Just A Reminder: I Warned About This From The Start, Almost Three Years Ago

Poor Cassandra. I know how she felt.

Poor Cassandra. I know how she felt.

The Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, which encompasses the shooting of two police officers in New York City, is just the second section of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck. The coordinated effort to represent the American justice system as hostile to blacks, and white society as determined to harm them, was launched in Florida in early 2012, nearly three years ago.  It might have failed then, as it deserved to since there was no genuine racial element in the actual Martin-Zimmerman episode, had not the President of the United States used his bully pulpit, credibility with black Americans and the power and influence of his office to declare the local incident as emblematic of societal hostility to African-Americans, and Obama personally. This, as I wrote earlier this week, lit the fuse that exploded into racial violence against police this past week.

I saw it then. I have seldom seen anything more clearly.  So I wrote:

What does {Obama] think he’s doing? Teens, children and adults are murdered every day, many of them right where Obama lives, in Washington, D.C. Aren’t all of the violent deaths “tragedies”? Why is this one, and only this one, worthy of specific presidential attention? Is it because black leaders called for the President to overstep his proper role? Who cares what activists call on the President to do—certainly he shouldn’t. Does this now justify their calls for retribution and violence, or validate high school students who are staging walk-outs to protest law enforcement officials investigating a case before they make any arrest? (Are high school students now empowered to dictate law enforcement policy? Suspend every single one of them.)

What earthly difference does it make what Trayvon looked like, who his death makes the President think about, or whether he looked like the son Obama never had? So what? What if he looked like my son? Not good enough? When a white, Hispanic or Asian kid in a hoodie is shot by some gun-wielding hysteric, can those parents also count on a statement of concern by Obama? What if they are just run down by a drunk driver, or killed by being left in an over-heated car? Not tragic enough? Doesn’t strike the same chord of of “seriousness”? Or will these tragic deaths not be viewed as sufficiently important to the President’s “base” in an election year? Do you think these questions are unfair? Who laid the groundwork for them?

Misusing his office and prestige in such matters simultaneously diminishes the presidency and warps its function. The position has always included the role of Mourner-in-Chief, at times of genuine national tragedies, such as the Twin Tower bombings, the Challenger disaster, and Pearl Harbor. Cheapening this solemn function by intervening in local crimes and contentious race-charged controversies accomplishes nothing positive: it is divisive, intrusive, and dangerous.

Got that? Dangerous. I chose that word deliberately. March 12, 2012.

Reading the comments again now is fascinating: readers conservative and liberal denounced my criticism as unfair, after the usual “Bush did it too” spin from the reflex Obama defenders.

Arthur in Maine wrote:

” …The presence of race warlords like Al Sharpton is unfortunate, and the exploitation of this story by various interests is appalling. But whether we like it or not, this HAS become a national story. Obama’s comments today were surprisingly even-handed and neutral. The only other time I’ve heard him speak that… well, that PRESIDENTIALLY, was his speech after Rep. Giffords was shot …

To which I responded,

“So regardless of the facts, law, and results of investigations, the President can just inject himself any time race is involved? Why? And where does POTUS get the right to shoot off his mouth based on “suspected” anything…before an arrest, before a trial, before facts?? WHAT “national tragedy”? It’s a local and personal tragedy.. How, exactly, is it national? Why weren’t James Byrd and Matthew Shepard ” national”? Sharon Tate? O.J.? I’m sorry—it’s indefensible…”

Karl Penny protested that the Martin killing was a national story, to which I responded,

“Why didn’t Obama publicly sympathize with Natalie Holloway’s family [Holloway was the teen abducted and presumably murdered in Aruba]? Or the dozens of black kids killed by guns wielded by African Americans? They were good kids too. Is publicity all it takes to let POTUS start giving his two cents, and coloring the issue as a result? Most issues I write about don’t make me angry. This one does.”

It made me angry because I realized, while the mainstream media did not and Obama did not—I hope—, that he was flashing a green light to the forces in the country that want to manipulate racial distrust for purposes of political power, and that the risks to the nation were substantial.

Jan Chapman weighed in:

“If nothing else, the President’s comments might calm the community in Florida….He has a responsibility to comment in a way that will calm the waters, and…I think he accomplished that.”

That overly optimistic view didn’t calm me:

“Calm it?? How does he know? It could just as easily inflame it. It’s-none-of-his-business!! He’s not a king. He’s not Oprah.This is a persistent abuse of power, and I resent it.”

