The third law

The Imette St. Guillen case has yet to yield an arrest, but the argument over the circumstances of her horrific murder continues. It’s the main topic of Boston’s local talk shows, and one host in particular — WRKO’s John Depetro — is catching most of the heat for saying that her actions were a partial, contributory factor in her death. The lines are being drawn, with one side saying that she did absolutely nothing wrong and to question her actions is a crass, immoral, vile way of blaming the victim, of providing her killer with some mitigating arguments.

It’s a sad argument, because it is so unnecessary. There is absolutely NO conflict between the two positions.

The conflict arises because there are three sets of laws in play here, and one side is only addressing two of them.

Under the laws of man and the laws of morality, Imette Guillen was indeed utterly blameless and the onus for her death lies solely on her killer. He should be caught, tried, convicted, and punished to the fullest extent of the law. He needs to pay, and pay severely. I would have absolutely no problems with him being executed by lethal injection, electrocution, poison gas, decapitation, hanging, impaling, dismemberment, or any other way possible. And then I’d like his head mounted on a pike, with his genitalia stuffed in his mouth, as a warning to future generations that some things are just beyond the pale. I’d wave… sorry, got sidetracked into Babylon 5 there.

But there’s a third set of laws at play here, one that the outraged parties simply don’t address. And that’s the unwritten law, the law of Nature, the law of the world, the law of the jungle. And that law says that if one is careless, if one takes chances, if one engages in risky behavior, sometimes you will pay the price. And sometimes that price will be the ultimate one.

(Cro, feel free to insert our favorite Robert Heinlein quote here.)

Under legal and moral laws, that law is utterly unjustifiable. It is despicable. It is completely and utterly wrong — but it is also completely and utterly immutable. There are no appeals.

To bring back my favorite, less emotionally charged example, I give you crosswalks. Under the legal and moral laws, the pedestrian has the absolute, immutable right of way. Cars MUST yield to a pedestrian. Under every legal and moral law, a pedestrian is completely in the right if they walk up to the curb, step into the crosswalk, and walk forthrightly and unhesitatingly across the street, without looking in either direction, fully confident in their legal and moral right to do so. And they will get away with it most of the time.

But if they do get hit, what will be the first question people ask? “Why didn’t they look?”

That’s not blaming the victim. The driver of the car was clearly going too fast for the circumstances, because the law demands that they pay close attention for them and be driving slow enough to stop in time. The pedestrian has no legal or moral responsibility at the crosswalk beyond staying within the markings.

But they have a duty to themselves to look out for themselves, because the legal and moral laws are not the only laws in play.

Those who ignore those laws will get away with it most of the time. But not every time. And I hope it’s some comfort that they went to their graves having done absolutely nothing illegal or immoral or unethical.

A Day Later: DPW Reaction Round Up
In which I shred any self-respect I might once have possessed...


  1. diversity day March 10, 2006
  2. Synova March 10, 2006
  3. Amphipolis March 10, 2006
  4. Big E March 10, 2006
  5. Dan March 10, 2006
  6. wavemaker March 10, 2006
  7. Sheik Yur Bouty March 10, 2006
  8. zelda March 10, 2006