Sandy Hook School Shooting

Latest Emotional Response to Newtown Shootings Leads to Troubling Record-Sealing Measure

Legislation based on protecting people's feelings could have problematic side effects

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Acceptable emotion-based responses to tragedy
Credit: davebarger / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Should certain crime details and images be shielded from public view because of how they might make families of the victim feel? In the wake of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the state's legislature has decided it should.

At 2 a.m. this morning, Connecticut's General Assembly added a new exemption to the state's freedom of information guidelines that includes "Any record created by a law enforcement agency or other federal, state, or municipal governmental agency consisting of a photograph, film, video or digital or other visual image depicting the victim of a homicide, to the extent that such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim's surviving family members."

There's more:

Notwithstanding any provision of the general statutes or any special act, a law enforcement agency shall not be required to disclose that portion of an audio tape or other recording where the individual speaking on the recording describes the condition of a victim of homicide, except for a recording that consists of an emergency 9-1-1 call or other call for assistance made by a member of the public to a law enforcement agency. This section shall apply to any request for such audio tape or other recording made on or before May 7, 2014.

The legislation passed overwhelmingly, with only two state senators and two state house members saying no. Governor Dannel Malloy is expected to sign the bill. Here's his justification for the legislation, via Reuters:

Malloy said his goal initially had been to provide a measure of protection for the families who lost loved ones when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook, killing 20 first-grade students and six staff.

"But the fact is, all families have a right to grieve in private. Those who lose loved ones to violence have a right to protect themselves against further anguish," Malloy said.

Here's what House Speaker Brendan Sharkey had to say about it, via The Courant:

"It is impossible to ignore the concerns of the Newtown families, and in fact families of all homicide victims. I am convinced that nobody needs to see such disturbing graphic crime scene photos. We owe it to all these families to protect them from further pain. In light of the Internet age, the balance between privacy and freedom of information needs to be reexamined and updated. The interim task force [to be formed under the terms of the bill] will now be able to thoroughly explore these issues further and help us ensure that the right to privacy is properly balanced with the public's right to know."

But the balance between privacy and freedom of information was never about protecting people's feelings. It's about balancing the right of the public to evaluate the behavior and competence of government agents and officials with the right for citizens who interact with the government to have to reveal no more about themselves than necessary. That's why the Supreme Court's recent ruling allowing the DNA testing of anybody arrested for a crime draws outrage. It's not because of how it makes criminal suspects feel. It's about the degradation of the rights of the public to keep unwarranted information about themselves from the powerful government, not the other way around.

Democratic state Sen. Edward Meyer was one of the four legislators who recognized problems with the act:

Meyer, one of the two senators who opposed the bill, said: "As a father of six and a grandfather of 13, I identify so much with the horrific crimes of Dec, 14 and the immense sadness that those events bring to the Newtown families," Meyer said. But, he added, "There is a bigger issue here that must be addressed. Criminal conduct occurred which is subject to Connecticut's criminal law, perhaps the most public of our laws. The Newtown crimes were committed on public property. The photos and recordings were taken or obtained by police officers. The suppression of horrific crimes committed on public property and recorded by public officials is not consistent with a free and open society.

"The more we understand about our ugliness, the better chance we have to overcome that ugliness. Suppression of horrific conduct, as this bill dictates, invites history to repeat itself. … With sadness, I say that history will show that this well-intentioned bill is a large mistake."

Meyer made his comments in a printed statement, to which he attached famous journalism photographs depicting: Vietnamese girl running in terror after her clothes were burned off her by napalm; the killings at Kent State University; the police abuse of Rodney King; and recent injuries after the bombing at the Boston Marathon.

This act falls under typical misguided memorial legislation where the people support it have a tough time seeing the unintended side effects because this is policy based on emotion, not logic. What exactly counts as "unwarranted" invasion of the personal privacy of a dead person? How could such a distinction possibly be made? Note that even though the law includes family members among those whose privacy might be invaded, it doesn't actually give family members any say in the matter. Could a family member demand that law enforcement make this information public and be refused?

