Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/17/2017

1. If you haven’t yet read them, Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on Chris’s brilliant Comment of the Day regarding ideological and partisan hate—plus Chris Bentley’s Comment of the Day on the same post, are all especially worth reading, not that all Comments of the Day by Ethics Alarms readers are not. I apologize for an unusually long intro to Steve’s post, but I had been holding on to a lot of related material from the day past on the topic, and it was either use them there or be redundant later. This meant putting Steve-O’s COTD after the jump, which is why I’m giving an extra plug to it now.

2. There were two significant criminal trial verdicts yesterday: the guilty verdict in the trial of  Michelle Carter, a Massachusetts woman charged with murder for using text messages to persuade her teenaged boyfriend to kill himself, and the acquittal of the Minnesota police officers who shot and killed black motorist Philandro Castile during a traffic stop. I’ll cover the Carter case later.

There were the obligatory riots after the verdict acquitting Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who fatally shot Castile in his car after he told the officer that he was carrying a legally registered firearm and then reached for his wallet to show the officer his license. This is just the latest cattle-car in the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, the familiar pattern of a badly-trained cop, a dubious police stop, poor judgment by a victim, and a needless death. I would compare it to the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, where the officers involved weren’t even indicted.

Why in the world would a motorist tell a cop in that situation—Castile had been officially stopped for a broken tail light, but in reality because he was black, and the officers thought he resembled a suspect in a crime who was also black—that he had a gun? This could be interpreted as a threat, and obviously Yanez saw it as one. The verdict looks wrong at a gut level, but it is easy to see how the jurors were thinking: they placed themselves in the officer’s position. They would have been in fear of their lives, so they couldn’t find a way to pronounce Yanez a murderer for doing what they could see themselves doing under similar circumstances. This was a legitimate case for reasonable doubt under the law. Police officers, however, are supposed to be less likely to panic than a typical juror. Castile is dead because of incompetent police work, but the criminal laws don’t allow different standards to be applied  for different occupations, not should they.

The civil laws do, however. Yanez has been fired, and Castile’s family will receive damages for wrongful death. That’s all the justice the system can provide. Once again, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is a very difficult standard. Bad cops are dangerous, but they aren’t necessarily criminals. The verdict is defensible, and, I think, virtually unavoidable.

3. The consensus seems to be that the portion the New York Times editorial on June 15 that eventually required this correction on the paper’s website, as noted in the Ethics Alarm morning warm-up that day…

Correction: June 15, 2017

An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.

…was not a mistake born of lazy editing and typical Times bias, as I assumed, but an intentional effort to find a false equivalency between the 2011 Tucson shooting of Rep. Giffords and this week’s assassination attempt against Republican House members on an Alexandria, Va. baseball field. What the Times originally printed was that  “the link to political incitement was clear” between the crazy Jared Lee Loughner’s  shooting spree  and Palin’s online map using crosshairs to indicate “targeted” Congressional races, including one over Giffords’s congressional district in Southern Arizona. It was not “clear,” however, or real, and indeed had been thoroughly debunked years ago. And the false statement in the original editorial was not a typo, but deliberate: all indications are that the Times made its correction only after a wave of criticism, not because it discovered a missing negative.

To those indignant defenders of the mainstream media on Ethics Alarms and elsewhere: how can you deny this wasn’t fake news reincarnated as fake history? How can you continue claiming that the diagnosis that journalism is untrustworthy is a right-wing conspiracy theory, when the Times does something like this?

The Washington Post’s Factchecker gleefully pounced on its rival to bring down Donald Trump’s Presidency first, concluding,

“We’re glad to see this fixed in the editorial, but it’s not a good sign that the debunked talking point was included as fact in the editorial of a major media outlet”

“Not a good sign.” Wow—the Post is really going out on a limb.

4. Here’s a more recent example of the unbiased flagship of U.S. journalism spinning to mislead readers, from today’s front page: “A professor in Washington objected to a racial-awareness event, prompting threats and protests.” This refers to the mess at Evergreen State College, and “the racial-awareness event” was in truth a racist event in which all whites were evicted from the campus, like lepers cast out into the wilderness. Professor Bret Weinstein was the only staff member with courage and integrity to condemn this “event” and  has been harassed by students and other faculty members ever since.

