Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Grief is not an achievement"

Jon Venables, one of the two boys involved in the horrifying James Bulger murder, has been arrested again, on charges that the British govt. -- probably with reason -- won't divulge. Andrew O'Hagan has a very good piece on this in the LRB; I particularly liked his rant about how the victim's mother has become a media sensation:
The British papers were in their favourite mode, evident again this week: mixing vengeance with sentiment, while exuding prurience and humbug. Denise Fergus, the mother of James Bulger, is being paraded as the proper arbiter of justice: as if the mother of a murdered child should call the shots, should be the one to decide what ought to be done with the killers. She is not to be challenged: who in their right mind would seek to challenge a grieving parent?

Yet we need to challenge her, because that also means challenging the moral stupidity the media’s use of her represents, the urge towards counter-violence that always seems to make sense to the mind of the average working-class Briton. Of course she wants the boys behind bars for ever. She wants their rights taken away. Which of us, given the horror, would never be tempted down that road? No matter what the law says, a sense of entitlement nowadays devolves to the families of murder victims. The tabloids and not just the tabloids like it that way. Among the tabloids I include the Today programme.

This case has, from the beginning, involved the need to say that grief is not an achievement, doesn’t confer power, and Denise Fergus should have no say at all in the fate of the boys who killed her son. She speaks contemptuously of the justice system, feels she should be consulted on every aspect of the case, and the media egg her on because her words claim attention and sell papers. She, too, is one of the shades haunting the Strand Shopping Centre. We want to listen to her, but to act on what we hear would be criminal. She says she won’t rest until those boys are truly punished for what they did: she wants them incarcerated under their original names – a death sentence.[*] Meanwhile the justice secretary feels he must pay lip-service to her status in all of this.

That said, I suspect this would have been handled much worse in the American system, where some rising prosecutor would have mined substantial political capital out of the case.

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