It looks like Seattle police may think the Sunday morning shooting deaths of four Lakewood police officers was the work of a guy who was reportedly out on $150,000 bail from another couple of crimes. However, the thing that everyone’s going to be talking about is the fact that he had previously been sentenced to a 95-year sentence in Arkansas, but he was released early after his sentence was commuted by then-Governor and former—and presumably future—Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee.
For Huckabee, this could be a Willie Horton moment. The suspect is even black like Horton, meaning that Huckabee’s defenders will get to call his detractors racists. If the discussion of the political implications for Huckabee goes on more than a couple of days, then I predict that this will mark the beginning of the 2012 campaign season.
I’m more worried that it will lead to an election-fueled backlash against lenient treatment of prisoners. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a guy who kills four cops should be let out the door, and if our legislators can craft a fine-tuned change to the law to prevent such catatrophes, I’m all for it.
The thing is, our legislators can’t do that. Oh, they might start with a law that only punishes the truly violent and depraved, but then they will slide down that slippery slope of harsher and harsher sentences until the prison population grows by yet another million.
Remember the “three strikes” laws? They were supposed to hit repeat violent offenders with really long sentences so they can’t anyone else. The concept has devolved over the years to include harsh sentences for smaller and smaller crimes, including victimless crimes like drug dealing. In some places, a few grams of cocaine can land you in jail for 20 years if you have prior offenses. A repeat DUI offender can get a 55-year sentence in Texas.
It’s not hard to imagine this incident touching off another round of “get tough on crime” bills—some of them named after the dead police officers, no doubt—that miss the mark and hurt a lot of people who don’t deserve it.
Or maybe I’m the one who’s over-reacting and nothing like that will happen.