Thursday, August 17, 2006

On Jonbenet...and Judgment

No photographs today. The images were driven deep into our collective consciousness long ago. Images of a beautiful child, dressed up and flashing crimson lipstick like Marilyn Monroe. Images of innocent green eyes and a trusting smile behind a mask of adult glamour. I've often thought those images were the first crime that was committed against this child.

But what do I know? I'm just a dumb human--more often wrong about things large and small than I am right. I thought the parents did it.

There is so much that seemed lurid about Jonbenet's case. Not just the ghastly manner of her death, but the gaze of a child beauty queen, who spent so much of her abbreviated life preening and strutting. Even much of our fascination with the case, our seemingly insatiable appetite for those images had a lurid, intrusive quality to it. While the blond, made-up images of Jonbenet continued to appear on the cover of the tabloids years after her death, how many children had been forgotten?

But what do I know? I'm just a dumb human, probably more often wrong about things both large and small than I am right. I thought the parents did it.

I heard people talking on TV and decided that the parents had been handled with unusual lenience and restraint because of their money and influence. I heard people talking on TV and decided that they were clearly hiding something.

I knew nothing, but like all people armed with second-hand opinions, I was eager to spew my thoughts whenever the subject came up.

I like to think that my reckless, ill-informed belief had no effect on the Ramsays, a couple who now appear to have been burdened not only with a devastating loss, but with the almost inconceivable weight of their perceived guilt. But maybe every person who judged them was a small pebble in the sack of injustice they were forced to carry--Patsy Ramsay, to her very death. I can only hope not. I can only hope that the only victim of rash judgment is the one who judges.

Yesterday, like many of the people who had convicted the parents in their own mind, I listened to experts talking on TV, and I took up a whole new set of opinions and rationalizations: Yes, parents kill, but not in such a sadistic manner, I said, parroting the psychologists, at dinner. (Actually, I'm not sure if that's true. Haven't parents burned their children repeatedly with cigarettes, locked them in closets, methodically starved them and denied them medical attention?)

But what do I know? I'm just a dumb human--probably more often wrong about things both large and small than I am right. I thought the parents did it.

Even my judgments about the child beauty pagents are probably faulty. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Maybe it's something I just don't understand. After all, I'm just a dumb human...

Interestingly enough, the wisest words spoken yesterday were issued by John Ramsay, who warned against a rush to judgment toward the man who had confessed to the crime.

Today, at least for an hour or two, I'm judging nothing and no one.

24 comments:

rdl said...

I'm wondering if this guy who confessed is just a wacko who was already in trouble and wanted to be famous for killing her. I wonder if we will ever know.

The Curmudgeon said...

Judge not, lest ye be judged?

You can't fault yourself for drawing conclusions from the 'evidence' put forward in the newspapers. Pattern recognition is at the core of what it means to be human.

We are wrong only when we cling to conclusions and judgments when the supporting evidence is removed, or toppled under the weight of new, additional facts.

So continue to draw conclusions. But write them in sand on the beach; don't chisel them in stone. New facts will come in, like the tides, and lead you to new conclusions.

On just about everything.

Patry Francis said...

r: A distinct possibility.

curmudgeon: Wise words. Thank you for them.

Sky said...

I am glad there is at least some DNA evidence which might point the finger rightly in some direction. For sure it pointed the finger away from the parents MANY years ago, but the law enforcement officials and the media failed to put that piece of truth into the world. I only learned it a year ago when I read an article about this murder aloud to my husband. The several "individuals of interest" were discussed in vivid detail for the first time by the media (at least that I knew about). Amazing bunch they were...and none was related to this child. All of them had elements of connection to facts in the case in one way or another - significant elements which made even the most naive reader wonder at their innocence.

I am from Atlanta. This was a huge deal there because Patsy was from Atlanta and JonBenet is buried there (Marietta in NW Atlanta). Most people who knew Patsy and her own involvement in beauty pageants when she was younger believed she was not involved in any way - that her only mistake was perhaps in "pushing" JonBenet into an area of activity she herself had loved in her own youth. Most people who knew the family felt the Ramseys were good parents.

