Why “Felony Murder” charges and Congressional Disqualifications are essential for kids
“Officer Brian D. Sicknick died Thursday due to injuries sustained while on-duty, physically engaging with protesters at the US Capitol, a statement said.
“Sicknick, a 12-year veteran of the force, was “responding to the riots on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, at the US Capitol and was injured while physically engaging with protesters”, Capitol Police said in a statement.” — France24
I am not a big fan of punishment. Punishments rarely prevent ‘recidivism,’ and the threat of punishment rarely discourages the illegal, the immoral, or the inappropriate. Punishment also, far too often, looks like revenge or vengeance, and revenge and vengeance are morally untenable and do as much damage to those avengers as they do to the perpetrators (the harm is just less immediately obvious).
So, why am I asking for the most extreme criminal charges against those who assaulted the US Capitol and US democracy on January 6, 2021? And why am I asking for the most extreme political charges against Congressional Republicans who helped foment that insurrection?
Because social responsibility matters, and people must be forced to respond regarding actions that harm our society, our culture, and our communities.
Felony Murder. Felony Murder charges against a thousand people? Why?
The invasion of the US Capitol was, in itself, a violent felony, a premeditated, well-planned violent felony. Unlike the outbreaks of looting that occasionally broke out in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, no reasonable person in the mob marching on the Capitol could have missed the intent. They were marching along with armed co-conspirators, with criminals carrying ladders and scaling gear and restraints and clubs. They were openly calling for the lynching of the Vice President.
“First-degree murder is called a felony murder when a human being is killed during the commission of a felony… Another common situation is an armed robbery where only one of the participants shoots the victim. In these cases, all of the participants in the robbery can be charged with felony murder, even though they didn’t kill the victim nor were even present at the time the killing took place.”
So, intent to commit a felony combined with participating in a variety of crimes — trespass, theft, assault, vandalism, intimidation, and the interference with the operation of the national government — which led to the death of a police officer. Felony murder by definition.
Now, imagine a group of, say, your school’s football team, participating and/or watching teammates sexually assault one or more other teammates. Imagine a group of students running through the halls assaulting teachers because their grades “felt” unfair.
Simply put — you have no right to punish either of those mobs if you have not made it clear, repeatedly, to every student that the Capitol insurrectionists were completely criminal, and you have not — at the same time — made public statements to the community reinforcing that.
Congressional Disqualification. Forcing Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, and over 140 other Republican Senators and House members to ask two-thirds of both houses of Congress for forgiveness, and the right to remain in Congress, sounds drastic — and yet — how else will we impress on everyone the need to adhere to certain obvious and communal truths?
Not every Confederate leader was personally violent against the US government during the Civil War. I have never heard of any incidence of violence perpetrated in the act of rebellion by Jefferson Davis. I’ve never seen evidence of that kind of violence from Judah Benjamin either.
Yet, when the 14th Amendment was written and passed neither were excluded from the disqualification. They were both enablers of the rebellion, enablers of the violence, and both had, “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the [government], or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”
Insisting that an obviously — and legally declared legitimate — election should be overturned simply because some people “feel” it was unfair is a kind of sociopathy and delusional behavior in most, but once someone has, “taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States,” things change, and the behavior becomes — by definition of the 14th Amendment — unconstitutional support for insurrection.
14th Amendment, Section 3: “No Person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.”
OK, two of your students send a whole-student body email falsely accusing another student of… being a Nazi, a sexual predator, a thief, whatever… and that student gets physically or emotionally harmed. Is there any accountability?
Teach your children well…
Why wouldn’t a child lie? Or cheat? Or bully? Or make fun of kids with disabilities? Or say that the lives of some of their classmates don’t matter? Or disregard any rule big or small? Or even use violence?
In November 2020 over 70 million Americans, most parents or grandparents, great-grandparents or aunts and uncles, told every kid in America that all of that was OK. That was after four years of the President of the United States, and almost the entirety of one of our political parties, telling every kid in America the same thing.
Since then almost an entire major political party has doubled down on that. Some police officers have doubled down on it. Some ministers have doubled down on it.
Can this evil genii be stuffed back into the basic human morality bottle?
I would argue that it’s likely impossible without fundamentally changing how we treat those who have sought to break our civil society, and how our schools do business. And even then, it will be hard because Donald Trump never did represent anything new in America, he represents everything we’ve been unable to change.
If anything tells us that, it is this. 2020 was a year when the phrase Black Lives Matter was highly controversial in the United States. Over 70 million voters effectively declared the phrase as a terrorist threat. One entire political party believes that voting by Black Americans is, or certainly should be, illegal. This comes 401 years after slavery arrived in English-speaking North America, 160 years since the 1860 Presidential Election, 155 years after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution came into force (the last legal slaves in the US were freed 155-years-ago this month), 66 years since the Brown v Board of Education decision, 55 years since the Voting Rights Act.
