Blaming Basil Eleby

By Team NIA

Follow the calls to a number of elected officials since March 31st and you’ll hear in loud clear tones, the need to blame and demand relief.  Relief from the inconvenience and the cost of having a main artery of travel interrupted for an undetermined number of weeks.  Since the collapse of Atlanta’s I-85 expanse at the Buford-Spring connector, emotions have been ignited and people want answers.  Why was he still on the street after so many arrests?  How long can he be locked away this time, once and for all?  What judges kept letting him out?  Did the District Attorney drop the ball?  How much is all this going to cost us as taxpayers?

The “he” in this case is a drug-addicted repeat offender named Basil Eleby, so far charged with a crime in this case.  Despite whether he is convicted or not, his name will be remembered for perhaps many years, because his name is now the simple label of blame to affix to an otherwise broad and complicated problem.  But blaming Eleby is likely to only be the obvious and easy beginnings of a rush to direct blame everywhere.  Nevertheless, and like it or not, “the Eleby case” marks a point in a long-standing conversation about the interest and will of our society to focus attention and resources on the cost of recidivism, and the social factors that lead to desperate and irresponsible behavior.

An official at a local jail once openly opined that it is not the responsibility of the jail to keep people out of jail.  Maybe others feel the same.  Maybe others feel it to be the responsibility of anyone else for both general and specific reasons.  That we must be able to blame beyond Eleby, because just blaming Eleby and locking him up for a longer period of time, does not relieve the current inconvenience.  Most importantly, if he ends up behind bars again, that in itself doesn’t fix the problem that will still be the problem whenever he is released – again.

And the blame game continues as the easiest game in town.  At least as long as we have to endure the scramble for alternative drive routes.

Perhaps the Eleby case will draw a bit more attention to the fact that judges and prosecutors can only do what the law gives them space to do.  That the sheriff, and jailers, and police officers should never be expected to do the job of filling all the gaps left in how we educate and develop, reform, repair and restore our citizen-neighbors for the better and broader public safety.  That law makers will only go as far as public opinion and issue-based empathy will allow them – from each of us, from all of us.

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