A Jury Gets An Unarmed Black Victim Cop Shooting Right, But The Reasons Why Are Significant

From the AP: “A white former Dallas police officer who said she fatally shot her unarmed, black neighbor after mistaking his apartment for her own was found guilty of murder on Tuesday. A jury reached the verdict in Amber Guyger’s high-profile trial for the killing of Botham Jean after six days of witness testimony but just a handful of hours of deliberation. Cheers erupted in the courthouse as the verdict was announced, and someone yelled “Thank you, Jesus!”

I am surprised at the murder verdict; I expected a manslaughter conviction, and thought that prosecutors may have over-charged.

Nonetheless, a guilty verdict was necessary. It must be remembered, however, that few of the factors typically present in cases where cops have been acquitted for shooting unarmed black citizens existed here. The victim, Botham Jean, did nothing to justify his shooting, indeed nothing to justify having a confrontation with police at all. He didn’t resist a lawful arrest or threaten the officer. Amber Guyger was absolutely and completely responsible for his death in every way. She may have thought her life was in danger, but she was ridiculously wrong, and even if Jean had threatened her, he had every right to do so. She was, to him, a home invader.

In such circumstances as these, none of the usual sympathy that juries have for police officers and their dangerous duties while protecting the public applies. Guyger wasn’t trying to protect the public; she wasn’t even on duty. A jury would naturally sympathize with the victim; if a confused cop could barge into his home and start shooting, it could happen to any juror. Did race play a part in the verdict? I hope not. Whatever the verdict was, there was no evidence to suggest that Jean was killed because of his race.

It will be interesting to see what sentence the jury recommends. I feel sorry for Guyger: she was badly trained, she may have been exhausted from an over-long shift, and there is no reason she wanted to kill Jean, or anyone. Yet with power comes responsibility, and with responsibility comes accountability.

I just re-read my post from a year ago about this case. You might want to read it again too. I’ve re-posted the whole essay below.

I could easily put this story in the Ethics Alarms Zugzwang file, because I see no analysis or result that won’t make the situation worse.

A white off-duty police officer named Amber R. Guyger  entered the apartment of  Botham Shem Jean, a 26 year old accountant, and fired her service weapon twice at him, killing the St. Lucia immigrant. She claims that she mistakenly entered the wrong apartment after returning home from her 14-hour shift and believed  Jean, who is black, was an intruder.

Indeed, her apartment was directly below his. She had inexplicably parked her car on the 4th floor, where Jean’s residence was, rather than the 3rd floor, where hers was. So far, there is no indication that the shooter and the victim knew each other. Guyger had a clean record. Other facts are in dispute. The officer told investigators the apartment door was  ajar and then fully opened when she inserted her computerized chip key. That seems possible but unlikely.  Lawyers for  Jean’s family say the door was closed. How could they possibly know that?  Guyger said in court documents that when she opened the door,  she saw shadows of someone she thought was a burglar, and shouted commands before shooting. Lawyers for Jean’s family have elicited testimony from neighbors that they heard someone banging on the door and shouting, “Let me in!” and “Open up!” before the gunshots.  Why would the officer do that if she didn’t know Jean, or if she thought it was her own apartment? They also said they then heard Jean, say, “Oh my God, why did you do that?”

Boy, that sounds like an awfully convenient exclamation to be remembering now, don’t you think? But who knows? Maybe it proves the two knew each other. (Why didn’t Jean say, “Who are you?”) Maybe it is another “Hands Up! Don’t shoot!” lie for cop-haters and race-baiters  to adopt as a rallying cry.

Surprise! Jean’s family is being represented by Benjamin Crump, the same lawyer who represented the relatives of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and managed to manipulate media accounts and public opinion into the narrative that those shootings were motivated by racial hate. If nothing else, Crump is diligent and zealous in creating an atmosphere that maximizes the opportunity for civil damages whether they are warranted or not.

Crump is referring to Jean’s death as an assassination. Of course it is! After all, Guyger’s a white cop, and they live to oppress, brutalize and kill unarmed black men for no reason whatsoever, except to protect white power in a racist nation. Dallas’s black citizens and white activists do not believe the officer’s story, because they presume racism. (Similar impulse: progressives and feminist believe Brett Kavanugh’s accuser, because they want to,)  Protesters chanted and disrupted a City Council meeting last week. There have been escalating  threats against the police. Officers say they believe Officer Guyger’s version of events, as weird and inexplicable as they are. The same bias is at work: they want to believe her.

