Crime, punishment … and justice?

If I write the name Daniel Zamudio, does it mean anything to you?

What if I wrote Daniel Zamudio is equal to or as similar as Matthew Shepard? Do you even remember him?

I have to admit that when I heard Matthew Shepard in comparison to the recent events surrounding Daniel Zamudio here in Chile, I had to do quick Google search. I didn’t immediately remember Matthew Shepard because his death occurred in 1998, just as I was spending a good four months living in Chile prior to starting my Junior year in college at UC Davis. In other words, I was too wrapped up in my own little world to have remembered the event or the subsequent rally for changes that occurred after it.

Daniel Zamudio passed away on March 27th, after almost a month-long grasp at life. He was beaten and tortured in early March by four men, claiming to be Neonazis. Once hospitalized, Daniel was put in an induced coma and was declared brain-dead just this past weekend. And now he’s passed on.

This doesn’t sound all that different from what occurred to Matthew Shepard on the night of October 6, 1998. A young, homosexual man, at the wrong place at the wrong time, surrounded by monsters who didn’t see him as human. Who saw him as less than human, enough so, that torture seemed irrelevant, the term almost not-applicable.

I wonder about the kind of school, whether formal or environmental, one needs to be exposed to so as to regard violence – no, TORTUREas irrelevant to a human or living being. In an attempt to wrap my mind around such acts, motivated strictly and only by hate and fear, I recalled quite vividly a course I took in college on Criminology. Before my Chilean counterparts ask themselves why on Earth I took a Criminology course in college when in fact I studied something completely different, briefly speaking, in the U.S. you are encouraged (forced) to study a wealth of subject matters during your first two years of studies. I had a sociology requirement and the criminology course fulfilled that requirement.

"Crime and Punishment" - classic novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky that takes us into a criminal mind and the motivation for murder.

Mostly what I remember about this course, where the first three months were spent explaining the different theories as to why criminals exist or why criminal acts occur, are two things: 1) it freaked me out and 2) there are theories upon theories upon theories behind the criminal mind. Last night I took to our storage room and after rummaging through some boxes, found my sophomore year notebook where my sorry version of notes from this class were buried deep. I guess I could have Googled the theories but I found it easier to refer to these notes because they were written in they “lay-est” of layperson’s terms (don’t worry, I won’t run through ALL of them – there are lots!)

The most basic of basic theories (and the oldest) is this: crime is a choice. People choose crime because there is absence of true punishment. This, coupled with self-interest, motivates the choice to commit crime.

Yet another theory states that criminals have different biological and/or psychological traits from those who are not criminals.

Another theory states that crime is learned, for example, via peers who are criminals or perhaps even in environments where crime per se isn’t condoned but isn’t necessarily frowned upon either (a controversial example I offer you: when purchasing pirated items is considered justified and not a crime.) Yes, I realize that especially here in Chile this is a controversial example.

Yet another theory tells us that when someone can’t achieve “normal” success (money, status, power, etc) via non-criminal routes, the pressure of this will result in crime under certain conditions.

Believe it or not, there is even a theory that states that our daily activities affect the likelihood that we’ll become a target of crime, especially if there is no type of authority or guardianship present during the process of said routine activities. I don’t so much like this theory because it reflects the outcome of crime on me. As if just going to the grocery store is a reason for someone to act out (towards me) in a criminal manner.

Fifteen years after taking this course and after scanning pages and pages of notes from this time period, if I had to deduce why people commit crimes (again, based purely on my notes) it would be either because of 1) control, 2) opportunity, 3) social learning and 4) strain and/or pressure.

Why all this?

Simply my feeble attempt to make sense of acts that, to me, make no sense at all. I simply cannot imagine hating someone SO MUCH based solely on that person’s preference of who they like and who they decide to be intimate with. Why is that my problem? Why was that their problem when they attacked Daniel? Why then, is the same rationale not continuously rehearsed, say, with prostitutes? Or people who marry, then divorce, marry, then divorce? This isn’t a statement to condone but a statement questioning why this rationale is limited to a homosexual? But that’s my rational mind trying to make sense of irrational impulses and reasoning.

Personally I blame the society where these criminals have spent the majority of their time. Delusions of grandeur (based on the fact that they are proclaimed neonazis), lack of proper and immediate punishment from authorities, ignorance, poor stimuli, learned and justified criminal activities, family support or lack thereof. Finally, in some form, I believe that in the case of Matthew Shepard as with Daniel Zamudio, their attackers also had fear in common. Though I’m sure they wouldn’t agree with that …

I wonder if my own personal reaction to these acts are in some way “criminal-minded” as well? In cases like this, I would support eye-for-an-eye. No questions asked. No rehabilitation, no mercy. Why is this? Because I’m angry. I’m angry that such barbaric acts continue to occur in this day and age and I’m angry that the powers-that-be have not introduced sufficient deterrents of such crimes. And it angers – and scares – me that the perpetrators, as well as would-be perpetrators, just don’t care. This is a cycle that I see: There is lax authority and so, the would-be perpetrators aren’t deterred. How can the authorities really instill iron-fist consequences to such acts when surely there are still a great number out there who don’t “agree” with homosexuality? Though I’d like to think that even if they don’t “agree” with it, surely they wouldn’t condone such violence?

RIP, Daniel Zamudio

In the end I guess this process of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible is all pretty much in vain. It’s not going to bring Matthew Shepard back any more than it will bring Daniel Zamudio back. It can’t erase the hatred that exists in this world towards people who simply choose other options. It doesn’t revert ignorance and it doesn’t feed kindness and understanding. Criminal minds don’t care and the authorities and powers-that-be will continue to lament without really offering urgently needed solutions (deterrents, as I like to say). The examples we have are in the Matthew Shepard case itself. Though this crime occurred in 1998, it wasn’t until 2009 that President Obama was finally able to sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded existing United States federal hate crime law to apply to crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation (among other things). In the case of Matthew Shepard, legislation caught on almost a decade later. It makes me wonder how long it will be until Chilean legislation and subsequent law enforcement react accordingly to the acts of violence committed against Daniel Zamudio.

Though really, is justice ever truly served?

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