The 'right person'

September 13, 1994|By Barbara Samson Mills

THE ELDERLY couple was battered to death, not on a street corner or in a dark alley, but in their own Guilford home, where one should expect safety and comfort.

Neighbors were understandably upset and concerned for their own safety. At first. But after the arrest of the couple's grandson, an elderly resident of the beautiful, old neighborhood was interviewed by a television station. Her response raised the hairs on my arms -- "of course, it's a terrible thing," she said, "but at least we know it was a family member, and not someone . . . you know . . . stalking the neighborhood."

All the implications were there -- it is better to be killed by someone you know, it is better to be killed by "the right person." And implicit, "thank God, it wasn't one of 'them.' "

In the past few months, we have been regaled by the horrendous circus of the Simpson case, yet another double murder. In a great many interviews with fans, men and women, black and white, the opinion was: even if O.J. Simpson did it, it is probably forgivable in the end, because the alleged killer has been a "hero," "role model," one generally admired by the public for years, in other words, the "right person."

Among the many supportive signs that appeared on the fence around the Simpson estate was one that read "hit her again, harder." In both cases, some are only too ready to excuse on the basis of social standing and/or fame.

President John F. Kennedy's extramarital affairs are by now fully documented, yet we still idolize and admire him because of his charisma and elegance. The guy next door, under similar circumstances would probably be dragged through an ugly divorce and lose custody of his children.

Jimmy Swaggart admitted to sexual misconduct, yet he still has a following of millions because he is, after all, "a man of God." (A friend's 13-year-old son was arrested and almost jailed because he stole a $1 item from a store, a first offense.)

Several of Richard Nixon's top echelon "crooks" spent time in jail, yet these felons are now commentators, authors and highly paid professionals because they are upper-class citizens.

We shouldn't be surprised, we are after all following in the historical footsteps of such as King Henry VIII, who, when he couldn't rid himself of his wives legally, went out and formed his own church that now is one of the top ecclesiastical foundations of all time.

Perhaps we could call this the Dostoevski syndrome; his well-known hero in "Crime and Punishment," Raskolnikov, a man divided against himself, believed passionately that a crime, again murder as it turns out, in the pursuit of what he sees as justice and if committed by the "right person," is permissible.

The timeless difference, however, is that in the end Raskolnikov turns from rational evil and toward a "new, hitherto completely unknown reality," -- a far cry from supportive cardboard signs, and a sigh of relief.

Barbara Samson Mills writes from Monkton.

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