Thursday, July 11, 2013

Public Shaming in Houston County

I grew up a very rural corner of Houston County here in Tennessee.  Nothing greases the wheels of every-day life in a small town more than gossip.  Such whispering voices provided me with a less-than-stellar reputation as a teenager.  Having a sense of sympathy for anyone caught doing anything wrong in such a small community, I was taken aback by the Houston County Sheriff Department's new website today.  One of my oldest friends shared this new gem of cheap entertainment via social networking.  The big stir about this new site is the posting of mug shots from local arrests (in a downloadable PDF format at that!)  In recent years, we have seen the inception of print publications devoted to mug shots in larger cities and mug shots being posted online by local newspapers in Every Town, America.  This public shaming is something which has bothered me for a while and prompted me to take advantage of the Contact Us page of the HCSD's new website to voice my concern.  Here is what I said...

I grew up in Houston County and this new website leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.  In recent years, news publications have taken shameless advantage of mug shots.  These public records which serve as valuable information to law enforcement are otherwise exploited for website traffic and paper sales.  Public shaming should never be executed in such a manner as this.  The posting of these images is a true reflection of not only the depths the department has sunk to for attention but also the small-mindedness of a community which embraces such information being turned into cheap entertainment.  In most walks of life whether it be the business world or a child being disciplined at home, reprimand should be conducted in private.  Posting images of folks to the internet who have violated the law (no matter how trivial the offense) is comparable to dragging them into the town square to have rotten produce slung at them.  While the Houston County Sheriff's Department is not alone in their handling of this information, they should represent the morals held by the community and strive to be better than this.  Many residents would believe small-town values are what hold our country together.  Shining a spotlight on the petty crimes of the County only blemishes the reputation of the entirety of its population.   Persons committing crimes need help during their troubled times and a hand to guide them in leading a better life.  Plastering their picture for literally the entire world to see only feeds the disease of crime and is in no way a means of fighting it.  The department should spend its time and money improving the quality of life of its citizens as opposed to exploiting the weaknesses of those who experience troubled times.  

I fully realize that some folks would love nothing more than to cast stones at each and every criminal which passes through their local justice system.  This same sect of humanity also takes delight in the misfortune of others and beams with glee at fresh faces assigned booking numbers and reasons for arrests.  While some may rejoice by arrests, I am saddened.  I'm saddened by Police Departments existing and growing by turning a profit on crime.  I'm saddened by the urge to punish rather than rehabilitate.  In a world where our digital timeline is public record, we make it nearly impossible for people to change and escape their past by giving audience to this new culture of public shaming. 

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