06 April 2012

Marketing Trayvon & George; Don't Get Confused by Facts

Riveting. Captivating. Life changing.

Not only are we told to focus our attention on the “justice system” in the state of Florida, we are conveniently provided instructions on what to think and how deeply we must care.

We have been treated to an abundance of experts were telling us and showing us with charts and models what the evidence shows and what inevitable conclusions we must draw. There is an unusually active interest in a potential prosecution – change.org has collected something over 1 million signatures demanding that George be charged with some sort of criminal homicide. Trayvon’s family “wants justice.”

That’s okay, everybody wants justice. Justice is defined by the public voices fairly simply: Arrest George.

The citizens rally in several cities. Mostly, the cry is “Arrest George.”

The Symphony of Marketeers also includes many who sound out the harmonics of some related issues, mostly about firearms, self-defense, and Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” statute. Others are playing instruments of racial profiling and stereotyping.

Those with “connections” to the case are leaking information strategically, information selected to support their self-interest.

At this point, this public nattering is so much hot air and silly talk talk.

So far, this national discussion has been worse than useless. There are times to be passionate and strident. Barry Goldwater was right – Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

In the pursuit of justice.

In the pursuit of justice.

But we have two independent problems here.

First, we know damn all little about the facts of the case.

Second, in bloviating from ignorance, those seeking what they have already decided is justice may feel all self-righteous, warm and fuzzy. They may believe that they are accomplishing something. But they are doing nothing – as most of us are doing nothing – to address any one of the issues which led to this shooting or any other genuine issue of justice.


There’s nothing inherently wrong with ignorance. Let me be the first to say that I possess a great deal of ignorance about this shooting in Florida. The information I have comes third- and fourth- hand, filtered through sources who have all sorts of axes to grind and motives to ginger up the data.

Ignorance just means lack of knowledge.

Hell, I lack knowledge about a lot of things. For someone charged with a crime, hopefully I have enough information and can obtain further information to give meaningful advice. For someone wanting to do a leveraged buyout, it would be prohibitively time consuming for me to acquire sufficient information to make any sense at all. I’m just going to remain ignorant.

So, who has sufficient knowledge about Treyvon and George?

Well, you and I know that some basic facts are very likely true, but only because several official sources have agreed upon them. Trayvon was not armed. George was carrying a pistol. George called 911, and we have heard some snippets of the call. George shot and killed Trayvon.

That’s about all we know. The rest of what we’re hearing on the idiot box and reading in the press is from journalists and talking heads who are using the onageristic estimation method.

(An onager is a wild ass.)

The people who know the most (and most accurate) of what can be known about the entire affair are the investigating officers. Assuming there is normal communication between the police and prosecutor, the special prosecutor should also be up to speed.

Side note: I was interested to read about the political brouhaha special prosecutor Angela Corey survived to be elected Dade County District Attorney. She had just been fired by an old acquaintance of mine, Harry Shorstein. I met Harry in an insurance company liquidation case about 25 years ago.

I’m sure that George’s attorney would be quick to point out that George is the only survivor of the encounter so he is the one who has the most information. Well, there are a couple of problems with that. The obvious one is that he has a whole lot of self-interest in painting this very clearly as self-defense. That has absolutely nothing to do one way or another with whether it was self-defense. Because that position is self-serving, nobody’s going to take it on faith. Nor, for that matter, should they.

But the second problem is that with the absolute best of intentions, George may not be able to relate an absolutely accurate account of what happened. He shot and killed a guy. To pull and discharge a weapon at another human being requires that one believe (right or wrong) that they are doing something necessary, that they are in a lethal encounter. The “body alarm reaction” kicks in, floods the body with adrenaline, and otherwise prepares the person for “fight or flight.” Research done by proponents of self-defense shows that the “body alarm reaction” inhibits perception, memory and judgment.

It is also contrary to accurate analysis of what few facts are available that many of the experts are simply self-aggrandizing peacocks riding the gravy train. In doing so, they are ignoring logical boundaries. I caught an interview where some “activist” of one sort or another was saying that although a video of George was poorly focused, taken from a distance and from a bad angle, she could see that he did not have blood on his face and therefore there could not be self-defense.