Racism, bullying, intolerance of newcomers, a distrust of science, intelligence, and education are deeply engrained in our culture, ‘as American as apple pie’ as they say.
“We’re doing everything we can [to promote a healthy, respectful, equitable society] but our kids go home and are taught something different.” — the superintendent of an upper SES school district, autumn 2020
Schools can be an engine of change, but they cannot be that if we do not — every day — confront what is wrong.
Perhaps you have a parent who tells their children that 2+2=6, or a church leader who says that “reader” is pronounced “highway” — how would a school, or a teacher respond?
What do our children need from schools right now? One teacher’s answer last week… “[help] to unlearn the behaviors that have been modeled to them as acceptable.”
“Once students have had space to process, the priority is to help them become more informed,” writes Paula McAvoy, assistant professor of social studies education, North Carolina State University in a post from the National Writing Project about helping kids understand January 6. “When engaging in this work, teachers must not treat the question, “Did Joe Biden legitimately win the 2020 election?” as open to interpretation. He most definitely did. Likewise, teachers should not give any credence to the idea that the election was stolen, as the angry mob that wreaked havoc in the Capitol alleged. Instead, teachers should affirm each state’s certification. They should be clear that over 80 judges — including some appointed by Trump — rejected the baseless claim that fraud affected the outcome. They should do this because it is true.”
That is truth at our its most basic level, and it is long past time to stop lying to children in order to avoid adult controversy.
There are other truths that our children need us to be clear about. There is systemic racism in this nation. There is systemic inequity in this nation. If you lie about this to Black kids or poor kids — even 5-year-olds — they will see you as a fool, or worse. If you lie about this to white kids or rich kids — even 5-year-olds — you are helping to preserve white supremacy and its co-conspirator, wealth preservation.
The fact there are 50 states, or remembering what 9x5 equals, has almost no impact on a young student’s life… but the fact that racism and white privilege dominate all of American life impacts every child, every day.
And then there are even deeper truths, truths about right and wrong. In that same NWP post, Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and professor of clinical pediatrics, University of Southern California, while asking teachers to not avoid the topic of the insurrection, adds, “it’s not a time for teachers to introduce their personal take on what elected officials did right or wrong.” For me that bit of advice is just wrong.
If we do not discuss the right and wrong of adult actions we declare ourselves morally neutral, and we encourage the ongoing destruction of any societal common understandings and shared values.
If we do not discuss the wrong in the actions of Donald Trump and Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz — publicly and in our classrooms — we are taking a side: We are encouraging lying and violence and the destruction of our democracy. Would we ever want to admit that our schools are taking less of a moral stand than Marriott, Blue Cross, Dow Chemical, and American Express?
Do the Right Thing
“When I first began talking about education on social media I had many teachers, administrators, even professors respond to me saying, “education should not be political.” I’ve heard that a lot over my life, “prayer in school should not be political,” “policing should not be political,” “the justice system should not be political,” “our gender policies should not be political,” “journalism should not be political.” You know what? every time a statement like that is made it is made by someone with enormous privilege and an enormous stake in the power structure that is.”
“Education is the most political thing we do, it is the fight for our future,” I have said over and over. Pretending that isn’t true is a critical fallacy. “It doesn’t matter what subject we teach, what age group we teach, or where we teach. We are on one side or the other.”
And… children learn far more from what they see adults doing than they learn from whatever adults say.
What do our children need from schools right now? One teacher’s answer last week… “A reevaluation of a null curriculum and movement toward a stronger focus on civics, citizenship and social justice.”
Thus, stepping up for what is right is the most crucial part of our roles as adults responsible for children — and — aren’t all adults responsible for children?
So as we find ways to talk about the never-ending year of 2020 with our kids, we must insist on our leaders beginning the process of restorative justice with the strongest charges possible.
from Maximum Charges to Restorative Justice
It is wonderful when those who have transgressed come to their own realization of the damage they have done, and, in my experience, that is not uncommon. That realization is something different than worrying about being caught. It is something different than feeling guilty. Instead it is the discovery of empathy — it is the realization of the impact that one’s behavior has on others — that is the key driver of moral growth.
“As lawmakers entered the Capitol on Wednesday for one of the most solemn enterprises in American government, the impeachment of a president, Representative Lauren Boebert was causing a spectacle before even making it into the chamber. She pushed her way through newly installed metal detectors and ignored police officers who asked her to stop so they could check her with a hand-held wand.
“This reprised a standoff from the evening before, when Ms. Boebert, a freshman Republican from Colorado, refused to show guards what was inside her handbag as she entered the building. In both cases, she was eventually granted access, but not before engineering a made-for-Twitter moment that delighted the far right.”