Things don’t work when they are hemmed in by biases and agendas like this. Let’s say that an investigation yields no clarification. An innocent man was shot in his own home by a police officer who lived beneath him for no discernible reason, and the cop’s only explanation is that she was tired, confused, and made a mistake. What is the ethical course at that point?

There are a few easy calls. The police department has civil liability, and it is high time to put the same kind of limitations on police shifts that airline pilots must abide by. The accident, if it was an accident, may have been caused by unethical working conditions. It would also be sensible for apartment and condo complexes to be required to make all floors recognizably distinct. I have tried to enter the wrong hotel room, apartment, condo unit and dorm room at various times, in addition to walking into ladies rooms and the occasional closet. Luckily, I don’t carry a gun. However, my own experiences make me at least willing to consider that this might have been nothing but a terrible, tragic accident.

Obviously, Officer Guyger’s career is over no matter what the truth is, and should be. Thus I agree with the argument that she should be suspended without pay or simply fired. Off-duty cops are required to carry guns, and once a cop makes this kind of “mistake,” she can’t be trusted. I wouldn’t want her wandering around my neighborhood.

Beyond that, however, what is Dallas supposed to do? The race hucksters want to protest and exacerbate racial divisions. Guyger will be painted as a cold-blooded racist killer, and typical of all police. Any result that doesn’t have her sentenced to prison for a long time will be condemned as proof that the white fix is in. The city has a duty to prevent riots and deaths, but not to squelch protests, no matter how cynical and unfair. Should it indict and try Guyger for murder rather than manslaughter, knowing that over-charging could result in an acquittal?  This was Baltimore’s approach in the Freddie Gray case, and now police passivity has made the city a runner-up to Chicago as U.S. Murder Central. What if the investigation suggests that this was indeed an accident, and no more? Is it fair to try Guyger at all, then? Will jury members concede that she has lost her occupation and her reputation, and that imprisoning her is cruel—that she has suffered enough? Or will Guyger really stand trial not as an individual, but as a symbol of all cops who shot unarmed black men and escaped accountability?

Not only do I see no satisfactory ethical outcome, I can’t even decide what an ethical outcome would be.

I do know this, however. Bias not only makes us stupid, it makes fairness, justice and law enforcement impossible.

 

A Bias Detection Test

What is the obvious (and in my estimation) amazing bias and prejudice the video above embodies? Here’s another one: same problem.

I hope it jumps out at most of you as much as it does to me. This product’s most obvious market, both in terms of those who most need it and those most willing to look ridiculous wearing it, is seniors. My parents, both of them, would have loved to have one of these on their regular excursions. Yet the promotional video not only doesn’t show any users over the age of 35, it seemingly doesn’t know such creatures exist.

My mother used to complain bitterly once she reluctantly reached her Golden Years that younger people acted as if she were invisible.  I wonder if this video is one more example of the fracturing of American culture and consciousness into hostile groups that choose to regard non-group members as “the other,” not worthy of consideration or acknowledgment.

After all, one would think that at least the profit motive would be enough to prompt us to include the elderly in our world view. In this case, at least, apparently not.

Visual Bias Ethics

Let’s see: Hack, hack, probably a hack, and hack.

One aspect of broadcast journalism ethics that the Old Guard—Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, Huntley, Thomas and the rest— observed and respected was a neutral demeanor. They knew (and today’s hacks know as well, but with different results), that tone of delivery, body language and facial expressions can convey a journalist’s personal views and biases as clearly as a direct statement. Their practice, therefore, was to maintain a poker face and a matter-of-fact delivery. When Walter Cronkite brushed away a tear while announcing JFK’s death in 1963, it was considered newsworthy because Walter did not bring his own feelings into the news. The consensus was that hee could be forgiven this one time.

If that professional practice is taught in journalism classes any more, it is ignored. Now broadcast journalists and reporters deliberately use every tool at their disposal to signal to viewers what they think, and thus what the viewers should think as well. The election of Donald Trump represented a full-on, industry wide rejection of objectivity by the broadcast media, as many reporters allowed themselves to appear in mourning, or close to tears.  Unlike the assassination of JFK, however, this  was not an excusable exception, or, as we have learned, an exception at all.

Look at the faces of last night’s CNN panel reporting on what had been built up as a bellweather election in North Carolina that, should a Democrat have won, would be string sign that President Trump and Republicans were in trouble nationwide. Is there any doubt who they were rooting for?

This is not only unethical journalism, it’s incompetent journalism.

But that’s the way it is.

