What does accused murderer Ellie Nesler symbolize?
What does it mean in 1993 America that she gunned down her son's alleged molester in a courtroom, and that the public overwhelmingly supports this act?Jason Fine, writing in the (San Francisco) Bay Guardian, writes of Nesler:
"On the talk shows of America, she became a symbol of the frustration some Americans feel toward a justice system that they believe allows rapists, molesters and murderers to go free. When so much of the violence around us seems senseless, even random, many view the killing of Daniel Driver as a somehow righteous act - one woman's attempt to restore moral order, to stop a world spinning out of control."
Ellie Nesler's attorney, J. Tony Serra, also has fixed upon morality in fashioning a defense for his client. He says Nesler, frustrated to the breaking point after waiting four years for the previously convicted Driver to come to trial again, cracked when Driver reportedly smirked at her son on the way into court.
In Serra's words, Nesler suffered temporary "moral blindness."
That is one thought-provoking term: moral blindness. A supremely relevant concept for our times.
Seven years from a new century and millennium, there is a lot of moral blindness going around today in the United States. Every week, we read or hear about extreme examples of it, about "good but frustrated" (or "disillusioned") men or women who crack when seized by moral blindness.
Ellie Nesler. Gian Luigi Ferri, the San Francisco high-rise killer. Joel Souza, the Antioch, Calif., father who killed himself after shooting his children dead. Steven Page, the Fremont, Calif., father who beat his wife to death, threw his 3-year-old daughter off the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped to his death after her.
Nesler's act, in fact, is described as "a return to frontier justice." But is it really a return to anything? Or is it a decidedly modern trend, a new ethic for a nation of marginalized, alienated, disillusioned and angry people, most of whom see themselves as victims of somebody or something? Real frontier justice was the answer to a vacuum.
This is 1993. We have a massive and sophisticated system of justice. That it is imperfect, overloaded and often inefficient is inarguable. But a system exists, and it is the hard-won product of two centuries of American civilization.
And what does civilization depend upon? Individual self-control. Without it, the former is puny, little better than an illusion.
When individuals feel justified in losing control - and are congratulated or excused for their loss by tens of thousands of other individuals - society as a whole begins to follow suit. First the people go down the drain, then the system.