Once Again, The Unwarranted Presumption Of Racism

“What’s that kid doing up there?”

If something undesirable happens to an African American, the culture is pushing the norm that the misfortune ought to be presumed to be the result of racism until decisively proven otherwise. Similarly, if a white individual is responsible for a black citizen’s plight, deserved or not, the white individual’s motivations are also presumed to be based on racial animus.

Both presumptions are nothing less than sanctified bias and prejudice, as much so as racism itself.

A case study from Washington, D.C.:

About a hundred seventh and eighth-grade students from Shelton Intermediate School in Shelton, Connecticut were visiting the nation’s Capital last week. The group was supervised by twelve chaperones, and the itinerary included the usual museums, monuments and landmarks, including the newest attraction, the Smithsonian’s  African American Museum.

While touring the museum, a male student leaned over a balcony and drooled or spit down on the visitors below. His saliva struck one of them, and the victim was black.  As a result of the incident, the entire group was ejected from the museum. Continue reading

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.

 

Sentencing Ethics: The Perplexing Relevance Of “Acquitted Conduct”

Senators Dick Durbin (D–Ill.) and Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) introduced a bill this week that if passed and signed into law would  prohibit the use of so-called “acquitted conduct” at sentencing. What is acquitted conduct, you might ask? It is charges for which a defendant has been found not guilty that a sentencing judge nonetheless considers when sentencing that defendant for the crimes the jury says they did commit. This practice give prosecutors a special edge. Knowing that a judge may consider at sentencing every offense the prosecutor charges, a prosecutor can charge a defendant with an offense he knows he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and then charge more serious offenses that he probably can’t  prove. Even if jurors only reach a guilty verdict on the charges proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and refuse to convict on other charges, a judge can, and often does takes all the charges into consideration at sentencing.

“If any American is acquitted of charges by a jury of their peers, then some sentencing judge shouldn’t be able to find them guilty anyway and add to their punishment,” Grassley said in a statement released this week. “That’s not acceptable and it’s not American.” Under the law he is proposing with Senator Durbin, if a prosecutor charges you with five crimes, and the jury finds you not guilty of four of them, the judge who then sentences you should be able to consider only offense you were found guilty of.

What’s going on here? It is simply that the Federal sentencing rules currently allow a judge to consider crimes he or she believes the defendant is guilty of committing regardless of what the jury decided, just as a judge can take other factors into consideration. In such cases, a judge may use a preponderance of the evidence standard, not the criminal law standard of  beyond a reasonable doubt, to conclude that the jury was wrong and that a sentence should reflect conduct other than what the prosecution was able to prove to the jury’s satisfaction. Continue reading

Ethics Verdict: The Democrats Will Be 100% Responsible For The Damage The Impeachment Will Do To The nation.

Impeachment, though it is doomed to fail, will be terrible for the country in too many ways to count, and the Democratic Party, abetted by the mainstream news media, will be 100% responsible for the harm. Not 75%. Not 99%. 100%.

I know I’m going to have to write a lot in the coming months about this, and I’m already sick of it, but if progressives, the media and the Democrats had treated this President as every one of his predecessors had been treated, we would not be here. They all decided to actively search for a justification to remove this President from office without an election. The calls for impeachment and contrived legal excuses to remove him began before Trump even took office.

It is satisfying, I suppose, in a mordant way, that the Democrats somehow trapped themselves into using one of the lamest and least persuasive justifications for an impeachment inquiry imaginable, and will pay a steep, steep price for it. Even the fact that the party and the media will suffer greatly for their attack on democracy, however, does not sufficiently mitigate the damage they will have done to the nation. Continue reading

Saturday Night Ethics Fever, 9/21/2019: Crazy Stuff

1. A simple, factual, ethical rebuttal to Beto O’Rourke, who panders to the anti-gun Democratic base by saying that he’ll confiscate the weapons he thinks we don’t “need.” Lauren Boebert, who with her husband owns local restaurant Shooters Grill, where she and a lot of the staff  open carry a loaded firearm,  confronted  O’Rourke at a town hall in Aurora Colorado. “I was one of the gun-owning Americans who heard you speak regarding your ‘Hell yes, I’m going to take your AR-15s and AK-47s.’ Well, I’m here to say, ‘Hell no, you’re not!”

She was, of course, correct, just as Beto was grandstanding to the ignorant and fearful, in deliberate defiance of the Constitution.

To his credit, Beto tried to control the rabid anti-Second Amendment fanatics in his crowd  who tried to shout Boebert down, as she continued,  “We all have these stories. We all have the experiences. I was living in Aurora during Columbine. I had just recently moved when the Aurora shootings happened. Yet I have very close ties here. Yet all of those people were there defenseless.”

“They had no way to defend themselves against a crazed shooter, so I want to know how you intend to legislate the hearts of men and leave American citizens like myself, American mothers,” Boebert said. above the  abuse from the crowd. “I have four children. I’m 5 foot zero, one hundred pounds, and cannot really defend myself with a fist.”

Then she told a heckler near her that  she didn’t have her AR-15 with her, but  was carrying her Glock. “Well, you shouldn’t have that,” the man said.

