The Shooting Of Justine Ruszczyk: How Mindless Tribalism Makes Justice Impossible

The shooter and the shot.

Former police officer Mohamed Noor  was sentenced last week to spend 12 and a half years in a Minnesota prison for shooting Justine Ruszczyk, an unarmed woman he killed while on patrol in 2017. I don’t see how anyone could read the facts of the case and not conclude that Noor was guilty of negligent homicide. I don’t see how anyone could rationally complain that his sentence was excessive, either.

 Ruszczyk, who was white—unfortunately this fact is relevant—and  soon to be married, called 911 twice to report what she thought was a sexual assault going on in the alley  behind her Minneapolis home. Officer Noor and his partner responded  to investigate.  Ruszczyk  came out to the darkened alley to meet them, presumably to explain what she heard or saw,  and was soon dead of a single shot, fired from the  open patrol car window by Noor.  At the trial,  Noor said he feared for his life when he  saw Ruszczyk approaching his cruiser and fired. “She could have had a weapon,” he said .

The reported crime, sexual assault, the officers were investigating  did not involve a weapon. If Noor’srationale was enough to justify shooting Janet Ruszczyk, presumably an officer could justify shooting anyone, at any time.

Prosecutors argued that Noor acted unreasonably by  firing at unknown  figure out his window without shouting a warning,  and that it amounted to third-degree murder.  Well, of course it did. He was convicted by a jury in April . Twelve years for recklessly killing an unarmed woman who was trying to be a responsible citizen is not an unreasonable sentence, and is within the sentencing guidelines for the crime.  Continue reading

Comment Of The Day: “If The News Media Won’t Resist Publicizing Big Lies, What Hope Is There?”

In response to the post about the mainstream news media still presenting the deaths of Freddie Gray and Mike Brown as “murders” despite all evidence and judicial law enforcement determinations to the contrary, Matthew B raised some interesting questions that I’ve pondered myself.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “If The News Media Won’t Resist Publicizing Big Lies, What Hope Is There?:

I don’t understand why the Black Lives Matters focuses in on the cases that don’t make their point. They should be using Philando Castile as a rallying cry, not Freddie Gray.

I also don’t get what is wrong with most white people. How can we have shootings like Daniel Shaver and think there is nothing wrong? We’ve got a police training issue where an unreasonable level of fear pervades contact with the public and a criminal justice problem where officers are given the King’s pass because too many people view police officers as the good guys no matter what. The BLM crowd is unethical in its conduct in trying to make their point. We’ve got the other side who’s unethically blind and want to ignore that the problem exists.

The Complete “It’s A Wonderful Life” Ethics Guide, Updated And With A New Introduction For 2018

Once again I am posting the Ethics Alarms Ethics Guide to Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life,” perhaps the greatest ethics movies of all time, as this blog’s official welcome to the holiday season. The film is commonly thought of as a Christmas movie, but it really is a Thanksgiving story. Unfortunately, the movie is so well known, so much imitated, so familiar in its tropes and cliches that we really don’t think about it very hard. We should.

The movie is exactly the kind of important shared cultural touch-point that I am advocating when I emphasize the importance of cultural literacy to our nation’s connective tissue. The film teaches about values, family, sacrifice and human failings unlike any other: its power and uniqueness disproves the assertion, made in one online debate here this year, that new cultural creations inevitably and effectively supersede older ones. No, they really don’t, and like copies of copies, eventually the cultural values conveyed get fainter and less influential. “It’s A Wonderful Life” would be an excellent basis for a middle school ethics course. I haven’t seen a better, richer film for that purpose come along since, and I’ve been looking.

I am also constantly amazed at how many people haven’t seen the movie. My son’s girlfriend admitted that she hadn’t at dinner today. A few months ago I gave a DVD to a pharmacist at our local CVS after I made a reference to the film and he had no idea what I was talking about. He said he would wait until the holidays to watch it with his family. I hope he does: he left the job soon after. There are some classic movies that parents have an obligation to make sure their children see. This is one. Despite the many ethics complexities and nuances that the film glosses over or distorts, its basic, core message is crucial to all human beings, and needs to be hammered into our skulls at regular intervals, far more often than once a year.

