurring in the future - whether by removing dangerous individuals from society (as with actual pedophiles) or by instituting and publicising a punishment sufficient to give pause to potential perpetrators. As such, the point of a significant sentence for a one-time child rapist is to make the next person fear retribution so much that he acts with an abundance of caution.

That is why the inevitability of retribution is vital to criminal justice, and why public money is far better spent on arresting Polansky than Bubba.

Kristopher said...

I am not mistaken -- that is what essentially happened. Modern justice is superior in many ways, but it was not developed by social engineers in a vacuum for the two purposes you mention. There was an evolutionary continuum. An old-school lynch mob of cavemen is 1) in no way inferior as a deterrent and 2) it also serves to put the transgressor out of commission very effectively.

Just because there is a theory of modern justice (thanks for the academic thesis, BTW) and societies speculate wishfully that specific institutionalized punishment may have deterrent value (usually overestimating deterrent value to a ridiculous degree), that does not entail the conclusion that victims' wishes are inconsequential to the process. That's your opinion that victims' wishes should not matter and that's all.

Flasher T said...

It's not my opinion - it's legislative precedent, and in a different type of legal system, it's statute. A criminal offense is prosecuted even when the victim does not want it to be. Dropping charges is only possible in a civil suit or in a misdemeanor/administrative offense (väärtegu, as opposed to kuritegu). It's a fact of how the criminal justice system works, and the reason for it is exactly what I described.

Doris said...

Another point here is that the American legal system is not exactly driven by legislature, it's driven by precedent (if someone knows better, please correct me!). So for example if this crime happened in Estonia (for example) then the course of action would be rather clear considering the laws regarding the crime. But in the States, like I said, the precedents play a huge role - and if this Polanski case becomes one of those precedents then that is dangerous for the future extraditions and sentencing of convicted felons, in this type of case as well as others, potentially.

Flasher T said...

To the best of my understanding, the US common law system relies a lot on precedent for procedural issues - what is a legitimate course of investigation, what kinds of evidence can be allowed or not, what is the interpretation of an ambiguous standard, etc. There are still statutes such as minimal sentences.

If there are any lawyers in the audience, maybe you can comment?

Kristopher said...

"It's a fact of how the criminal justice system works."

I know that and you know that.

"the reason for it is exactly what I described."

Societies did not make the transition to prosecuting criminal complaints in the formulation "The people/State vs. ..." primarily because of a need for a more effective deterrent or way to remove a menace from polite society.

That's all I'm saying. I just favour a more back-to-basics (radical) view that doesn't obfuscate or deny that a desire for retribution is at the heart of justice. It still survives. Indeed, who attends executions? Victims' families get invited to executions. Today executions are private affairs. Paradoxically, "the People" (who brought the criminal complaint against the murderer) aren't invited to executions anymore. It got too rowdy and unseemly. We just postulate that prosecution is the will of "the people" and theorize after the fact about deterrent effects and "correctional" systems.

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