This Comment of the Day, by johnburger2013, is a gift in many ways. Mainly it is a gift because it is a post that I would have written if I had the time, resources and energy (especially energy of late, due to an as yet diagnosed medical issue, but never mind) to concentrate on Ethics Alarms as I would like to, and to some extent feel obligated to.
It involves an episode I had read about, and decided, as sometimes I do, that the effort it would take to make sense out of such a mess exceeded its value as an ethics topic, though value it undoubtedly has. Now that John has done the work, I’ll have a few reactions at the end.
Here is johnberger2013’s Comment of the Day on the post, Morning Ethics Eye-Opener, 7/22/2019: Boycotts, Bushes, And Weenies:
Re: No. 3; Duty to Intervene.
While not exactly at the same level of urgency, here is an interesting story from the grand land of Georgia:
Lauren Pozen, a local reporter has been following the story, posting updates on Twitter. Here is her Twitter profile:
. Erica Thomas has accused Eric Sparkes, a white man, of telling her to “go back where you came from” while she was in a local Georgia grocery store called Publix. According to her, Sparkes berated her for having too many items in the express check out lane. She alleges that Sparkes, an alleged Trump supporter and avowed racist, called her names, accosted her, threatened her life, and mistreated her because of her race, calling her a lazy son of a bitch.
Now, Thomas is also a Georgia state representative who took to Twitter to detail how outrageous this incident was, that her heart was hurt (she cried, she was so upset) because he targeted her for being black, that this is a perfect example of the Trumpification of the US where racists feel empowered to be racists in local grocery stores against a black woman who only used the express lane because she is 9 months pregnant and can’t stand too long.
Sparkes, as racists often do, tells a very different story. He alleges that he saw Thomas in the express aisle with more than the permitted number of items, called her out on it, and in the conflagration, called her a “bitch” (he admits he was out of line). Sparkes also states that he addressed this with the store manager, who said he did not have any power to do anything about it but that Sparkes was free to take appropriate action, which he did. Sparkes also stated that he is not white, but of Cuban descent, is a registered Democrat and would rather have his fingers chewed by rats than vote for Trump (that’s my embellishment). He also stated that he knew who Thomas was (a state representative) and thought that as a representative she should act more appropriately and avoid looking like she was entitled to do stuff most people wouldn’t do.
Hold on, back to Thomas: Thomas would have none of this MAGA-loving racist, so she alerted the media to take it directly to the good people of Georgia. Then, things didn’t quite as well as she expected. During her rant . . . uh . . . press conference, the good Señor Sparkes sidled up to her and called her a liar on live TV*. Rep. Thomas, erudite, considerate, and discerning, went right at him with full guns blazing, thinking she was going to race-bully this little MAGA-loving creep into submission – especially when she told him she didn’t care if he was Cuban because to her he was/is white.**
To his credit, Sparkes did not back down; in fact, he doubled down on his view of the story and hit back twice as hard (the local TV reporter swooned!). As the Cuban-American jerk refused to give in, Rep. Thomas began to talk too much, as is often the case with loud-mouthed blowhards, backing herself into a controversy killing corner when she admitted that, in fact, he didn’t tell to go back where she belonged (she can’t really remember what he said), that he never threatened her (only that he called her a bitch, which he admits was inappropriate), and that he is not a MAGA-loving Trumplodyte. Sparkes, on the other hand, maintained his calm, never raised his voice, but specifically called her out on the racial bullshit she was trying to sell to the community.
Now, Rep. Thomas has retained a lawyer (A LAWYER!) because she was afraid for her life.
With respect to the duty to intervene, check out Rep. Thomas’ Twitter accounts of the incident. Here is her Twitter profile:
The comments to the story are fascinating, where many a commenter “stands with Erica”, even after the story imploded as a direct result of Thomas’ arrogance. Even after admitting that she was completely wrong, she refused to capitulate. She is a piece of work. Sparkes, simply a guy at a store, called out someone for abusing a privilege at the express lane.
Trivial, no? Well, perhaps not. Perhaps Sparkes thinks it is rude to abuse the express lane by having too many items because the express lane is for people in a hurry and with a few items. Why should people have to wait because some inconsiderate person has decided the store’s “rules” don’t apply to him or her? Perhaps, Sparkes believes that this kind of inconsideration is an exemplar of why there is so much discord in the nation at the moment. Perhaps, Sparkes, knowing that Thomas is a state legislator, thought that Thomas should be a better representative of public office rather than an entitled jerk who believes he or she is above the rest of the community, and that it is unethical for public officials to abuse their power because if they can’t mind local store rules then how can the public trust elected officials to be proper stewards of the public’s interests?***
*Ed. Note: The local TV station was dancing for joy as a full-on controversy was unfolding right before their eyes in real time. It was TV ratings gold, I tell you! Gold!
**Ed. Note 2: That part of the interview is fascinating. Thomas is abusive and quite vicious. She could not believe that this little MAGA-man had the nerve to call her out, being that she is 9 months pregnant and with her child at the time. How dare he? Doesn’t he know who she is? Get in line, Sparkes or be annihilated.
***Ed. Note No. 3: I also allow for the possibility that Sparkes, a registered Democrat, believes that he is entitled to police express lanes in grocery stores because “people should follow the rules” and he might escalate things based on his perception of his own self-importance. Additionally, maybe he has a visceral dislike for Rep. Thomas because he thinks she acts like an entitled jerk. Who knows?
- The “I stand with Erica” phenomenon was the first thing that struck me, because it has struck me before. This is someone announcing bias, and that’s all it is. The commenter isn’t thinking about what happened or weighing the facts, she has just chosen her “side” based on which adversary she favors for reasons unrelated to the incident. I once took this up with a “I believe Anita Hill” button wearer, and several Kavanaugh opponents who were going to believe his accusers no matter what they said or how they said it.
- The culture is really being pressured to accept the standard that any criticism levied toward a black individual is racist, and and criticism directed at a woman is sexist. In this case, the censorious and discriminatory standard extends even to criticism of objectively objectionable behavior, like breaking posted rules. This didn’t start with President Obama—playing the race card in these situations to avoid accountability and shame critics is an old tactic (once encountered by my wife when she confronted a black woman who parked her car in the grocery store pick up lane while she shopped)—but it became legitimate and routine under Obama, and once again I will sate my belief that his thorough and tragic undermining of decades of progress in race relations is his main legacy as President.
- Is exceeding the item limit in express lanes something that creates a legitimate duty to confront someone about? Assuming that the overage is blatant and excessive, I think it is. It is similar to someone breaking into line. It is not worth getting into an altercation about: the important things is not to let the miscreant get away with such anti-social behavior without being reminded, clearly and in public, that he or she is an asshole.
- Are the rules in this regard different when the cheater is an elected official? I think John makes a good case that they are. She must be confronted as a matter of responsible citizenship, and shamed with brio.
- It is brain-melting that people make the Grand Canyon-like leap to blame President Trump for these kinds of incidents, “these kinds” meaning outrageous conduct by anti-Trump loonies, including hoaxes. It is literally a “he made me act like a jerk” argument.