I agree that John Ramsey's comment is very wise. Having been there himself, he does not want to put another in the same position. That said, we all will profit from leaving the matter up to the evidnece and hoping there will be resolution which is confirmed by DNA so that few if any questions remain.

Patry Francis said...

Sky: Very illuminating comments--especially from a native of Atlanta. I would like to read the article you read.

Patry Francis said...

And oh yes, I, too, am hoping that the DNA evidence will solve this case conclusively.

chiefbiscuit said...

We are all quick to judge - often to our remorse - such a sad case is it not - on many levels.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

I can't help looking at my own six year old daughter and feeling sick to my stomach. I don't know who killed that child, but I do believe that dressing and making her up to look like a miniature adult was a crime of another kind, and one that may have inadvertantly led to her death. It's shameful that our society is robbing children of childhood. I hope Jonbenet and Patsy are both at peace now.

Carolyn said...

I never thought that the parents did it. There's still too many loose ends to conclude that the man who confessed did it either, although I can't fathom the minds of people who admit to things out of their need for sensationalism and attention. This may very well be one of those crimes we'll never know the truth about. I do have a problem with the lack of time/attention spent by the law on so many other child disapperances and murders though, as opposed to those of high profile families.

A great post, Patry. I stopped by via Adriana Bliss :)

Anonymous said...

--No sign of forced entry
--A ransom note written on their own stationery
--Hiring publicists and lawyers days after the murder.

The parents still look guilty to me.

Patry Francis said...

Chiefbiscuit: You are right; we are all quick to judge, and so often what we so staunchly defend as "our opinions" are formed through media manipulation.

sharon: I'm with you.

carolyn: We can only hope that the DA wouldn't arrest this man without more proof than his own confused confession. Thanks for stopping by and adding your well-reasoned opinion.

anon: Those "facts" once persuaded me, too, but really, what do they prove?

Sara said...

When I heard Ramsay on the radio this morning quoted asking the public to remember that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, it had nearly the same impact on me as when I heard several survivors of the World Trade Center and family members of those who didn't survive, all speaking separately, urging everyone, including our government, against retaliation of any kind.

Not sure how they're related. Both made me feel better about humanity just a tiny tad, just for a few minutes, though.

colleen said...

I was suspicious as well. I think because I felt even if the parents weren't involved directly that by allowing her to dress and make-up like a woman (an object) they drew perverts to her. I appreciate your humbleness here and, like others, I'm wondering if it's over yet...or not.

zhoen said...

I think I am back to my real opinion, that we will never really know what happened to that little girl. As we will never know what happened to many murdered children who are not children of privileged rich folks.

And call it culture til cows come home, child beauty pageants are creepy and twisted.

Lorna said...

dumb-humanlike, I think tht you weren't wrong about one thing and that is the pathos of seeing that child mimicking something that a) wasn't real and b) would be scorned if it were. too much sadness.

robin andrea said...

Headline murders always bother me. So many people are killed every year, but the media latches on to one and somehow elevates it above all others. This case was horrible and tragic, but children die everyday with only their small communities weep for them. Some tragedies belong solely to their families, as it should be. The media contributed to the objectification of this child everytime they played those videos of her strutting her six-year-old stuff on stage. Privacy is really a good thing.

Coll said...

I too was struck by the words of John Ramsey. This man has lived with so much grief.. yet seems to be the voice of reason in the latest developments.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I thought the brother did it. It made sense, why the parents would lie.

But so far, the jury is still out. Although this was certainly unexpected.

gulnaz said...

i totally agree with your view about child beauty pageants! the very idea is somehow disgusting!

pohanginapete said...

I can't escape the feeling that judgements should follow, not precede, attempts to understand. Not just in this case, but always. That principle should help us realise that when our ability to understand is so limited, particularly by the scarcity of facts, judgements should be reserved or applied with great caution.

I admire and respect your willingness to learn, Patry.

Edie said...

'the curmudgeon' says it well...

Also
It's off topic but i'm a new-comer who is behind here... I want to say congratulations on your first novel...how absolutely wonderful, exciting; cheers to you!

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