Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nothing Left To Lose

Have you ever watched one of those police-videos shows? Usually, whatever the person the police are chasing did to have the cops going after them, the smartest thing they can do, at any given moment of the chase, is to pull over and surrender. Their chances of getting away are minimal at best, especially if the chase happens to be one that gets picked up by the local news. The longer they run, the more cops chase them and the more opportunity they have to make things worse for themselves by racking up additional charges.

However, every so often, you'll see a video where the consequences facing the fugitive in question are so severe that it becomes a case where they feel they have nothing left to lose, or at least where the narrator interprets it as such. They have such a sentence facing them that, in a coldly pragmatic sense, for them pulling over would be pointless. These are the ones who tend to face either life or effective life without parole, the death penalty, or in a few rare cases, are destined to die where they stand facing off against the cops. These people tend to yield the most harrowing and spectacular chases of all. The last category- the fugitives destined to go down in a blaze of glory- is almost a first-ballot Hall of Fame of the police-video set: the North Hollywood shootout, the Killdozer, the San Diego tank rampage.

It's troubling, but at the same time, it is a natural human response. When someone feels as though they have nothing to lose, inhibitions, reservations, and anything else holding that person back all fall away. All that is possible becomes a potential course of action, and all thought to be impossible is considered anyway. After all, might as well. The feeling is responsible for some of humanity's most dramatic and heroic moments, but it can also lead to some of its worst.

Over the weekend, one of these moments happened in Columbia, South Carolina. Kenneth Myers was found dead on Saturday after having killed his wife, her twin sister and mother, and his ex-girlfriend before turning the gun on himself. His relationship with the ex-girlfriend slowly deteriorated over seven years, and his marriage was doing the same. The economy was also negatively affecting his business in auto glass repair.

Michael Rushton of the Wagoner Police Department noted of Myers, "At one point in time, whenever he tried to evade us, I saw his face for a brief second, and you could tell he was a different person," Rushton said. "He had gotten to the point where he thought he had nothing else to lose. He figured he was done for, I'm assuming, and I really hate that he had done what he had done."

Which leads us to a bit of a problem. Any effective punishment or treatment, or threat of same, depends on the target believing that things will be measurably better if they cease their undesirable behavior. If that does not exist, they won't stop. And if they reach a point where they are convinced that they're screwed no matter what they do, that allows them to let loose. Instead of one dead body, there are five. Instead of a surrender, there is a shootout.

At the same time, though, to a degree, properly calibrating a punishment so that this feeling is not triggered is outrageously difficult, and may not even be possible. Again, usually a punishment's effectiveness depends at least partly, and sometimes completely, on the offender's perception of it. If the offender doesn't think it's worth restraining themselves over, they won't. And if they think they have nothing to lose-
think being the keyword- well, we've just gone over that.

Whether or not there is even a minorly feasible way to prevent the nothing-to-lose sentiment from taking hold in the mind of a suspect, the failure of one to be identified results in tragedy that need not happen every time it does. The consequences of not having a preventative procedure are such that at least some brainstorming should be devoted towards trying to make one.

Maybe a fix is possible. Maybe it's just one of those things that happens. But whether or not there's an answer to the problem, it's at least worth asking the question.

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