I Finally Saw “O.J.: Made In America,” And I Am Depressed

Inspired by the upcoming parole hearing, in which double knife-murderer O.J. Simpson is expected to be paroled (and should be), I decided to watch a much-praised documentary series that I had thus far avoided.

Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America” (not to be confused with “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,”the dramatic TV mini-series starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. as the fallen football great, released the same year ) is a 2016 documentary produced for ESPN Films and their 30 for 30 series. I saw it a few days ago. I’m sorry I did.

Not that the film isn’t excellent, thorough, fair and though-provoking. It is. Nor was there too much in it that surprised me. Simpson defense attorney Carl Douglas gloating over how the defense team unethically and dishonestly altered Simpson’s home to deceive the jury made me want to punch him in his smug face, but I already knew about that outrageous tactic. Seeing Mark Furmin on the stand invoking the Fifth Amendment when he was asked whether he had ever planted evidence at a crime scene made me want to gag, but it made me want to gag when I saw it live. One more time, I was convinced that the prosecution had so botched the case that there was plenty of reasonable doubt for a jury to employ to acquit O.J., just as it was obvious from the trial that he was guilty as sin. All of this I expected.

I did not expect to be so emotionally troubled and ethically disoriented by the conclusion of the film, in which one African-American after another, most of them speaking in the present day, tells the camera with various levels of offensiveness that O.J.’s acquittal was a great moment for black America, a form of redemption, pay-back for centuries of abuse and decades of  discrimination by police and the justice system, proof that the system can work for African Americans and not merely against them, a well-earned poke in the eyes of white America, sweet vengeance and retribution, and a result to be honored and cherished as victory for blacks everywhere.

A prominent minister and civil rights leader actually compares Simpson’s acquittal to Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. I wonder what Robinson would have thought about that comparison. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/3/17

Good Morning!

1. “He was right, dead right, as he sped along, but he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.” This was a refrain (from an actual epitaph) my Dad used to recite to hammer the principle into my head: being right is often not enough. I wonder if Chris Christie ever heard it? The Governor of New Jersey is vacationing with his family at a state beach he closed to the public , along with all state parks, as a result of a budget stand-off with the legislature. Technically and legally, he has every right to do this, since governors of the state have the use of a residence on that beach, and the detail that watches it when the Governor is in residence is not affected  by the government shut-down. Christie, in his trademark blunt manner, has responded to criticism by saying, in essence, “I’m governor and you’re not.” He’s right that he’s not taking a special privilege by using his residence when the beach is closed to the public. He’s right that he has no alternative to closing government services when the legislature doesn’t meet the statutory mandate for approving a budget. It doesn’t matter: he also has a duty to preserve trust in the government and democracy. His vacation in a place that he’s made off-limits to the public, no matter what the justification, has the appearance of impropriety, and more than an appearance of arrogance and a broken ethics alarm.

2. The big story yesterday—I can’t believe I’m writing this—was the President tweeting a silly tricked-out video purporting to show him wrestling CNN. This was, to anyone not determined, due to a near fatal level of confirmation bias and the Trump Hate Brain And Conscience Eating Amoeba, to interpret every word and act by this President as evidence of evil, a joke. Sure, it was also gloating, and trolling, and sophomoric, and unpresidential but the long, long list of talking heads and pundits who solemnly pronounced  this foolishness as “advocating violence against journalists” all revealed themselves as untrustworthy, dishonest, or hysterical. This kind of incompetent reaction is why Trump keeps doing this.

Our broken news media will have to be torn down before it can be restored to the objective and non-partisan institution a healthy democracy has to have to survive. If President Trump’s japery accomplishes this—I would prefer journalism to come to its senses internally, but that clearly is not going to happen—that’s a rich silver lining to the cloud of his Presidency. Continue reading

14 Ethics Musings On The Death Of Francisco Serna

keith-scott

Scott and Serna.

From The Washington Post:

Slightly after midnight on Monday, police in Bakersfield, Calif., received a call concerning a man thought to be brandishing a weapon in a residential neighborhood.

Shortly after police arrived, 73-year-old Francisco Serna — who family members said was suffering from the early stages of dementia — walked out of his home and into his driveway. When Serna, who was unarmed, did not comply with officers’ orders to remove his hands from his jacket pocket, one officer fired seven shots at him, killing him.

During a canvass of the premises that lasted at least until the following afternoon, police did not find a firearm on or near Serna. Instead, they found a crucifix.

Questions and Observations:

1. The shooting occurred two days ago, on December 12. There have been no organized protests, or community groups, family lawyers or anyone else suggesting that the shooting was murder, or an example of police animus toward the community. Why not?

