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Penalty shots: The game has changed (again)

By Pete Spitler
updated: 11/17/2017 10:10 AM

As I'm approaching my fourth anniversary of joining the Herald Tribune, there's a word that I never thought I'd encounter when covering news and events in Randolph County.

That word is "terrorist."

Many people are well aware of the Nov. 5-6 standoff on George Street between police and suspect Toby L. Latham and that Latham is facing a felony charge of falsely making a terrorist threat in alleged connection to the incident.

The incident started with Facebook posts - allegedly death threats in particular - and could be a landmark case in how specific social media behavior is handled, changing the game for anyone who thinks they can hide behind a screen name.

There's going to be people who think the charge is an overreaction, but given recent tragedies in Las Vegas, New York and Texas in a Post-9/11 America, what did you expect?

Americans have been classically conditioned that a "terrorist" is someone of Muslim faith originating from the Middle East. But that's not the way it is anymore.

The conventional definition of "terrorist" is "a person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims."

The word originated in the late 18th century from the French word "terroiste," and was originally applied to supporters of the Jacobins in the French Revolution, who advocated repression and violence in the pursuit of the principles of democracy and equality.

Pop culture puts it a different way - labeling people with mental illnesses who lash out violently as "deranged" or "unhinged," and classifying their acts as "going postal."

Mental illness is still a touchy subject nationally. Both how to diagnose it and how to treat it.

Too often, it seems, warning signs are missed or ignored, or inaccurately reported. Then the day comes when the breaking point is reached and we ask why?

How could this happen? Who's to blame?

Someone always pays in the end. The police want something in exchange for the eight hours of waiting spent out on the street.

The news media wants something in exchange for the ink and TV time spent covering the incident.

And the taxpayers want something in exchange for the potential cost to prosecute, rehabilitate and care for the accused.

It is a well-known fact that the U.S. prison population dwarfs that of other nations. As of 2015, the U.S. had less than 5 percent of the world's population, but is home to 25 percent of the world's prison population.

That begs the question of whether the Department of Corrections is adequately "correcting" anybody. Gov. Bruce Rauner and others have taken initiatives to reduce the prison population, with Rauner establishing a Criminal Justice Reform Commission, but recidivism rates are far too high (67.6 percent for offenders released prior to age 21).

Is prison the answer in cases like Latham's? Or is psychiatric treatment the way to go?

That's for the court system to decide.

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