Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rare Wisdom on Law Enforcement

For the record, Conor Friedersdorf is still a twat; that said, I want to tentatively endorse an Ezra Klein point he quoted with respect to the death of Kajieme Powell:

The police arrive and instantly escalate the situation... Powell looks sick more than he looks dangerous. But the police draw their weapons as soon as they exit their car... They don't seem to know how to stop Powell, save for using deadly force. But all Powell had was a steak knife. If the police had been in their car, with the windows rolled up, he could have done little to hurt them...
...Even when he advances on police, he walks, rather than runs... He swings his arms normally, rather than entering into a fighting stance. They begin yelling at him to stop. And when they begin shooting, they shoot to kill—even continuing to shoot when Powell is motionless on the ground. There is no warning shot, even. It does not seem like it should be so easy to take a life.

“Instantly escalate”.  I can think of no better way to describe the police response in the Beavercreek, OH Wal-Mart shooting death of a 22 year old man holding an AirSoft.  This case disappeared from the national media in favor of the Ferguson, MO shooting, which is really unfortunate, considering that Michael Brown turned out to be 292 lbs. of hopped-up violent thug, while John Crawford was as good a citizen as could be expected of a man with his background.

The Crawford case is headed to a grand jury, who will get to see the Wal-Mart security video that shows the entire episode.  I am eager to see this video myself, although I can only marvel at the restraint with which Ohio public officials are commenting on the case, in admirable contrast to the hyperbolic rhetoric coming out of the MO governor.

Frankly, my primary concern here is not that either the Powell or Crawford officers are prosecuted; as near as I can tell, they all followed standard police procedure.  It is the procedures that are the problem.  It is the procedures that are getting innocent or addled people killed unnecessarily.

It bothers me that the police would even try to claim that someone’s “failure to comply” is sufficient cause to kill them.  It seems that the police should be required to have probable cause that person they are shooting has (1) broken the law; and (2) pose a credible threat to someone.  Simply holding an air rifle doesn’t cut it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dating vs. Courtship

Via Facebook, I read a couple of articles by Thomas Umstattd Jr., apparently a political activist in Texas:  “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed”, and a subsequent Q&A on the article based on extensive feedback in the comments.  As the title implies, it is intended as a critique of Joshua Harris’ 2000 book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, wherein Harris proposed that “casual dating” be replaced with “purposeful, intentional courtship”.

For those of my readers who are not Christians, or Christians of the type for whom this is the first you’ve heard of Joshua Harris and his book, then the motivation behind Umstattd’s article is not going to make much sense.  This blog post is rather intended for the rest of you.

This article is the first I’ve heard of Thomas Umstattd, and to all appearances he seeks to address an important question:  how can Christians pursue their romantic attachments in a chaste and God-honoring way in a culture that is indifferent to both of these considerations.  The cultural context is key:  it is easy to imagine a system for pairing people off – Umstattd offers arranged marriages as an example, and asserts that courtship is a variant of this – that would do the job better than what we have.  But there is no tradition of it in America and no cultural infrastructure to support it.  Umstattd says, quite reasonably, that arranged marriages fly in the face of America’s individualist tradition.  The possibility that something similar is true for courtship as Harris conceives it should not be rejected out of hand, but nor should the idea that dating carries its own problems.

Umstattd offers anecdotes, as do many of his commenters, recounting the failure of courtship to reliably reach satisfactory results, by which we mean happy marriage.  Umstattd calls for empirical studies to investigate courtship’s efficacy, but the dearth of such studies does not prevent him from making empirical assertions about its failure.  I should note here that Umstattd in his youth was an avid proponent of courtship, as were his peers, and his article is written to express their general disappointment.  But as we have often discussed, there are a whole lot of cultural currents militating against family formation by whatever means, resulting in longer periods of singleness and with it increased temptation to sin.  Courtship isn’t going to solve these problems; the relevant comparison is the alternatives in practice today, not, contra Umstattd, the experience of our grandparents.