What I wrote about this message in an earlier posting of this opus still seems right to me:

Everyone’s life does touch many others, and everyone has played a part in the chaotic ordering of random occurrences for good. Think about the children who have been born because you somehow were involved in the chain of events that linked their parents. And if you can’t think of something in your life that has a positive impact on someone–although there has to have been one, and probably many—then do something now. It doesn’t take much; sometimes a smile and a kind word is enough. Remembering the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life” really can make life more wonderful, and not just for you.

I wondered about posting the guide again this year, as this feels like a year in which Ethics Alarms lost old readers rather than gained new ones. Then I read it again, and it reminded me of some important things I had forgotten, and I wrote it. I also, as is my yearly habit, edited and added to the commentary a bit. I’m smarter this year than I was last year, and I bet you are too…especially if you’ve been reading Ethics Alarms, just from figuring out how I’m wrong.

I hope you all had a terrific Thanksgiving, and that the holiday season is joyous for all.

And here we go:

1. “If It’s About Ethics, God Must Be Involved”

The movie begins in heaven, represented by twinkling stars. There is no way around this, as divine intervention is at the core of the fantasy. Heaven and angels were big in Hollywood in the Forties. The framing of the tale seems to advance the anti-ethical idea, central to many religions, that good behavior on earth will be rewarded in the hereafter, bolstering the theory that without God and eternal rewards, doing good is pointless.

Yet in the end, it is an ethics movie, not a religious one. George lives a (mostly) ethical life, not out of any religious conviction, but because step by step, crisis after crisis, he chooses to place the welfare of others, especially his community and family, above his own needs and desires. No reward is promised to him, and he momentarily forgets why we act ethically, until he is reminded. Living ethically is its own reward.

We are introduced to George Bailey, who, we are told, is in trouble and has prayed for help. One has to wonder about people like George, who resort to prayer as a last resort, but they don’t seem to hold it against him in Heaven. The heavenly authorities assign an Angel 2nd Class, Clarence Oddbody, to handle the case..He is, we learn later, something of a second rate angel as well as a 2nd Class one, so it is interesting that whether or not George is in fact saved will be entrusted to less than Heaven’s best. Some lack of commitment, there— perhaps because George has not been “a praying man.” This will teach him—sub-par service! Good luck, George!

2. Extra Credit for Moral Luck

George’s first ethical act is saving his brother, Harry, from drowning, an early exhibition of courage, caring and sacrifice. The sacrifice part is that the childhood episode costs George the hearing in one ear. He doesn’t really deserve extra credit for this, as it was not a conscious trade of his hearing for Harry’s young life, but he gets it anyway, just as soldiers who are wounded in battle receive more admiration and accolades than those who are not. Yet this is only moral luck. A wounded hero is no more heroic than a unwounded one, and may be less competent as well as less lucky. (This is not an observation that one should make in public, as President Trump learned when he made a lifetime enemy of John McCain.)

3.  The Confusing Drug Store Incident.

George Bailey’s next ethical act is when he saves the life of another child by not delivering a bottle of pills that had been inadvertently poisoned by his boss, the druggist, Mr. Gower, who is addled by grief and drink after learning about the death of his own son. George’s act is nothing to get too excited over, really—if George had knowingly delivered poisoned pills, he would have been more guilty than the druggist, who was only careless. What do we call someone who intentionally delivers poison that he knows will be mistaken for medication? A murderer, that’s what.  We’re supposed to admire George for not committing murder.

Mr. Gower, at worst, would be guilty of negligent homicide. George saves him from that fate when he saves the child, but if he really wanted to show exemplary ethics, he should have reported the incident to authorities. Mr. Gower is not a trustworthy pharmacist—he was also the beneficiary of moral luck. He poisoned a child’s pills through inattentiveness. If his customers knew that, would they keep getting their drugs from him? Should they? A professional whose errors are potentially deadly must not dare the fates by working when his or her faculties are impaired by illness, sleeplessness or, in Gower’s case, grief and alcohol.