And later:

“I have to say that seeing so many intelligent people rationalize the latest of Obama’s incursions into local affairs leaves me stunned. This could only be fairly called a national episode if

–whites and Hispanics were hunting young blacks as a routine sport
–neighborhood watch programs were revealed as a racist plot
–no other young people were being killed anywhere in the country.
–America’s police departments allow kids to be routinely murdered without redress

None of this is true, of course. Four young teens were just killed in DC in a high speed collision. That’s a tragedy. Why is the Florida shooting a greater one?

The White House initially said that the President would not be making any comment, because this was a local law enforcement issue. Then he did.
Why?

1. Because black activists were calling for it, and
2. Somebody in the campaign organization thought this was a way to pander to gun opponents and African-Americans.

Those are lousy, irresponsible, cynical, divisive, opportunistic reasons…and I do believe those are the reasons..that, and this President’s poor judgment.

By personalizing the victim and attaching his prestige to him, he has interfered with the decision whether to charge the shooter. If the shooter stands trial, it will be for the false crime of shooting the President’s “son.” Outrageous. How can you justify this?”

Barry Deutsch (whose rhetoric toward me, I now notice, was easily as sharp as the rhetoric he deemed so insufficiently civil when I tried to do battle with the knee-jerk progressive crowd on his own website on the Zimmerman trial that my comment was censored…but I digress)

This case didn’t become nationwide news because George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. It became nationwide news because, despite the clear and obvious reasons to believe that Trayvon’s shooting was not self-defense, the police declined to seriously investigate the death seriously. Without the police inaction, this case would never have made headlines outside of Florida.As it is, however, many Americans (correctly, imo) recognize that this case is part of a nationwide pattern of police mistreatment of young black men, and of some police acting as if young black men are inherently dangerous criminals….

And so it begins! Those “clear and obvious reasons to believe that Trayvon’s shooting was not self-defense” were, in the end, the fact that Martin was black and Zimmerman wasn’t. Barry also had the “hands up” assumption down pat: since we can’t prove what many American “recognize,” let’s just say it’s so, regardless of the facts, and begin with that.

I replied,

“Oh, really? So is Obama impugning ALL police departments? Some? Which one? What do you mean, “a nationwide pattern”? How many? This is not settled by any means, and conformation bias runs rampant. So it’s the PRESIDENT’S proper role to cast a shadow of distrust over all law enforcement? If that’s not what he’s doing, what IS he doing?”

No, that’s what he was doing.

I mention this now for a couple of reasons. This was about as vociferous as the readers have ever been  challenging my analysis of an ethics issue, and I was also as certain my analysis was correct as I have ever been. Look, I’m not infallible; I just sound like I think so much of the time. In this case, however, I saw what a lot of people were missing, and because most of those who did not miss it were conservative pundits, my position was used as proof that my motivations were the same as theirs were assumed to be: blame Obama, no matter what. That was not fair, and not true. I felt like Cassandra. I recognized what was wrong about the President’s personalizing a racial controversy, interfering with the local justice system by doing so, and worst of all, giving credibility and legitimacy to those who assumed racial prejudice was the reason for a young man’s death because the family and activists like Al Sharpton wanted it to be so. I saw where this road could lead, and it has indeed led there, though winding through Missouri and New York.

 

15 Comments

Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Race, U.S. Society

15 responses to “Just A Reminder: I Warned About This From The Start, Almost Three Years Ago

  1. Chris Marschner

    Jack:

    I understand your points and agree with them. I am no longer going to argue that which cannot be proven either way with those that only want to blame the people that are charged with enforcing the laws.

    I am tired of ideological arguments about should be. I want to hear from the community what they are prepared to do. We must demand specific concrete actions on what the minority community is prepared to do to make their streets safer from violence, conducive to economic activity, protect public housing projects and schools from the drug gangs, and take personal responsibility for their children’s behaviors.

    If the minority community is unwilling to take proactive steps that they alone can do then it makes no sense to try to have an honest discussion on race and police conduct.

  2. dragin_dragon

    I remember this quite well, as I was in complete agreement. If I recall, it sparked one of my “We’re doomed” comments. After listening to Louis Farrakhan’s call-to-arms, I repeat, “We’re doomed”. The barbarians are truly at the gates and we are trying very hard to find justifications for letting them in.

  3. Jack,

    I believe one lesson of your experience is (as if it wasn’t already long obvious): When ethics and ideology conflict, ideology wins almost every time.

    How to make a dent in that horrible, destructive and ultimately disastrous consistency?

    You do what you can – and Jack, you do it as well or better than anyone else I know.

    It would help if major media did more to educate on the benefits of learning and applying ethics. The successful reduction of cigarette smoking is an example of how media can and do work, I believe. There, persistent public education – NOT indoctrination – validated the potential of media to wield power constructively.

