In 2001, I went to Xipamanine market, a huge open-air bazaar in Maputo, Mozambique, where you can buy everything from clothes to traditional medicine. A Mozambican friend told me how to keep safe from pickpockets. “If someone takes something from you, yell Ladrão! Ladrão!”—Thief! Thief!—“and point to him.”
“What happens next?” I asked.
“People will grab him,” she said, “and possibly beat him to death.” She said the ultimate punishment was reserved for habitual thieves, and that the hardware section would be especially dangerous for them, because so many heavy objects were available.
I was learning Portuguese at the time. Ladrão is the only word in any language that I have ever wished I could unlearn. If a thief scampered away with my passport, my camera, and all my money, would I be able to resist yelling it out? I couldn’t be sure, but I knew I would regret it immediately, and possibly for the rest of my life, if I did yell ladrão, and knew there was a possibility of brutal punishment being carried out in my name.
I thought of this incident Wednesday when Rosemarie Aquilina, the judge in the case of serial sexual assailant ______, delivered the disgraced U.S. Olympic doctor what she called his “death warrant,” after a week of extraordinary testimony by his victims. _______begged the judge earlier this week to be spared having to hear all his victims speak. Judge Aquilina observed that a few days of emotional discomfort for _______would barely begin to even the score between him and the over-150 women he molested. She sentenced him to a prison term that will probably consume the rest of his life.
The dignity of the proceedings was diminished by a few words, though, that the judge offered by way of regret. If the U.S. Constitution didn’t forbid cruel and unusual punishment, she said, she “might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls—these young women in their childhood—I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others.”