Truth, Justice and the American Way
by Jan Baughman

Oh, when will life ever become fair? What can we do to change it? We sue and sue and sue and that doesn't help; we offer bribes and rewards, we slap on penalties, fines, and despite the power of money, it just doesn't seem to mold us in to the fine, moral human beings whom we bitch and complain that we aren't. Perhaps we've reached a point where it is merely a given that we are entitled to all that to which we are entitled, with no sense of humanity or humility. The concepts of "accident", "coincidence" and "mistake" no longer exist, except when they should not.

Mr. Fernando Carreira of Miami Beach heard a gun shot and with the help of his son, summoned the police. The shot turned out to be the one that Andrew Cunanan allegedly inflicted upon himself. Now Mr. Carreira wants the $65,000 reward that is due him for leading the police to Cunanan, but to the police, this is not an open-and-shut case. Mr. Carreira did not knowingly lead the police to Cunanan; it was a coincidence that the shot occurred at the time that Mr. Carreira routinely checks the houseboat. Mr. Carreira retained an attorney and filed suit against Miami Beach and Metropolitan Dade County for breach of contract.

Rewards are intended to financially motivate people to turn in criminals, but it must be done knowingly and willfully. Coincidences do not count. Life is not, after all, fair, and the attorney will take a nice chunk to try to right a wrong.

Richard Jewell did a good deed that turned sour and he wants money, too. Mr. Jewell is the Atlanta security guard who found the knapsack containing a bomb that exploded at Olympic Park. He went from hero to suspect in a matter of days, and even though his name was subsequently cleared, his life has never been the same. He settled with NBC, CNN and WKLS-FM; he is suing Cox Enterprises, The New York Post and Piedmont College; he bought a Toyota 4Runner, helped his mother buy a condo, moved to a new apartment, is negotiating book and movie rights to his story, and is working with his lawyers to file suits against the F.B.I., a New York radio station, and Time Inc. Additional suits against the television news stations who invaded his privacy are being explored, and Mr. Jewell remains unable to find a job (it's amazing he has any time to look). No, his life has never been the same. People stare at him in restaurants.

In the meantime, fifteen of the 111 people injured in the Atlanta bombing have filed a $100,000,000 lawsuit against the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, among others, for inadequate security. For those of you who are not mathematically inclined, that reads "one hundred million dollars".

One day we will all have to be placed on the equivalence of house-arrest, with a weapon detector attached to our leg and a microchip implanted in our umbilicus. Otherwise, the cost to society for reimbursing victims of crime and accidents and coincidences would become too great. There will be no more Olympic Games or airplanes or hot coffee to cause us harm, but we'll be safe. We'll only have ourselves to contend with.

And, of course, rewards will be a thing of the past.

Published July 27, 1997
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