    Of course the change in cigarette smoking was not all because of influential media. But I believe the media and the messages received through them were key to the change. I think it is fair to assert, as you have recently on specific matters, that certain messages transmitted through certain media do indeed influence and cause changes in public perceptions, attitudes, and ultimately, behaviors. There doesn’t always have to be a crisis, at least not such as we have seen hyped-up recently. But when the education is effective, it can illuminate the existence of a “crisis” in a way such that a person responds with intellect, wisdom, and character, with emotions and passions in check. When the education is both effective and persistent, over time, “crises” are recognized, confronted, and resolved or averted as part of mass constructive behavioral change.

    I believe this raucously, teeteringly divided society in the U.S. is actually ripe for learning a “new way,” where the entrenched biases inherent to currently prevailing religions, ideologies, and politics are due for fresh, serious and persistent challenging. Addressing events and issues of the day through a “lens” of applied ethics is exactly what is needed to mount those sorely needed challenges. Over time, as with cigarette smoking, I believe mass influence can lead to mass behavioral change in a constructive direction. Ideologies, moralities (real or phony), and political activities must be rendered unable to escape accountability to indomitable masses of educated people who behave first, as masters of knowledge and application of ethics.

    To avoid rambling on: I sincerely hope Fox News soon will invite you, Jack, onto the national stage or “classroom” – and that you’ll accept the invitation – for teaching “your” subject. (Here I go, picturing you on TV!) I envision you as a frequent guest on O’Reilly’s program – say, weekly or bi-weekly, for a start – and, for no less than Bloviating Bill himself to recognize (1) what a national treasure you are, and (2) what an urgent need there is for the public to learn (or re-learn) ethics and live ethically.

    But that’s not all I envision. I think that by bringing you on the air often, Fox News would go very, very far in upgrading the credibility of its own “fair and balanced” meme. O’Reilly, if he would “wise up” (to use his own, somewhat crude exhortation), along with Fox News programmers and management, would recognize that Jack Marshall, and the ethics he teaches, promises and represents a great leap forward into the “After Factor” era.

    I can even picture your “segment” being spun-off into your own prime-time, daily show. You the host, on the set, confidently holding forth, schooling the nation on ethics principles, and rationalizations, using current events topics…your on-air guests – captains of government, political advocacy, media, academia, and industry – genuflecting and humbly enduring your slings and arrows of reproof…then gratefully partaking of your myrrh and new wine of ethics education…then going forth permanently changed, converted, never to rationalize or behave unethically again…masses of Americans enlightened and wised-up, discarding old, failed ways of thinking and behaving in new and ethical ways…you, crossing the country on a “Bolder, Fresher Ethics Tour”…Jack the Baptist of Ethics…

    Okay, maybe not all that…but then, maybe, most of it. Yeah, I can see that.

    Lord Knows we need it.

    I rambled anyway. Well, blame Christmas. Merry Christmas, Jack.

    • joed68

      I’ve said something similar, and believe it could, and should, be done. Maybe a bunch of us should discuss this, pool resources, make phone calls/send out emails, and bring this about?

      • dragin_dragon

        Merry Christmas, Joed!! Before we start getting all worked up about this, maybe we ought to ask Jack if he is willing. I agree that Jack’s contribution to national ethics would almost certainly be tremendous, but it would also be a LOAD of work…which he would have to be willing to do. It would also ultimately produce a drastic change in lifestyle, which Jack would have to be willing to do.

        • joed68

          Blasphemy! That would be like me denying my sexual prowess to the world’s women. I make the time; Jack can make the time.

          • dragin_dragon

            Flip side of the coin…you would be amazed what a single person, with Jack’s ethical values could accomplish.

            • joed68

              A quote by Hyman G Rickover, one of the Great Men of the last century IMHO. During a post-retirement lecture, he stated ” ..principles of existence — responsibility, perseverance, excellence, creativity, courage — must be wedded to intellectual growth and development if we are to find meaning and purpose in our lives” and that “a final principle of existence essential to man’s purpose in life is the development of standards of ethical and moral conduct.” He is also noted for stating “I believe it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him. we must live for the future, not for our own comfort or success. Admittedly, one man by himself cannot do the job. However, one man can make a difference…”

              • dragin_dragon

                Your HO is a good one. Born 1900, Adm. Rickover was the Father of Naval Nuclear Propulsion and controlled it for some 35 years (but I suspect I’m preaching to the choir). Great man indeed, and a true visionary.

        • joed68

          Agreed, of course. Merry Christmas to you, too!

        • joed68

          In all seriousness, I’d certainly be willing to volunteer to help in any capacity in which I’d be of use, even if it was just stamp-licking.

  4. this being my first post on this blog, I suppose I missed the original which prompted your discussion.

    But, yes, spot on.

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