Another opportunity lost in confusion and disorder


You may recall a review of 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 news and editorial columns of The Times one year ago. It was a tale that must disappoint any reasonable Dukes County resident.

It disappoints because it is so common. Drug dealers, drunk drivers, or domestic abusers, thieves of all descriptions — choose your own pernicious influence — they all flow in and out of the police reports and the court records. And, doing so, in addition to the damage their activities do to the Island community, they damage the Island community’s view of the judicial system.

What are the lessons that ordinary Islanders can take away from stories like this and from the story February 23 of Adalberto Pires, whose interactions with local and federal law enforcement authorities and the courts has a Three Stooges fascination to it?

For one, it is the clear perception that whether one steals $600,000 from customers who had every right to expect behavior that is beyond reproach from their legal counsel, an officer of the court, or whether it’s the theft of $200 worth of stereos to sell for money to buy drugs, whether one imports heroin and cocaine to retail to Islanders, whether one assaults a wife or a neighbor, or whether one is here illegally and compounding that illegality with more severe crimes, the consequence will not be onerous.

People in law enforcement will tell you that drugs are common and widely used, and that drug business and drug use are linked to criminality of a variety of sorts. Thievery, violence, and abuse are associated with drugs, and the social cost is significant.

Yet, despite broad agreement on this and on the toll that other apparently less squalid types of criminal activity exact from the community, we cannot argue confidently that the courts are helping to stem the criminal tide.

In many places in the nation, civic life is lived atop an underground criminal culture, which is accepted as the price of daily existence. It may be suppressed, the thinking goes, but not extinguished. The civic costs in human and financial terms must be assumed and paid. Here, small, intimately acquainted with one another, and apart, we might reasonably aspire to reduce the cost to the community of criminal behavior.

In this small, inconvenient community, when there is the chance to exercise greater control over criminal behavior than seems possible elsewhere, and when law enforcement has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to catch and prosecute misbehavior, what’s wanted from the courts is something more than probation, hopefulness, community service, confusion, and recidivism.