71-year-old Josephine Bell told police officers responding to a call at her home that she had warned her grandchildren that if they did not clean their rooms, she would take their pets away. They didn’t, she said, so she killed the children’s cat and four kittens with a hammer. The oldest child found the dead cat in the freezer, and called the police.
Granny was charged with a felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals, and is in custody at Madison County Jail on $15,000 bond.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…
What should be society’s response to conduct like this, and what should happen to Bell?
The African-American community needs to get its objectives and messages straight…quickly. That is, it needs to do this if it really knows what its objectives and intended messages are. This story should make everyone, including them wonder.
In Columbus, Georgia, Chiquita Hill’s 10-year-old son, Sean, was disrespectful to his teacher and repeatedly defiant in class. Sean’s mother was beside herself, and as I just heard her explain on HLN, was worried about what the child might be like when he reached puberty. Thus she devised the brilliant idea (yes, many people—cretins, but still—are saying that on social media) of “scaring her son straight” by calling 911 and having a police officer pretend to arrest him and take him to jail. Let me repeat that: there are people on social media saying this was a good idea.Many of these people have children themselves. Think about it.
Hill said her son didn’t believe she had called the cops on him—for the crime of talking back to his teacher— until Columbus police officers showed up at the door and put him in handcuffs, put him in the patrol car and pretended to take him to jail. “It happened so quick he didn’t know what to do,” she told the media. “I don’t know what they said to him but he came running down the hill, gave me a big hug said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”
Then Chiquita posted the pictures of her son in handcuffs on Facebook, where it has gone viral and will last forever.
There is nothing ethical, civilized, justifiable, reasonable, rational or right about either the conduct of the mother, or the conduct of the police officers. In the context of speeches and protesters in Baltimore and elsewhere proclaiming angrily that the police forces of the United States are racist and determined to exterminate black males, the episode is also hypocritical on the part of both the police and the mother, while intentionally seeding the racial distrust both police and African Americans are supposed to be working together to defuse, not working together to create.
I assume that readers here have functioning ethics alarms so let’s do this as a game, shall we? Before you read further—no cheating now, this is an ethics blog–vote on how many ways this episode involved wrongful conduct. Then see how close you came by finishing the post.
I don’t know if a 24 hour period has ever produced as many provocative, passionate and well-argued comments on Ethics Alarms before. This, commenter Holly’s reaction to my designation of the viral Baltimore mom Toya Graham clobbering her rioter son during the Freddie Gray disruptions in Charm City, is just one of several. I’ll address some of the issues she raises after the post; in the meantime, here is Holly’s Comment of the Day, in a day that will probably have more than one, on the post, “Ethics Hero: The Baltimore Riot’s ‘Mom of the Year’”:
I am surprised at this response. For a number of reasons. In any other circumstance, this woman probably would be going to jail. But if we watch the video more closely, the following observations can be made:
1. This child was leaving with his mother and she was so angry that she chases him to pull him back towards her to continue the beating. He appeared to be complying and in her anger continued to the assault the kid during the walk away.
2. The child was not in imminent danger. There are bystanders all around I saw no rocks being thrown in this video nor police for that matter. It does not appear the threat of losing his life was immediately in front of them.
3. The assault starts with a few close-fisted strikes as well as continuing with open-fisted strikes or what people are calling “smacks”.
Exemplary action on the part of this mother would not have been beating her son as he walked away from the riot, however. It would have included not allowing a 16 year out of her supervision to wander in the riot in the first place.Continue reading →
It is odd that the now-anointed “mom of the year” is a woman videotaped beating her son, and rather violently at that. That’s the Ethics Incompleteness Principle for you: even conduct that is “always” unethical may be made ethical by unusual circumstances. Seeing your grown son participating in looting and rioting that are destroying your neighborhood changes the rules, or perhaps makes them inapplicable.