Wrong again. It’s not his call, nor his business, whether she has a pistol or not.

2. From the wasteful and pointless protests files: “Hundreds of thousands” of 20-somethings and kids took part in a global protest against “inaction on climate change.” What do they know about climate change? Only what they have been told by agenda- driven activists, teachers and politicians, almost all of them without genuine scientific comprehension of the complexities, vagaries and uncertainty of the topic themselves. Are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t really know what they are talking about more persuasive than, say, one? Should they be?

No. Leading these innocents to believe otherwise is a cruel joke. Margot Guillen of Harvest Collegiate High School, told Yahoo News she was there to send a message, saying, “By protesting peacefully, it shows how committed our generation is to making a change and showing that we know what’s happening and we need to stop it.” They don’t know what’s happening, though, and they don’t know how to stop “it,” in part because they don’t know what “it” is, when “it” will occur, what the extent of “it” will be, and even whether “it,” whatever “it” is, will occur at all.

Good protest.

Typical. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: The Declining Neighborhood Contractor

Two weeks ago, The Ethicist (that’s , the real ethicist who authors the New York Times Magazine’s advice column) was asked about the most ethical response to a true ethics conflict. A neighbor who frequently did contracting work in his neighborhood had recently  begun delivering shoddy work.

The inquirer writes, “He has made numerous mistakes, which have required fixes. He occasionally smells of alcohol and admits that he has “a beer” at lunch. Although he is on the job every day, he has not fulfilled the oversight component that we expect from a general contractor, and we have gradually taken over managing the project. “

The inquirer knows the man’s family, which has been going through a difficult period, “which may have impacted his mental health and drinking patterns.” Now he wonders where his loyalties and responsibilities lay. Does he have an obligation to alert neighbors, through a community consumer referral website, that their neighbor’s work is now unreliable? Or is the kind, compassionate action of trying to help the friend work through his current problems, while letting neighbors take their chances, despite the fact that everyone knows the inquirer has referred the contractor favorably in the past?

Appiah makes the predictable ethicist call that the duty to the many over-rides the duty to the one, especially since the inquirer has some responsibility for the community’s trusting the rapidly declining contractor. His advice asserts the equivalent of a duty to warn.

Your Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Is The Ethicist right?

Continue reading

Regarding Felicity Huffman’s Slap-On-The-Wrist

Before actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced for her participation in the rigged college admissions scandal, also known as “Varsity Blues”, the leftist website Salon had already pronounced her treatment by the justice system as racist. It said in part,

Back in 2011 Tanya McDowell was homeless and living in her van. She wanted her five-year-old son to receive a quality education, so she enrolled him in Brookside Elementary of the Norwalk School District. He was later kicked out due to a residency issue, so he transferred to Bridgeport schools.

Police investigated McDowell and charged her with fraud. A year later she pleaded guilty to first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny; for these offenses, she received a five-year sentence. Before McDowell started serving it out, she was charged with selling narcotics to an undercover police officer, an offense that killed her community support. McDowell was ultimately given 12 years, to be suspended after she served five, and followed by five years of probation; the narcotic sentence to run concurrently with a five-year sentence she had already received in the Norwalk school case. All of this story, from the over-policing of this mother to the severity of her sentence, along with everything she did, was obviously driven by poverty, which remains synonymous with “guilty” in our lopsided system of so-called justice.

On the other hand, you have a person like Felicity Huffman, who enjoys the many privileges that come with being a rich “Desperate Housewives” star…and having the resources to expose her daughter to educational advantages that McDowell may not have even been able to dream of: tutoring, unlimited books, technology, a safe learning environment, and even an SAT specialist who helps struggling kids obtain high scores. …[T]he actress was arrested in March on mail fraud and conspiracy charges as an outcome of the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues investigation, and pleaded guilty to mail fraud, after paying $15,000 to allegedly rig her daughter’s SAT scores. Huffman is scheduled to be sentenced in Boston on Friday — for one month in prison, if the federal prosecutors’ recommendation is followed. Huffman’s attorneys have instead asked for a year’s probation, plus community service and a $20,000 fine.

Let’s begin with the fact that this is unethical and dishonest advocacy. Searching for an admittedly terrible prosecution from eight years ago  to contrast with Huffman’s case is contrived racism. The fact that the mother was later legitimately charged with selling narcotics renders the comparison a stretch at best.  In the absence of sufficient numbers of cases across the country to make a valid generalization, Salon’s assumptions are just cheap muckraking.

Stipulated: charging McDowell with larceny for trying to sneak her child into a better school district was a cruel and unethical prosecution; charging her with fraud and seeking a significant punishment was not. The idea was to discourage similar deceptions, no matter how well-intentioned they were.  That is a valid law enforcement objective, and an important one.

What Huffman’s attorneys proposed as appropriate punishment was irrelevant to Salon’s thesis. Their job is to get the actress as light a sentence as possible, and if possible, no sentence at all. We are not told what McDowell’s attorney’s argued on her behalf, because it is also irrelevant, but, I suspect, it was omitted because their recommendations were not that different from those of Huffman’s case. Continue reading