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Jewish World Review May 7, 2001/ 14 Iyar 5761

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Caveman justice isn't the answer --
MALE-BASHING, long a popular pastime among divorcées and other victims of testosterone exposure, may take on literal tones in Wisconsin. Under a new proposed law, an abused woman's relatives would have permission to bash the men physically who bash their female kin. Basher becomes bashee.

Let me translate: If Joe Schmoe shoves Susie Pie -- or follows her to the grocery store without permission (that's called stalking) -- Susie's brother Jake could kick the #@!* out of Joe and be congratulated by the courts. Also immune to indictment under Assembly Bill 349 would be Susie's father, grandparent, sister, aunt, uncle and first cousin.

The bill covers only simple battery committed in response to "domestic abuse," defined as causing bodily harm to another person or stalking; Wisconsin law now forgives battery only in cases of self-defense.

Frankly, I sort of like the underlying principle, even if it is unabashedly unconstitutional. Susie's brother's inclination to beat the living tar out of his little sister's punisher is exactly right. It's the way the Old Testament meant things to be. My own brother and father advised my first husband to take out a healthy life-insurance policy and remarked frequently on the particular sensitivity of kneecaps.

Traditionally, family members are supposed to protect each other. But codifying a principle that abuses a man's right to due process while violating the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection is a tad bizarre. You can't legalize abuse even if it's deserved.

Battery is battery, though that doesn't preclude jurors from deciding that Jake was justified in pounding his sorry Schmoe-in-law and letting him off the hook. Most likely they would. But do we really want to say, "Go for it, dude. Kick-A and we'll give you a ride home?"

As for equality, imagine making it legal for a man's brother to retaliate against an abusive wife. "Yo, I just slapped her around a little bit. She's been slapping my brother around for years. She was long overdue."

And, of course, there's the near certainty that Joe would fight back. Then what?

Simple batteries can escalate into knife-wielding, gun-toting battles in the flash of a temper. Who's guiltier when the wounds are tallied?

The bill's sponsor, Wisconsin state Rep. "Snarlin" Marlin Schneider, says that acquitting family members in advance of their defending a loved one would protect potential victims and reduce the load on overburdened courts. The thinking seems to be that if an abusive man knows that he's likely to get pummeled for his actions, he'll refrain from exercising his inner beast.

Never mind that current laws would see him arrested, jailed and divested of his home, finances and children. Familial fisticuffs are hardly more convincing.

The question, as with any law, is: Do we need it?

No, and unnecessary laws are always bad laws.

Second question: What's the likelihood of a father, brother, sister standing by while their daughter/sister gets knocked around?

Equally unlikely is that anyone would be stopped from protecting a loved one by a law forbidding bodily harm except in self-defense.

Imagine: Joe Schmoe has just shoved Susie Pie into the living room wall. Susie's brother, who happens to be there, is tightening his fists, preparing to teach Schmoe a family lesson when the little red warning light goes off in his head: "Uh-oh, better not help Susie. It's against the law!"

One good beating may deserve another, but everyone -- even jerks like Joe Schmoe -- deserves a fair trial.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.

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