One could take the position that Mr. Gower “just made one mistake.” But trustworthy professionals don’t get to make such mistakes, not and still be trusted the next time. Trust is easily destroyed, and should be.

Mr. Gower also slaps George on the head several times. Today hitting a child like that is regarded as child abuse by a parent; when another adult hits a child, it’s grounds for arrest. This is one of many examples of evolving societal ethics in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” When the film was made, Mr. Gower’s conduct in beating a child employee was considered forgivable. If the local pharmacist slapped my son, I’d swear out a criminal complaint, and he still might end up shambling bum like Mr. Gower in the film’s alternate reality section.

4. The Uncle Billy Problem.

As George grows up, we see that he is loyal and respectful to his father. That’s admirable. What is not admirable is that George’s father, who has fiduciary duties as the head of a Building and Loan, has placed his brother Billy in a position of responsibility. As we soon learn, Billy is a souse, a fool and an incompetent. This is a breach of fiscal and business ethics by the elder Bailey as well a classic conflict of interest, both of which George engages in as well, to his eventual sorrow.

5. George’s Speech.

Continue reading

From The Ethics Alarms “Now What?” Files: The Hopeless Dallas “Cop Shoots Black Neighbor” Tragedy

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. Continue reading

Labor Day Ethics Leftovers, 9/4/18: Big Lies, Big Jerks, Big Mistakes [UPDATED]

 

Good morning!

1. So, so predictable. Yesterday was fun: I assumed that the post about the undeniable pettiness, incivility and hypocrisy at Senator McCain’s funeral service in D.C. would prompt multiple exclamations of “But…but…Trump deserves it!”, “He’s worse!” and “What about what Trump does?” I was not disappointed. Each one of these desperate efforts to avoid facing the issue discussed and admit reality is signature significance for having crippling flaws in one’s ethics analysis abilities, gaping holes in one’s basic understanding of right and wrong, and a victim of stupidity-inducing bias. Nothing in the post excused or referenced the President’s own conduct in any way.

2. Baseball ethics. No, it is not unethical for pitchers to carry crib sheets. During the top of the eighth inning in Saturday night’s Phillies game against the Cubs in Philadelphia, third base umpire Joe West noticed the Phillies  pitcher looking at a card he had pulled from his pocket, and confiscated it. The card contained scouting reports on how to pitch a Cubs batter. The advanced analytics baseball teams now use to devise how to position fielders and pitch to batters are too detailed for the typical player to commit to memory. Lots of them carry little cheat sheets, sometimes in their hats. Although lots of old school players and tradition-loving fans hate the development, it’s here, and there are no rules against it.

Never mind: Joe West, who is one of the more arrogant and autocratic umpires, felt that the piece of paper constituted a “foreign substance” under the rules, and thus surmised that it was prohibited by the provision designed to stop pitchers from making the ball do tricks by surreptitiously applying K-Y Jelly or slippery elm. Yup, ol’ Joe thought the pitcher, Austin Davis, was  going to use the card to doctor the baseball. Good thinking, Joe! MLB quickly set him straight the next day, announcing that West, as he often is, for he is an awful umpire,  was mistaken.

The fact that West couldn’t figure that out himself, and that he is the longest tenured MLB ump, tells you why we will have robo-umps calling strikes within five years or less.

3. Nah, there’s no mainstream media bias! Today’s nauseating example of mainstream media’s refusal to report and comment on the news objectively comes from the New York Times—Surprise!—which writes sympathetically about the Democratic Party’s dilemma as it tried to derail the Supreme Court nomination of Bret Kavanaugh. There’s no filibuster any more! Multiple Democrats tell the Times how unfair this is. Guess whose name is completely absent from the article? Why, former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who resorted to the so-called nuclear option to pass Barack Obama’s judicial nominations over Republican opposition. “They are making a mockery of the process, and that is because the No. 1 goal …. is to stack the bench with ideologues, because they know they cannot achieve their goals through the elected branches,” said the Republican leadership at the…no, wait, that quote is from Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the current Democratic leader. He doesn’t mention that his predecessor is the reason the system is “broken.” At least the Times, in one brief sentence , acknowledge that “Democrats” eliminated the filibuster for federal judges below SCOTUS level. They do not make it clear that this shattered a long-standing Senate tradition, and that it made the GOP follow-up of killing the device for Supreme Court nominations both politically feasible and inevitable.

