Questions for law enforcement and the courts


The record of Richard Morris’s ins and outs — arrests, incarceration, bail, probation, release pending trial, re-arrest, bail reduction, bail revocation, etc. — as chronicled in The Times in print and online these past two weeks, and earlier and often, must disappoint any reasonable Dukes County resident.

Of course it is disappointing because it is so common. Mr. Morris is hardly the only drug dealer who sports such a record — or drunk driver, or domestic abuser. Choose your own poisonous influence.

It’s disappointing too because the police and the prosecutors take these miscreants off the streets again and again. They know they should not be abroad in this peaceable, low-crime community. But the persistent efforts of police never quite put an end to the careers of these problem neighbors.

Worse, the serial interactions of the Richard Morrises of the world and the judicial system exercise a pernicious effect on the community’s perception of law enforcement and its ability to do its job on behalf of the majority of us who have little or nothing to do with police, prosecutors, or the courts.

Not only do records such as are common to the weekly court report this newspaper publishes undermine respect and trust in the justice system as it exists in Edgartown — its nearest, most local exemplar — they beg for a frank explanation from police, jailers, prosecutors, and judges. How does this happen so consistently? And why? How can a system designed to be, well, judicious, appear to be so nonsensical? Do you see it as destructive as it seems to be? Is there anything you can say that will help Islanders understand what appears to be ineptitude? Can this repetitious, deplorable persistence in our society of such miscreants possibly be consistent with the goal of protecting the community.

Worse yet — and this is key: This mostly peaceable Martha’s Vineyard community, with diligence, wisdom, and justice dispensed rigorously, may very well be able to prevent further decay. It does not have to accept even the level of criminal behavior we experience now, let alone an expansion of bad acting driven by persistent ne’er-do-wells.

After all, the important job of the apparatus of the justice system, from cop to jailer to courtroom to prison, is to fairly balance the rights and responsibilities that we all have, but sometimes shirk, in the interest of the community.

The courts need to explain how records such as those we see in the news reports we’ve read during the past two weeks serve that community interest. If not, they and the legislature ought to do something about it.