Not even 15 years


So, instead of life, special police guard Epaminondas Korkoneas got 13 years. Not even 15 to match the age of his victim, Alexis Grigoropoulos, to represent – if only symbolically – each year of a life that was so violently terminated on December 6, 2008, on Tzavella Street in the downtown Athens neighborhood of Exarchia.

He was convicted of “homicide with intent to cause harm,” yet he is free today because he is considered to have paid his dues after spending 11 years behind bars. We don’t know much about how he spent those days; whether he was haunted by nightmares and wracked with guilt. What we do know about his state of mind is his own horrific admission to a court of appeal in Lamia, central Greece, in December 2016: “There is no way I will apologize to some 15-year-old kid.”

This phrase didn’t just encapsulate the contempt people like Korkoneas feel for “15-year-old kids,” possibly with the exception of those in their own family; it also expressed a mentality that equates adolescence, youth more generally, with delinquent and unlawful behavior – especially if said youths also bear other signs of culpability, like long hair, an earring or a generally scruffy appearance. And then, of course, there’s the question of what Grigoropoulos was doing there in the first place. What business did a boy from the suburbs have in Exarchia?

Korkoneas, of course, is not the sole proprietor of such bigotry and idiotic ageism. It is, unfortunately, a mind-set that is widespread in the Greek police force and one that has dictated its behavior for decades. The Lamia appeal court’s decision on Monday to release Korkoneas from prison just liberated this mentality even further, allowing it to continue unchecked.

Korkoneas’ “previously lawful life,” which served as the mitigating factor for his sentence to be reduced from life, is as subjective as a job interview. Sure, it makes sense to have some consideration for the fact that people can do bad things in a moment of passion, a fit of rage or a time of need – regardless of whether we believe Socrates’ argument that no one knowingly does evil. This does not make sense, however, when it comes to the ultimate crime: taking someone’s life. It makes even less sense when it is the job of the person in question is to safeguard life, when he has taken an oath to protect and serve, an oath that necessitates a lawful life.

If Korkoneas had done something unlawful before December 2008, he probably would have been kicked off the force (and I say probably because you never know with the Greek Police’s disciplinary inquiries). So why should his adherence to the terms under which he was employed count as mitigating circumstances?