But I don’t see this kind of maturity or even readiness for moral growth in the actions of Donald Trump, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz or their 145 Congressional followers. And I don’t see it among the Capitol insurrectionists either. What I see is a group of entitled and amoral adults who’ve never learned “to play with others.” Somehow they’ve reached 21 or 61 without ever having been called to account for behaving really badly.
“What I did not realize was all of the national conversation about states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, was seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit,” [Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford wrote eight days after the insurrection]. “After decades of fighting for voting rights, many Black friends in Oklahoma saw this as a direct attack on their right to vote, for their vote to matter, and even a belief that their votes made an election in our country illegitimate. … I can assure you, my intent to give a voice to Oklahomans who had questions was never also an intent to diminish the voice of any Black American.”
“In this instance, I should have recognized how what I said and what I did could be interpreted by many of you,” Lankford continued. “I deeply regret my blindness to that perception, and for that I am sorry.”
[Even in this apology this Senator can only see how his words and actions were received, not for his fatally flawed logic and morality in spreading lies for 60 days. Is there any factual possibility that falsely claiming electoral fraud in Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Phoenix wasn’t racist?]
Faced with that, we must call them to account. Charging a thousand insurrectionists with felony murder (and sedition), disqualifying 147 Senators and Representatives from federal office, doesn’t mean we’d put a thousand people in prison for 40 years to life, or that 147 Congressional Republicans would need to look for real jobs this year, but it would make every one of those who chose to ignore their responsibilities as citizens and those who chose to ignore their oaths of office ask for forgiveness. It would make all, finally, face the consequences of their irresponsible lives and put their fates into the hands of a society damaged by their actions.
That is important for these people, but it is even more important that our children see us — this nation — stand up to those who so egregiously violate our social compact.
Kids do all kinds of things. Kids do all kinds of things in schools. I have seen everything from the, “really? you’re doing that right here?” kind of transgression, to violent assault, to acts that could have been seen as violations of federal laws.
I’ve also been a police officer and worked with adult transgressors — including some in the homeless population of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The first step to bringing any of these kids — or adults — back has always rested with three questions that need to be honestly answered: What happened? How did it happen? and What part did [I] play in what happened?
But as much as I dislike the concepts of [earthly] punishment and the issuance of threats, I have learned that those who cannot, or will not, answer those three questions honestly and factually must — for their own good as well as the social good — be persuaded to do so.
“The second tier [of Restorative Justice in schools] is intervention, such as restorative chats, in which teachers use restorative discipline practices to discuss and mend the harm that was done. When a student misbehaves, the offending student is given the opportunity to come forward and make things right. He or she will sit in a circle and work together with the teacher and the affected individuals. To facilitate the process, the teacher or support staff asks non-judgmental and restorative questions like, Is everything OK? What happened? How did it happen? What were you thinking then? How do you feel about it now? Who did your actions hurt? What can we do to make it right?”
The charges and disqualifications I began with are designed to help persuade all our seditionists, from Rocky Mount, VA police officer Jacob Fracker (“Lol to anyone who’s possibly concerned about the picture of me going around… Sorry I hate freedom? …Not like I did anything illegal…y’all do what you feel you need to…”) to Senator Hawley (“But to equate leading a debate on the floor of the Senate with inciting violence is a lie, and it’s dangerous. I will not be deterred from representing my constituents, and I will not bow to left-wing corporate pressure.”), to find the true answers. And if they can find true answers then perhaps those who choose align themselves with their malignant falsehoods and fantasies might begin to find true answers themselves.
“It is called the sacrament of Conversion because it makes sacramentally present Jesus’ call to conversion, the first step in returning to the Father from whom one has strayed by sin.
“It is called the sacrament of Penance, since it consecrates the Christian sinner’s personal and ecclesial steps of conversion, penance, and satisfaction.
“It is called the sacrament of Confession, since the disclosure or confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament. In a profound sense it is also a “confession” — acknowledgment and praise — of the holiness of God and of his mercy toward sinful man.
“It is called the sacrament of Forgiveness, since by the priest’s sacramental absolution God grants the penitent “pardon and peace.”
“It is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the live of God who reconciles: “Be reconciled to God.” He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: “Go; first be reconciled to your brother.”’ — The Catechism of the Catholic Church
As we told a high school freshman that his internet security violations could easily be construed as federal crimes — and thus helped him move past both an adolescent reluctance to confess and a (perhaps understandable) distrust of school adults, we must help the seditionists in a similar way.
That young man turned into one of our finest citizens, finest scholars, and most creative thinkers — and his life since has been a wonderful success. We can only hope we can have a similar impact on our January 6 — and election denier — transgressors.
Yet even if we cannot, we owe our children full-throated support for the effort — for if we do not do that we will simply confirm our hypocrisy and moral weakness to our kids. And if we confirm that, we — and more importantly they — will be permanently damaged.
- Ira Socol