Anybody with experience with law enforcement agencies would conclude that this law will be applied to the extent that they possibly can. Just wait until this law is invoked to censor reports from an officer-involved fatal shooting. No wonder civil liberties and newspaper groups opposed the legislation:

In a joint letter to Malloy opposing the bill, groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, The Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association, Connecticut Broadcasters Association and Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information said the documents were essential to public watchdogs keeping an eye on government.

"We maintain that public access to investigative reports, 9-11 emergency call transcripts and recordings, death certificates, and the like, serve the public's best interest by permitting the public to monitor the performance of its government," the group wrote.

I had a devil of a time trying to track down the actual wording of the amendment this morning. The name of the bill and the bill number was not listed in any of the news stories I read. That may be because, as The Courant had noted, the bill was drafted in secret, which is not exactly the kind of behavior that suggests the government is engaging in the work of protecting the public.

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  1. “Just wait until this law is invoked to censor reports from an officer-involved fatal shooting.”

    But…but…but…the CHILDRENZZZZZ!!

  2. What. The. Fuck. is with Connecticut lately. It was never this stupid before. And now we have this stream of idiocy coming from it. It is no longer the place I grew up in.

    1. Sandy Hook aftermath has provided ample reasons to disown my home state. This is particularly disgusting.

      But really, I disowned it as soon as those motherfuckers voted Blumenthal to the senate. He is seriously terrible.

      1. Yeah, Blumenthal was a real kick in the nuts. Not that you have nuts. Do you have nuts?

        1. Her guy lets her talk to us, so I think she has his.

        2. Isn’t he still a step up from Chris Dodd? I mean, its a low bar…

          1. Sadly, Blumenthal is much, much sleazier than Chris Dodd. In the runup to his election it came out that he lied about serving in Vietnam, and he still won.

            1. Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.

              If someone is sleazier than Chris “revolving door” Dodd, something is terribly wrong with the world.

            2. This is… What the fuck? I am glad my father took my mother to Florida when they were married and not back home to her native Connecticut.

        3. Girls don’t have nuts. But they do have nads. They’re hard to kick, though.

      2. They have to give the appearance of having done something, Epi, especially if they actually can’t do anything after the fact.

    2. CT has always been this stupid. You can’t have forgotten Joe Lieberman that quickly.

      1. The Special Olympics HQ isn’t in CT by accident.

        In advance, I apologize to the retarded for comparing them to politicians.

  3. Let me guess, the two that voted ‘no’ voted ‘no’ because it didn’t go far enough.

    1. Well, based on this post, at least one of them was really against it.

  4. That will never be abused.

  5. Can we please port “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” to something non-religious people can intuitively understand? Gravity doesn’t give a shit that you intended to fly when you jumped off the roof, government by intention is just as stupid.

    1. Brett, I’m atheist and I don’t see the necessity of changing that. That phrase is quite accessible to anyone who has grown-up in a culture where religious belief in hell predominates. Trying to change it would give the religious another reason to whine about how they’re being oppressed. Phrases like “only Nixon can go to China” are absorbed by speakers of the language and understood even if their literal meaning is forgotten by most speakers.

      1. Phrases like “only Nixon can go to China” are absorbed by speakers of the language and understood even if their literal meaning is forgotten by most speakers.

        If only the intentions aphorism was absorbed by our culture. Thanks for the thoughtful response, though.

      2. Phrases like “only Nixon can go to China” are absorbed by speakers of the language and understood even if their literal meaning is forgotten by most speakers.

        It’s a well-known Vulcan saying.

    2. Gravity doesn’t give a shit that you intended to fly when you jumped off the roof, government by intention is just as stupid.

      You don’t want people to fly? What’s wrong with flying? Shouldn’t people be able to fly? Why are you against flying? Why don’t you want anyone to fly? Why do you hate flying? Why do you hate people who want to fly? Why are you such an angry and hate filled person? Why should anyone listen to you, you rabid hater? You’re just a big meany! No one should have to tolerate your intolerance! I hope you die! Die motherfucker! Die in a fire!

      1. “Die in a fire!”

        Not jumping off a roof?

        1. What the fuck? Don’t you understand anything? People are supposed to fly when they jump off the roof! That’s the intention! You want people to die when they jump off a roof? You’re as bad as Brett! Fuck you too! I hope you die in the same fire!

