28 April 2012

Hewers of Wood, Drawers of Water

No. 3 Equity Court is no longer quite so anonymous. We received large heavy plastic letters to attach to the side of the building for the firm name, as well as numerals for the address. Our good friend and brother Jamie got them up between cloudbursts today. 

And so, we are no longer just “the brown building between the funeral home and Jayenne Elementary School.”  Come to think of it, I will post a photo before long.

I examined the plastic letters before they went up and considered how we came to get them. In our modern lives, “stuff” just seems to show up. We call up the Internet, Google “plastic sign letters buildings” and up pops 10 vendors with 5 sizes, 15 colors and 20 fonts.

The dominance of the service sector of the economy is new. For the first several hundred centuries, the overwhelming majority of human/economic activity was in the production of goods.

We teach our children today that high-education, white/lace collar service jobs are the way to wealth.  And that seems to hold true - the most highly paid “workers” are the CEO’s, the entertainers, the corporate lawyers, the specialist physicians and the like. 

High income folks today seldom produce anything tangible.  And that’s OK.  Services have great value. 

But so many of us have come to look down upon the hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Those plastic letters – a lot of different people’s skills went into producing them. Chemists and materials engineers had to formulate the right plastic to meet the required rigidity and temperature range tolerance, and figure how to get a metallic coloring agent homogeneously throughout. Tool, die and mold makers produced the molds and tools to the drawings and specifications of industrial designers.  Factory workers worked the machinery and manufactured the end-products.

Only then were the products turned over to the marketeers for them to figure ways for the product to be featured in colorful websites, at trade shows and in catalogs.

This behind-the-scenes presence of the people who actually produce things is universal but largely unappreciated.

Most Americans own some sort of motor vehicle. Each and every one of the thousands of parts which make up that motor vehicle had to go through the design and fabrication process. Chemists, metallurgists, engineers, and craftsmen all had a part in producing every part. Some of them have degrees and professional licenses. The papers on the wall did not produce anything, only the people did. Lots and lots of the producers obtain their degree from the dear old CHK – the College of Hard Knocks.

I’ve even heard that old phrase, “hewers of wood, drawers of water” used in a pejorative sense, to refer to people who are just not on the same level as “People Like Us.”

What a mistake. We need wood. We need water.

A note on terms like “craftsmen”: The English language still lags behind reality and we have the choice of using terms previously understood to be gender-specific or spreading distracting disjunctives throughout writing.  I’ve done it both ways, and I’m not satisfied with either.  I’d love to see grammarians and linguists who are smarter than me give us either new pronouns, suffixes and possessives or new rules for using the old ones.

A bit of historical research:

I’ve started to look into the “Mundel affair” of the 1950's, a moderately notorious brouhaha which resulted in legal proceedings here in Marion County.  It involved an art professor fired from Fairmont State College.  Commonly, the whole affair is linked to McCarthyism, the Red scare, and so forth.

What started me down this road was the recent death of my friend, the most senior attorney in our bar, Roderick A. Devison.  Rod attended the public meeting at the American Legion Post which was the genesis of the affair, and was a young lawyer practicing in Fairmont as it wound through the Circuit Court.  Nearly 30 years ago, he and the late Dominick J. Romino, Esq., appeared in an ABC historical special on the affair.  

I’m reading This Nest of Vipers, a history of the affair by Prof. Charles McCormick, a professor emeritus of history at Fairmont State.  Prof. McCormick was one of my first teachers at FSC, although I confess I have very little memory of any distinct impressions.  His take on the Mundel affair is very sympathetic to Dr. Mundel.  I’m reserving some global judgment until I’m much farther along in the still-available resources.
My friend and brother Oce Smith worked for Sen. M. M. Neely at the time he represented Thelma Loudin, the State Board of Education member who was the defendant in the Court case.  He has some interesting recollections. Also, in 1983, I sat and talked for a while with my highly respected elder friend, Judge J. Harper Meredith, who presided in the case.

Well, I’m lacking things to do, so rejoice that I’m not simply sitting around watching game shows.

27 April 2012

Short & Sweet Wins the Race - Parson Jim N. Shows Me How It's Done!!

King Nebuchanezzar in the Bilderburg Hotel, I've been grousing for the last 30 years that the faith community didn't overtly support the public service community.  I've prompted various faith folks and myself tried unsuccessfully to get to a bottom line.

