New York case reminiscent of ‘1984’

Holly New

Although we aren’t supposed to be punished for our thoughts, apparently ones of cannibalism and murder are the exceptions.

When Kathleen Mangan-Valle “opened her laptop computer and discovered that her husband had used it to visit a fetish website on the Internet,” a can of worms opened that would never be closed, according to Benjamin Weiser of The New York Times.

Now, Gilberto Valle, a New York City police officer, is on trial for conspiring to commit kidnapping and the unauthorized use of a law enforcement database.

Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays of the Associated Press reported that in her testimony, Mangan-Valle “discovered plans to put one friend in a suitcase, wheel her out of her building and murder her. Two other women were ‘going to be raped in front of each other to heighten their fears,’ while another was going to be roasted alive over an open fire.”

These plans would put anyone on edge.

Obviously, this man has the potential to commit crimes. The fact is, though, that the only crime Valle alledgedly committed was the unauthorized use of a law enforcement database. Neumeister and Hays also reported that a prosecutor said, “The officer had attempted to contact potential victims, including a New York City elementary school teacher, to learn more about their jobs and residences.”

So, if he didn’t actually commit a crime, are the charges justified?

On the one hand, the plans Valle prepared appear to be in-depth. He allegedly went to the length of using his power as a police officer to gather information about potential victims. Assistant U.S. Attorney Randall Jackson said, “his Internet research also included the best rope to tie someone up with, recipes, human flesh, white slavery and chemicals that can knock someone out.”

The jurors cannot ignore the fact that he allegedly planned out how he would torture his victims, and how he discussed these plans at length with others on a fetish website.

However, he hadn’t actually done anything to his alleged targets.

This case faintly reminds me of George Orwell’s “1984” and his description of the Thought Police. If we start punishing people for what they think about or what they fantasize about doing, where does it end?

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t support what Valle allegedly wants to do. However, I am an advocate for the First Amendment. Part of what makes living in America so great is we are able to say and think what we want without prejudice. At what point do we determine someone’s fantasies to be a plan of action?

It is a rare occasion that I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other. However, with this issue, I just don’t know. Valle hasn’t committed murder or kidnapping. There is no record of him acquiring materials to commit the act. As far as we know, everything stayed in his head and on the computer.

Do we support his conviction, and in the process, criminalize thoughts, or do we wait until he actually commits a crime, and hope that we catch him in time?

His fate now rests with the jury.