I cannot resolve this conflict with any authority in the absence of hard data.  I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye from the safety and detachment of my own marriage – a product of “traditional dating”, more or less – soon after the book’s publication.  My only criticism at the time was of Harris’ lack of awareness that his own high level of personal attractiveness – he had hair back then, and Mrs. Φ confirmed that he had a great deal of animal magnetism – gave him options that most of us don’t have.  Indeed, any pairing method he used was likely to work out well for him, and indeed it did:  Harris married quite young, IIRC.

Otherwise, much of Harris’ book seemed reasonable, but then so too does much in Umstattd’s article.  He takes pains to draw a distinction between “dating” and “going steady”, and that prior to the “going steady” stage, the rule for dating should be:  don’t go on a date with the same person twice in a row.  This passage also rang true for me personally:

The Greatest Generation was encouraged to date and discouraged from going steady while in middle school.

This is different from my generation, which is encouraged to “wait until you are ready to get married” before pursuing a romantic relationship. This advice, when combined with the fact that “the purpose of courtship is marriage”, makes asking a girl out for dinner the emotional equivalent of asking for her hand in marriage.

I am not convinced that anyone is ever truly ready to get married. Readiness can become a carrot on a stick, an ideal that can never be achieved. Marriage will always be a bit like jumping into a pool of cold water. A humble realization that you are not ready and in need of God’s help may be the more healthy way to start a marriage.

This was certainly my experience.  I will stipulate that there is some threshold of maturity required of its participants for marriage to survive.  But marriage itself, and the kinds of relationships that are purposefully headed towards marriage, are their own schoolhouse, a unique opportunity for personal growth by means of conflict and pain, and the demand for both repentance and forgiveness. 

But there were several passages of the article that I take issue with.  I have already mentioned one:  comparing the present generation with the WWII generation ignores massive (and negative) social change since then.  Here are some others.

“How can you tell who you want to marry if you aren’t going out on dates?” my grandmother wondered . . . .  “If I had only gone out with 3 or 4 guys I wouldn’t have known what I wanted in a husband.”

The kindest thing that I can say about this passage is that it may have been true that during the courtship dating years of the Greatest Generation there was such equality among men that choosing one was a function of a woman’s unique, highly individualized preferences.  But I suspect that a more honest, and more contemporarily relevant, interpretation is that she had to reconcile with herself what set of tradeoffs she could live with.  Because female preferences strike me as pretty uniform.

The word “traditional” appears maybe 15 or so times in the article, always in the context of describing the courtship dating practices allegedly in effect for the WWII generation.  Let me stipulate that those practices arrived at good-enough outcomes given the culture of the time.  Umstattd describes it thus:

My grandmother grew up in a marginally Christian community. People went to church on Sunday but that was the extent of their religious activity. They were not the Bible-reading, small-grouping, mission-tripping Christian young people common in evangelical churches today.

Okay, but Umstattd doesn’t fully grapple with the fact that the creation of an evangelical “subculture” is a reaction to the general slide in the morals of the larger community since his grandmother’s day.  I am pretty sure that this is as relevant to the present viability of traditional WWII dating as it is to any of its many antecedents.  How it is relevant is a question too complicated for me to think through . . . but then, I’m not the one offering the advice.

Umstattd writes:

Suggestions for Single Men:

If she says you need to talk to her dad first, just move on to the next girl. Don’t let the fact that some women have controlling fathers keep you from dating the girls with more normal families. There are a lot of fish in the sea and some dads are nicer than others.  Remember that this man would have become your father-in-law, and controlling people tend to control everything they can. So avoiding women with those kinds of fathers can save you a lot of heartache down the road.

When I initially started reading this article, I hadn’t taken note of the author’s name, and when I read this passage I assumed it was written by a woman:  every woman trying to evade accountability for her actions accused someone of being “controlling”.

In the Q&A, Umstattd elaborates:

7 Reasons I Don’t Recommend Going After Dragon-Guarded Women

I will allow that Umstattd’s somewhat loaded language here is coming from his own bitter experience.  Apparently, getting a father’s permission to date court a girl was a significant obstacle for him.  Now, Harris IIRC doesn’t spend much time giving advice to parents as to what the standard for their permission should be.  But elsewhere I have read that the exercise itself was a valuable filter.  The point is not for the father to be picky about who gets to date his daughter.  Rather, requiring a young man to ask a father’s permission tends to weed out those with dishonorable motives from the get-go, and remind the others of their own accountability for what happens.  I’m sorry that everyone in Umstattd’s experience was doing it wrong, but that’s not Harris’ fault.