How’s that again?

I have yet to hear a discussion where any hypothetical situations are set forth, that is, where anybody will concede that different conclusions will naturally flow from different factual findings. “If the facts are A, B and C, then conclusions of X and Y are warranted. However, if the facts are A, B and D, then the conclusions should be X and Z.”

It is simply does not follow that George must be charged because he shot someone. Police don’t do that. Prosecutors don’t do that.

There are three kinds of homicide: Justifiable homicide is, well, justified. Excusable homicide occurs where it was just one of those darn things, an accident. Criminal homicide occurs where there is a criminal intent.

For a prosecutor to take the case to the grand jury, she must believe that she has evidence upon which a jury can believe that what happened was criminal homicide. If it was justifiable or excusable, a decent prosecutor will have the guts to buck any public pressure to charge the shooter.

There are often shootings where the investigation is short, sweet and the conclusion obvious. I have in mind a video documenting a shooting at a robbery in Oklahoma City. Three youth robbed a pharmacy. They were armed. The pharmacist pulled a pistol and shot one of the youth. Had the event had ended there, the pharmacist never would have been arrested, and no prosecutor ever would have taken the case to the grand jury. (However, the pharmacist then reloaded and killed a robber who was already down and out of the fight. The pharmacist was charged and convicted of murder.)

Useless self-righteousness:

Our justice system is failing big-time, but it’s not because nobody has arrested George. Yet. Our justice system is failing because the number of young people entering it is staggering, the resources devoted to diverting them from unlawful activity in the first place are nearly nonexistent and the resources devoted to rehabilitating them after they are convicted are downright niggardly.

Oops, I think I’m hearing noise about spending money to rehabilitate criminals.

Fine, put them in the penitentiaries where the gangs run the prison and then at the end of the sentence return them to the streets with the gang identity or the self-identification as a criminal plus the drug addiction intact. Yes, that’s real smart.

We don’t guide or save these young people en masse. We can’t do that. There’s no grant program, no cookie-cutter class by which young people are going to see the wisdom of lawful behavior.

Most of these kids have had parenting of such a unbelievably low quality that it was worse than nothing. Had they been raised by wolves, at least we’d have a blank slate to work with. The young people who clog the justice system today do not know how to act like hard-working and responsible people because they have seen precious few models of hard-working and responsible people. Our commercial society has contributed to widespread laziness and lack of respect.

Was Trayvon like that? I have no idea.

Is George like that? I have no idea.

Oh, how terribly droll, what an awful elitist thing to suggest, that we should stifle our children’s creativity and force them to conform rather than running the streets or spending hours upon hours sitting on their asses playing video games! Honestly, it makes me sick that adults are too stupid, too lazy, and too scared ever to tell a young person what they’re thinking and ever to listen than to what the young person says.

But, oh, if we go to a rally and listen to Al Sharpton, the do-nothing mouth of the Democratic Party, or if we can go online and sign the petition with a bold “click”, we have taken strong action and we are part of the solution! We can feel good about ourselves! And if people disagree with us, we can even feel victimized.

And then, we have done our part. The mere details – educating youth, getting off our own asses and spending time with youth, addressing rampant drug addiction – well, the other guys can figure that stuff out, we’ve done the hard part just by caring so much.

Discussion, yes; Ignorance, no

This is not to say that the Florida situation and lots and lots of other violent confrontations before and after that event should not spark some discussion.

Discussion means actually giving thought to something and exchanging ideas. Parroting the slogans and mental flotsam of self-identified experts is more ritual than discussion.

There’s a good bit of misunderstanding of Florida’s “stand your ground” wall. It is not an “open season for gunslingers” law.

Tell you what - we’re going to do something really wild here, something that the press hasn’t gotten around to. Rather than just talking ABOUT the “stand your ground” statute, let’s just print the damn thing:

§776.013 Home protection; use of deadly force; presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm.—

(1) A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm to another if:

(a) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and

(b) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.


(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.


(I’ve omitted what I consider irrelevant parts. Feel free to Google it and disagree.)

