WARNING: This post contains graphic photos which some readers may find objectionable.
Two weeks ago, Otto Warmbier, an American university student arrested and detained in North Korea, died almost immediately upon his return to the United States. North Korea imprisoned the 22-year-old for almost 18 months following a trial based on allegations that he had removed state propaganda from his hotel.
Warmbier, suffering from an undisclosed medical condition, was evacuated from North Korea by air ambulance. He arrived in the United States in a coma and died four days later on June 19. Early medical reports suggested that he had suffered an extensive loss of brain tissue, but there were no immediate signs of head trauma. Following Warmbier’s death, a bandwagon of U.S. politicians raised vehement objections in an outpouring of criticism and outrage over the student’s alleged crime, detention, and treatment in North Korea.
It was good press at the time, but politicians quickly lose sight of important issues that carry less than glamorous media coverage.
This Independence Day weekend, another 20-something American lays dying in a hospital bed on life support and shackled hand and foot to the bed’s steel rails. Armed police guard her around the clock. Authorities have threatened her mother with arrest if she tries to see her daughter or speak to medical staff — and North Korea is still a terrible place.
No politicians are holding the House floor to rant about what is happening to 26-year-old Kristin Carare. There are no tweets condemning the young-woman’s jailors or the inhumane way her mother, Lucy Moss, 48, is being denied visits with her critically ill child. Could it be because Carare is not a prisoner in North Korea, but is lying in hospital in Broward County, Florida? That makes the lack of display and her treatment even more disgusting.
All too often, America’s leaders bang the war drums to announce and condemn human and civil rights abuses all over the globe. Yet, when it comes to the declining treatment of the accused in the United States, the bravado evaporates like Donald Trump’s orange spray tan. With more men, women, and children in prison than any other country on earth, it is time to turn the focus inward.
Kristin Carare’s situation is not atypical, but it has what many prisoners’ stories lack…a likable protagonist. All prejudice aside, Carare’s mother also went to visit her daughter armed with an unusual and powerful weapon — a court order. A Florida circuit court judge issued the order directing the Broward Sheriff’s Office to allow Moss to visit her daughter. The police ignored the judge’s order citing their internal standard operating and security procedures.
Imagine if Carare was in a hospital bed in North Korea. The press, public, and politicians would be vapid with rage. So why is it different because she is in America? Are we hiding the fact that our criminal justice system is that flawed — or that American law enforcement is simply cold hearted, power hungry, and beyond control?
Carare earned the shackles and armed guards because of the severity of her alleged crime: she is a heroin addict. She had been incarcerated in Broward Country since March before falling ill and being moved to hospital where she remains in critical condition. Her mother described her daughter’s medical state as day-to-day and begged to be close to her child in the event she dies suddenly.
Even though Moss obtained a court order authorizing visits, BSO deputies refused to comply with the court’s directive with impunity. Additionally, when Moss tried again to arrange to see her daughter or gather information about her medical condition, officers told her that if she did either they would arrest her for criminal trespass.
Wait; there is a Broward, North Korea, right? The more this story develops, the more it seems like a totalitarian police state and not the America where judicial orders and human rights are respected. Even more troubling than the local authorities’ behavior is that of Broward County Public Defenders’ Office “top assistant” Gordon Weekes.
An officer of the court, Weekes sided instead with BSO, saying he understood the need for security and that BSO “doesn’t want an order” that interferes with that. Let us ensure we understand this complex legal argument: when police do not want an order, they do not have to comply with it. We pity any defendant that has Weekes working on their criminal case and can imagine him saying to a court, “The police don’t want me to seek an order to interfere with illegally obtained evidence, and since they don’t want it, they won’t comply anyway. My client is guilty, your honor.”
How is no one outraged to the point of protest outside Broward North Medical Center? Are judges in Florida so afraid of armed deputies that they cannot enforce a legally issued order? Is the appeals process not the typical route of challenging an order of a court instead of ignoring it? Are we witnessing the complete breakdown of the Florida judiciary?
Kristin Carare deserves more, as does every other prisoner and detainee in the United States — all 2-plus million of them. They are not all likable, innocent, or cared for by family like, Carare is, but they have one thing in common. They are all prisoners in the United States, where we decry any injustice that occurs in a foreign jurisdiction, and because of that, they deserve the heightened version of attention, correction, and action that rains down on so-called mock trials in North Korea.
Our criminal justice model is antiquated and draconian. Attorneys are overworked. Harsh sentences accomplish little in terms of rehabilitation. Too many addicts are condemned to cells instead of offered treatment. Medical care is deficient. Prisoners in America have extremely limited rights and poor access to constructive resources. Prosecution based less on fact than emotion leads to irreversible errors. Innocent lives are lost in the stroke of a gavel.
Otto Warmbier went to North Korea, a hostile nation, of his own volition and placed himself at risk. It was a tragedy that he returned home in a coma and died. Kristin Carare is an addict in need of treatment with a complex medical condition and her mother is on the verge of losing a child. The greater tragedy will be if Carare dies on America soil — with a cold metal shackle around her wrist instead of her mother’s loving hand.