Here are the 7 Reasons:

  • Getting parental approval to start makes things too intense too quickly. Getting permission to enter a relationship whose purpose is marriage, before getting to know the girl, is like stepping on the gas while also stepping on the brakes. That is not a healthy way to start a relationship. Better to begin as “just friends” who get coffee or ice cream every now and again. Please read the original post for all of the problems that come from getting too intense too soon. Here is another way to think of it: it’s like trying to bake cookies at 500 degrees. The higher temperature the harder it is to avoid burnt cookies.
  • There is a good chance “Talk to my dad” is really her way of saying “no.” Often girls feel bad about hurting a guy’s feelings by saying “no.” It is easier for a girl to send the man to her dad who can say “no” for her. So my advice is to take the hint and take the “no” for what it really is.
  • There may be maturity issues. If she doesn’t feel mature enough to give you a direct answer, there is a  chance she is not mature enough for the relationship. The kind of girls protected in this way are often the kind of girls who don’t have a lot of freedom to make their own choices, which can stunt their emotional maturity. They may still live at home and lack the real world experience for the kind of serious marriage-bound courtship the dad will likely insist you have.
  • There may be trust issues. Assuming she is an adult (18+), the fact that her parents don’t let her make this decision reveals their distrust. If her parents, who have known her all her life, don’t trust her, then why should you? These trust issues may instead be a symptom of a lack of trust in God. On the other hand, she could be an amazing trustworthy girl whose suspicious parents are unwilling to cede control over her life to her.
  • The parents may need to be “handled” for the rest of the relationship. Some of the comments say that the man should ”man up” and “handle” the father. This can put an undue strain on the relationship and can lead to some very sad outcomes as I’ve seen in the comments. Ideally, family gatherings should be something couples look forward to.  No one wants Christmas to be a warzone.
  • It makes the relationship mathematically more complex. Two people together is one relationship. Three people triples the number of relationships to three. A true courtship with all four parents involved is 15 different relationships. Any of these relationships can bring tension into the romantic relationship. The more people in a relationship, the harder it is to “shake hands and make up.” The inevitable reconciliation needed for a healthy relationship can become nearly impossible. The less flawed model is to have only one relationship between two people who get advice from 4 trusted advisers.  Thanks to Stephen McCants for correcting my math on this.
  • It is not your place to change someone’s family. Unconditional love means you love without conditions. This means accepting someone for who they are. Going into a relationship with a goal to change someone or their family is not love, it is manipulation.  This goes both ways.

With the exception of the first point, all of these are problems irrespective of whether the family is a “courtship” family or a “traditional dating” family.  Problems with trust, maturity, and family conflict shouldn’t be assumed to exist at higher rates in families merely doing their best to follow what they believe is the right path.

As to the first point, I’m inclined to believe that this is actually more complicated than it seems.  A father’s conversation with a young man about his intentions might reveal, for instance, that he doesn’t have the romantic ambitions that the girl hopes and assumes.  I must sadly admit that this was something of which I myself was guilty: inviting girls out one-on-one to do stuff because I enjoyed their company, not because I was attracted to them romantically.  And perhaps I knew or suspected that their feelings for me were stronger than my feelings for them, and therefore that my invitations had the potential to be misleading.  But the girls didn’t make an issue of it, their fathers didn’t make an issue of it, so it was just easier and more convenient for me to let the whole thing slide.

So there are several possible outcomes to a conversation with the father about intentions.

  • I have no romantic intent.
  • I want to see if there is any potential for me to develop romantic intent.
  • I have romantic intent and want an opportunity to pitch woo.
  • We both already have romantic intent and wish to move to the pre-engagement stage.

And perhaps there are others.  But I can see benefit, and little harm,  in having this discussion honestly with Dad from the start.

