Misplaced Compassion Puts Lives in Jeopardy

A common charge in western republics has been the claim that conservatives insist on thinking rationally and have no compassion, while liberals make all their decisions on feelings, and refuse to use their heads. 

In the oft-misattributed aphorism, Winston Churchill first summed up this difference as: “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative by 40, you have no brain.”

Throughout the centuries-long struggle between constitutionally-limited government and a Marxist welfare state, this tug-of-war between heart and head -- between compassion and the rule of law -- has remained at the core of so many of our policy disagreements. 

Should government insist on self-sufficiency, or issue welfare checks?  Do we rely on the self-policing of the invisible hand of the free market, or do we micromanage every business with crippling regulations?  Do we let a big business go under, or do we make future taxpayers bail it out?

The Left’s positions are always considered the “compassionate” ones. But are they really?  Perhaps the wrong side is getting credit for caring. Perhaps it’s time the Right starts fighting this method of classification.

Case in point:  The Methodist Hospital murders that took place in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, October 22, 2022.

At about 11:15, a gunman beat up a hospital patient in the maternity ward and shot two hospital employees before being subdued and arrested.

The shooter, Nestor Hernandez, was there to visit his girlfriend, who had just given birth to his child.

Hernandez is a 30-year-old lifelong criminal with a rap sheet going back to his teens.  He had been in and out of the Dallas criminal justice system for such charges as robbery and felony assault before he was twenty, and he earned his first serious jail time -- an eight-year sentence -- after a violent burglary in which he and his accomplice repeatedly beat up a woman to gain access to her apartment and car.

For that one, Nestor Hernandez pled guilty in September 2015 to “aggravated robbery,” which could have won him anywhere from five to 99 years in jail.  They gave him eight.

Only they didn’t.  If he’d served the full eight years, he’d still have been in jail.  He wouldn’t have been free to acquire a girlfriend, get her pregnant, visit her at the hospital, beat her up, and kill two hospital employees.

So what happened?  The system decided to show “compassion” to this model prisoner with a violent history, a rap sheet going back to his childhood, and gang tattoos on his face and neck. They didn’t even make him stay the full eight years but let him out of jail on October 20, 2021, after just six years. They installed an ankle bracelet and called it “parole.”

It was this choice that enabled him to put this girlfriend in a position where he could visit her hospital room and start killing innocent bystanders on October 22, just a year after he was freed.

In the end, we must ask, just who warrants compassion?  To whom does a criminal justice system actually owe this complex concept of “compassion”?

There’s the criminal, there’s his known victim (in this case, the woman he beat up and robbed of $3000 worth of cash she’d been collecting for a school fundraiser), there’s his future intended victims, the people he is sure to target as soon as he’s released (like his current girlfriend), and there is the collateral damage that will result from his being precipitously set free, like the two hospital employees he killed in his Saturday morning rampage.

Which of these parties occupied the minds of the district attorney’s office when they set up that plea deal in 2015, saving the cost and trouble of a trial, but clearly giving him too short a prison sentence as a result?

And which of these parties occupied the minds of the parole board when they set him free two years earlier than necessary, deluding themselves that an ankle bracelet might protect the public from this thug as well as a concrete and steel cell had done thus far?

Upon consideration, we see that it’s neither a shortage nor a surfeit of compassion that drives the wrong choices here.  There’s actually plenty of compassion on the sides of both the advocates and opponents of tough sentencing.

The difference between them is which parties should be the focus of that compassion.

For half a century or more, the American Left has focused and aimed compassion at the criminal, no matter how guilty, how violent, how recidivist, how monstrous, how dangerous to society.

And all this time, the American Right has focused its compassion on all the rest of the parties -- the law-abiding citizenry whom the criminal justice system was established to protect.

The American Right has compassion that is aimed at the deserving parties. The Right has compassion for the victim of that first crime, who deserves justice.  The Right has compassion for the future victims, the girlfriends or acquaintances or marks whom this thug will someday attack if set free again. And the Right has compassion for the future bystanders, in this case the hardworking hospital employees who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time… a moment when this violent demon, set free by a foolish, misguided bureaucracy, might choose to go on a shooting spree.

Whose compassion makes sense to society -- those who care most for the happiness of the predator, or those who care most for the safety of the innocent victims upon whom he is sure to prey as long as he breathes free?

If this were a rare occurrence, we couldn’t draw these clear conclusions, but it’s not rare. This same story happens every day in our major metropolitan areas, in Texas and Illinois, in Los Angeles and New York, from coast to coast.

We catch the criminals, we convict them, we give them sentences that are too short, we let them out before their sentences are served… And they commit more crimes, and eventually we catch and convict them again -- perhaps once for every five or ten crimes -- and the cycle repeats.

The details may differ, but the story is the same: the system shows compassion to a proven criminal, instead of showing compassion to his past and future victims.  The system thus endangers the neighborhoods, the workplaces, the entertainment venues, the housing complexes, the parks and playgrounds, every single place that society needs to function safely. 

The system thus endangers the law-abiding American public, because such misplaced compassion puts human lives in jeopardy, by the millions, every day.

It’s election time, and this crime wave is on everyone’s mind. Voters, too, are known to be motivated by compassion. So the question is: Will the voters’ compassion be in sync with the public interest this time?

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based international transportation professional.  A onetime Milwaukee County Republican Party chairman, he has been writing a regular column for Illinois Review since 2009. His book on vote fraud (The Tales of Little Pavel) and his political satires on the current administration (Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes I and II) are available on Amazon.

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