Mary Kay Letourneau, the teacher who spent over seven years in jail for having sex with her 12-year-old student whom she married soon after her release, is once again finding herself behind bars for more criminal acts. This time, however, it is not for molestation charges, but for failing to appear in court for her suspended driver’s license. Fair enough, but why is this a major news story?
The obsessive coverage of celebrities and famous criminals stems mainly from intrigue and fascination, but what propagates our continued interest in their lives is the idea that people can’t change. If the public finds the person to be a criminal, not so much the legal courts, that person’s every footstep is watched in wait for the next criminal act. If the crime does occur, the public’s opinion comes down like a vindictive gavel, “You see? They did it again!”
Few cases have been as public or judged as passionately as that of George Zimmerman. Even before a court hearing, he was considered to be a criminal. Of course, he had his own sizable set of defenders but the media in general looked upon him warily. After all, he was alive but a young African-American boy was not. Even after the court found Zimmerman to be innocent, there was still a general feeling on most news stations that perhaps injustice had been done. His guilt or innocence, and the public perception of it, played into the coverage of another incident not too long ago when he had pointed his gun at his girlfriend and refused to leave. This was viewed as some sort of proof of his “criminal mind.”
Many people assumed that Zimmerman was the same person since that fateful day when he shot young Treyvon Martin. Whether or not he became better or worse as an individual, his or anyone’s psychological makeup would change after being accused by half the nation of being a killer. Not even the actual, proven-beyond-doubt killers face that much pointing and stigma. Even after the charges were dropped by his girlfriend, people can guess as to where the violent behavior was coming from but can’t equate one violent event with another after so much publicity and exposure in between. Those are two different events with two completely separate stories and perhaps, to some degree, even people.
It is beyond doubt that Letourneau did the wrong thing in 1997; there were more mature and reasonable ways to deal with her situation. For people to equate her suspended license with the “Oh, there she goes again” attitude implies that the same immature behavior keeps prevailing. People change.
Letourneau was proclaimed a child molester on a national stage. She is a registered sex offender. One of her daughters was born in prison. This would change anyone and will be with her the rest of her life. That is a fact; not a matter of opinion. Yes, she and Zimmerman are not the only people who have committed more than one crime. For those who have, each act should be looked upon individually and not assumed to be lumped together. While it is tempting to group a person’s multiple criminal acts into the “at it again” scenario, it is a mistake to equate them.
By Ildar Sverigin