The Times’s slanted coverage carries over to the article itself, which begins,

“It started with a suggestion that white students and professors leave campus for a day, a twist on a tradition of black students voluntarily doing the same.”

Again, false reporting. In past years, the racist “event” involved black students “voluntarily” fleeing the campus for a day to get away from all those bigoted, horrible whites. This year, the black students ordered the whites to “voluntarily” leave the campus while they stayed. That’s no “twist.” That’s mandatory segregation by race, and racism. The Times is trying to make the unethical and divisive appear harmless and benign.

5. President Trump’s learning curve isn’t just flat, it’s sinking. He issued another self-destructive tweet yesterday, attacking his own Deputy Attorney General. The efforts to argue for the removal of Trump based on partisan diagnoses of a mental defect are dishonest and despicable, but I have to say, this continued tweeting can only explained by insanity, stupidity, or addiction.

I’m presuming someone among the President’s advisors explained to him that his tweets about the still-blocked temporary travel halt handed biased judges what they believed was sufficient ammunition to plausibly ignore the law and declare that this President couldn’t legally do what any other President could. Why didn’t anyone read to POTUS Jonathan Turley’s blog post about how the President’s tweets gave cover the Ninth Circuit?


I thought that the Ninth Circuit opinion was very interesting and well written. In the end, however, I thought that the Court had to work too hard to find a way to rule against Trump, particularly in drawing the distinction between dangerous countries and individuals under its nationality discrimination analysis.  The coup de grâce however was Trump’s own words contradicting the arguments of his own lawyers.  The court noted “Indeed, the President recently confirmed his assessment that it is the ‘countries’ that are inherently dangerous, rather than the 180 million individual nationals of those countries who are barred from entry under the President’s ‘travel ban.” and quoted  one of Trump’s tweets from June 5, 2017: “That’s right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won’t help us protect our people!”

That did not stop Trump from again tweeting about the case this morning as coming at a “dangerous time.”  The continuing tweets (against the public advice of even GOP members) so a disconnect from any rationale approach to this litigation.  Trump has repeatedly undermined his own case with these comments.

President Trump is not insane. He might be addicted. He is an idiot.

13 thoughts on “Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/17/2017

  1. 2). I don’t recall how the most recent carry laws were amended in Texans regarding this topic, but before (and I am pretty sure now), carriers are obligated to inform an officer that they have a license and whether or not they are bearing at the time.

    That being said. There’s a vast gulf between informing and officer you have a fire arm and taking a moment to let that sink in before moving a bit and saying “I’ve got a gun” and rapidly reaching for something in your pockets.

    This is a case of a jumpy officer and a jittery adrenaline flowing citizen who both needed to take a breath and be a bit more deliberate in their actions.

      • I would think it would still be best practices if you informed the officer that you had a gun. If the officer saw the gun, and you did not tell him about it, he would easily ramp up the situation needlessly. Most concealed weapons carriers are trained to inform the officer that they have a weapon.

        If the officer still felt threatened after that information, then ask the motorist to step out of the car. Don’t ask them for their ID, and then shoot them. It reminds me very much of this situation, except the motorist somehow managed to survive his shooting:

        • My gosh, that video is frightening. I understand quick-twitch movements, if not reacted to, can spell death for a cop, but damn it, don’t ask someone for their license and not consider that the license might be in the car.

          In other words, dont be so damn causal and lack specificity when asking for a license, and then freak out b/c the driver has to turn into their car to get it. I know Im conditioned to move slowly, and keep my hands where they can been seen, when pulled over, if Im still in my car. But, if I got pulled over while standing outside of my car, that conditioning doesn’t apply; I’d likely react just as this gentleman did, quickly reaching into my car.

      • Although we are not required to inform, most trainers tell us when we take our carry permit training that we should, which I have never thought was right and which we can now see is terribly wrong. Castle was probably following this advice. My policy is not to say anything about it unless asked, as the law requires, but this policy goes against the training most people who carry are given in this state.

