At What Cost?

KERRY WASHINGTON

Everything has a price. It may not be monetary; it may be physical, it may be emotional. But everything has a price. Success has a price. Happiness has a price. Freedom has a price. The question is, how much is something worth, and more importantly…are you willing to pay?

So for the last time (for this season at least), I’m plucking another example from the show Scandal. The fictional president in the show, Fitz Grant, won a second term in office. It was a great accomplishment; but in the process, his son was killed, his marriage collapsed, and he was estranged from the woman he loved. Of course, the woman he loved was not his wife…the show IS called Scandal. But regardless, in this moment of victory, he had an emotional collapse. He fell to his knees in the Oval Office, and was overwhelmed by the extreme sacrifice it took to get there. And he was not happy.

Fitz-knees-1

So switching gears to the real world. As Americans, we enjoy certain freedoms. As we know from history, it came at a price. We have the freedom of expression. But that freedom sometimes results in a lack of civility. We are free to express agreement, disagreement, and even hate. I am reminded of the awful shooting in Overland, Kansas this past week. The perpetrator is a white supremacist. He will likely face the death penalty for the three murders he committed.

kansas shooting

However, people are free to express their hate, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. As long as they are peaceful, this is a freedom that is guaranteed by our constitution. Although the majority of Americans are horrified by the fact such hateful people even exist, there is nothing that can directly be done unless a law is broken. We can ostracize extremists; law enforcement can keep a close eye on the activities of such groups just in case illegal activity is going on…but we can’t do anything more.

All we can do is educate our children that such beliefs are wrong.

This is a price we pay to have freedom of expression.

On another level, I look at those that work in the criminal justice system. The prosecutors, the public defenders and the police officers. They make the sacrifice on the daily basis so that the system keeps moving. They sacrifice high pay, sleep, and in some ways, a normal life. These are the people that spend time in the jails; these are the people who get out of bed at 3am to see death and its aftermath. For them, it is worth it so that justice can be achieved.

For me, as a prosecutor, I become reflective when posing this question.  Public servants are not always respected; I have been vilified by folks who just don’t get what I do. It is also not the most financially lucrative path in life.

But, I have the freedom to try über interesting cases. I have the privilege of holding the hand of a grieving mother, and bringing her a measure of comfort by putting the perpetrator in prison for a long time. I am able to volunteer in my community, and follow my passion of helping the youth. I also get to write. So I (and others) sacrifice for the ability to be free, do justice, and hopefully make a difference.

Is it worth it?

I can tell you this. The day the answer is no, is the day you will see a drastic change in my life.

So I ask you…what is worth it to you?

What price are you willing to pay…and is the price you are currently paying too high?

Comments welcome!

Ft. Hood: An Issue of Gun Control or Mental Health?

ft. hood

Please see my take on this tragedy, published on theLaw.tv yesterday.  Ft. Hood

This week, there was another shooting tragedy on the Ft. Hood military base. Ivan Lopez, an Iraq war veteran and Army specialist, shot three people to death, injuring sixteen, before turning the gun on himself. A military policewoman bravely confronted him, which brought his actions to an end.

Unfortunately, Ft. Hood has been struck by tragedy before. In 2009, thirteen people were shot and killed by Nidal Malik Hasan. The difference in the 2009 tragedy is that Hasan had a clear agenda. He had been self-radicalized and took a terrorist stance against the United States. He was given a life sentence for his actions.

In the present shooting, the Army verified that the Lopez was being treated for depression and anxiety, as well as being evaluated for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, Lopez purchased the weapon used in the shooting several days before. He lawfully held a concealed weapons permit.

So the debate re-emerges. Is this another case of a mentally unstable person getting access to weapons? Are our veterans being properly treated for PTSD resulting from combat?

Keep in mind, the majority of people that suffer from PTSD, or any other type of mental illness, are not violent. Some key components of PTSD involve an inability to sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, and difficulty adjusting to civilian life outside of the combat zone. It appears that the Army was in the process of evaluating Lopez, and treating him accordingly. From what is currently known, it seems that the Army was in fact working with Lopez to address his mental health issues. What is not known is Lopez’s motivation for committing this horrible crime. The question will be if there were any warning signs that the shooter’s depression was turning violent and what, if anything, could have been done about it. The answer will hopefully be uncovered in the coming weeks.

The next inevitable issue is that of gun control. Many ask, “how could someone with mental health concerns be able to get a firearm?” This is a situation where the laws that are currently in place adequately addressed what was known at the time of purchase. When the shooter went to the gun shop, he was a current, serving member of the armed forces. He had not been officially declared to be mentally ill; there was no indication that he was suicidal or homicidal. There were no court orders against him, nor was he a convicted felon. If you look at his profile in a general sense, he is someone a gun store owner would have no hesitation in selling a firearm to. As such, he was lawfully able to purchase a firearm.

What is most troubling is that there is a policy at Ft. Hood forbidding firearms on the base. It is clear that this policy has not been enforced on two separate occasions. Unfortunately, Ft. Hood is a huge area, with 90,000 people. It may be physically impossible to search every person. The military is tasked with finding a solution.

At the end of the day, our vets have sacrificed so much, so that we can enjoy the liberties that we have as Americans. The biggest issue should be how can we help them? This is not a case of gun control going awry. It’s a case of human tragedy, with a reminder of how fragile the human mind can be.

This is an issue of caring for our veterans and making sure that those who suffer from mental illness have access to thorough care. And that is where our focus should be.

Melba Pearson is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.