The effect (and purpose) of the “stand your ground” part was to codify the fact that it is not always a better choice to retreat from a confrontation. Legislators in Florida concluded that there might be some judges or juries dumb enough not to know that already.

That being said, as a very general rule, retreating from a fight to avoid the fight is most often the wise choice. In fact, in the literature and courses for people who choose to carry firearms, this habit of retreating is very clearly emphasized and encouraged.

Those students are told that it is much better to ignore an insult or throw a $20 bill at the kids hassling you and tell them go get a case on you or simply to walk away from an aggressive idiot than it is to pull a firearm. On some occasions, though, a particularly aggressive foe will take advantage of an attempt to retreat.

When one pulls a firearm, you are introducing lethal force into the mix. Anyone who is anxious to do that should not carry a firearm.

How does that general rule apply to Trayvon and George? We don’t know. We don’t know the facts.

I know that people out there are saying, oh, yes, we know all we need to know, and the answer is thus and so. Listen to me. Are you listening? You folks who “know” the facts are deluding yourselves. You are part of the problem.

Another rather obvious generality: Seeking out a confrontation is dumb. Police officers are the only ones who have a duty to go TO a fight.

Very little good can come of going toward a violent confrontation. Almost never will you bring the other person around to your point of view. Almost never will you “win” an argument. You may “win” a violent encounter but in doing so you put yourself at potential legal risk and also put yourself at the risk of having violence visited upon you.

I’ve talked to people right after they have justifiably injured or killed someone. Even for police officers, it didn’t “make their day.” It is a moral crisis for them.

How does all this apply to Trayvon and George? Was this a confrontation what was created by dumb decisions? That may be a closer call, but we still don’t know. We still don’t know the facts.

Consultant fees will be paid – and supermarket tabloids will trumpet all-seeing, all-knowing bullshit headlines and people will march and blowhard politicians will gnash teeth and rend garments. And all of the people who are working for justice, one person at a time, one kid at a time, will keep on working.


Note: “Mizpah” is the signature sign-off of my friend, brother and writing mentor Oce Smith. He has given me permission to use it.

1 comment:

Jim N said...

There are so many salient points in this post that my head is swimming with different responses. Certainly, confronting opposition effectively is anything but easy. Inspite of a deep passion to address significant issues with reason and fairness, the response of the opposing side is too often either to ignore or to attack. Both approaches only succeed to exacerbate greater distance between the parties involved.

Curiously, there are underlying values questions undergirding all actions in any situation. If it is true that the police first on the scene failed to follow through with what seems to be standard procedure when a gun has been fired (blood testing of the shooter, for example), is the value that became uppermost one of protecting the shooter who is perceived to be "ours" from unnecessary hassle? And does such behavior from investigators unwittingly play into the hands of a sensational media, thereby further tarnishing their image in the public domain?

The point about adults always "blessing" the behaviors of their "good" children, never daring to call out stupidity or laziness, does seem rather prevalent today. Whereas the problem of one generation was "Father Knows Best," the problem today sometimes seems as if the children know best. It is a distortion of what is meant by genuine care and commitment intended to raise a generation worthy of the name "adult." Perhaps such indulgent parents were equally indulged as they were being raised. Jesus suggested so on one occasion when he referred to certain adults being like childish kids: "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep." (Mt. 11:17 NRSV) BTW, Any similarity to behaviors in today's privileged political realm are coincidental--tee-hee-hee.

Oh,how true are the comments regarding the unfortunate conditions of far too many youngsters making their way into a credible life. Sadly, it is also true that concocting mass programs to reverse this dangerous trend will not work--period. Only safe, genuinely caring relationships with credible adults, one-on-one, can ever hope to make the difference, and even that is a gamble. (Perhaps if some of those overly indulgent parents could transfer some of their attention to youngsters in the neighborhood --it takes a village to raise a child, then -- Yikes, what a dumb thought; disregard that divergence into never-never land.

If there were attempts to cover-up parts of this tragic situation, then one thing the media sensationalism has done is to undo the cover-up. But now that that is accomplished, I agree wholeheartedly that the press and, indeed, all of the rest of us need to let the wheels of justice proceed sans our insatiable curiosity and pray that Lady Justice will be served.