5/11/2006

Daniel Biechele sentenced

Let's not get into the criminal negligence that went into going to a Great White concert in the first place. Today Daniel Biechele, who was stupid enough to light the pyrotechnics that ended up killing a hundred people who were stupid enough to go there in the first place, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison, eleven of them suspended.

The thing I find puzzling three years later is the white-hot rage many of the victims' families still feel towards Biechele, who, granted, did something terribly, terribly stupid (I mean, apart from just being the manager of Great White), but without any malice, and who has taken full responsibility for what happened.

It's not always the case that vengeance satisfies. In this case, it would not have mattered one whit if he had been sentenced to a thousand years behind bars, because he was not guilty of what the victims’ families needed him to be guilty of. The rage they’re feeling is for the kind of senseless accident that takes thousands of lives every day, but for which most people have no one to blame.

Which is not to say that there are not precautions that should have been taken by bar owners, and things that should not have been done by the band, and the fire marshal (who granted the bar a license for more standing room, even after finding several violations of the fire code). But when one victim’s girlfriend told the judge that when you’re boyfriend leaves to play a show, he’s supposed to come home, it shows the futility of the whole exercise.

I mean, yes, when children go off to school, they're supposed to come home. When mommies and daddies go to work, they're supposed to come home, too. But sometimes they don't. And that's life. And at some point we have to accept the tragic in it and try to have a little dignity about it.

As always there are a couple ways to look at the sentence: is it a warning to other white trash pyro-hair bands, or is it merely a punishment?

The media is loving it, of course, because tears and cries of vengeance on contorted faces are just great news. Personally, I don’t think there should be cameras in the courtrooms, precisely because of this kind of pornographic coverage. I also think it’s enough in a case like this to have written impact statements submitted to the judge. However cathartic it’s supposed to be to have victims or their families confront the accused, it seems little more than medieval spectacle.

Even the great hoo-ha over the little girl who was paralyzed by a stray bullet and told the man who fired the gun she forgave him in court was too much for me. When the media isn’t being lurid it’s being sentimental. This was a way for the media to sentimentalize an epidemic of violence in this city, rather than do the hard work of looking into it in a real and significant way.

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