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Keeping it real

SoVaNow.com / June 14, 2018
Sliding ever closer to the fire:

» Police made two more arrests this week in the Halifax County High School graduation fight, which brings to three the number of suspects who’ve been picked up on suspicion of taking part in the altercation. (Another suspect is a minor, which means his name will not be made public, and the fifth and final suspect, said to be a 23-year-old Clover woman, had not been identified by police at press time.) Can we catch our collective breath and try to put this incident in its rightful context? The fight was a disgraceful thing, to be sure, and the people who took part in it are certifiable boneheads, but in terms of actual significance the fight belongs firmly in the category of spectacle. Once that’s established, trying to turn a single blowup into a broad indictment of society becomes a whole lot harder to do.

People do stupid things. All. The. Time. If you want to use this episode to argue we’re living through the decline of Western civilization, fine, go ahead, it’s your perfect right, but I can think of better examples of how social norms are shattered every day and that’s just from watching a White House daily briefing. What happened at the high school gym was embarrassing, but no one has to bear someone else’s embarrassment as their own. Graduation was and always will be a day of pride for students who walk across the HCHS stage. Mere spectacle does not change that. And let’s be honest: there’s not a person in the building other than the poor put-upon families of the perpetrators (and let’s hope the guilty parties themselves) who won’t laugh about the whole thing 10 years from now. It’s not a bad standard for deciding just how lathered up we should be in the present.

Contrast this with what we know would be the case if someone had gotten hurt — or, God forbid, if instead of throwing some punches the participants had traded gunfire. Now that would be no laughing matter, not ever. Deadly violence is sadly all too commonplace in our world, but after the Parkland and Houston high school shootings it’s understandable that people would be especially sensitized to the potential for harm at a school event, even one as solemn (and joyous) as graduation. But that’s not what happened here. We do need to keep this fact in mind.

Should they be convicted, the individuals who took part in the fight will be guilty of misdemeanor offenses that are unlikely to draw significant jail time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a judge come down relatively hard on the offenders, if only to send a message about the importance of standards of decent behavior, but no judge is going to render a verdict so far out of line with sentencing guidelines as to satisfy the most exaggerated demands for punishment from some segments of the public. The criminal justice system does not feed off the anger of the masses. Hopefully, public disgust does have some capacity to instill shame among those responsible, but even as we hope for this, it would be wise not to get carried away. These are kids we’re talking about — young people who have many years ahead to reflect on their actions and hopefully derive something to use to their future benefit. I don’t like the idea of people, especially young people, being forced to bear the burden of their mistakes for the rest of their lives without the possibility of redemption. Life delivers enough rough justice on its own for the rest of us to have any need to pile on.

Anyway, congratulations to the Class of 2018, surely a group of kids who’ll make us proud in the future. That’s my takeaway from Graduation Day, and I’m pretty sure it’s not mine alone.

... Other tidbits in the news ....

» Before the Town of South Boston took on the taboo of taxing tobacco products in the heart of Southside Virginia’s golden leaf country, the Town of South Hill went there — and the experience of our eastern Mecklenburg County neighbor is useful to keep in mind as South Boston Council decides what it wants to do with a proposal to add 25 cents to the sale of every pack of cigarettes in town. Last year, South Hill started out with a 30 cent-per-pack tax, a rate that the town council cut in half after convenience store owners, growers and others complained. Today, South Hill is reaping more than $400,000 annually from its cigarette tax, which pretty much blows up the argument that smokers respond to these levies by taking their business outside of town. Sure, sometimes it happens, but not all that often. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see South Boston doing the same thing and dropping the proposed tax in half — which would still bring in enough to achieve the stated purpose of giving the town’s lowest paid employees a raise.

» If South Boston enacts a cigarette tax, will the Town of Halifax be far behind?

» Tuesday was Snooze Day at the polls as Virginia Republicans held their primary to select a candidate to run in the fall against Democratic U.S. Senate incumbent Tim Kaine. Virginia has become inhospitable territory for statewide Republican candidates — ladies and gentlemen, your last statewide GOP victory came in 2009 — and none of the primary hopefuls Tuesday had much chance of reversing the trend against Kaine.

Still, there’s a big difference between packing it in and blowing things up, and bless their hearts, Virginia Republicans opted for the latter. They chose the odious and utterly ridiculous Corey Stewart as their candidate — Confederate Corey, who was born in Minnesota but apparently wants people to think he sprang from the loins of his grandpappy J.E.B Stuart to carry on the defense of Ol’ Virginny. The modern-day Stewart is a nasty piece of work, excusing neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and promising a “vicious” campaign against Kaine. And who, pray tell, doesn’t crave more viciousness in American politics? Go away, Corey, and drag the rest of the party down with you.

» I try to stay away from cable news so I’m probably not the best informed person in the world, but have you heard? Trump University has opened a satellite campus in Pyongyang! I’m sure everything will work out fine. Fancy college degrees, exciting movie trailers, beautiful North Korean beaches ripe for condo building — don’t try to tell me the whole thing is just a big fake. Only Canadians would try to pull off something that dastardly.





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