The Times also does not remind readers that its editorial board applauded Reid’s move at the time. Continue reading

John Wayne Western Ethics: Just Thought I’d Mention This…

“Chisum” is a lesser effort by the Duke for sure; I saw the Western when it came out in 1970, and it made no impression on me at all, apparently. When I watched it again two days ago, almost nothing seemed familiar. There was one scene, however, that raised my eyebrows.

The story is very loosely based on John Chisum (of  Chisum Trail fame) and his involvement in the Lincoln County War of 1878 in the New Mexico Territory. At one point in the story, British rancher and Chisum’s neighbor Henry Tunstall rides to Santa Fe to seek help from Territorial Governor  Sam Axtell in the increasingly tense range war.  Henry does not know that he has been framed for cattle rustling, and when he  is intercepted by two deputies (they are in on the plot, but he doesn’t know that) who accuse him and tell him he is under arrest, he objects strenuously.  Saying he is late, Tunstall starts to reach into a pocket. One of the deputies shoots him dead. The two then plant a gun on Tunstall to back the story that the deputy fired in self defense.

But why did he have to do that? Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/29/18: Baseball Opening Day Edition, Plus Earlobes, Insults, And Tampons…

Good Morning, And Play Ball!

1. To Tony C.  This is always a happy day for me, but I want to mute my joy a bit by dedicating this baseball season to the late Tony Conigliaro. Since my teens, he has been my constant inspiration to live every day to its fullest, because no matter how bright and promising the future seems at any moment, everything can change in the blink of an eye, or an errant pitch from Fate right into your face.

That’s what happened to Tony C. on a cruel August night in 1967. He was playing right field and batting clean-up for his home town baseball team, in a season that would see them win a miracle pennant. He was young, handsome and incredibly talented. He had become the youngest player ever to hit a hundred home runs,  and was in his fourth big league season at the tender age of 22.Then everything changed. Tony’s existence was swept up and placed on a new and dark road that ended with a fluke heart attack and stroke at the age of 37, and a lingering twilight half-death in brain damage until he mercifully passed away eight long years later.

All we can do now is remember a beautiful young man and a brilliant athlete who gave his home town many thrilling moments to savor in the brief time allotted to him, who had everything, and then lost it without reason, warning or justice…and also remember that every day should be lived right, and well, with the determination to be the best we can be, because we may never have a chance to be any better.

Yes, this baseball season is dedicated to you, Tony.

For me, I guess they all are.

2. No, this isn’t The Onion. This is a real tweet from the Democratic Party, authored by Congresswoman Grace Meng:

She continues

“Women deserve equal access to our economy, not punishment for their gender. That’s why I’ve been working with my fellow women to fight for more access to tampons, pads, and the full range of menstrual products since 2015. …I’ve introduced legislation to make these products more affordable — because leveling the playing field and stopping period-shaming give women, especially low-income women, a better chance to succeed in our economy…What else would give women a better chance to succeed? Electing more women to fight these fights with me — because we need leaders who understand the experiences of those they represent. ..Head to and commit to vote in 2018 and beyond, because women can’t wait for economic fairness any longer.”

I hope I don’t have to explain what is wrong with this, and I eagerly anticipate being able to parry any brain-melted partisan who reads something like this and says, “Hey, what a good idea!” Yet obviously millions of people are in thrall to this kind of slippery slope progressivism: if a gender, or a race, or a nationality or any other tribe has a unique need or problem, then all of society must help pay for it, or life is unjust. Was a virus released into the water system of certain major cities.? What else can account for such abdications of personal responsibility being accepted as fair and reasonable?

Hey! Why doesn’t the government pay for my electric razor? Continue reading