Striking back

Perched on top of the tallest peak in the Sierras, a desperate man sees the police closing in around him, and he comes to realize that his fate has been decided. Having just been released from prison, he’s drawn back into the thug life for one more botched robbery that ends in a policeman getting shot. He has nothing left but to die in a hail of gunfire.

This portrait of a desperate outlaw won Humphrey Bogart acclaim in the film High Sierra in 1941. The story still has resonance in our society today west of the Sierras.

The “Three Strikes” law is helping to replay this scene around California. Ironically, the law that was supposed to protect society may be causing more loss of life.

While the mandatory life sentence for a third offense may stop some crime, it will also help to cause murder. A person who can’t face the thought of life in prison becomes hopeless and reckless once a third offense is committed. If that situation is exacerbated by drugs and guns, as it often is, then the sense of hopelessness is multiplied (see “Death Trip,” page 18). The thinking becomes, “Hey, if I’m going away, I might as well go all the way and commit suicide by police shooting.”

Unfortunately, there is one more strike involved. The desperate criminal can shoot police officers and kill innocent victims, and that happened in Sacramento.