Tuesday, July 31, 2007

On accountability and blaming

Okay, so reader Duff has asked me to comment (and Doug has beaten me to it) on the helicopter crash in Phoenix. Two news helicopters covering the police pursuit of a carjacked truck collided in mid-air, killing both pilots and both cameramen, and it is now being suggested that the carjacker should be held accountable for the crash in addition to his other charges.

While I have nothing but sympathy for the families of the men who died, all I can do is quote a friend of mine who's a helo pilot: "The pilot in command is ultimately responsible for his aircraft." This isn't a situation where a police officer responding to a call was struck in the line of duty, or where a fire fighter was killed trying to put out a fire at a meth lab; those camera crews were there not out of civic necessity but out of a desire to turn a profit by providing the hottest available footage of the car chase. That they were there at all was their own choice, and that they crashed into each other was a tragedy but not a crime.

The carjacker committed a crime (probably several crimes) in stealing a car and running from the police, and he endangered a lot of people in so doing, but this crash, tragic as it was, was not a direct or even indirect result of those crimes. He should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for the crimes he did commit. Justice only works when it's used to address actual crimes, not when it's twisted to pile on criminals because we really resent them for what they did. It's a subtle but crucial distinction.

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