When Your Friends Insist That There Is No Mainstream Media Partisan Bias, Ask Them To Explain This…

The won’t and can’t, but they’ll deny that there’s bias anyway. Like Joe Biden, they choose “truth” over facts.

In an infamous 2017 editorial, New York Times Editorial Page Editor James Bennet wrote, “In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.”

Not only was this false, the theory had been thoroughly dsiproven years before. Palin’s map had nothing to do with violence. “20 House Democrats from districts we carried in 2008 voted for the health care bill,” the caption said. “IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND.”

It was a call to defeat Affordable Care Act supporters, not to shoot them. The theory, pushed by the Times’ Paul Krugman among other left-wing pundits after the Tucson shooting,  that Palin’s unremarkable advocacy inspired the attack, was unmoored to facts or logic. Loughner’s motives were vague, and he was insane, politically liberal,  and unlikely to have been following Palin’s website. Linking Palin to the tragedy (others blamed Rush Limbaugh) was just the kind of dishonest cognitive dissonance game we are seeing now, with Democrats and the news media blaming President Trump for recent shootings.

On the theory that the Times crossed the line from opinion to malice when it intentionally publicized a false,  six-year old smear, Palin sued the Times for libel. This week a federal appeals court revived the lawsuit, which had been thrown out by a lower court on First Amendment grounds. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Eye-Opener, 7/22/2019: Boycotts, Bushes, And Weenies” [Item 3]

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:

The controversy:

. 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.** Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: District Attorney Craig Northcutt

How long will it take our communities to exile social Neanderthals like Craig Northcutt to jobs where their bigotry and un-American values can only harm the people foolish enough to voluntarily associate with them?

Northcutt is the Coffee County (Tennessee) District Attorney, and a 2018 videotape reveals him saying such things as,

  • Regarding the Supreme Court decision declaring it unconstitutional to prevent gay couples from marrying: “Five people in black dresses rule us — it just takes five votes, it doesn’t take all nine.”

That statement is per se moronic, as well as irresponsible.. A ruling by any judicial panel is just as binding and has exactly as much force in law regardless of the vote. Northcutt is encouraging defiance of the law.

  • “DAs have what’s called prosecutorial discretion. Y’all need to know who your DA is. Y’all give us a lot of authority whether you know it or not, We can choose to prosecute anything, we can choose not to prosecute anything, up to and including murder. It’s our choice, unfettered. So, to deal with that, you elect a good Christian man as DA, and you’ll make sure at least [Christians] don’t get prosecuted criminally.”

Translation: “I’m biased, prejudiced, conflicted, and incapable of enforcing the law fairly and objectively., and don’t even want to, or know why I should” Continue reading

Sunday Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/2/2019: Dark Thoughts And Good Reasons For Them

Looking forward to the ethical week ahead, certain that I’ll be disappointed, and bitterly, based on last week…

<Sigh>

1. The Ethicist’s Dilemma. I’m preparing for a couple of legal ethics CLE seminars for government lawyers, and raised  an ethical dilemma facing me to my sister. The last time I included government lawyer ethics issues related to the multiple controversies in the Mueller investigation, the FISA process, and the Michael Cohen clown act, I received several critical evaluations that were entirely partisan and political. And, in the session itself, there were a couple of participants obviously set at “hair-trigger” to register accusations and objections that any criticism–based on pure legal ethics analysis on my part—that found fault with the lawyers involved revealed me as a dreaded “Trump supporter.” I asked my sister, who is a retired government lawyer with extensive Justice Department experience, if I should nonetheless cover such issues as Robert Mueller flagrantly violating Rule 3.8 of the D.C, Rules with his public statement last week,  or what a White House Counsel’s ethical obligations are regarding communications from the President (since the “who is the client?” complexities of that role continue to confound legal ethics experts, my position is that the WHC has an ethical obligation to make it crystal clear to any President when he is covered by attorney-client privilege and when he is not, to cite one example.)

Her depressing advice: Don’t touch any of it. People, even lawyers, are not capable of keeping their emotions and political passions under control these days, she said. No matter how accurate and fair your analysis is, she emphasized, you risk allowing these hot-button issues to derail the seminar and even harm your professional reputation.

Yet I believe that I have an obligation to cover these issues. I also have a lifetime bias for doing what people tell me will be disastrous when I am convinced that it is the right thing to do. Then my father’s voice comes out of the mists of time, reciting his favorite fake obituary, a ditty about sailing:

This is a story of John O’Day
Who died maintaining his right of way
He was right, dead right, as he sailed along
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.
I’m thinking.

Continue reading