And then that dog-gone Parson Jim N., my beloved brother and teacher, just up and stated a little six line prayer that says it all.  This was in a comment to the immediate past post, and since not many people read comments, I'm reproducing it here:

Thanks for this, Roger. I attended a dinner at Johnson Memorial UMC in Huntington some months back that was arranged to express appreciation to emergency personnel (EMTs, Police, Firefighters, etc.). The attendees included the mayor and other city/county officials, as well as many church and community representtives. The seating was arranged so that the various emergency service workers were at the same round tables with community and church leaders. My table included a Fire Department Captain, a policeman, a couple of EMTs, a member of the Mayoral Staff, and a few of us commoners. It turned out to be a very informative conversation about the realities of life in the frontlines of critical situations
Dr. Heather Murray Elkins, Professor of Preaching and Liturgics at Drew University, was the featured moderator of this event (which was appropriate since the idea was hers), and she shared with us a prayer she always prays whenever hearing a siren. I now say the same prayer, following her lead:

There goes the siren,
Trouble is coming,
Lord, have mercy.

There goes the siren,
Help is on the way,
Thanks be to God.

Jim was one of the no-good rascals who showed me what this whole Christian love thing was all about.

Thanks, my brother.


24 April 2012

For Heaven's Sake, Go Ahead and Call 911

My 80-year-old aunt lives alone. Last weekend, she had a fall at home. She was not injured, other than bumps and bruises, but she did have a good bit of difficulty getting up off the floor.

My aunt is a wonderful lady. She and her family are the kind of people who are the backbone of our community.

A couple of years ago, at my strong urging, my aunt got one of the “Lifeline” devices (the same thing as the “LifeAlert” device endorsed by Dr. Koop and similar devices).  It’s a radio pendant warn by people who can use it to call for assistance if they have an emergency.

Even though she was stuck on the floor for quite a while, my aunt didn’t push the button.  She did not want to inconvenience anyone.

I understand that kind of thinking – I really do.

But when an older or mobility impaired person finds himself or herself in trouble, they need to go ahead and push the button. If they have a phone readily available, they need to call 911.

It is not an inconvenience. The people who will respond don’t mind.  That is what they are there for.

Perhaps you read in the news about people who abuse the 911 system. By people in the system, they are called the “frequent flyers.”

These are not people were calling cause they have fallen at home. These are people who call because they have a cold or a little cut or a little sprain and they don’t want to pay for a taxi or don’t want to “bother” family or just need to get some attention. Generally, frequent flyers are not people for whom the emergency response system is designed.

(That being said, the ambulances have to go anyway, cause even the frequent fliers really can get sick.)

I strongly believe in the use of the Lifeline/LifeAlert pendants for older and mobility impaired people. These are obtainable through national vendors and many local hospitals also provide a program. When the person finds himself or herself in trouble, they press the button on the pendant.  A dispatcher comes on line to see what’s wrong. If the dispatcher can talk to the person, they can determine what’s needed. If not, they’ll call some number designated by the customer, such as a neighbor or family member. If they can’t get ahold of anyone, they will call local emergency services.

These radio pendants work. My mother got one of these pendants a couple of years before she died. Not long after she got it, she had a fall and, just like my aunt, was not seriously injured but couldn’t get up off the floor. She pushed the button. The dispatcher called me. I was a few minutes out, so I went ahead and called 911. Because I’ve been at all three locations in the 911 triad (dispatcher, responder, civilian caller), I knew that nobody was going get mad or feel inconvenienced.

A rig from my old rescue company came, evaluated my mother, helped her get situated and left.

People who respond to these calls do not mind them. Not at all. I did it for years. I never, never, never minded such a call. In fact, we always considered it a good thing when we could help somebody without them being hurt badly enough to need transported.

The way I talked my mother into getting one of these pendants was a little bit shady, I must admit.  She was getting some very minor surgery at the University Hospital.  We were talking to a young anesthesiologist. I asked him what he thought of the radio pendants, and that pushed his sermon button.  He had a strong reason to support the idea that I’d never heard before.

According to that doc, older people have generally reduced blood circulation.  When they fall, whatever part of the body is in contact with the floor is pressed hard and so has even poorer blood circulation. After a while, tissue begins to die. When tissue dies, it creates toxins which begin to poison the vital organs, and that alone can be fatal after several hours.  Like I say, never heard that one before but thinking back to calls years ago with a “poor outcome,” it explained a lot.

The emergency response system did not just happen. Somebody did not just say, 911 sounds like a pretty good number, call the phone company  and that was it. The creation and growth of the emergency response system has been done out of the public eye, but it has still been long and difficult.

