Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Let the punishment fit the crime

A reader sent me an email a few days ago, making note of the website Free Jeff Luers. I was going to write about it a few days ago, but events conspired against me. Interestingly, the email came with accompanying paragraphs:

Take Jeff "Free" Luers, an impassioned Oregon eco-radical who at age 23 set fire to three SUVs on a dealer's lot to "raise awareness about global warming and the role that SUVs play in that process." The state threw the book at him, sentencing him to 22 years and eight months in prison, far longer than the average sentence of convicted arsonists, murderers and rapists in Oregon. No one was hurt in this action, the vehicles were salvaged and sold. And yet, nearing age 30, Luers still sits in prison, an impassioned activist pushed by what he saw as desperate circumstances into a desperate act (and, let's be honest ... who hasn't fantasized about doing something of this sort to Hummers?).

Jeff put it this way: "The FBI devotes more time and energy to radical environmental activists than it does Al-Qaeda ... I'm beginning to feel a lot more like a P.O.W. than a political prisoner." This is what we do to the best and brightest of our young activists -- stick them in a hole for 20-plus years, while we reward GE, Monsanto and Dow, who've done more to destroy the health of the planet in the time you've read this sentence than Jeff Luers could do in 10 lifetimes. "Free" deserves the last word: "This June marks my sixth year in prison. From behind these walls I have strived to remain an active part of this struggle; from contributing to the dialogue and discussion of tactics, to furthering the debate on climate change ... Perhaps most importantly I am proof that prison cannot crush the spirit of resistance." For more, checkwww.freefreenow.org.

I don't have sympathy for individuals who inflict property damage in an effort to trumpet a cause. It demonstrates a complete lack of scruples and debases the hard work of others. It also sets often good causes up for backlash--a strong negativity against them. So I agree with "throwing the book" at people who do it.

But to give rapists and murderers lessor sentences than a guy who blows up SUVs is absolutely ridiculous. Do we honestly place more value on property than we do for people's lives?