Journalist Marc Haefele found this week's media event at the demolition of the former Avenues gang home in Northeast Los Angeles more than a little unsettling. A bunch of pols got in on the camera time, but he views City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's role as especially galling. [Delgadillo's office responds.] From Haefele's letter to the editor of the L.A. Times:
The widely publicized destruction, per the order of Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, of the 2-bedroom "Satellite House" on Drew Street is an astonishing legal throwback to the Middle Ages. In 11th Century England, if an animal or object caused someone's death, it was declared a "deodand" and could be tried and punished by forfeiture or destruction. It was then assumed that an object could be malign and homicidal, "as an accursed thing," in the language of Blackstone. If a drunk fisherman fell off his boat and drowned, the boat could be punished.
In demolishing the Drew Street house, Delgadillo has revived this antique ritual of expiation.
But this house itself injured no one. Only its occupants were alleged to have caused the neighborhood's crime problem, Delgadillo's decision to level the house is a conscious reversion to what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called "the customs, beliefs or needs of a primitive time." Surely the deodand concept has no place in 21st century California jurisprudence--in England, it was abolished in 1846.
Better that the house were renovated and sold to some worthy, uncriminal family for a healthy 6-figure payment to the city's depleted General Fund. Meanwhile, we're lucky Delgadillo is nearly termed out; otherwise, he might revive the ducking stool.
Marc B. Haefele