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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Nassau County Should be Ashamed

    Henry VIII started his reign with a smattering of public beheadings, each of which demonstrated his omnipotence and the strength of his rule to his subjects. Lynch mobs in the South hung people whom they didn’t believe the law should protect. A prison in Florida has recently instituted pink uniforms for its inmates. In retrospect, these examples of mob justice and humiliation seem less noble than immature and ineffective. Nassau County’s “Wall of Shame” can be added to the list.

    By posting the names and mug shots of those arrested for DWI on their website, the local police seek to tap into our pride and self-worth, rather than our senses of responsibility or foresight. Unfortunately, impaired judgment doesn’t discriminate. Like pictures of orphaned children, the threat of having their mug shot posted on the county’s website will never serve as a deterrent to people already intoxicated; it’s just one more thing they will have to deal with when sober.

    For some, the online gallery has a charm akin to that of Facebook. The bleary-eyed, beleaguered offenders offer a voyeuristic pleasure to the county’s target audience. Because DWI seems like such a pedestrian (and therefore forgivable) offense, the portrayal of arrested individuals incites the same kind of good-natured ridicule that any gossip or slander in “People” magazine does.

    Shame, blame, or entertain? The county’s intent is becoming less clear and the punishment seems more absurd with each legal proceeding.

    Predictably, Nassau County is paying for the fun it has at these people’s expense. Alexandra Bursac, who clearly doesn’t believe in bad publicity, is suing the county and wants her picture removed. She was arrested for DWI, but has not yet been convicted. This is the latest court entanglement related to the Wall of Shame; most memorable is the case of a diabetic woman who suffered a seizure and whose picture was posted with the rest. The joke is funny only to those not involved, however: a Google Image Search yielding one of these mug shots can cause potential employees, students, or public figures their positions.

    Minors are excluded from the Wall of Shame. They are the most vulnerable (personally and professionally) to this kind of infamy, are most likely to be unaware of their limits, and most likely to be new drivers. Those charged with DUI are also exempt. In this case, legal limitations impede the punishment where it is most likely to be effective.

    The truth ignored by both the outraged offenders and the vindictive county officials is that people who drive drunk have lost their most basic, evolutionary instinct: their sense of self-preservation.

    Intoxication is a crime unique in that the person paying for the crime he or she committed is in a different state of consciousness than he or she was while committing the crime. Drunk, they are criminals who are dangerous to others on the road. Sober, they have legal rights and are harder to push around. If people can be held responsible for what they do while drunk, they can respond to and contest their punishment, especially regarding an institution as ridiculous as the “Wall of Shame.”

    Punishment for a crime is between a criminal and his or her prosecutor, even where public safety is involved. The creation of Nassau County’s online gallery will only serve to perpetuate drunk driving, because it shows how common, and innately comedic, the offense is. Regardless of whose lawyers win in the end, the county’s method is an abuse of power, malicious and self-perpetuating.

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