Are our moral obligations failing?


(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Last July, five teenagers mocked a disabled man as he was drowning in a retention pond in Florida and videoed his final moments as he pleaded for help.

While the cruel inaction of the Florida teens triggered outrage around the world, prosecutors nearly a year later say they will not pursue charges against them. Tragically, for the man who drowned, the law does not require people to help someone else in trouble.

But the law should not be needed for one human being to come to the aid of another. That five young people would all exhibit such blatant disregard for human life is troubling beyond comprehension. We should tell this story to the children in our own lives as a lesson on fundamental morals and what these teens should have done in this situation.

One of the teens used his cell phone to record 31-year-old Jamel Dunn screaming for help before going under the water on July 9 in Bracco pond along Shearer Boulevard in Cocoa, Fla. The still unnamed teens, then 14-16, can be heard on the video clip laughing and yelling at the man that he was going to drown and they weren’t going to help him.

Dunn’s badly decomposed body was found July 12 at the edge of the pond, according to a Florida Today story. On July 18, the teens’ 2 1/2-minute video showed up on social media, and the link was given to police.

Cocoa detectives eventually sent the case to the state attorney’s office for review.

Florida State Attorney Phil Archer’s prepared statement in Friday’s Florida Today said, “I know that everyone was sickened by the callous disregard for human life exhibited by these young people. … Unfortunately, Florida law does not address this behavior, and we are ethically restrained from pursuing criminal charges without a reasonable belief of proving a crime beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”

The decision to not prosecute means the case is effectively closed.

Gary Beatty, an assistant state attorney in the Brevard State Attorney’s Office in Florida, wrote in a commentary in Sunday’s Florida Today, “Under our common law, society imposes no legal duty of civilians to render aid to another who is in distress. Even so-called ‘Good Samaritan’ laws … don’t require such aid.”

Indiana’s “Good Samaritan” law states that while you cannot be sued for helping out of good faith, you do not have to help at the scene of an accident and you cannot be sued for failure to do so.

While courts and state legislatures shy away from legislating morality, we as citizens must recommit to teaching our children their moral obligations and respect for human life and enforcing those principles.

“It’s a difficult issue,” Cocoa Police Department spokeswoman Yvonne Martinez told Florida Today, “because some people have compared it to trying to legislate morality, but it comes down to this: We as a society have to do a better job of teaching our kids right from wrong, and to help people in need.”

It is our responsibility to teach our children compassion and that it is always the right thing to help others in distress, even if it is just calling 911.

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