Make a “Felicia’s Law”

Posted on October 2, 2011. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns | Tags: , , , |

Security is a fundamental concept in American society, noted explicitly in our founding documents, as a God-given right and a governmental duty.

Like all other rights and freedoms, security is an individual matter. There’s precious little security in a nation where violent criminals annually deprive nearly 1.3 million citizens of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

You often hear complaints that we imprison too many citizens for a civilized society. It’s a half-truth: we imprison too many non-violent criminals. But our society is nowhere nearly as civilized, from an historical perspective, as it used to be, or should be.

There is some truly good news from this year’s FBI crime report. Nationally, there were 75,000 fewer violent crimes in 2010 than in 2009. Every major violent category showed a decrease.

Even in Arkansas, there were slight reductions in murders, rapes and robberies. Only aggravated assaults showed an increase, and it was very small.

It appears likely there will be a similar reduction reported when the FBI’s Hate Crime statistics are released in November. Last year’s report (2009 data) saw the fewest hate crime incidents ever reported, which reflected a 15 percent decline from the previous year.

Laws are political creations, and while hate crime statutes address political issues, the tiny number of incidents indicates a misguided legislative focus.

Consider this: Only one out of every 1,852 violent crimes in 2009 was a hate crime. If you like percentages, that’s just under five one-hundredths of one percent.

Conversely, nearly every single violent crime involves fear. Tragically and terrifyingly, millions of Americans have been subjected to mortal fear at the hands of criminals over the last couple of decades, and hundreds of thousands met the demise they feared.

When’s the last time you were literally afraid for your life?

For many readers, that answer is never, which truly is a blessing of liberty. But it’s also a curse of insulation that can impair judgment.

As a society, we discount the harm done by mortal fear, and accordingly we fail to adequately and appropriately punish criminals who cause it.

The hate crime crowd has done a fine job of grabbing a greater measure of justice for its victims. It’s time for the vastly more numerous victims who have suffered bone-chilling fear to be finally represented in what I suggest be a “Mortal Fear Law.”

Like hate crimes, mortal fear crimes would categorize victims as special due to circumstances surrounding their victimization. But instead of using motivational bias as the determinant (which is sometimes impossible to accurately discern), mortal fear crimes would be based on scientific information about the terror of a victim’s experience.

Modern forensics paint remarkably accurate pictures of a murder victim’s final moments, about which scientists can tell us of torture and suffering prior to death. Forensic evidence allows experts to ascertain many of the dying details that a victim previously took to his grave, such as which injuries would have caused unconsciousness (or not).

For surviving victims of violent crime whose injuries may have caused memory loss, forensic information can fill in the gaps. And of course, those who can remember their horrifying experience deserve to have their fears heard — and allayed.

The name I’d propose for our mortal fear legislation is “Felicia’s Law,” after Felicia Elliot, whose entire family was brutally murdered in 1998.

Her father, Carl, was shot twice in the head. Her mother, Lisa, had her throat slit. And the murderer rained no fewer than 27 blows down on the head of her six-year-old brother with a tire iron.

Poor little Felicia, her fate sealed at the tender age of 8, fared worse of all.

She was abducted, bound with duct tape, sexually assaulted and then — after being kept alive in total terror for two days stuffed in a trash can — drowned in a creek.

I cannot imagine her mortal fear.

I also cannot conceive the type of man who would perpetrate such acts. But I know that he and his ilk vastly outnumber hate criminals, and their collective malevolence stains our society with blood and menaces it with fear.

Prison population projections clearly indicate we cannot continue to blindly incarcerate people as convictions occur. Mortal fear crimes could assist in redefining prison as a place reserved exclusively for housing (and debilitating) violent, sadistic offenders like Chad Green, who was convicted this week for the murder of young Felecia Elliot and her family.

Seventy years ago, in his “Four Freedoms” state of the union speech, President Franklin Roosevelt included freedom of fear as an essential human freedom.

Today, millions of Americans live in fear, locking their doors and looking over their shoulders on their own streets, and trembling with fright if they wander into a “wrong” neighborhood.

Far too many — like Felicia Elliot — experience indescribable moments of horror, afraid for their very lives, at the hands of vicious criminals.

If hate can be a crime, surely terrorizing someone to the point of mortal fear is worse, and that should be reflected in our laws.

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