The Blind Lead the Blind: On the Steubenville Courthouse Shooting

Ohio_-_Steubenville_-_Jefferson_Cnty_Courthouse

I have often noticed that the statue of Lady Justice on top of the Steubenville courthouse is not blind.

Most every generic courthouse-topping brass statue I’ve ever seen has been of an androgynous woman in a faux Roman toga, holding a sword in one hand and a balance scale in the other, with a nice thick blindfold tied over the top half of her face. We all know that Lady Justice is supposed to be blind– she is impartial as a human can be, weighing the case in her balance regardless of whether the plaintiff is rich or poor, whether the perpetrator is black or white, male or female, notorious or of sainted reputation.

This metaphor is of limited use, of course; if someone truly cannot see, she can’t use her balance scale or use her terrible sword to good effect. Innocent bystanders are going to get run through, guilty parties are going to sneak away in the chaos, when Blind Justice wields her sword of vengeance. People who have full use of their senses will deceive her, and use her for their own purposes. Far better if Lady Justice could judge impartially while still in possession of her faculties.

Though, when I put it that way, perhaps the statue of a blindfolded human being as Justice is a perfectly apt metaphor.

I can’t really say if I appreciate that Steubenville’s Lady Justice did away with the blindfold altogether. It could be an insight into true impartiality which sees all and avenges accordingly, or it could be an admission that she doesn’t try to be impartial around here.

Yesterday, I read a headline about the Steubenville Courthouse Shooting in the morning, but I didn’t hear the details until I went to run errands on the bus.

I get most of my local news from bus gossip– word gets around fast in a town like this. You can hear a sterile description of the names of the dead and the means of their passing on television, but the regulars on the bus have the impassioned play-by-play. One of the men on the bus had heard the shooting happen from his apartment a few blocks away– six or eight shots in quick succession. An old retired lady said it was football-related, somehow, which was easy to believe. The driver said people were angry all over town– angry and violent. She’d had one passenger screaming violent insults, claiming it was his own cousin who had been “murdered by cops” this morning; she’d seen a massive increase in the cop cars prowling around LaBelle. The retired lady spoke up again, that it hadn’t been the cops who killed the courthouse shooter– it had been his intended victim.

When I got home, I checked the official news reports against the bus gossip.

The gossips were mostly right. The would-be killer had lain in wait to ambush Judge Bruzzese in the parking lot. Judge Bruzzese, however, was himself carrying a gun, and so was a probation officer who happened to be coming into work just then. The would-be killer was shot dead in short order, though it wasn’t clear whether the probation officer or the judge had killed him. It was one of the two, though. The police hadn’t time to respond. The judge was also shot, non-fatally, and is recovering in Pittsburgh.

And, though the shootout doesn’t seem to have anything to do with football, it was one degree of separation from football– as everything in Steubenville is.

The would-be killer was Nathaniel Richmond, the father of Ma’Lik Richmond.

All the news outlets were referring to Richmond by his connection to his infamous son, and Steubenville people were furious about this. They said “the media” was interfering with Ma’Lik Richmond’s ability to “rebuild his life.” They prayed that God would “wrap his arms” around the wronged Ma’Lik Richmond and protect him from further notoriety.

Ma’Lik Richmond was a football player for Big Red, you see. Steubenville reveres its high school football players the way other communities revere saints.

Ma’Lik Richmond is also a convicted rapist.

Ma’Lik and fellow football player, Trent Mays, raped an unconscious teenager again and again, loaded her body into a car, kidnapping her, and raped her once more, while his friends filmed it for fun. He and Trent were charged as juveniles; he was convicted, but served less than a year. After Ma’Lik was released, he went back to school. There’s a loophole in the law barring sex offenders from going near a public school– they’re allowed in there if they’re students. So, the convicted rapist was made captain of the football team. When he first took the field that year, Steubenville gave him a standing ovation.

People on the comment thread about Nathaniel Richmond’s attempt at murder and resultant death were furious that Ma’Lik’s name had been dragged through the mud by “the media” once more. They offered their prayers for him. They wanted him to go on with his life.

I felt myself shaking and flashing back as I read the comments.

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