Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Grandstanding Or Justice?”

I didn’t provide my answer to the ethics quiz about the propriety of charging and trying the woman whose accusation against 14-year-old Emmett Till resulted in his infamous lynching in 1955. Jim Hodgson’s Comment of the Day nicely explains what it would be, though.

I also heard an interesting angle from my lawyer sister that is probably worth a full post. What Carolyn Bryant Donham said in 1955 would be literally nothing today. It was only in the warped Jim Crow culture of 1950s Mississippi that a woman false claiming a black teen touched and flirted with her could lead to violence, or could be considered provocation for a violent crime. How do you justify prosecuting someone 67 years later for an act that would no longer be considered a crime?

Here is Jim’s post, in response to “Ethics Quiz: Grandstanding Or Justice?”


My answer to the ethics quiz is that no, she should not be prosecuted. It just isn’t feasible to achieve any fair degree of justice at this point.

As a retired deputy sheriff, the first thing that struck me as odd in the news reports that I read concerning this “discovery” was the clear implication that the “lost” warrant itself was somehow a bar to her being arrested and prosecuted at some time during the past 67 years. It may be news to many people, but paper warrants get lost (or at least temporarily “misplaced”) with some regularity. In my state, any officer of the court with knowledge of the original warrant could have asked for the warrant to be re-issued by the same court that issued the original. In my state this is referred to as issuing an “alias warrant” or an “alias writ.” Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Grandstanding Or Justice?


A team searching a Mississippi courthouse basement for evidence about the infamous lynching of black teenager Emmett Till in 1955 stumbled upon the unserved arrest warrant charging Carolyn Bryant Donham— identified as “Mrs. Roy Bryant” on the document—with the 14-year-old boy’s abduction. Donham was the young woman who falsely claimed that Till had whistled at her and grabbed her, causing a mob of white men to murder him. The warrant was never served, apparently because the Jim Crow-era Mississippi sheriff didn’t feel a mother with two children should be prosecuted. Now Till’s family wants Donham, 88, arrested and tried...almost 70 years after the crime.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz on this Independence Day weekend is…

Would it be ethical to do this? 

Continue reading

A Popeye For John Lewis And His Fans

This post was in my head and keeping me awake all night, so I had to get out of bed and get it out

I was just about to let the late John Lewis go, when a Facebook friend inflicted the late Congressman’s  so-called “final words” on me with a post in Facebook that garnered bushels of likes and teary faces, immediately putting me into a quandary. The guy’s a lawyer, and should know better than to extol such transparent grandstanding, varnished over with dishonesty.

I almost—almost—wrote a searing rebuttal and reprimand. I didn’t, and it’s keeping me awake tonight. More on that in a moment.

First, regarding Lewis: I didn’t want to read his op-ed in the Times, knowing, as I knew Lewis’s routine well, that it would either make my head explode or make me want to blow it up. Writing such a thing itself is pure narcissism: Lewis was shuffling off this mortal coil with words designed to make those who do not know him, except by the dated accolades with which he has been celebrated by the fawning media, think he was a better man than he was, while making his detractors face being called racists if they call his piece  out for what it is. This, for example, was nauseating:

In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

This is the same John Lewis who  told NBC audiences the day before Martin Luther King Day and less than a week before the Inauguration that President-elect Donald J. Trump was “an illegitimate President.”  In 2017, Ethics Alarms pronounced this “an unprecedented act of vicious partisanship and unethical public service.”  I understated it. Lewis deliberately triggered the perpetual anti-democratic unrest that has led directly to today’s riots, toppled statues, and self-righteous hate. He isn’t the only public figure accountable for this, but he is the only one who assisted in tearing the nation apart while patting himself on the back as someone who has “done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love.”

“All,” Congressman? How about serving as an honorable example for citizens by accepting the leader chosen by our system as it has done for more than two centuries, and  not deliberately encouraging an insurrection? How about that? How does creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that requires citizens and businesses to support a Marxist movement or risk being “cancelled” let freedom ring?

I had to wrestle my rebellious gorge to the ground and place my violently rolling eyes back in their sockets when I read this at the start of Lewis’ screed: Continue reading

The Fifth Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Best of Ethics 2013

Ethics Story 2013

I decided to start with the Best in Ethics this year, in contrast to other years, on the theory that it would get things off to a positive start in 2014. What it did, instead, was make me realize how negative Ethics Alarms was in 2013. Either there wasn’t much positive going on in ethics, or I wasn’t seeing it. My thanks to those of you who send me nominations for Ethics Heroes (and other stories); even when I don’t write about them, they are valuable. Please keep them coming. In the meantime, I pledge to try to keep the jaundice out of my eye in 2014. Things just can’t be as dire as they seemed last year.

Could they?

Here are the 2013 Ethics Alarms Awards for the Best in Ethics:

Most Important Ethical Act of the Year:

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, paving the way for the universal legalization of gay marriage. Yes, it was a legal decision, but it was also based, as all such culturally important decisions are, on a societal recognition that what was once thought to be wrong and immoral was, in fact, not. This is ethics, an ongoing process of enlightenment and wisdom about what is right and wrong, and the U.S. Supreme Court did its part. Continue reading

How Dangerous Lies Become Accepted Truth: D.C. Theater Embraces The False Emmett Till-Trayvon Martin Comparison

If we want it to be true, then it will be true...