Here is what the unidentified woman (UPDATE: Her name is Toya Graham) was doing that is an ethical duty: she was fixing the problem to the extent she could. Utilitarian? Yup. Would Kant approve? Well, if every mother of those rioters intervened, they would have had more success than the Baltimore police did.
As for the Golden Rule, her conduct passes that test as well. If I were getting pulled into violent, mindless mob violence like that kid, I would want my caring parents to stop me by any means short of shooting me. If it were my son wearing that hood, I’d be tackling him.
I don’t know if she’s really “Mom of the Year”—I’d like to think that a really exemplary mother won’t raise a rioter. She’s an Ethics Hero, though, beyond question.
“I’m standing in Central Park and witnessed a tourist father grab his (approx 5 year old) child by the arm and shake him… The. open palm smack his child in the head. Hard. Twice. I screamed to him, from about 50 feet, where I witnessed it: “HEY!!! YOU DON’T HIT HIM” he looked up, startled to be called out, and waved me off to mind my business. “YOU DO NOT HIT A CHILD IN THE HEAD”, I repeated, at the top of my lungs, hoping to attract attention. The kid cried and then got himself together and went off to play. No one else in Sheeps Meadow saw or took notice. For about 5 minutes after I kept my eyes on him so he knew he was now being watched. What is the role of a bystander in this situation?”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for the day is…
What is the role of a bystander in this situation?
The answer is simple, really—its that oft-repeated Ethics Alarms mantra, “FIX THE PROBLEM,” at least as much as you can. Do something. Mike did the right thing, from a distance: show the abuser he’s being observed, protest, shame him. If one can, if one has the ability, the skill and the timely reaction and the child looks to be in genuine danger, intervene physically.
The latter course, however, carries risks, and also may be precluded by the natural reflex most humans have when they observe something unexpected and shocking. I discussed this issue when Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary was being pilloried in some publications for not immediately charging into the Penn State showers and stopping sexual predator Jerry Sandusky from sexually abusing a boy: Continue reading →
“You changed your grade on the school computer, kid–that’s the death penalty!”
In Holiday, Florida, Paul R. Smith Middle School eighth-grader Domanik Green was suspended for breaking into the school computer system to change the background on his teacher’s computer to feature a photo of two men kissing. Then school administrators decided that the punishment wasn’t enough. They had him charged with the felony of computer hacking, and the fourteen year old will be tried as an adult.
The only explanation I can come up with for stories like this is that the school administrators don’t like kids. This wasn’t some sophisticated hack, like the stuff Matthew Broderick did in “War Games.” He knew the teacher’s password (his last name), and just changed the background. Changing a teacher’s background on his computer is the 21st century equivalent of putting an uncomplimentary caricature of the teacher on the blackboard. Charging a teen with a felony for that is excessive and cruel. Putting in his own claim to a share of the Fascist Disciplinarian of 2015 award was Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who blathered, “Even though some might say this is just a teenage prank, who knows what this teenager might have done.”
It isn’t news. It is poison. The press release makes the false claim that vaccinations spread measles, as well as other diseases. This is standard anti-vaxx hysteria, and it gets children killed. It is false. “Measles live vaccine doesn’t transmit easily at all,” said Dr. Jane Seward of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases told NBC, which apparently doesn’t communicate with its subsidiaries. “I don’t think there has ever been a secondary transmission,” she added. “There is no evidence of any transmission of measles virus from a child to household contacts.” As for the Foundation itself:
“The Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated nonindustrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price’s research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats….
Yes, it is strange, like Dr. Price’s theories, and not in a benign way. Among the foundation’s other objectives is to show that vaccinations are unnecessary if you eat right, or something: when a home page prominently displays a link that reads, COD LIVER OIL: Our Most Important Superfood, my eyes tend to gloss over, I file the group under “Nut Balls” and move on.
CNBC posted this promotional piece uncritically and without context, leaving the impression that it was actual news, thus allowing fake news to go to the top of Google searches for gullible readers. At the bottom of the screen it says “More from CNBC” and not “More from health food hyping anti-science fanatics.” Continue reading →