Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Bridgewater mother: Trial? Why?

Martin: Even in this godforsaken country, I've got a right to a trial.
Tetley: You're getting a trial with 28 of the only kind of judges murderers and rustlers get in what you call this god-forsaken country.
Cowboy: (while forming a noose from a rope in his hands) So far, the jury don't like your story.
Martin: I'm not gonna say another word without a proper hearing.
Ma Grier: Suit yourself, son, but this is all the hearin' you're likely to get short of the Last Judgment.
--The Ox-Bow Incident

Fast-forward to Bridgewater, NS, where the good townspeople have already decided that Penny Boudreau murdered her daughter.

Ms. Boudreau -- who did not have a lawyer with her and will be back in court next week -- sobbed during the brief proceeding. But her distress did little to prevent an angry reaction from some of the onlookers lining a sidewalk near the crowded courthouse.

Yells of "Child killer!" and "Murderer" and "Kill some more kids" could be heard from some spectators.

Tammy Gray, 35, of Bridgewater, was in the crowd.

"I'm mad, upset. I don't know what else to say....It's shocking to hear," she said. "There's also relief. We now know that Karissa can rest in peace."

Vox populi, vox dei
...right? But the phrase that screams the loudest for attention in the above is the last sentence: "We now know that..."

Epistemology is one of my interests. How do we know? And in this case, how did Tammy Gray know? There's that seemingly intractable age-old problem of the relation between knowledge and belief, rising up before us yet again. How do we know that the schoolroom floor will hold our weight? We believe in engineers. Sorry, China. How do we know there's a God? A nice man in a robe, holding a leather-bound book, told my parents, and they told me. For too many, knowledge is all about authority: the ascribed right to utter something called the truth, and be taken seriously, without the need for independent evidence. And about faith--the virtue of believing something without any evidence at all.

How do the folks in Bridgewater know Penny Boudreau is guilty? Because she was arrested. Because she was charged. Because the Crown is prosecuting her. They have faith in the RCMP. They believe in the authority of both the police and the Crown. They haven't seen, as yet, a scintilla of evidence. But they don't have to. Mobs don't need no steenkin' evidence. Mobs are their own authority, driven by their own certainties--which are generated by the very authority now keeping them at bay. A paradox.

For a mob, a trial is simply a waste of time and money. But Penny Boudreau will get her day in court--as the law obtusely demands in the face of the mob's knowledge. Anyone for a change of venue?

UPDATE: (January 30, 2009) Looks like οἱ πολλοί, on this occasion, were right.

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