It’s a long article, and as a father of two daughters I welcome Umstattd’s contribution to the discussion.  But these were the problems I had.  I encourage everyone to read the article and hope you will comment here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


From the NYT via Steve:

Black and Latino students have long experienced a pattern of inequality along racial lines in American schools. According to data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at much higher rates than white students and attend schools with less-experienced teachers. …

The My Brother’s Keeper initiative will also address the needs of Asian-American and Native American boys.

John E. Deasy, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said he was eager to share some successful tactics with other school systems. In Los Angeles, he said the district reduced its annual suspensions from 50,000 in the 2009-2010 school year to 8,000 this past school year, in part because of a new policy eliminating “willful defiance” as a reason for suspension.

This is somewhat off-topic, but I've often wondered, when I read a story about a child punished by a public school for, say, drawing a picture of a gun or some similar trivial transgression of political correctness: was the child punished for the activity in itself, or was he punished for defiant disobedience, willfully doing what the teacher told him not to do?

I'm inclined to think this is an important distinction. I am a sworn enemy of the petty Leftist despotisms enabled by our public schools, and have directly challenged them on my children's behalf at least once. But as I have said before, short of an order to violate the Decalogue outright, I think they should do what their teachers tell them to do. There are several reasons. Children are perhaps not the best judges of when their teachers are actually violating their legal rights, when their instructions are merely frivolous, or when they are really acting in the interests of maintaining an orderly learning environment. This is especially true when their own amour propre is on the line. Children (though not necessarily their parents) should give presumptive deference to the day's authority figure; this is the way one adult keeps a classroom of 20+ young people from turning into that island from Lord of the Flies.

On the other hand, if the punishment really is for the thing itself, well there isn't much a child can do to protect himself from arbitrary and capricious behavior on the part of school officials. That's my job.

Back on topic, though, is this testimony for what "defiance" actually looks like from the demographic at issue. H.T.: the WKSB.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The End of the Debate?

Ross writes:

[P]erhaps, as Greg Sargent argues (hopes?), the next G.O.P. primary will be consumed by a debate over a federal marriage amendment and other anti-S.S.M. unicorns. But most likely not: The typical religious conservative of my acquaintance considers the battle lost, Fox News and other tub-thumping outlets have never much cared for the issue anyway, and ambitious Republican politicians will be happy to stop talking about it (as they mostly have already).

On the one hand, this is probably correct: it is unlikely that the political coverage afforded to the opposition to gay marriage will prove as durable as, say, that provided to the opposition to abortion. The debate going forward, to the extent there is one, will concern the extent of the protections given to dissenters, as Ross acknowledges.

But it is fanciful to imagine that Republican politicians will be allowed to slink away quietly. If the media debate moderators can find the space to ask Republican candidates if they "believe in evolution", a question of provably zero political relevance, I can promise that they will make a point of asking them if they support gay marriage.

And the answer matters. It is one thing to read Ross admitting that we are almost certainly going to lose. It's quite another to listen to a politician seeking my vote avow that, notwithstanding that he's "personally opposed"*, he supports gay marriage politically. It is possible that a candidate's positions on other issues might be sufficiently strong -- e.g., supporting an immmigration moratorium** -- that I would ignore his surrender on gay marriage, as a practical matter it isn't very likely.

So Republican candidates had better starting thinking now how they are going to deal with this question.

* Readers of a certain age will recognize this formulation, popular among "moderates" of both parties in the 80s, as a attempt to finesse the abortion issue. It actually worked for Carter in '76, but by 1980 pro-life voters had become too sophisticated to fall for it. That didn't stop politicians from trying it, however.

** In point of fact, I have despaired of the possibility that the Republican nominating system will yield a candidate credibly strong enough on immigration to tempt my general election vote, irrespective of gay marriage or any other issue on the horizon.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

White Knighting 101

From Charles Murray's The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life:

What about the boss who is a jerk? It depends on what kind of jerk he is. Let's start with the most notorious kind of office jerk, the sexist male who makes life miserable for his female colleagues or subordinates. I don't want to minimize how trying and even frightening it can be to deal with such a situation if you are a young woman new to the workplace and the jerk is a much older senior employee. But if you find yourself in such a situation, remember two things. First, even the hint of a formal sexual harassment complaint scares the employers, who badly want to avoid the legal hassle and the financial costs that a complaint entails, and should scare the sexist jerk even more -- his job can easily be in jeopardy. Second, you shouldn't assume you have to do battle all by yourself. Every office I've ever worked in has had sagacious women who would have been wonderful counselors and advocates for a young female employee who is being harassed. And let me put in a word for male curmudgeons. Most of us see ourselves as gentlemen. You don't have to approve of our antediluvian mind-set, but there's something to be said for having a senior male in authority who detests men who maltreat women or take advantage of underlings. You can come talk to us too.