I remember in Marion County one very long meeting of the original 911 committee. Understand, when you have a meeting of emergency system folks, it is not a meeting of the merely assertive. It is a meeting of very passionate and aggressive people. Pansies and daffodils do not go into burning buildings or overturned cars, nor dip their hands willingly into every conceivable kind of bodily fluid and substance. When you have a meeting of such folks, the first half-hour consists of a spirited exchange of pleasantries focusing on each other’s questionable antecedents and doubtful progeny. Only then will any work get done.

This meeting I recall ran for five or six hours, but it only concerned a single question:   How would the 911 phone be answered?

The choices were “911, do you have an emergency?” or “911, what is your emergency?” (30 years later, the question “911, where is your emergency?” has come into fashion.) I understand that sounds like a pretty minor thing, but it’s an important decision which bears upon how best to shave a few seconds off of the time it takes to get accurate information about the location and nature of the emergency.

There were lots of meetings like that. The result, in Marion County as in most areas, is an emergency response system that works much, much better than anything that has ever existed before.

But the wheels will never turn until someone calls.

It is not a sign of weakness to call 911 or press the Lifeline button.  You are saying that something is going on that you need help doing.  In the community are people specifically trained and dedicated to providing this sort of help for their neighbors. 

I also encourage people to support the folks in the emergency services.  These brothers and sisters do things that have to be done, but which most people would find intolerable.  Part of the practical training of any rookie is that the older people will take him or her aside and tell them something to the effect, Look, feel free to be upset, to throw up, or to cry.  And then, get over it quick, because the job still has to be done.

You would be amazed how seldom any of those people even hear a “Thank you.”   When any of the vehicles with the flashing lights and sirens pass you, the people inside would like to think that you are sending up a prayer for them or, if that’s not your thing, then sending good thoughts.  When someone sends over to the local station a huge pan of lasagna (or if you live somewhere other than West Virginia, whatever the popular mass food option may be) you would be amazed how welcome that is.

(Oh, don’t send a dozen cookies. That’s like throwing a single small steak into a pack of wolves. These people soak up the calories.)

This is not a regional thing, this is an American thing. We are all in this together. We all have neighbors, and we all have gifts with which to help our neighbors. The people in the emergency services willingly share their gifts every minute of every day.  As we grow older, our gifts change and we may need to rely on the younger people.  That’s OK.  We “paid our debts forward,” just as they now are for themselves.

And as always, I send my love and respect to all my brothers & sisters in our Fellowship.  Stay safe.


18 April 2012

The Moral Majority vs. The Secret Service; Or, Pots vs. Kettles

Let me perfectly clear:

Hanging around with hookers really is a bad idea. It is epidemiologically perilous. It is socially unacceptable. And when you’re caught at it, it’s embarrassing.

(To some, simply the idea that you utilized a hooker is the embarrassing part. To others, it’s the fact that you couldn’t score without hundred dollar bills.)

Moreover, to recast something Benjamin Franklin said in a slightly different setting, “The pleasure is fleeting, the position ridiculous and the expense damnable.”

Lets consider a target group of poor schmucks who might get caught with hookers. This group I’m thinking of has several unique characteristics:

  • They have 20/20 (or better) vision.

  • They have unusually acute hearing.

  • They have unusually quick reflexes.

  • They are unusually intelligent.

  • All have college degrees and most have advanced degrees.

  • They maintain themselves at a level of fitness equivalent to front line military people.

  • They maintain a high skill level by constant training in a number of specialities, including weapons, tactics, explosives, abnormal psychology and forensic science.

  • They travel very frequently and put in work hours far in excess of average American workers.

  • In the face of a lethal threat, they square up their bodies toward the threat source so that their bodies are protective barriers between the danger and what or who they are protecting.

Clearly, when people from that group get caught with hookers, they have to be involuntarily retired or fired.

How’s that again?

The President of the United States is so angry he’s having a hissy fit. Congress-folk, inhabitants of the fanciest marble whorehouse on Earth, are apoplectic. Every perfect human being with a keyboard is having an attack of the vapors because some of the lads in the Secret Service played “geographic bachelor,” and acted like nitwits with some “ladies of the evening. And any suggestion by anyone that the agents shouldn’t be condemned, castrated and burned at the stake is derided as a personal affront to motherhood, fatherhood, Chevrolet automobiles, Old Glory and Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

We’re on the front row at a Kiss concert and the music playing is unbridled sanctimony.

Okay, let’s do a little experiment: I now want the reader to think of the most blatant time that he or she has taken a little walk on the wild side, the time that you would have been most appalled for your mother to have walked into the room.

Got it fixed in your mind? No, no, no, I don’t want to hear about it. Neither does anyone else.

No, really – No “I was just a kid,” no “I was a sinner but now I’m found,” just remember what you did.