If we want it to be true, then it will be true…

I awoke to find this in my Washington Post Style Section this morning, in the column devoted to notable events in D.C. theater. My personal Facebook page is fairly well linked to the Washington , D.C. theater community, so I decided to register my disgust there. I’m continuing it here, and in the interest of economy, will simply repeat what I just posted on Facebook.

I will just add this: I foolishly assumed that the irresponsible, and either ignorant or malign attempts to equate the killings of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin were isolated examples of race-baiting excesses, and would be widely rejected and debunked by more responsible figures and authorities. Not only did this not happen, but that indefensible comparison, and the damaging falsehoods it is intended to plant, like a deadly virus,  in our national fabric, is beginning to take hold as truth.

Anyone, regardless of race and political or ideological belief should be able see how intolerable this is. Everyone has an obligation to do what they can to stop it.

Here is my Facebook post. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce, Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck Division (Yes, It’s Still Rolling!): Oprah Winfrey


Oprah, Sharpton…Sharpton, Oprah. At this point, not much difference. A lot less than between, say, Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till…

At this point, Oprah’s not just a passenger on the Train Wreck, but doing her best to be its engineer.

Last week, in an interview, Oprah thoroughly debased herself by opining, in defiance of history, facts and fairness, that the death of Trayvon Martin and the torture and lynching of Emmett Till  were equivalent episodes. “Let me just tell you: in my mind, same thing,” Winfrey said.  About the same time The New York Daily News ran this despicable inflammatory front page:

Daily News Emmett Till

I decided to let it go. I had already written about how untrue,  dishonest and intentionally divisive comparisons of the Martin case to Till were, and frankly, I would rather write about something other than the most revolting and damaging episode of society-wide race-baiting within my lifetime. I had already scolded Oprah for one race-related ethics foul this month, and she is only one among many offenders in these depressingly divisive times. (Full Disclosure: I was once employed as an ethics expert for a regular feature in “O” Magazine) Oprah, however, is making the rounds promoting “The Butler,” and she doubled down on this irresponsible position while talking to Anderson Cooper. From Mediaite: Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Willie Reed ( 1937-2013)

Willie Reed

I began the day, to my surprise, with tears in my eyes from reading an obituary on the front page of today’s Washington Post.

The story announced the death of Willie Reed, who as an African American teenager in 1955, risked his life by testifying in a Mississippi court against the white men who had tortured and murdered Emmet Till, another black teenager, for the Jim Crow “crime” of allegedly whistling at a white woman.

The intensity of my emotional reaction surprised me. I think it was the product of being reminded of the horrific tragedy that befell Till and other black citizens at the height of segregation, and being slapped in the face with the reality, known to me but kept deep in the place in my brain where the ugliest things are sealed away to keep me from incurable despair, of the deranged hate that festered so long—and destroyed so many— in the country I love. I was also overcome with admiration and wonder at the almost unimaginable courage of Reed, who knew that by testifying in open court he was simultaneously  guaranteeing that he would be marked for Till’s fate for the rest of his life. Maybe most of all, I wept out of anger at my ignorance and the warped priorities of our culture and educational system, which ensures that we know the names and life stories of insignificant narcissists like Kim Kardashian, embarrassing political leaders like Michele Bachman, greedy athletes like Lance Armstrong, and cynical demagogues like Al Sharpton, but know nothing of the lives and deeds of unglamorous American heroes like Willis Reed. I consider myself an educated man, but I had never heard of him, which means I am not educated enough. I wish I could apologize to Reed. I wish I could shake his hand. I wish I could say, “thank you.” Continue reading

Incomplete Ethics Observations On George Zimmerman’s Acquittal

Just et me finish all this, and then I might be able to wade more deeply into the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman mess....

Just et me finish all this, and then I might be able to wade more deeply into the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman mess….

When my stomach is feeling less queasy, I will hope to set out to undertake the Augean task of assigning the various honors and indictments arising from the apparently concluded Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Trainwreck. For now, however, in the wake of the jury’s most proper acquittal,  here are some briefer observations:

  • There was no way that Zimmerman could have been fairly and properly found guilty based on the evidence presented, and the fact that 1) the case was brought to trial by prosecutors and 2) the judge allowed it to go to the jury after the prosecution had failed its burden of proof, showed unethical conduct by prosecutors and, quite possibly, bias by the judge.
  • The jury was heroic, unless they were truly ignorant of all the distracting and misleading efforts from the media to condemn Zimmerman based on a political agenda, rather than the facts of the actual case. They had reason to fear for their lives, and reason to believe that a not guilty verdict would spark violence. It would have been easy, if wrong, for them to manufacture reasonable doubt as a utilitarian compromise, to sacrifice Zimmerman’s life and a just verdict to the safety of others and themselves. Of course, if they really were as ignorant of current events and the case as jurors in such high-profile trials usually have to be to get through voir dire, then perhaps the jury wasn’t courageous. In that case, it was just a good jury that did its duty well, and that makes them heroes too. They honored the jury system and our democacy, despite all the efforts to pollute it, some from very high places indeed. Continue reading