From The Ethics Alarms Archives, August 21, 2014: “Wishing Ethics: What Should We WANT The Outcome To Be In Ferguson?”

finger-crossed

[This seems to be a propitious time to re-post this essay, from the peak of the Micahel Brown shooting upheaval. I’m going to wrestle my fingers to the ground and avoid making any comments on it now, and leave such reflections to the comments.]

The simple answer to the question in the headline is: we should all want the truth to come out, whatever it is, and be dealt with honestly and justly. I don’t think that result is possible, unfortunately, just as it proved impossible in the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy.If the truth could be determined, however…if an experimental, advanced video recorder just happened to capture everything that occurred between Officer Wilson and Mike Brown, including in the squad car; if it captured the incident from all angles, and we could hear and see everything that transpired between them, what would we want that to be, recognizing that the tragedy cannot be undone?

Would we want it to show that Mike Brown was murdered, that he was fleeing for his life when he escaped the car, then turned, fell to his knees ( as at least one witness claims) and was gunned down with his hands in the air? Obviously many Americans, including Brown’s family, the Ferguson protestors, many African-Americans, civil rights activists, police critics, politicians and pundits, have an interest in seeing this be the final verdict of investigators, for a multitude of reasons. The grieving family wants their son to be proven innocent of any fault in his own death. Others, especially those who prematurely declared Officer Wilson  guilty of “executing” Brown, have a strong interest in being proven right, for even though it would not excuse their unfair and irresponsible rush to judgment, such a determination would greatly reduce the intensity of criticism leveled at them.

[Side Note on Ethics Dunce Jay Nixon: That won’t stop the criticism here, however: Whatever the facts prove to be,  Gov. Jay Nixon’s comments are indefensible, and inexcusable. Now the Democrat is denying that they meant what he clearly meant to convey: calling for “justice for Brown’s family” and a “vigorous prosecution” can only mean charging Wilson, and that is what those calling for Wilson to be arrested took his comments to mean. If the Governor didn’t mean that, as he now claims, then he is 1) an ignoramus and 2) beyond incompetent to recklessly comment on an emotion-charged crisis in his state without choosing his words carefully.]

Or should we hope that the facts exonerate Wilson? After all, shouldn’t we want the one living participant in this tragedy to be able to have some semblance of a life without being forever associated with villainy? Certainly his family and friends, as well as member of the Ferguson police force who want their own ranks to be vindicated, and police all over the nation who have had their profession attacked and denigrated in the wake of the shooting, fervently hope that the narrative pushed by the demonstrators is proven wrong.

Others want to see Wilson proven innocent for less admirable reasons. They want to use the incident to condemn police critics, and undermine and discredit civil rights advocates, especially long-time ideological foes like Al Sharpton. They want Eric Holder to look biased, (he looks biased anyway, because he appears to be taking sides) and to make the case—one that a single episode neither supports nor can possible rebut—that police do not have itchy trigger fingers when their weapons are pointed at young black men.

From the standpoint of ethics, which means that the best outcome will be the one that does the most good for society, the choice is complex.  Continue reading

Applying The Ethics Alarms 12 Question Protest Ethics Checklist To The George Floyd Freak-Out, And A Thirteenth Question

Of course, when a protest turns into violence, arson, rioting and looting, that protest has lost any claim to ethical legitimacy. Let’s (mostly)ignore that Woolly Mammoth in the room, however, to try to assess the George Floyd protests from as positive a perspective as possible.

Here’s the checklist:

1. Is this protest just and necessary?

Outside of the locale where the incident took place, the protests were neither just nor necessary. They were only necessary in Minneapolis if there was a real chance that the police involved would not be held accountable. There was no reason to assume that in the brief time before the mobs gathered and the chants began.

2. Is the primary motive for the protest unclear, personal, selfish, too broad, or narrow?

As in most such cases, the primary motive was and is incoherent. “Expressing outrage”  is by definition too broad to be productive. “Justice” does not mean what the protesters seem to think it does.

3. Is the means of protest appropriate to the objective?

No, if the objectives are a fair trial and due process under the criminal justice system, which it should be. If anything, the protests undermine those objectives.

4. Is there a significant chance that it will achieve an ethical objective or contribute to doing so? Continue reading

What Is “Justice For George Floyd”?

There is no justice for George Floyd. The cries for such a result raise a straw man. Floyd is dead, and shouldn’t be dead. There is no remedy for that, and our system promises none. In the criminal justice system, the role of what would be the plaintiff in a civil proceeding is taken by the State, or “the People.” Justice is sought by society, to validate the system of the rule of law, and to ensure the safety and integrity of society and civilization.

