The combination of the 24-hour cable news glut and the internet causes some significant distortions in public perception. The public periodically thinks that sharks are mounting an organized assault on humanity, for example, which is bad for sharks. The public believes that gun violence is suddenly worse than ever in the U.S., when it is in fact dropping dramatically, which is good for hysteria-based gun control efforts. It believes that storms like the recent tornadoes are more frequent and more deadly than they have ever been, leading ignorant news reporters and Congressmen to link the deaths to global warming. This good for Al Gore. In my case, stories like this one, which I would have blissfully been unaware of earlier in my life, come across by computer screen every day, leading me to contemplate moving to Pago Pago, or Mars out of despair for the decline of fairness and intelligence in the human race. I will steady myself and presume that without more detailed evidence, it is foolish to conclude the police and the schools are not, in fact, in league with Satan.
Only some of them are.
In Temecula, California, an undercover cop masquerading as a student orchestrated a drug bust in a Temecula Valley Unified School District high school by befriending and manipulating an autistic boy into obtaining small amounts of marijuana. You can read the whole awful tale here (the boy’s family is suing).
I have always been troubled by the ethics of sting operations, including those, like Abscam, that uncover dangerous corruption in high places. The courts have allowed law enforcement authorities to walk an imaginary ethical line by not calling it entrapment if the object of a sting has a demonstrable proclivity to engage in the fictional illegal opportunity being presented by the police, but disallowing arrests where it appears that an innocent-minded citizen was tricked into committing a crime. In truth, these two categories often blend into one. Most people, much as they believe otherwise, can yield to temptation under the right set of circumstances. That “proclivity” is there lurking all the time for most and perhaps all of us. I will accept the premise, without agreeing with it, that law enforcement can be justified in manufacturing such deceptive and manipulative fake crimes by utilitarian balancing. Involving an individual whose emotional and cognitive disabilities make him unusually susceptible to manipulation, however, in inexcusable.
I wouldn’t use the horrible judgment of an undercover drug agent in exploiting and entrapping a trusting, vulnerable autistic student to conclude all such operations are too unethical to allow, but I’m close. Obviously one wouldn’t seek out the most savvy of students to infiltrate the drug market in a school; picking the most gullible, least experienced or dumbest is just common sense. Choosing a special-needs student whose emotional well-being may well be permanently damaged by the experience, however, is worse than unsporting. It’s cruel, and it’s irresponsible.
The school that allowed and the agent who perpetrated this despicable act deserve to be condemned and punished. No utilitarian balancing can justify it.
Pointer: Alexander Cheezem