I don’t generally look to China as an example of excellence in jurisprudence and civil rights, but I have to admit, my interest has been piqued by the way it has handled the melamine contamination problem, and those responsible for killing six children and sickening 300,000 others. Two people will receive the death penalty, three others will be imprisoned for life, and another 16 will do anywhere between two years and life for their role in this disaster. Those are some serious consequences.
I’m not for the death penalty. I don’t think it’s a deterrent to would-be capital criminals. Sometimes, however, there are situations where the crime is so heinous, so unforgivable, so brutal, that it’s hard to come up with any other punishment that fits the crime. Mercy is hard to come by, harder yet when you’re one of those footing the bill to house and feed someone who has intentionally shattered the social compact. Scott was telling me at lunch today about a child rapist who committed suicide. His response, and mine, was “Good.” There is little doubt it would be the response of most other people as well. The greatest, and most righteous, taboos are those against hurting innocents: children, animals, people doing good works in bad places.
I live in a nation where factories are relatively free to dump poisons into the air, into the earth, into the water supply, as long as they don’t get caught, and then as long as they pay the fines when they do get caught. Which doesn’t do anything to keep us healthy and safe, of course. So I appreciate a nation where people who do such dangerous things are punished and made to feel the full societal censure of their actions which are, truly, crimes against humanity. Except that I’m not sure China is such a nation.
I’d like to believe that it was the Chinese government’s deep and proper concern for these 300,000 children that prompted them to mete out such a severe punishment. But China is a nation where only one child is allowed, and a second one will be killed upon birth if the state gets ahold of the kid. This is a nation where they’ve been sending toys painted in lead to our stores and their own for years. This is a nominally Communist nation where industry was allowed to poison the nation’s own children for profit.
I think the crime that these people were punished for was not for knowingly poisoning hundreds of thousands of children, but rather for getting caught, for making conspicuous dangerous business practices that have been going on far too long, and threatening Chinese industry as a result. The world is watching. People are reading tags, shocked to find that almost everything they buy is from China, and wondering if it’s safe, and doubting very seriously if it’s ethically made. The people responsible for melamine in milk have no doubt cost China a lot of money, and in this day and age, that is a crime punishable by death, even if others are not.
A 13-year-old boy who attended the school I last taught at was killed and his friend injured when a drunk driver crossed the line into the bike lane. She just received 14 years, probably out in 8. Life, we see over and over again, is cheap. It’s only a crime when it costs someone large amounts of money.