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Living with consequences of crime
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From Thursday’s murder victim in Lathrop to single mom and children in Manteca who lost their home and belongings thanks to bank robbers.

I make it a habit, when counseling youth, to drive home their responsibility for freely-taken decisions. In a culture in which everyone considers themselves a victim of circumstances, very few really embrace this principle.

For example, a person who drinks beyond the legal limit and then chooses to drive sets in motion a series of potential consequences for which they are responsible.  At best, they’ll be saddled with a DUI, and maybe learn their lesson.  At worse, they may cause an innocent person, or an innocent family, irreversible harm.  They may inflict a wound that never heals.

“But I didn’t realize I was drinking so much.”  “At what point did you lose track of your drinking, and why?  At what point did you allow yourself to forget what all of us know, that drinking and driving don’t mix?  Who or what obliged you to drink so much, or to get behind the wheel?  Are you that pressured by circumstances, that you would put everything at risk?”

“Well, I may have been driving drunk, but I didn’t intend to hurt anyone.”

We all have our own elaborate ways of placing the blame somewhere else.

But to disavow responsibility for one’s actions is to declare oneself a mere product of environmental factors, the inevitable result of countless details determining how a person feels, chooses, and acts.  Forget freedom forever.

Yet to be fully human, a person has to act responsibly, and with freedom.

This explains why so many people who inflict so much harm, with so little evidence of remorse or compassion for their victims, appear so inhuman.

The senseless Lathrop murder of Raul Gonzales
Like the man who walked up to Raul Gonzales Thursday morning as he entered work at Lathrop’s Mid-Valley Plaster, tapped him on the shoulder, and when Raul turned around, shot him point blank.  I know, because I had just walked into an area hospital ICU when the social worker asked me to pray with his companion of seven years.  He’d been shot just hours before.  

She had just been informed by medical personnel that his chances of living were extremely small.  On Friday, I returned to offer the last rites.  But what I could not do is return Raul to the ones who love him, to his buddies at work, or to the society of which he was a part.  He will never come back.

Meanwhile, his murderer walks free.  He probably feels absolutely no concern for the innumerable consequences of his actions.  It makes little difference to me what his excuse is. He committed a horrible crime, and by this he unleashed a series of consequences for which he is responsible.

In court, one day, he may get off easily.  But I would warn him that, at the gates of eternity, he will answer for all the consequences of this homicide.

Victims of Manteca bank robbery standoff
Before I prayed, for the last time, with Raul and his loved ones, I visited the home of another victim of violent crime.  Her name is Lorena Cisneros.

You may recognize her name. On Friday, Sept. 4, when two armed thieves fled the Bank of America in downtown Manteca, she was with her two boys in the duplex that they invaded.  By the grace of God and the help of police, the three escaped with their lives. But they lost nearly everything else they had.

Lorena is a single mother who had taken pains to furnish their apartment with dignity.  But the time that twelve-hour standoff was over, very little of the Cisneros family’s belongings could be salvaged.  What little survived the effects of tear gas and its propellant would be damaged during the long investigation.  The criminals would be provided three meals and a bed. On her part, Lorena would have to rely on the kindness of friends and family.

In an outpouring of empathy and generosity, officers returned three days after the standoff to bring gift cards and hundreds of dollars in cash out of their own pockets. Other community members also turned out to provide clothing, toys, and pizza.

Unfortunately, Lorena told me Friday morning, many of the donations were lost.  For lack of space, she’d kept the toys, most of her family’s clothing and other gifts - including a television - in a friend’s garage.  One day she woke up to the news that thieves had broken in, taking everything.

Lorena, now living with relatives, has managed to keep the gift cards and the donated funds in a safe location.  She expresses gratitude to the donors.

What she doesn’t have are some of the basics.  The City of Manteca responded to her inquiry by stating that they are immune from financial liability for damaged belongings, when the damage occurs in the fulfillment of law enforcement’s duty to the community at large.  They did, however, offer to pay the $500 equivalent to a deductible which Lorena would have paid, had she insured the items.

I understand the position of the city and why they referred Lorena to charitable organizations of our area.   I don’t regret having expressed my appreciation for the police’s performance that day, when the stakes were so high.

Understand position of City of Manteca
In fact, last Saturday, I sat across from a sergeant of the Manteca Police at a formal dinner.  He and I discussed how delicate was their task, and how toxic the tear gas residues are.  At that time, I hadn’t yet spoken with Lorena.  But I remain convinced that the police have done their part.

Lorena still is waiting for her renter’s refund. She needs to recover the damage deposit and September’s payment.  Unfortunately, the owners of the duplex no longer has the income necessary even to pay their own bills.

Some people criticize the police for the consequences of having launched so much tear gas.  The same people would run for 911 without a moment’s hesitation if a robber broke into their home.  My position is simple: if the police did what they had to do to protect the public and to demonstrate the compassion that the criminals lacked, even escorting the potential killers safely to their current place of lodging, and if the duplex owner lacks the funds necessary to help Lorena and the other renters, and if Lorena has to rebuild her family life from scratch, someone is ultimately responsible for the ongoing harm and human suffering.  These are the two alleged bank robbers.  

Their names are Joseph Richard Keller and Elvin Jerome Brooks.  They will be given a fair trial and three square meals a day.  They will enjoy a degree of protection and watch a great deal of television.  And I hope they read this article. Because the negative consequences of their selfish choices live on in the lives of many, many people.  I wonder if this troubles them.