Whether or not the officers responsible for George Floyd’s death—and absent the revelation of some  miraculous intervening cause that nobody suspected, like Floyd being bitten by an escaped  Black Mamba while the police officer was kneeling on his neck, there is no reasonable argument that the officers were not responsible for his death—are convicted and punished to anyone’s satisfaction is not the measure of “justice” in this case. The measure of justice is whether due process is followed, whether the officers are fairly tried and competently defended, whether their prosecution obeys the rules of evidence and follows the law in all other respects, whether a competent and fairly vetted jury evaluates the evidence presented and delivers a verdict consistent with that evidence, following a trial overseen by an impartial judge, who then declares a fair punishment in light of the verdict. That is all our system can achieve. Whether all citizens, or any citizens at all, like or approve of the final outcome is irrelevant, and has nothing whatsoever to do with “justice for George Floyd.” The system seeks justice in a broader sense. Continue reading

Pandemic Ethics Dilemma: The Universities And Colleges Need To Keep Their Students’ Money, But They Are No Longer Earning It.

A class action lawsuit has been filed against the Arizona Board of Regents, the governing board for Arizona’s three public universities, because the three schools have refused to refund room, board and campus fees to students who were told to leave campus because of the Wuhan virus. Like virtually all US colleges and universities, Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University, moved their classes online  for the remainder of the Spring  semester. Students who lived on-campus were either told to move out or encouraged to do so. Yet, the  lawsuit says, the Arizona Board of Regents has refused to offer refunds for the unused portion of the students’ room and board and their campus fees. The lawsuit seeks payment of the prorated, unused amounts of room and board and fees that the class members paid but were unable to use.

How can the schools maintain that it is ethical for them to do this? I understand that having to refund the money will be disastrous for them, but they are literally keeping advance payments for services that the schools will no longer provide. I expect to see more such suits, and on the basis of law, equity, ethics and common sense, I don’t see how the institutions can prevail in them. Continue reading

Introducing Rationalization 38B: Excessive Accountability, or “He’s Suffered Enough.”

This is a new 38B, requiring the old one, Joe Biden’s Inoculation or “I don’t deny that I do this!”, to be relabeled 38C. I was tempted to call it “The Lost Rationalization,” because while Ethics Alarms has frequently rejected the argument that he, she or they have “suffered enough,” and even called it a rationalization, it never made its way onto the Rationalizations List.

“He’s suffered enough” is a very close relative of #38 A.“Mercy For Miscreants”:

The theory behind this sub-rationalization is that it is only fair to assign a criticism quota to groups and individuals: at a certain point, no more criticism is allowed, because nobody should have to be criticized that much. It is so darn mean to keep heaping abuse on someone, even if they deserve it.

But while 38 A focuses on criticism, 38 B is about limiting punishment. The “he’s suffered enough” rationalization has arisen most notably in the tragic cases where a parent has negligently allowed an infant or small child to perish in a locked car. Local prosecution of such individuals is strikingly inconsistent, and when no legal consequences follow, the justification is usually Rationalization 38 B.

What I wrote the first time I analyzed these cases, in the 2010 post  Ethics, Punishment and the Dead Child in the Back Seat thatI also quoted extensively here, encompassed a thorough description of the rationalization. (I also re-posted yet another essay on this topic from 2014 just last July).

Upon checking, I discovered that in yet another post from 2012, I referred to “he’s suffered enough” as a common rationalization without putting it in the list. Reviewing that post and the earlier one, I have arrived at this description of the latest rationalization. Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Forgetting What We Know”

This post, one of the very first on Ethics Alarms, was written on Halloween, 2009. The blog had essentially no followers then. I judge it an excellent post (if I do say so myself) but just a handful of people read it. There were four commenters: King Kool, who traveled over from the old Ethics Scoreborad site and who, I am happy to say, still weighs in now and then; “Ethics Bob” Stone, who commented her last year,  and a friend I met through my connection with child star advocate Paul Petersen and with whom I am still in touch.

I found it extremely interesting to review–I wouldn’t change anything substantive in it, though I made three small edits—in light of what has happened since, and the theme of the post, which was how ethics evolves.

The post was written before the #MeToo upheaval. For all I know, Harvey Weinstein was forcing an aspiring starlet to have sex with him and Bill Cosby was drugging a young woman as I was posting it. It references several  rationalizations before the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations list had been launched.