Next, we come to jerks who are merely unpleasant . . . .

Monday, August 11, 2014

Unprincipled Exceptionalism

Vox Day writes:

[U]nderstand that the resurgence of anti-semitism is happening for a reason. What that reason may be is up for discussion, but not that logic dictates its existence. Anti-semitism can be irrational but it is not always so, and pretending otherwise is both disingenuous and futile. The world knows what Ben Bernanke did last summer, so to speak. The world knows who is funding President Goldman Sachs and it understands why the head of a petty state in the Middle East can tell him off and expect him to fall in line. The world knows that the U.S. Congress is Israeli-occupied territory. The world knows who owns Hollywood, the U.S. media, and the bailed-out banks. The world knows who has been flooding its nations with third-world barbarians who don't even understand the concept of indoor plumbing.

Would that the anti-Israel protests really were some kind of double-bankshot opposition to third-world immigration. But there is every reason to be skeptical that this is the case.

For instance, as a counter-example to VD's assertion, I offer the story of Steve Salaita (via Legal Insurrection):

Many faculty job offers (which are well-vetted by college officials before they go out) contain language stating that the offer is pending approval by the institution’s board of trustees. It’s just a formality, since many college bylaws require such approval.

Not so with a job offer made to Steven G. Salaita, who was to have joined the American Indian studies program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this month. The appointment was made public, and Salaita resigned from his position as associate professor of English at Virginia Tech. But he was recently informed by Chancellor Phyllis Wise that the appointment would not go to the university’s board, and that he did not have a job to come to in Illinois, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.

Read the Legal Insurrection article for a sample of the tweets.

With the caveat that it's really hard to sound smart in 64 characters, these remarks reveal a vulgar and puerile mind, more appropriate to the bathroom scrawls of 14 year old boys than the output of a college professor. But really, who among you believes that, if these had been directed towards white South Africa rather than Israel, anyone would have bothered to do anything other than applaud?

My point here is not to compare Israel's policies with Apartheid. My point is that Salaita, and Bardem and Cruz and most other Leftist gentiles, are running the same playbook against Israel as was run against South Africa a generation ago. They see European settlers, under the cover of Imperial power, colonize a non-European continent at the expense of the existing non-European inhabitants. At some threshold of strength, the colonists obtain their independence from their former patrons and proceed to gain territory through armed conquest, coincidentally expanding their jurisdiction over the natives.

By forthrightly stating this paradigm, I do not intend it to be judgmental of European settlement. On the contrary, I recognize it as the story of my own country, and I support Israel (and old South Africa) for that very reason: we are (or were) outposts of civilization against barbarism. But because of this understanding, I also understand that to Salaita and Cruz and Bardem, being "anti-Semitic" is at most only incidental to being anti-White, and I predict (although I cannot prove in every case) that this is the animating spirit of "anti-Semitic" anti-Zionism in Europe as well. It is not, contra Vox, an expression of skepticism against Jewish cultural and political influence with regard to immigration and banking.

What is striking about the current conflict is that whereas the full weight of American economic, diplomatic, and cultural power was eventually brought to bear against South Africa, this isn't happening to Israel. And the reason isn't hard to understand: "Hollywood power brokers", as the Hollywood Reporter so artfully calls them, simply decline to apply to their co-ethnics the same rules they happily apply to other European-descended people.

