It was a lot to suggest –- that Newtown parents voluntarily show the gruesome pictures of their slaughtered children.
But several weeks after Newtown, I suggested it as one way to ensure that the Newtown killings made an indelible mark on the need for gun control. I suggested it as a way to keep this tragedy from fading from the public conscience.
Show the ugly aftermath along with the beauty of the child that once was — the way the mother of murdered child Emmett Till did in another era.
Although Emmett Till's picture made an indelible mark on the civil rights movement, no other parents in the civil rights era presented the remains of their child like that. And it is understandable that no Newtown parent would, either.
It is understandable too that the parents of the murdered Newtown children would favor a bill restricting access to the photos of the homicide victims, and other information about the investigation.
As understandable as it is for the Newtown parents to seek these restrictions, however, the actions of Connecticut legislators, who secretly devised and then passed a bill that prevents police and other government agencies from releasing photos of murder victims and portions of 911 calls, sends Connecticut down a wrong and familiar road with regard to the public's right to know.
That wrong road was called the David Shaw amendment, which Connecticut legislators passed in 1994. It restricts police from revealing what people were wearing or had in their possession at the time of their arrest, unless it was deemed relevant to the crime.
The bill sprouted from the arrest of then Hamden school superintendent Shaw. He was charged with drunken driving after leaving an adult video store on the Berlin Turnpike in March 1994. The bigger story became what he was wearing at the time of his arrest: a gold lame blouse and makeup. Shaw disappeared for a short time, and many feared he had taken his life because of the publicity.
The Connecticut legislature's thinking then was that the public's right to know and the press's right to publish certain information were not worth the harm it could cause the arrested person.
Similarly, the concern of current Connecticut legislators was over the harm that Newtown homicide photos, 911 calls and other reports would bring if they were published or broadcast.
As much as there remains deserved empathy and sympathy for the families of the Newtown victims and their irreplaceable loss, there is much wrong about the Connecticut legislature's overwhelming passage of this bill.
For one, there is the method in which it was developed — in secrecy. The idea of the bill being pushed through without public vetting is disturbing and chilling. A discussion on the issue should have taken place. The citizens of this state deserved better. The surreptitious nature in which Connecticut legislators passed this bill is a foreboding sign of the dangers of restricting information from public scrutiny.
Connecticut needs neither more secrecy from government agencies, nor less scrutiny from the public.
That is not to say that the public would not have supported the legislators. It is difficult not to feel the loss and to want to prevent any additional pain and distress to surviving families and friends. However, we risk our present and future if we change our laws without due process of a hearing and without thinking through what we are surrendering and what others are taking away from us.
As much as we may empathize with the Newtown parents, homicide pictures, broadcasts of the emergency calls, and other reports are public information; the people responding are public servants.
The Shaw Amendment 19 years ago was wrong in hindering public disclosure. Connecticut's legislators — save four — were wrong in the wee hours of the morning when they voted to bar more information from the public.
While freedom slept, our legislators crept.
Frank Harris III is chairman of the journalism department at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He can be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun