There's a story that disturbs me and I don't quite know why. On one hand the case is clearly defined : someone did something that horrified many people, including me. On the other hand, a little voice in the back of my head keeps saying, "Yes, but . . " Here is the story.
I live in a beach side community in Florida. Like many Florida towns where the tourist industry is a heavy hitter, the number of beds occupied on any given night fluctates wildly according to the season.
Tourists and retirees aside, we have a core of permanent residents who are just like the folks in "Anywhere USA". The WFL that goes on along our strip of ocean-washed sand is not our life style, although we do have our moments. Basically, we have a sense of community and our communal outrage can be awesome.
We have a professional baseball team we call "The Cubbies". Our stadium is across the street from the marina, which has a profusion of bird life. Several years ago a pair of ospreys built a nest atop a 40-foot light pole over left field. The team players began calling them Ozzy the Osprey and Harriet. The pair returned every year.
Last April they were raising a clutch of chicks when one afternoon, during pre-game practice, a pitcher knocked the male bird from the nest with a baseball. The bird subsequently died.
The pitcher had been previously warned against trying to hit the birds with a baseball. He was Jae-Kuk, a 19-year-old South Korean signed to his first baseball contract, and he spoke no English.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife people and the city animal control officers were immediately called out, the newspapers had a field day, there was a huge outcry from the public, and Jae-Kuk was demoted to a low-level team in the minors, the Lansing Lugnuts.
The case was heard in August. By that time Jae-Kuk had been promoted to a baseball club in Tennessee that has a higher-level team than our Cubbies. Again, the local newspapers devoted reams of coverage to the story. Bird lovers interviewed suggested that Jae-Kuk serve a lengthy jail sentence, spend time cleaning bird cages, or be deported.
Conditions of the plea and waiver finally agreed upon included six months of supervised probation and 100 hours of community service. The defendant offered to apologize and to pay a $500 fine. Before leaving the courthouse Jae-Kuk signed checks totaling $1295 to cover investigation and court costs.
Prosecutors said standard procedure for misdemeanor offenses, especially for out-of-state defendants, was the plea and waiver before the judge. But the State insisted the community service be completed in Florida. This, said the Assistant State Attorney, was not only to insure that the hours would be served but that "the individual suffer a punishment" that would make him think of what he had done and to "instill in the defendant a desire to protect the environment".
The Circuit Judge accepted the plea and conditions.
However, baseball season finished, Jae-Kuk's visa expired, and he returned to Korea. He is now attempting to get a return visa but the process is delayed because of the court case against him.
His lawyer filed papers last week, asking the court to accept a $2000 donation to bird and animal organizations in lieu of the hours of community service -- which must be performed before the end of next month. The Assistant State Attorney did not like the defendant's offer. He arrived at the hearing with 300 letters and e-mails from around the country demanding justice. If Jae-Kuk does not complete his community service he could face a violation of probation. That's the story to date.
Let me say that yes, I was outraged that the bird was killed. I volunteer with a shoreline bird rescue squad and have seen birds that have been tangled in nets, hit with blunt objects, and run over by beach buggies. It always sickens me.
I have also lived in various underdeveloped countries where it is hard enough to substain human life without the added burden of protecting bird and animal life, in places where my pet poodle would wind up in a stew pot if he strayed away from home, places where the native people routinely ate road kill
. In all of these places I have seen people amuse themselves by trying to knock birds out of trees with rocks. I don't know how long they would have to live in my country before they developed a desire to protect the environment.