As non-Americans, Bardem and Cruz likely don't have as intuitive a grasp of how American victimology is applied in practice; as an "American Indian Studies" professor, Salaita is probably only experienced in playing the diversity card himself, not in having it played against him. Their error lies only in their intellectual consistency and fidelity to the full implications of their hatred towards European civilization.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Dog-whistling through Hollywood

Read a certain way, this article is pretty funny:

When the latest battle in Gaza finally is over, as someday it will be, hard feelings could linger in the corner offices of Hollywood toward the stars who have voiced anti-Israel sentiments. But will the artists who criticize Israel military strikes -- particularly married Spaniards Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, who accused the country of "genocide" in a widely circulated July 25 letter -- suffer career backlash in a town whose power brokers tend to be strong supporters of Israel?

So far, Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh is the only studio head willing to go public with his disgust. "As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I know that anyone calling what's going on in Israel 'genocide' vs. self-defense is either ignorant and shouldn't be commenting or is truly anti-Semitic," Kavanaugh told THR on Aug. 2, saying the Spanish letter, signed by 100 film luminaries including Pedro Almodovar, "makes my blood boil." Kavanaugh says he received more than 500 calls, emails and texts of support in the 24 hours after his comments were published, including from high-ranking industry executives, suggesting the sentiment is widespread.

Indeed, though they decline to go on record, many top execs contacted by THR privately express similar feelings -- one says he's "furious at Javier and Penelope" -- and questioned whether they would want to work with the couple again. The stars' letter laid the blame for the conflict on Israel, which it said "keeps advancing on Palestinian territories instead of withdrawing to the 1967 borders." The actors' follow-up attempts to clarify their open letter and express support for the Jewish people were met with "a collective eye roll," according to one top exec. Some, like Kavanaugh, are taking the Israel statements personally. With the reports of Hamas' sophisticated tunnel network and its 3,000 missile attacks against Israeli citizens in 2014, many are convinced that the current crisis underscores a threat to the Jewish state itself. (Kelly Bush, a rep for Bardem, and Amanda Silverman, who reps Cruz, declined comment.)

Among Hollywood figures, the typically outspoken Howard Stern, Joan Rivers and Bill Maher have expressed support for Israel in the conflict, which has killed more than 1,800 people, mostly Palestinians. And Ray Donovan actor Jon Voight penned an open letter Aug. 2 demanding that Cruz, 40, and Bardem, 45, "hang your heads in shame." Wrote Voight: "I am asking all my peers who signed that poison letter against Israel to examine their motives. Can you take back the fire of anti-Semitism that is raging all over the world now?"

But for the most part, Hollywood's power brokers -- including those who have raised money for pro-Israel causes, such as Barbra Streisand, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg -- have avoided public comments on the conflict. Nor has there been criticism of other industry figures, including Jon Stewart, director Jonathan Demme and Mark Ruffalo, who have voiced nuanced concerns about Israel's military action in Gaza while supporting the nation in general. "I don't know why more prominent Hollywood people don't speak out about what's going on there," Stern said on his radio show July 28. "They're all afraid." Hollywood political donor Haim Saban, one of the industry's biggest Israel supporters, echoed those sentiments. "I don't understand this myself," Saban told the Jewish Journal on Aug. 1. "But starting today, I will be working the phones to enlist the vocal support of people who I know have an interest in supporting our staunchest ally in the region -- which also happens to be the only democracy in the region."

Despite his strongly worded letter, Voight says he doesn't think Cruz and Bardem -- who are currently in South Africa as Bardem shoots Sean Penn's The Last Face -- should suffer career fallout. "Don't try to create a blacklist," says Voight. "That doesn't help you." And one industry executive says he doesn't believe the Israel comments reach the "Mel Gibson threshold." When the actor was caught making virulent anti-Semitic remarks in 2010, he was marginalized and eventually dropped by agency WME (which reps Bardem, ironically) and faced widespread backlash.
In fact, many throughout Hollywood believe the careers of celebrities -- those such as Rihanna, who tweeted "#FreePalestine," or Piers Morgan, who tweeted "A WAR CRIME" in reaction to a news report of Palestinian children killed in an air strike -- are unlikely to be impacted solely by political views that many executives oppose. . . .

One top producer who has worked with Cruz says he privately has vowed not to hire her again. Still, even Kavanaugh doesn't foresee the letter hurting either of their careers as long as the audience for their work doesn't turn. Or, as another producer points out: "I think the thing any executive or producer will try to calculate before working with Penelope Cruz or Javier Bardem in the near future is what their value is in the all-important international marketplace. And what territories they might have alienated people in by what they said. It might not be that many. But it's really all about business."

