Call me crazy, but I think there’s only one thing that will make people around the country, maybe around the world, feel better after the shenanigans that have plagued us the past few years: Folks need to start going to jail.
We need to see charges made against big names, known faces. Arrests. Perp walks. Booking mugs. Trials. Convictions. Sentences. Prison. And I mean real time, not this slap-on-the-wrist stuff.
I keep hearing from people who talk about how tired they are, and they can’t explain the source of the fatigue but they are running on fumes.
No doubt the pandemic has played a part in this. First, there is the physical toll for people who caught the virus or have had to become caretakers for others affected by the virus. Sometimes this meant caring for people who were sick and sometimes it meant being a guardian to protect a parent or other family member getting sick.
And then there has been the mental toll. The isolation so many of us endured for the sake of our families and friends and for our own safety has been brutal. You know it’s bad when even introverts start to feel isolated and removed from their small circles of friends. A lot of us could benefit from spending time with a friendly face we haven’t seen in a while. A good hug would feel life-changing.
But there’s also the effects of the helplessness many of us have felt watching misdeeds go uncorrected, of watching the perpetrators of those misdeeds go unpunished.
Our social media feeds are populated with clips of every day citizens fighting retail workers for asking them to wear masks, for brawling with airline personnel who ask them to honor security ropes.
We have seen institutions we thought we could rely on be infiltrated by liars, thieves and opportunists. Grifters who turn every setback, real or imagined, into a fundraising appeal. Ignoramuses who wouldn’t be trusted as dog walkers end up in Congress where they endorse the lie told by the former president about being cheated of his re-election.
Supreme Court appointees, aided by a party addicted to the poison of power, mischaracterize their positions on the major issues of the day and end up doing exactly when they said they would not in rolling back civil liberties affirmed for decades. These judges defy precedent, using flawed analyses and outdated opinions to support letting personal biases become law.
Self-proclaimed patriots work to undermine the Constitution. People who call themselves Christian threaten violence against the folks they’re supposed to be saving. Politicians ignore court orders in hopes the wheels of justice turn just slow enough they will regain power.
Police chase Black people through city streets and into their homes and attack them with batons and Tasers over minor traffic offenses. Or they stand by as a gunman occupies a classroom filled with freshly slaughtered teachers and children. Suspects end up dead in falls from moving police vehicles or from self-inflicted gunshots despite their hands being cuffed behind them.
The Select Committee on January 6 broadcasts hearings where ex-supporters and former members of the Trump administration are called “heroes” for speaking in damning detail about what they saw and heard during the attack on the U.S. Capitol. “Heroes” who held their tongues during the subsequent impeachment trial and only speak now to save themselves from legal peril.
And so far, we don’t see anyone paying a price. I’m not counting the little guys who are getting pushed through the system, getting token sentences and paying lightweight fines. I’m talking about the big names, the known faces, the people who are pulling the strings. The ones who issue marching orders and point their followers in the direction of the nearest opponent.
We worry about what might happen if we prosecute these people, without worrying what will happen if we keep on letting them pass. Or what might happen if we made them answer for their actions.
Accountability could restore hope. Despondency could yield to optimism. Folks will become more committed to making society work when they share in the rewards. Those who have felt empowered to act in bad faith will realize consequences are real and likely.
It’s time to put the lid back on Pandora’s box.
Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.