How Can People Be So Heartless?

The words to “Easy to be Hard” came to me while I was reading the comments to an article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer.

The article looked at a voter-education effort organized by the ACLU known as the Campaign for Smart Justice, which seeks to reduce incarceration rates and curb racial bias in the justice system.

The voter education effort, a first for the nearly century-old organization aims to advance those goals by recasting the conversation about the role of prosecutors.

To drive home the message, the ACLU has hired more than 50 formerly incarcerated people — almost all of them brand-new to activism — to reach 11,000 ACLU members across the city.

To one ex-offender, such an approach makes perfect sense.

“I’ve been through a lot of the issues the Smart Justice campaign is highlighting: civil-asset forfeiture, racial profiling, cash bail,” he said. “Now, I’m trying to help change the system. You can’t complain about it if you’re not going to help change it.”

Each day, the canvassers are given assignments, tablets, instructions, a script to use at the door, a reminder to input data accurately. They are also reminded that they can’t advocate for any one candidate, because of the ACLU’s nonprofit status.

The local campaign manager notes that “this canvass has been the most efficient and least troublesome canvass I’ve ever run.”

Canvassers include:

  • a juvenile lifer, sentenced for a murder committed when he was 17, but now out on lifetime parole as a result of a recent Supreme Court ruling
  • a 35-year old man who was released in October after cycling in and out of prison for close to two decades on a string of gun and drug charges
  • a 39-year old man 39-year-old Mount Airy man has acquired an intimate knowledge of how prosecutors can shape citizens’ lives — starting with his first arrest on drug charges at age 28, and continuing up until this March with a case that lingered for seven months until it was dismissed

They all seem grateful for the opportunity to get paid for doing work they care about; who wouldn’t?

In a previous post, I talked about an ex-offender who mentioned that people in prison constantly talk about wanting to do something productive once they are released, but there are not many opportunities for such individuals.

That’s why this program seems like such a good idea.

I don’t always agree with some of the issues that the ACLU supports, but the Campaign for Smart Justice seems like a good idea. It offers an opportunity for people who perhaps know some of the relevant issues better than most, to share that knowledge, and it’s a chance for people to get educated on such issues.

Well, as you might expect, not everyone agrees that it is such a good program. I have no problem with people disagreeing on issues, but I do have a problem with the way some people express their disagreement.

Here’s a sampling:

  • Ex cons with drug and weapons conviction going door to door casing the homes visited. Excellent opportunities to advance home invasions
  • Let’s vote for the DA who will NOT put criminals in jail… yay!
  • Hello, I’ve murdered someone and spent 3/4 of my life in prison and now I’m going door-to-door in your neighborhood to…
  • So juvenile murderers deserve a second chance at having a life again? Yet the victim will never have that opportunity. And save the their brains hadn’t fully developed, therefore they didn’t know right from wrong BS.
    • Someone responded: So, should they no longer EVER be allowed to partake in society after incarceration?
    • to which someone replied: The heck with them.

I find it troubling that people have such attitudes, and such a negative view of their fellow human beings. Yes, some of these ex-offenders have done horrific things, but they have paid their debt to society. And now what most of them want is a chance to show that they have changed. Denying them such opportunities doesn’t seem to help anyone.

It’s hard to say whether people who post comments online are representative of what the majority of people think, but in some cases, just knowing that even a few people think in a certain way is enough to get me upset.

As one final example of the toxic nature of some online conversations, someone had recently posted his displeasure with the latest possible changes to health care insurance. He noted that he had a congenital condition that required a liver transplant at the age of 20, and now he is on medicine for life.

Here is one person’s set of comments (he had several replies as people responded to his posts):

  • Not my responsibility.
  • So explain to me again how it’s my responsibility.
  • I’m asking why, under the penalty of being shot or locked in a cage, I’m responsible for doing what people should be doing for themselves.
  • Insurance cost me a lot less when I didn’t have to pay for the people too lazy to get a job or when insurance companies could use actuarial tables to calculate how much to charge somebody who has made bad life choices. A heroin addict should pay more than I do.
  • Screw her (Nancy Pelosi) and every single moron who voted for, supported and signed into law this horrible mess (referring to Obamacare). I truly hope that every f***ing one of them die of the most painful and drawn out cancer possible.

I don’t know what would cause someone to have such a negative attitude, and I certainly hope it’s the way a majority of Americans think.

But sometimes it’s hard to tell, especially when reading online comments.

As Three Dog Night said:

How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard,
Easy to be cold.
How can people have no feelings?

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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