Opinion: The effects of rage, on crime and lives

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Regardless of its reasons, rage must be recognized and feared – it is everywhere now.

I’ve really tried to cool it when I’ve felt my rising anger lately. Multiple daily spam calls, our recent search for new health insurance, the apparently suicidal drivers on I-285 – it’s the daily reality. I was even angry with my own dear father, my hero, for dying of COVID-related complications last year – how could you leave me here like this?

Of course, in mitigation, I have the luxuries of my own loving wife, daughter, and sister, as well as a good job with earnest colleagues. Our father’s good spirit lives on – he too got angry, but it never lasted.

In my criminal defense work, I see a lot of rage. It’s difficult to categorize who is susceptible, but my first thoughts are of the weak – and I don’t mean physically.

I recenty watched a video of several young men, Black, white, Hispanic, becoming enraged in unison at a local detention facility. It was frightening. They circled aimlessly in the dayroom, angry at first with a fellow inmate. Someone punched a television screen. The corrections officers tried to keep their authority and composure but it came to a head and the inmates rushed them, striking a female guard and dislocating a male guard’s shoulder.

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Douglas D. Ford

Credit: contributed

Douglas D. Ford

Credit: contributed

caption arrowCaption
Douglas D. Ford

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The young men were completely out of line – the video depicts civilization’s nightmare. Still, the rage was real, playing out in a room substituting for a home, with guards substituting for family members. At the peak of the incident, some of the young men were shaking, rocking back and forth, impervious to reason. How could people come to feel this way?

Generally, by the time I meet my clients, they have downshifted and regained their senses. Often, when we discuss their cases, the rage re-emerges to some degree, and I watch closely, measuring as much the words as the emotions. You can bet that emotions matter in the law, and rage is a problem, because it defies sensibility. Try reasoning with these guys and you’ll just get more rage.

So, I let my clients talk. Often they feel a need to vent their anger at me and my services – that’s part of it. Things get frustrating, but I need to see the full extent of the rage in order to address it. And, some people remain beyond help – they slam the holding cell’s phone, talk over me, say only God is their judge – sometimes I walk out. But acknowledging the rage in a client, the uncontrollable, aids me in keeping a case on the rails.

This method does not hold up as well in society. Criminal law is a process – once I’m involved, the damage is usually done and quantifiable. Outside of the justice system, to whom are we responsible? Rage itself lurks in the recesses of the mind, unpredictable and unfathomable often until the moment it emerges. With frustration at high levels, due to the wealth gap, corporate indifference, information overload, bad personal decisions, people feel broken. Regardless of its reasons, rage must be recognized and feared – it is everywhere now.

And I wish I had a solution. Angry incarcerated clients use rage to deflect responsibility. I visit people who go into that mode every time we talk about a certain aunt, a certain business, a certain police officer – it’s like clockwork, almost cynical. Many clients don’t see the connection – I think some folks like being angry, to be honest. It’s an adrenaline rush, and it’s contagious.

Recently, a client called from lockup in a neighboring county. He’d been out on bond in my county and spiraling, accruing new charges and bonding again, not new violent stuff but with a clear drug problem. Like so many, this guy is fairly lucid until he’s not, with a lot of anger at his ex, who’s his child’s mother (also angry). Bonds are supposed to be revoked in these situations, which happened here. My client, with whom I’d had previous productive discussions, called in a fury, wondering whether there was still a plea deal in my county, whether there was a mistake in the jail records and so forth. The call was a trainwreck – I could not reason with him.

After the call, I thought back to my own extended and unexpressed rage following my mother’s death 30 years ago, and to my father’s recent passing. I thought how some people cannot be reached and must perish on whatever hill. But, perceiving my own anger proved cautionary, and I knew I could speak to my client when I saw him again, as I knew I would.

Douglas D. Ford is a commercial litigation and criminal defense attorney in metro Atlanta.

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