Chelsea King and the Monsters in Us and Among Us

I could see the TV-news vans and their satellite dishes as I drove toward the parking lot, in north San Diego, where the press conference was scheduled. A tight row of cameras were aimed at a podium that held at least twenty microphones. Soon, the county sheriff stood at the podium and told us that a body had been found in a shallow grave, and investigators believed it was the body of Chelsea King.

Chelsea King was a pretty 17-year-old who disappeared four days before. A 30-year-old registered sex offender was arrested. Police say semen found on King clothing matched the offender’s DNA. Nobody’s been convicted in this case. But the story reminds us that a family’s worst nightmares can happen. Innocent girls are raped and murdered by monstrous human beings.

Stories like this touch us so deeply and make us so angry that it’s hard to remember that they are uncommon. Media hype of violent crimes, committed by strangers, is what causes us to shelter our children like we never have before. (I wrote about this in a previous blog post, Remembering the days when kids ran wild)

The media indulge our fears and hatreds with excessive coverage of rare and horrible crimes. As a journalist, I think these stories distort our view of the world. But as a parent, I understand why they get so much attention. I’ve sometimes thought about what I’d want done to a man who committed such a crime on a member of my family. I think you can imagine. 

I oppose the death penalty, but not for morale reasons. I don’t think it’s wrong for the state to kill people who commit our most horrible crimes. Call it justice or call it vengeance. It’s the job of our courts to deliver both, and early death is an appropriate end for people who’s only motivation for terrible, calculated violence is selfish desire.

Unfortunately, our justice system is not perfect and killing people convicted of murder inevitably results in innocent people dying. California’s way of administering the death penalty also seems to involve letting people sit on death row for decades while they exercise their rights to appeal. That must be hellish for families of murder victims who endlessly wait for the state to deliver the justice they were promised. It seems we’d be better off just letting our worst offenders rot in prison and know that they’ll never leave.

I can’t imagine anything worse than the violent death of a child. If I were the parent I’m sure I’d believe in an afterlife. The belief that somewhere and somehow I’d see and hold my child again would be the only way I could continue. So I suggest we believe in that, and hope for that, for Chelsea King and her family.

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