      • Yeah, there is back and forth about this. There are some states, and depending even some counties, that have this requirement with a CCW. For example in California, depending on which county you have your CCW from different “policies” come into play.

        So, if you go to a forum about CCW, there will inevitably be at least a few threads discussing this. Some people think that informing the officer in some manner such as:

        “Officer, I am licensed to carry a concealed weapon, and am currently carrying, what would you like me to do?”

        But others have an issue with that, and argue that it should not be necessary, especially since you do not plan on pulling it on the officer. However, if during the course of the stop it is revealed that you are carrying, that can lead to issues as well.

        I think this is one of those issues where having a more clear-cut policy that applies either nationwide, or at the very least on a state level, is in line. At this time, no one knows what the right thing to do is, and if informing the officer that you are carrying, with no ill intent, gets you killed.. I cant see how that works out well for anyone.

  2. >Why in the world would a motorist tell a cop in that situation—Castile had been officially stopped for a broken tail light, but in reality because he was black, and the officers thought he resembled a suspect in a crime who was also black—that he had a gun?

    I’m not sure I understand what you are saying here.

    It has been awhile since I was pulled over, but last time I remember the officer asking me some questions which he said in a way that made me feel they were standard (he rattled them off very quickly).

    They were things like “have you been drinking, under the affects of anything” etc, and, if I recall correctly “Are there any firearms in the vehicle?”

    I assume that this is standard practice, as it is not illegal to own a firearm, but it is very helpful for an officer to be made aware there is one in the car to begin with.

    Now, context means a lot of course. If he just randomly said “I have a gun!” and reached into his pocket, that’s a lot different than “Officer, I do have a gun, and with your permission I will show you my permit.”

    I see that this issue has been raised by others here, Is there bodycam footage of the incident so we may have context?

    • This is why people should not buy guns without taking training in their use. There is a protocol for what to do if you have a legal, concealed weapon in your vehicle. When the officer asks you for your license and registration, you should had them to him, along with your concealed carry permit. He will then ask you whether you have a weapon and, if so, where it is. You will tell him, not reaching for it unless he asks you to do so. Everything will stay calm and professional.

      You should never blurt out, “I have a gun.” Even a well-trained, level-headed cop is going to go on high alert when he hears those words.

  3. Re: the Philandro Castile Story.

    Here is how this situation should have been handled by all concerned. If you are armed and interacting with another armed person in any situation you have a responsibility to have the common sense to behave in a manner that will deescalate the situation. If you don’t have the smarts to do this you shouldn’t be carrying; simply because one day you will get yourself shot, or will end up shooting someone.

  4. This is the generally agreed upon sequence of events in the Castile case:

    Officer Yanez asked Castile to produce his driver’s license and proof of insurance. Castile first provided him with his insurance card.

    Castile then, calmly, and in a non-threatening manner, informed Officer Yanez: “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.”

    Before Castile completed the sentence, Officer Yanez interrupted and calmly replied: “OK,” and placed his right hand on the holster of his own, holstered, gun.

    Officer Yanez then said: “OK, don’t reach for it, then.”

    Castile tried to respond but was interrupted by Officer Yanez, who said: “Don’t pull it out.”

    Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out,” and Reynolds also responded by saying: “He’s not pulling it out.”

    Then Officer Yanez screamed, “Don’t pull it out!” and quickly pulled his own gun with his right hand while he reached inside the driver’s side window with his left hand.

    Officer Yanez pulled his left arm out of the car, and then fired seven shots in rapid succession into the vehicle.

    The seventh and final shot was fired at 9:06 and two seconds p.m.

    After the final shot, Reynolds frantically yelled: “You just killed my boyfriend!”

    Philando Castile moaned and uttered his final words: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”

    To which Reynolds loudly said: “He wasn’t reaching for it.”

    Before Reynolds completed her sentence, Officer Yanez again screamed: “Don’t pull it out!”

    Reynolds responded by saying: “He wasn’t.”

    The police have thus far refused to release to the public any dashcam or bodycam footage from the shooting. Even though the officer was acquitted, he was fired by the police department.

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