Mercy for mine, justice for everyone else

Earlier this week, an 18-year-old Sleepy Eye “man” was arrested and charged for allegedly shooting out a couple dozen vehicle windows in the area.

Along with a couple friends (who may also face charges soon), this teenager went out on a late night joy ride and acted like many teenagers do. In other words, he made some stupid decisions again, allegedly.

Going around and shooting out car windows with a BB gun shows a wanton disregard for others as well as a basic lack of respect, good judgment and common sense.

As such, this teenager is going to face some consequences in the legal system and publicly as well. In fact, thanks to social media, he has already been vilified and perhaps justifiably so.

What he did is unacceptable and the cries for justice and punishment are ringing throughout cyberspace and beyond.

Its’ been my experience in situations like this, we typically cry for justice; except for in the instance when it is our son or daughter accused of acting irresponsibly.

Then we plead for mercy.

We need to keep this in perspective. While the behavior is unacceptable and should have consequences, no one was physically hurt or should be emotionally scarred. Broken windows can be replaced fairly easily and inexpensively.

And while that expense should be one shouldered by the accused, I cringed a little when I saw he faces three felony charges.

Felony convictions are serious and can follow a person for a lifetime. They can’t own weapons, they can’t vote, and they have to reveal and explain their criminal record on job interviews.

Those kind of lifelong consequences seem extremely severe considering the severity of a crime while filled with disrespect and stupidity, is devoid of violence, perversion, or child-aged victims.

I would imagine the outcome of this incident will end up very differently than it appears today. Assuming the accused demonstrate remorse and a desire to make amends, those felonies will be reduced to misdemeanors. Restitution will have to be paid. Some community service will be required and a probation period expected. If the judge is especially creative on the day of sentencing, the accused may even be required to write letters of apology to each vehicle owner.

However, despite the calls for blood there won’t be any jail time or lifelong consequences inherent with a felony conviction. Nor should there be.

This 18-year-old and whichever of his under-age buddies face charges are someone’s son, grandson and nephew. They just don’t happen to be my son, or grandson or nephew, and they probably aren’t yours as well.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t as deserving of mercy and a second chance as we would plead for someone we cared about.

Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, What’s Going On, has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at