The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily of the Davis Clipper.
One of the most telling sentences in literature comes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” when the narrator recalls his father’s advice: “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
I thought of this when considering the tragic case involving teenager Meagan Grunwald, the 17-year old charged with felonies including aggravated murder in the shooting death of a Utah County police sergeant. The case made major headlines along the Wasatch Front and Central Utah. The girl’s 27-year old boyfriend, Jose Angel Garcia-Jauregui, was shot by law enforcement officials after a violent car chase, shootings that left one police officer dead and another in serious condition, car theft and various other criminal offenses. The teenage girl has been charged with driving the car and aiding in the shooting spree.
For many, it is hard to find compassion, especially in cop killings, and, from police reports, her lack of remorse when first arrested. But as the girl’s history unfolded in news reports, I feel sorry for the teen.
Yes, there needs to be justice. The girl knew what she was doing. But as Fitzgerald wrote, she never had the advantages that most of us grew up with.
Financial conditions in her family were surely a factor in her graduating early from high school and taking a janitorial night job at a Salt Lake County meat packing plant. (That’s where she met Garcia-Jauregui.)
Meagan didn’t live in an Ozzie and Harriet home or have a “Happy Days” childhood.
Her parents both have mental disabilities and live on a sparse fixed income. The father is confined to a wheelchair. Both parents have criminal histories (most recently, the mother for misdemeanor theft and the father for assault). I can only imagine how the future looked increasingly dim to a girl who once dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
A concerned “out-of-the-box” teacher or a helpful mentor could have made a difference. Instead, she veered to an adult, an older man, who showed her attention and made her feel loved.
I’m not saying society failed her. All of us have challenges and moments in life when we have to decide the rightness and the wrongness of an action. We all have to be accountable for our deeds. But as a local candidate for county sheriff told me last week, “The jail is full of people, but few of these are bad people. They are simply human beings who have made a bad decision Р and they remain worthy of respect.”
In the current Plan B Theater’s production of “Clearing Bombs”, two opposing economists debate the merits of their individual philosophies. The “classic Austrian” practitioner says that economists cannot be burdened by compassion. His liberal counterpart says the economic theory cannot divorce itself of seeing its impact on actual people and families.
Meagan is one of these “actual people” who followed a dark trail and blundered into a bloody tragedy. I am not smart enough to recommend an appropriate judgment on the girl. However, I do think justice must be tempered by mercy and an understanding of what brought the girl to this point.
Accountability and compassion are not opposing forces, and we should thank our parents that we didn’t have to walk a mile in Meagan’s shoes.