I wonder, though, how much out society has really learned since it was written.  Roman Polanski is still living free and directing films in France. Six women have accused him of sex-related crimes, the most recent last November.

Bill Cosby is in prison for one of his rapes: Harvey Weinstein is standing trial right now. Bill Clinton appears to have finally been reduced to persona non grata status among progressives and his former defenders, but his complicit and unapologetic enabler, Hillary Clinton, is still treated as a feminist icon, and even harbors dreams of running for President again. The Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Justin Fairfax , has been convincingly accused of rape by one woman and sexual harassment by another, yetremains in office, and the local and national media have stuffed the story in the proverbial memory hole.

Six years after this post, David Letterman retired from “The Late Show” hailed as comedy legend, with Barack Obama and three former Presidents appearing on his farewell show. He continues to be sought after for interviews and as an MC, as in the USO event pictured above.  In 2016, Letterman joined the climate change documentary show Years of Living Dangerously as one of the show’s celebrity correspondents. In 2017, Letterman gave the induction speech for Pearl Jam when the group was inducted into the  Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. That same year, 2017, Letterman was feted on Turner Movie Classics with Alec Baldwin—don’t get me started–as he  co-hosted “The Essentials.”  Letterman and Baldwin introduced seven films for the series.

Wisely, “Rosemary’s Baby” was not among them.

In 2018, Letterman began hosting a six-episode monthly series of hour-long programs on Netflix called My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman. His old friend, patron, and feminist hero Barack Obama was his first guest.

The second season premiered on May 31, 2019.

This  is “Forgetting What We Know.” Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Dunce: Leroy Schumacher, Grieving Grandfather”

“I usually tone down the “prophet Jeremiah” flavor notes when I reread these,” wrote Benjamin after I told him that his previous comment was the COTD. I’m glad he didn’t. I prefer strong assertions of ideas and principles ( as you might have noticed ) because they encourage strong reactions.

I  decided to write about a two-year-old story about a grandfather who opined that it was “unfair” for a man in a home his grandson was breaking into to shoot the teen and his two fellow home invaders with an AR-15, because they only were carrying a knife and brass knuckles. His absurd lament  crystallized nicely the “logic” of anti-gun zealots, who now are about to ban that semiautomatic weapon (among other anti-gun ownership  measures) in Virginia, where I live. Benjamin, however, saw larger significance in the the episode.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Dunce: Leroy Schumacher, Grieving Grandfather,” which takes off from a quote by another commenter:

“I’m sorry he lost his grandson.”

I’m not. Such are the grandsons who ought to be lost. Mercy would be best, of course, but his survival would’ve necessitated the death of the innocent as a direct consequence of his direct intentions. Mercy is an elevated form of justice, so no unjust intention can ever be merciful. But, going one further, this grandfather’s response to losing his grandson belies a total abandonment of principle for the sake of immediate self-interest. No doubt, these are “values” he instilled in his children and they in his grandchildren. If we’re going to move for the mutilation of our laws, for the sake of bargaining, we could at least make a far less ridiculous mistake in steering the public support to seeking to penalize this grandfather for his not-totally indirect involvement in (and perpetuation of) the crime.

Such are the grandfathers who ought to be lost. At the very least it would be an effort (maybe the first I’ve seen in my life) to reverse the engineered-and-enforced public tolerance for addictive ideas corrosive to public decency. It would be better to instill in society (rather than the laws) an intense rejection of ideas like this and the people who hold them, but politics takes place in the realm of the possible, as they frequently tell me. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Leroy Schumacher, Grieving Grandfather

Two years ago, 17-year-old Jacob Redfearn and two friends, 19-year old Maxwell Cook and 16-year old Jake Woodruff, conspired with getaway driver Elizabeth Rodriguez, 21, to burglarize an Oklahoma home. Dressed in black and wearing masks and gloves, with one of the three young men  carrying a knife, and another brass knuckles, the home invaders were all shot dead by the homeowner’s son, who used a legally purchased AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Rodriguez was charged with felony murder.

It is tragic that the three young morons met a premature end due to their fatal choices, but it isn’t tragic that the shooter had the means to protect himself and did. That’s not how Leroy Schumacher, the grandfather of  Redfearn, saw it. He maintained that the deaths of his grandson and his fellow home invaders were unfair because the  AR-15 gave the shooter an unfair advantage.