          1. Well, I demand the right to be fireproof, oppressor.

      2. You don’t want people to fly?
        I’m not gravity
        What’s wrong with flying?
        Nothing
        Shouldn’t people be able to fly?
        Without mechanical assistance? Physics indicates not
        Why are you against flying?
        I’m actually against discounting the effects of gravity
        Why don’t you want anyone to fly?
        I actually have a long list of people who I’d like to take up to a high rooftop and assist their attempts to fly.
        Why do you hate flying?
        Its mostly the stop at the end I don’t want to experience
        Why do you hate people who want to fly?
        I don’t. I hope they all attempt it.
        are you such an angry and hate filled person?
        Genetics?
        Why should anyone listen to you, you rabid hater?
        On the internet, no one can prove I’m a dog.

      3. Your anger is misplaced, sarc. It’s not Brett that doesn’t want us to fly, but our stingy legislators. If only they would pass a law allowing us to fly.

        1. I’m waiting for them to cure obesity by amending the law of gravity. They’ve already repealed all the laws of economics. No reason why they can’t go after the laws of physics as well. There truly is nothing that legislation cannot do.

    3. Go to hell.

    4. I once dreamnt of Hell as a palace made of ivory too beautiful for a mortal soul to endure being in its presence. I had been reading a stack of Sandman graphic novels at the time and they have a way of getting under your skin.

      1. The capacity of mortals to take shit for granted is underestimated.

    5. Hell doesn’t have to mean the pit of eternal fire that surely awaits all atheist (and the French) 😛

      It could be referring to a metaphorical idea of something that is really shitty.

      1. As a metaphor, Hell is universally understood. That’s why I tend to capitalize it even though I don’t take the physical existence of much of what is described in the Bible seriously.

      2. And for the French, their punishment will be to be stuck with the choice of two dining establishments — Arbys and IHOP.

        1. I though the French liked horsemeat, so Arby’s should be right up their alley.

          1. Hey now. Once every 3-6 months I’ll drive by an Arby’s because I feel like cheap beef product with cheese product on an onion roll.

    6. Can we please port “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” to something non-religious people can intuitively understand?

      I don’t believe the politicians who voted for this have good intentions.

  6. OT: Building in Philadelphia collapses.

    http://www.philly.com/philly/n…..apse_.html

    How many more people must die before we put aside petty partisanship and fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure?

    1. If only we had a system of codes, licenses, and inspections to prevent this sort of thing!

    2. Cue punchline about how the white people survived because they were at work…

    3. Any police helicopters nearby?

    4. Buildings just don’t “collapse.”

    5. It is amazing that with all the party walls and abandoned buildings in the city, buildings don’t fall down more often.

  7. I am emotionally drained, so just imagine a diatribe filled with vulgarity and profanity regarding the lawmakers of Connecticut.

    1. Did they do something really stupid, yesterday? I can’t really recall what it was, they just seem to be a never ending supply of stupid.

  8. “I am convinced that nobody needs to see such disturbing graphic crime scene photos.”

    Thanks for your participation, but we’ve decided that this whole accountable representative government concept just isn’t in your best interests. Henceforth House Speaker Brendan Sharkey will be making your decisions from now on. You may go.

    1. And I’m convinced that nobody needs to live past their term as House Speaker.

      1. When you think about it, nobody really needs to live at all. SO really what we should do is just nuke the entire surface of the earth.

        1. And the survivors, well, it will be just like the TV show Jericho, where the little people are totally dependent on a public sector getting its shit back in working order for their survival.

          Basic Essentials
          Food — well, a lot of irradiated rats roaming about, check.
          Shelter — sturdy basements still intact most everywhere, check.
          Water — now with extra minerals! check.
          Government — mayor’s dead, sheriff is near mortally wounded, we’re fucking doomed!

    2. “Nobody needs X” is never a valid argument against X. Nobody needs anything besides basic nutrition and a place to get out of the elements. Everything else we do is because of what we desire.

  9. Unless you work in a bar where the TV is always on, it’s not that hard to avoid seeing & hearing stuff you don’t want to see or hear.

