The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 18, 2012

Our View: Humiliation is not an effective punishment

It was definitely idiotic to drive on a sidewalk near a school, but humiliation isn’t the best tactic to change bad behavior.

A Cleveland, Ohio, municipal judge punished the reckless driver last week by fining her $250, suspending her license and making her hold a sign that said: “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.”

There’s no defending the driver’s actions. What she did was dangerous and selfish as she chose her own convenience over the safety of school children.

But what message is the judge sending to those same school children by making the driver call herself a name and publicly ridiculing her for messing up?

The punishment is regressive and uncivil — like putting a badly performing student in the corner with a “Dunce” cap on his head. It’s sort of like slapping a child for hitting someone, trying to fix a bad behavior by using other unacceptable behavior. Next thing you know the judge will be handing out scarlet A’s for adulterers to wear.

Reports of the driver’s actions during her first stint of sign-holding point to the probable ineffectiveness of the judge’s sentence. The woman puffed on a cigarette, wore headphones, texted and ignored passers-by as she did her required sign-holding. Didn’t look like a picture of apology.

A much more effective way of handling the situation would have been to require the driver to do community service where she acted as a school crossing guard or bus supervisor. Spending time among the children would provide the faces that might convince her that her selfish behavior could jeopardize the safety of real people.

Humiliation is becoming too common of a method to try to fix people’s actions. A Fridley woman forced her 12-year-old daughter to run outside in a diaper with her head shaved as punishment for a failing grade. The mother will be serving three months in jail for the abuse.

Mocking the reckless driver in public may satisfy some people, but it really doesn’t set the example of how people should to treat one another — especially for the children at the nearby school.

We can discourage behavior without namecalling and ridiculing. Civility is the responsibility of everyone — judges, parents and the community.

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