May 27, 2018
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A rush to judgment on Lake murders

By Arthur Jette, Special to the BDN

Practitioners of healing arts generally try to “do no harm” in the application of their craft. However, in its Jan. 5 editorial “Strong but Needed Words…,” the Bangor Daily News may have not taken the consequences of those actions into account.

In this part of the world many of us feel safe enough to go to sleep with doors unlocked. For too many, though, the evil lies within the home, perhaps lying beside them in bed. There are already too many families who have buried their sons, daughters, grandchildren or siblings because of domestic violence. Too often, someone whom they had known and loved killed the ones they knew and loved the most. It’s only natural for most of us to be appalled at the reality of domestic violence when we are confronted with it.

After a particularly unspeakable act, such as the murder of a family by someone who claimed to love them, there is predictably a public outrage. As the families of the victims struggle to grasp the reality of the news while simultaneously mourning and grieving, the rest of us are motivated to make sure nothing like this will ever happen again. In that moment, we need to change the world, because the one we’re now in doesn’t seem like the one we once knew.

Long ago, King Solomon noted that “Justice will only be achieved, when those who are not injured by crime, feel as indignant as those who are.” But righteous indignation should be based on the truth.

One of the dangers we face as we seek to right the wrong is that we often look for someone else to blame for our failure to protect each other from evil. Even well-intentioned attempts to improve a system run an equal risk to cause harm.

It seems to me that such was the case in the Jan. 5 BDN editorial “Strong but Needed Words ….” The writer supposes that a report by Brian Gagan and three other authors has uncovered the real reason that a family of three was murdered by the controlling, soon-to-be ex-spouse, Steven Lake.

In addition to misrepresentations of the applicable law, both the writer and Brian Gagan make it plain that they blame Lt. Robert Young and the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office for a “fumble over Steven Lake’s guns,” but they fail to recognize that law enforcement officers must operate under the current laws, not the ones we wish we had.

Unfounded and irresponsible remarks will do nothing to encourage victims of abuse to seek assistance, and in fact may prove to only undermine whatever options are seen as available to victims. The majority of domestic violence homicide victims do not now seek protective orders, and most bystanders to domestic abuse keep their knowledge of it happening to themselves.

Instead of inciting additional anxiety for victims, we should be promoting community involvement with law enforcement agencies, and we should educate our citizens on safe ways to help one another so that there will be fewer victims of domestic abuse and fewer victims of homicide.

Since 1997, Maine’s Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel has played an important role in creating needed changes to reduce homicides in Maine. Meeting monthly, the panel has reviewed hundreds of cases, providing biennial reports to the Legislature, including recommendations for strengthening existing laws and enforcement practices. It is a more thorough and accurate source than the one repeatedly quoted in the Jan. 5 editorial.

In its rush to judgment, Gagan’s report is full of inaccuracies and misstatements of “facts” and the BDN editorial seems to have collaborated to play loose and fast with the details in an obvious attempt to discredit Young for unknown reasons.

The editorial writer seems to agree with Gagan’s criticism of “the apparent unwillingness of the Maine State Police and the Attorney General’s staff to take pointed, definite, short-term and public action against the perpetrators of this massive oversight by the Piscataquis Sheriff’s Office and its leaders.”

It’s not unwillingness; perhaps it’s because they took the time to check the facts.

Arthur Jette is community relations coordinator of Womancare/Aegis Association in Dover-Foxcroft, which works to end domestic violence. He also serves as leader of the Maine Chapter of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.

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