Emphasis added.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Media Sloppiness

From Hudson News 12, via Andrew Branca:

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A New Jersey detective was acquitted today of all charges in the killing of a driver during an alleged road-rage incident.

Joseph Walker, an investigator for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, has been cleared of first-degree murder in the death of 36-year-old Joseph Harvey, of Lansdowne, Maryland.

Prosecutors say Walker, 41, shot Harvey after the two pulled over in Millersville on June 8, 2013 after some traffic jostling. Walker’s lawyers have said their client thought he, his wife and three children were in danger when he fired his gun.

"Traffic jostling." It was reporting like this that led me to think, when this case first made the news, "Great. Another trigger-happy cop, off duty and out of his jurisdiction, exercising privileges the rest of don't get, guns down an unarmed citizen. The police will ignore it out of professional courtesy."

But then I read the cop's testimony (again, courtesy of Legal Insurrection):

The events were recounted by Walker as follows (based on how Walker’s testimony was paraphrased by reporters):

Walker inadvertently drifted into Harvey’s lane while turning from one road onto another. Harvey responded by screaming at Harvey, “What’s your f*cking problem, n*gger?” followed by “I’ll f*cking kill you, n*gger!” Walker waved his badge at Harvey, shouting back “Police! Keep moving!” (The 41-year-old Walker is black, the 36-year-old Harvey is white.)

Walker heard a thump and thought something might have struck his van. (Surveillance video from a nearby Wawa convenience store showed Harvey and his companion Pidel each buying two energy drinks–only three energy drink were later found in Harvey’s car.) Harvey’s Honda then swerved in front of Walker’s van, forcing Walker to take evasive action. Eventually Harvey pushed Walker’s van off the side of the road, where he stopped. “I was thinking this was done,” Walker testified.

Apparently, up to this point, none of Walker's testimony is contested. So already, characterizing this as "traffic jostling" is grossly misleading, implying as it does that both parties were engaging in it. (This is roughly like the media's penchant describing an anti-Christian pogrom as "The Muslims and Christians are fighting . . .")

Walker had exited his minivan and was inspecting it for damage when he heard his wife yell that the two other men were approaching. Walker said he first showed his badge, and ordered the men to stop. When they failed to stop, he pulled out his gun. Walker told jurors, “I wanted to deter the situation . . . hopefully they would forget this and go about their business.” When Harvey continued to approach, Walker shot him once. Walker testified that Pidel stopped, which is why he did not shoot Pidel. Harvey, however, continued to approach, and Walker shot him two more times. Harvey’s injuries would prove mortal.

Walker’s wife testified earlier in the week, her recounting largely matching those of her husband, and noting that she was in fear for her life and those of her children.

Other witnesses, however, provided testimony that was inconsistent with that of Walker. Pidel, Harvey’s companion, testified that Walker never announced he was a police officer and never showed his badge. Some other witnesses, who were driving past on the road by where the conflict occurred on the shoulder, testified that Walker stood with crossed arms as Harvey and Pidel approached, and that Harvey stopped prior to being shot.

Those last six words strike me as the most important. How drivers-by were able to take that in when Pidel himself didn't mention it (according to this account) is beyond me, but if it's true, it really does sound like Walker shot Harvey in revenge for the racial taunting.

Key to the case, of course, is that Maryland is a vigorously enforced duty-to-retreat jurisdiction. If one has a safe avenue of retreat available, one must make use of it before using deadly force in self-defense. Here, the prosecution argues, Walker could simply have stayed in his minivan and driven away as Harvey approached on foot.

"Duty to Retreat" is a good policy but a bad law when it's used to deny a self-defense claim. Yet that aside, even under an interpretation of the testimony most favorable to the state's case, it's hard to argue that "driving away" constitutes a safe avenue of retreat from a person who has already run you off the road. But there are other interpretations as well: that Walker thought that the display of his badge would deter aggression, and didn't believe deadly force was warranted until it was too late to retreat.

Bottom line: this is a closer call than the Zimmerman case, but I'm inclined to think the jury got it right.