Were you burned at the stake?

If not, will you please go get the firewood and get on with it?

We’re waiting.

The whole agents-in-Columbia “scandal” [a scandal is when somebody else gets caught doing something that you didn’t get caught doing] is just another verse in the old tune, “You’re Bad, So I’m Superior.” Slobbering all over the TV and panting at the wickedness is a dandy way for the beer-swilling, couch-reclining, 9 - 5, don’t-move-a-muscle-to-help-other-people folks can feel all warm and fuzzy about their moral mastery over the uppity snobs who inevitably “get what’s coming to them.”

Oh, my. I’m endorsing immorality. Well, not really. In my mythical administration, the “boys” would have a trip to the woodshed and become the permanent-until-they’ve-suffered-enough midnight & all-holidays crew.

But to fire them? That might be a sop to moralistic myopia, but it’s WRONG and it’s STUPID. Oh, and it’s gutless. When will we ever have leaders with the guts to say, “Hey, guys, I’m not going to do the wrong thing just to look good for CNN and Fox”?

Can we accept that it’s the human race and not the Vulcan Federation?

Addendum: One of the Congressional luminaries leading the charge - and forecasting a need to fly to Colombia and "investigate" - is Rep. Peter King of New York. Never heard of him? He's traveled often to Ireland to publicly support the Provisional Irish Republican Army and friends in the misunderstood Sinn Fein. At least those guys don't hang out with hookers, they just kill people. Unbelievable.

Seems to me that I remember something about casting the first stone. I need to look that up.


11 April 2012

"They Didn't Read Me My Rights!"

“… And not only that, the police didn’t read me my rights!”

My goodness, how may times have I heard that from clients charged with some criminal matter?

When I first heard it, I must confess I took it seriously. Fortunately, that phase didn’t last long. Although it’s always a relatively minor issue to address, the notion quickly passed into the realm of mere noise. After a few years, we reached the “joke” status. And today? What I think when I hear it is, “For heaven’s sake, quit whining.”

Here is a surprise. It means very little to a case if the police do not read the defendant his or her rights.

Somehow, folks have come to believe falsely if the police don’t do the read-‘em-their-rites ceremony, Jesus will wither them like the fig tree. Mohammed will smite them, and Vishnu ... ? Well, Vishnu will do that thing he does, and let me tell you, it’s not pleasant.

Oh, and they just know that the whole case has to be dismissed because their rights were violated.

It just isn’t so.

Ever since Joe Friday arrested someone weekly on Dragnet, we frequently have heard the mantra:

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a Court of Law. You have the right to the presence of an attorney. If you desire an attorney and cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you without cost. Amen.”

This advice is consistent with the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case Miranda vs. Arizona. At the time of the Miranda decision, public reaction was decidedly negative. It was seen as an intrusion on the work of the police and an exaltation of the rights of criminals over the truth.

Nevertheless, 45 years later, the Miranda warnings are a constant of police procedure. Prior to making statements which are admitted in court, citizens now have the opportunity to know that they have a right under the United States Constitution to keep quiet.

Very few of them make use of that right, because most persons arrested cannot resist the temptation to babble incessantly. But they have the right, and if they don’t use it, usually they have only themselves to blame.

But – the Miranda case does not say that the police have to read defendants their rights. Nowhere does it suggest that if the police don’t read a defendant his rights, the defendant gets a get-out-of-jail-free card.

What the Miranda decision says is that before a statement made made by a defendant during interrogation while he is in custody can be trotted out in court, the state or government has to show that the defendant had his or her rights explained to them. That’s all.

(I’m sticking with the masculine gender with my pronouns because, for the present, that gender dominates the criminal dockets.)

Fairly rarely, the Miranda rule results in a statement or even a confession excluded from the evidence. Far more common, however, is the exclusion of statements made when a defendant is so whacked out of his mind on drugs or alcohol that he’s making no sense or where there is some circumstance present which makes the voluntariness of the statement suspect.

If the voluntariness of a statement is suspect, that is not a “technicality.” That strikes directly at the trustworthiness of the statement.

Even when a statement excluded because of a Miranda violation is excluded, there are still limitations that can get it into the back door in Court. If the defendant confesses and that’s excluded because the defendant was not “Mirandized,” and the defendant then testifies and denies the crime, the statement comes in as impeachment. If the defendant makes a statement about his actions and the actions of someone else, there are circumstances where the statement about the other person will be heard by a jury.

So to my criminal clients: Please quit telling me that defending you will be easy because the police didn’t read you your rights. You are boring me silly.

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.