US can stand to learn from Griner’s swift punishment


You may not know about Brittney Griner or her stardom in the WNBA. You may not care that Russian airport guards caught her with a cannabis vape cartridge in her luggage. You may not believe that a basketball player with a medical marijuana prescription is worth a convicted arms dealer in a contemplated prisoner swap.

I hadn’t really followed her career. I don’t listen to sports radio. I knew that WNBA stars have to play overseas during the off-season to make ends meet. And we all know that Russia has devolved into a police state.

Is Griner a convicted felon or a political prisoner? Putin makes no distinction.

Something altogether different caught my eye when Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. It wasn’t the severity of her punishment. It was the speed. This won’t be a popular sentiment, but we can learn a lesson here.

Griner was detained at the Moscow Airport on Feb. 17 and charged with smuggling drugs into Russia. Her trial began July 1. She pleaded guilty. She was sentenced Aug. 4, less than six months after her arrest-slash-abduction.

Contrast that verdict with Alex Jones, punished last week for fabricating lies against Sandy Hook families. That took almost a decade.

Most rioters who besieged the US Capitol 18 months ago have not faced any consequences.

Anyone charged with a federal crime in the United States waits years for a verdict. There’s a vast difference between pursuing justice and meting out punishment, but our systems take too long.

Crime is reduced when consequences are swift and certain. When cause and effect are stretched too far apart, their connection fades into an abstract concept. We don’t want anyone to be wrongly convicted, and each safeguard creates more delay. How are we to respond when the delays create problems themselves?

Move the argument away from criminal justice and it becomes easier to see its debilitating effect.

After the Holiday Farm wildfires, the most hopeful and determined residents wanted to rebuild almost immediately. Lane County was taking five months to process building permits. Contractors could not give guaranteed bids because lumber prices were skyrocketing. Once plans were approved, they were no longer affordable.

China built a hospital for coronavirus patients in a week, and they’ve done this more than once.

It’s easy to say that’s too fast. It’s harder to determine what’s too slow. I’m asking like a kid in the back seat, “Are we there yet?” Have our approval systems gotten so slow that they no longer serve people’s needs? Justice delayed is justice denied.

Our processes are even more sclerotic for environmental concerns.

Dioxin cleanup at Eugene’s shuttered JH Baxter wood treatment facility could take decades. Foster Farms wants to renew a critical permit but they have no plans to reopen their chicken processing plant in Creswell.

Permission takes longer than production.

More flexibility in staffing would allow the government to process permit surges without increasing costs. Delays carry real costs.

Citizens must believe that their government works for them. When that faith fades, bad things happen.

Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at www.dksez.com.

This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: US can stand to learn from Griner’s swift punishment



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