Monday, October 7, 2013

The death of Christian Adamek and zero tolerance insanity

Christian Adamek, 15, hanged himself after getting in trouble for doing something that wasn't evil, wasn't a threat to anyone's safety, and wasn't a big deal to any rational person. Christian landed himself in big trouble for streaking across the field during a football game at his high school.

Before Christian's death, the school's principal said the teen's stunt could warrant legal charges atop school discipline. "There's the legal complications," the principal told a news station. "Public lewdness and court consequences outside of school with the legal system, as well as the school consequences that the school system has set up."

Christian's death is tragic. Was it prompted by the prospect of an overblown reaction to his schoolboy prank? We don't know for sure.  Regardless, Christian deserved detention, not to have his name slapped on a sex offender registry along with rapists. If Christian took his life over the prospect of having his life destroyed by vindictive adults who think streaking is on a continuum with rape, then we've all got blood on our hands.

In our zeal to protect women and children from predatory men, we've enacted a multitude of laws that, among many other things, put high school streakers, guys who pee in the alley after imbibing a little too much, and guys who have sex with their slightly younger girlfriends, onto sex offender registers. The majority of states now register streakers, an indication of why the number of registered sex offenders in America has exploded. If they were all crammed into a single state, it would be more populous than Wyoming, Vermont or North Dakota. It's a cottage industry, with lobbies and powerful interests behind it, and it won't let up any time soon because not enough people give a damn about the Christian Adameks of the world.

Zero tolerance policies excuse people from doing something we are loathe to ask people to do any more: think for themselves -- to use their discretion, to exercise common sense, to employ mercy, and to look at things with balance. It's a lot easier to hide behind a zero tolerance policy so we don't get in trouble for exercising our discretion contrary to the common consensus. The problem is, zero tolerance polices are written for a black and white world, and the world is mostly gray. Sometimes the result of zero tolerance policies is Christian Adamek.

We are beyond saddened by Christian's tragic death. The world has gone mad.