Now we know where Jacob inherited his reasoning ability. Continue reading

No Way Out? The Rodney Reed Affair [UPDATED!]

Rodney Reed was convicted by a Texas jury in 1998 and sentenced to die for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites two years earlier. On April 23, 1996, Stites’s body had been found on the side of a country road outside of Bastrop, Texas. Marks on the woman’s  neck led investigators to conclude that she had been strangled, and she had had sexual relations with someone before she was killed.

Police tested the recovered DNA against that of Reed, then 29 years old.  There was no other evidence tying Reed to the murder, other than the fact that he initially lied to police, claiming that he didn’t know the victim. Finally, Reed said that he was having a sexual affair with her, and that the two had sex a couple of days before Stites was found dead. The witnesses Reed’s defense called to confirm the relationship between the two were not convincing, for varying reasons. It didn’t help Reed’s cause that he was regarded as a serial sex offender, with many arrests on his record.

As The Intercept explains in detail, the case against Reed has deteriorated over time, and was never strong to begin with. Many forensic pathologists have concluded that the verdict lacked scientific support. The medical examiner who conducted Stites’s autopsy has recanted his testimony. In 2018, both a state crime lab and a private DNA lab undercut the testimony of their own employees who had testified at Reed’s trial.  Nonethless, Reed is scheduled to be executed in five days, on the 20th of November.

The new evidence indicating that he was wrongly convicted has not been reviewed by a court and apparently will not be because of the judicial principle of finality, the very old concept that hold that legal disputes at some point achieve a resolution that cannot be appealed and must be regarded as final. The principle is deemed necessary because without it, the public could not trust in the meaning of any law, or the result of any legal process. It is a utilitarian principle: individual cases may have unjust results occasionally, but the system as a whole benefits from the certainty of finality.

When the finality principle will result in the execution of a someone who appears to have been wrongly convicted, however, the gap between law, justice and ethics is difficult to accept.  The Supreme Court will consider Reed’s case today. There is also a plea to Abbott and to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to intervene.

The ABA has also made an appeal to the Board, via a letter from American Bar Association President Judy Perry Martinez.  Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 10/6/2019: Fan Ethics, Hospital Ethics, Vandalism Ethics, And Diplomatic Immunity

Well, I woke up…

…and as my father was fond of saying, that should be enough. Of course, he adopted that philosophy during combat in World War II…

1. I have been asked, “With your beloved Red Sox out of the post-season, are you paying attention to the play-offs?” The answer is, “Oh, sure.” I’m not like Yankee fans, what my dad called “summer soldiers.” In fact, the post-season is a more enjoyable, less anxious, purer experience for a fan when his or her team is absent. I can just enjoy the beauty, suspense and constant surprises of baseball without being distracted by my emotions, conflicts of interest, and bias. Post-season baseball is the best of the game; when I am trying to introduce baseball to neophytes, this is the best time to do it. Yes, the dumbed-down broadcasting by the networks is annoying, but it’s always been that way. And yes, I still have some rooting biases: most of my friends  are Washington Nationals fans, do a piece of me is supporting them. I like underdogs, so the Twins, Rays, and every National League team but the Dodgers have my sympathies. The Yankees have had such a courageous, astounding season, winning over a hundred games despite having more significant injuries than any MLB team in history, that I even find myself rooting for them, because if any team deserves a championship, the 2019 New York Yankees do.

2. First, do no harm. Second, don’t be an asshole...This is incredible. Employees at a St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Maine  created a “wall of shame” where they displayed confidential medical records of disabled patients in 2016, the state Human Rights Commission has found.

The records posted on the wall concerned sexual activity, photos and descriptions of  body parts and bodily functions of patients. St. Mary’s told CNN that it is “fully committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen again.”

Gee, that’s comforting. How did this happen in the first place?

The Shame Wall was revealed as part of a harassment complaint. MyKayla McCann, an employee who had been treated at the hospital, said that the existence of the “wall of shame” constituted an “abusive environment” where hospital staff displayed open hostility to those with disabilities.

“Coworkers constructed a workplace display ridiculing patients with disabilities. [McCann] encountered the display every day as part of her regular environment, making harassment pervasive,” the investigation said. “The information posted on Shame Wall was intended to demean and humiliate and included supposed ‘jokes’ about the hospital’s physically and mentally disabled patients.”

One employee was fired and another was given a warning in response to the incident. It took the hospital  four months after McCann’s complaint to take the Shame Wall down, according to the report. How caring. How efficient.

Continue reading