    1. You can usually still change the channel.

  10. The two guys who opposed it should have tried to add a provision that says that if a family uses the death of their loved one to push their political agenda in public, they lose the protection of this law.

    1. I was wondering if this means that Obummer and his ilk can’t use pictures of dead children to push gun control. If so, there’s at least one positive.

      1. Of course not, something something greater good something about omelettes.

  11. Well, this will certainly shut up the Sandy Hook truthers. “They won’t release the records? Dammit. Better stop ranting.”

    1. That was my first thought. Nothing shuts up conspiracy theorists like hiding things.

  12. I saw a Aurora victim’s family on CNN last night. First words out of their mouth were your typical Brady Campaign bullshit. My neighbors could probably hear the “FUCK YOU”s I was yelling at my Teeeveee.

    Seriously fuck them for their contempt towards my rights and for their trampling on their relative’s grave.

    1. Yeah, I hate that shit. People who are all emotionally torn up because of a tragic event are the last people you should listen to when considering policy.

  13. Be interesting to see of this holds up. Nebraska tried it in the 1970s (Nebraska Press Association vs. Stuart):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N….._v._Stuart

    Friend of mine wrote a book about it:

    http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9780896726260-1

  14. Death takes away all dignity. It is always ugly. Seeing corpses, particularly victims of violence, has always given me a feeling of humiliation deep in my gut. That is what these motherfuckers are playing on. “We owe it to all these families to protect them from further pain. “. There it is right there.

    Are the photos of the sandy hook victims on the internet somewhere? Have they been released? Is there an outcry from the families not to release them? These guys are fixing a problem that doesnt exist, so i am going to go out on a limb here:

    “”We maintain that public access to investigative reports, 9-11 emergency call transcripts and recordings, death certificates, and the like, serve the public’s best interest by permitting the public to monitor the performance of its government,” the group wrote.”

    There is the actual motivation behind this law.

  15. Those who lose loved ones to violence have a right to protect themselves against further anguish

    Where do people get stupid ideas like this? No, you don’t have a right to be protected from anguish. Fuck you.

    1. Everything is a Right these days, don’t you know. Hell, according to Sprint, you have a “right” to unlimited data.

      It really gets to me when people start talking about rights like everything they ever wanted is a god given, unalterable right.

      I swear, next time I hear someone say they have a right to have a comfortable life or someshit is gonna get smacked. You have the right to pursue happiness, you have a right to try to attain success, but you don’t have a right to just have it.

      1. Everything is a Right these days

        Except actual negative rights like life, liberty, and property to the broadest extent that they don’t infringe on the same rights of another.

    2. Oh, I disagree, Warty. They have a right to protect themselves. They can turn off the TV and the computer and actively avoid anything that might damage their fragile little psyches. They can stay home and not go out into the big scary world. Problem solved. Why this need a a law, though, is beyond me.

      1. Warty said you don’t have a right to BE protected from anguish, not that you don’t have a right to protect YOURSELF. Big difference.

        The real question is, do you have the right to be protected from Warty?

        1. I am not anguish. I am sublimity. Relax and learn to enjoy the inevitable.

          1. Perhaps I’ll just lay back and think of England…

        2. I’m pretty sure exposure to Warty infringes on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at all levels.

  16. I am going to deny anything happened at Sandy Hook unless I can see the stuff. Why should I just take a public servant’s word for anything?

    1. I have a feeling that the Sandy Hook truthers are on to something. With the arrest of a man thought to be a second shooter who turns out to have a mysterious background with ties to something or another. It is the extent of the damage that they are trying to cover up, where the second shooter went to the legislature and shot out their collective brain casing.

      1. There was more than one shooter. A scrawnly little shit like him could never carry that much ammo and weapons.

        I could be wrong, though.

    2. Because they are the GOVERNMENT. The good people of the government would NEVER lie to us.

  17. What next? Never pay taxes again? F*&k the parents and the state government.

  18. Pics or it didn’t happen, right?

  19. Fuck these assholes. As far as I’m concerned the whole thing is a fucking conspiracy until I SEE THE FUCKING BODIES. I want to see the dead that I wasn’t given time to mourn because I was too busy worrying about my future personal defense.

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