December 29 is one of the bad days in ethics history, beginning with the 1170 murder of England’s Archbishop Thomas Becket as he knelt prayer in Canterbury Cathedral by four knights of King Henry II. The knights were not explicitly ordered to kill Becket, the King’s friend who had become a problem when he took his role as Archbishop of Canterbury to be a calling to defend the Church against royal efforts to constrain its power. Instead, Henry made his wishes known by making the public plea to his court,
“What a parcel of fools and dastards have I nourished in my house, and not one of them will avenge me of this one upstart clerk.”
This is often quoted as “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Either way, the idea of such an oblique request is to relieve a leader of responsibility for the actions of subordinates, giving the leader plausible deniability. It didn’t work for Henry, but it may have worked for, for example, President Obama, whose Internal Revenue Service illegally sabotaged Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election, greatly assisting Obama’s efforts to defeat challenger Mitt Romney. In truth, when a powerful superior makes his or her desires known, it may as well be an order. An order is more ethical however, because it does not require the subordinate to take the responsibility upon himself.
1. But The worst example of a U.S. ethical breach on this date is the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, when the U.S. Cavalry killed at least 146 Sioux at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. It is definitely the most people killed because of a dance: the government was worried about a growing Sioux cult performing the “Ghost Dance,” which symbolized opposition to peaceful relations with whites, and was seen as inciting violence. On December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under the Sioux Chief Big Foot near Wounded Knee Creek and demanded they surrender their weapons. A fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier, a shot was fired, and an unrestrained massacre followed. Of the estimated almost 150 Native Americans were killed (some historians put this number at double that number), nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost only 25 men. Many believe that the tragedy was deliberately staged as revenge for Custer’s Last Stand 14 years earlier, which seems like a stretch to me.
2. Someone smashed a ceramic bust of Breonna Taylor in Oakland, and it is being treated as a racist act of hate. Ann Althouse appears to have engaged in a rare (for her) outburst of sarcasm in response, writing, “Who would do such a thing?” Her point is (I think: I have determined that sarcasm is risky on blogs) that the outrage being expressed at the destruction of a memorial of sorts to the the victim of a botched police raid in Kentucky seems disproportionate when memorials and statues of far more consequential figures have been destroyed with barely a shrug from the same people. (If that’s not her point, then that proves my point about sarcasm.) In the report Ann linked to, lawyer Joe Cotchett of the local law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP is quoted as saying,
“It’s scandalous and outrageous that anybody would do such a thing.She was a wonderful human being … The whole situation is preposterous — first her death, and now this.”
As Ethics Alarms noted here, Ann Coulter provided perspective on the kind of “wonderful human being”Taylor was.
It seems that Breonna Taylor was knee-deep in the criminal enterprise of her sometime-boyfriend, Jamarcus Glover, who was running a massive drug operation, selling crack cocaine and fentanyl to the citizens of Louisville….
The morning after Breonna was killed, for example, Jamarcus told his baby mama (on a police-recorded phone call): “This is what you got to understand, don’t take it wrong, but Bre been handling all my money, she been handling my money … She been handling sh*t for me and Cuz, it ain’t just me.” He detailed the amounts when an unidentified male got on the line, saying, “Tell Cuz, Bre got down like $15 (grand), she had the $8 (grand) I gave her the other day and she picked up another $6 (grand).”… In addition to “handling sh*t” for Jamarcus, Breonna had bailed Jamarcus out of jail, driven with him to a “trap house” (where the drugs were sold), and allowed him to use her address — the site of the raid — for his mail, phone bills, a bank account and jail bookings….police had photos of Jamarcus picking up USPS packages at Breonna’s apartment as recently as Jan. 16, 2020, then taking them directly to a trap house. The photos are available online…..[B]ack in 2016, after Breonna had rented a car for Jamarcus, police showed up at her door because … a dead body was found in the trunk. The murdered man turned out to be the brother of one of Jamarcus’ co-conspirators. Surely that gave Breonna an inkling that Jamarcus was not walking on the right side of the law….
The public falsehood of elevating black victims of violence to saintly status is one of the more bizarre ethics breaches normalized by the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck that coupled with the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck (Mike Brown) that merged with the George Floyd Ethics Train Wreck. Yes, all vandalism is wrong, but destroying a bust of Breonna Taylor is a trivial offense compared to the topping of statues of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and yes, Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee.
3. it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a systemic bias problem, if not racism.
The article about the lack of progress in adding non-white managers, coaches and owners to the ranks of professional sports leadership notes that only baseball among the major sports has a higher percentage of “coaches of color” than players of color, by a 44% to 40% margin.
What reason other than bias could account for these statistics?
4. With thinking like this, how can U.S. education, never mind higher education, be saved? From the Wall Street Journal’s commentary on The Odessey being banned at a Massachusetts public school because Homer wasn’t sufficiently politically correct:
A sustained effort is under way to deny children access to literature. Under the slogan #DisruptTexts, critical-theory ideologues, schoolteachers and Twitter agitators are purging and propagandizing against classic texts—everything from Homer to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Dr. Seuss.
Their ethos holds that children shouldn’t have to read stories written in anything other than the present-day vernacular—especially those “in which racism, sexism, ableism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of hate are the norm,” as young-adult novelist Padma Venkatraman writes in School Library Journal. No author is valuable enough to spare, Ms. Venkatraman instructs: “Absolving Shakespeare of responsibility by mentioning that he lived at a time when hate-ridden sentiments prevailed, risks sending a subliminal message that academic excellence outweighs hateful rhetoric.”