Is It Moral to Use Lethal Means to Protect Property?

What does our willingness to use lethal means to protect real estate or personal property tell us about the value we place on human life?When I initially heard the story of a boy mauled by dogs after jumping a fence in Irving and entering private property, I was shocked. As a property owner, I sympathized with Guillermo Lorenzo, the owner who used aggressive dogs to protect his property. As a father, my heart ached over the thought of losing a child in such a manner.Lorenzo is not the only person who has employed lethal means to protect personal property. In 1986, after being burglarized multiple times, a store owner in Miami named Prentice Rahseed installed a device designed to deliver 110 volts of electricity to an intruder. It resulted in the death of Odell Hicks, an intruder who entered the store ay night, and legal problems for Rahseed. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Rasheed was arrested on manslaughter charges, but a month later a Dade County grand jury refused to indict him. In Wisconsin in 1999, Lenny Miller tried to protect his vacation cabin after repeated burglaries and vandalism, according to the Los Angeles Times, by setting a trap using a shotgun. It resulted in serious bodily injury to Arlin Zuech, the burglar, and criminal charges against Miller.Last year, in El Cajon, Calif., Michael Po allegedly shot Joseph Mecurio after Mecurio broke into Po's vehicle, a pickup. Mecurio escaped but died later. Charges were not filed against Po."Just because you break into someone's car, doesn't mean you can be killed," said Mecurio's mother, Monika Anderson, told NBC 7 news in San Diego.According Lorenzo, who used dogs to protect his property in Irving: "He has no right to be in that yard. Nobody has a right to be in that yard. This is private property ... That's why the fence is tall." And Lorenzo is correct. Nelson Cabrera, 16, was trespassing. He had no right to be in that yard. But let's be clear. A person who encroaches on private property or takes another's personal property should be apprehended, arrested and held accountable, not mauled to death, shot or blown to pieces.As a parent, I believe that Nelson was more than a trespasser; he was a boy in trouble who needed help to become a responsible man. We must recognize that a boy being mauled by dogs because he made the decision to jump a fence does not represent justice. He did not get what he deserved. He deserved to be disciplined accordingly, to have the opportunity to make amends for his actions, and the opportunity to learn from his poor decisions.Lorenzo has the right, like each of us, to protect his property. Yet, if protection means, by default, that a human being must lose his or her life for encroaching on or seizing my property, then our approach loses its civility and becomes savage. Such an approach subordinates the value of human life to the value of things.There seems to be an inverse relationship between the value we place on our property and the value we place on persons. The more we value one, the less we value the other. We see this in the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome that puts concern for property values over the well-being of unsheltered people. Many of us will support a affordable housing, so long as it's not in our own neighborhoods.Historically, valuing things over human life is not new. And often the lives devalued have been African-American and other racial minorities. The primary question is not how do we protect our property. The question is, are we civilized enough to uphold the value of human life?Billy Lane is a human rights advocate and a Dallas Morning News Community Voices columnist.  Continue reading...

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