2. The circumstances of the shooting were notably similar to the police involved shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, except that in the case of Scott, the officer believed the victim had a gun, and he did have a gun. Nonetheless, that shooting triggered two days of rioting. Why?

3. In the Scott shooting, both officer and victim were black. In the recent shooting in Bakersfield, officer and victim were white. Why did one shooting become a racial incident and the other not, when the conduct of the police officers were essentially identical, and the provocation for the shootings  were similar as well?

4. One difference in the two episodes is that in Charlotte, a false narrative was launched by a family member to make the shooting appear to be a case of excessive force with a police cover-up. Is it just felicitous that this did not occur in Bakersfield, or was the Charlotte episode different in some way that caused events to resemble the aftermath in the Ferguson and Freddie Gray police-involved deaths?

5. If Francisco Serna had been black and all other facts the same, is there any reason to believe that the aftermath, including recriminations, accusations and attacks on police, the justice system and the nation’s culture, would have been any different than they have been every time an unarmed black man, or a black man who was reported as being unarmed, has been shot by police? If there is not, what does that tell us? Continue reading

No Charges In The Keith Scott Shooting, And An Ethics Test For Black Lives Matter

stephanie-clemons-thompson-fb-post

Yesterday,  Mecklenburg, North Carolina District Attorney Andrew Murray announced that the investigation into September’s fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott had found no legal wrongdoing. This meant, in addition to the fact that officer Brently Jackson, who is black, would not face trial, that the two-days of riots inflicted on Charlotte after the Scott’s death were even more inexcusable than riots generally are. People who claimed on social media that they had seen the shooting and that Scott was unarmed admitted to investigators that they hadn’t seen what they said they saw. Evidence in the case showed that Scott stepped out of his SUV  holding a gun—his DNA was retrieved from the weapon found at the scene—and ignored at least ten commands from the five officers on the scene to drop it. Individuals who behave like that are likely to get shot, and deserve to be. No case, no outrage, no systemic racism.

Following the shooting, however, this was a Mike Brown encore, complete with angry, loud, false accounts and social media rumors focused on making Scott’s death another rallying point for race-hucksters, politicians who felt they could benefit from dividing the country by color, and irresponsible pundits.

From the Ethics Alarms post on September 21: Continue reading

The Charlotte Riots: Good Work, Everybody! It Is Now Officially Impossible For Police Officers To Do Their Jobs…Now What?

Thank you,  George Zimmerman. Thank you, Mike Brown, and Freddie Gray. Thank you, Marilyn Mosby, Barack Obama, Ta Nihisi Coates. Thanks, Charles Blow, and Al Sharpton, MSNBC, Sabrina Fulton,  Lezlie McSpadden, and the Democratic National Committee. Thanks, Baltimore Police, Ferguson Police, and Bill DeBlasio.  Thanks, Eric Holder. Thanks, Black Lives Matter. And thanks to you too, Michael Slager, Timothy Loehmann, and the other trigger-happy cops who made their fellow officers around the country vulnerable to accusations of racism and murder by your incompetence. Thanks to all of you and others, it is now impossible for police to do their jobs without fear of being demonized and destroyed if they are wrong, or sparking riots and violence if they are right.

Now what are we supposed to do?

 A Charlotte, North Carolina police officer named Brentley Vinson, an African American, shot and killed Keith L. Scott, 43, after he posed an “imminent deadly threat” to police officers by refusing to drop the weapon he was carrying when ordered to do so.  The shooting sparked night of rioting and violent confrontations between police and “protesters.”

According to police, officers were searching for a suspect with an outstanding warrant. Around 4:00 pm yesterday, police observed Keith Lamont Scott inside his car. (Scott was not the person being sought.) Scott exited the vehicle carrying a firearm, got back into his vehicle, and when officers began to approach his car, got back out of it, again carrying his handgun. Officers ordered him to drop it, and he did not.  The officers fired their weapons at Scott, who was hit and fell. They immediately requested medial assistance and began performing CPR.

Following the pattern of the Ferguson and Freddie Gray incidents, unverified reports spread through social and broadcast media that the victim was a disabled man, holding only a book and no weapon. A woman claiming to be the victim’s daughter used Facebook Live to give her angry, emotional and quite possibly fanciful account of what was transpiring. About a hundred protesters arrived at the site of the shooting. #KeithLamontScott began to trend on Twitter.

Continue reading

Unethical Tweet Of The Month: New York Times Journalist Brent Staples

Staples

Brent Staples, who I'm sure is certain I am criticizing him because he is black...

Brent Staples, who I’m sure is certain I am criticizing him because he is black…

I view this as tragic, in so many ways. Brent Staples himself is apparently the victim of the cultural poison he is peddling, that every failure, misfortune or criticism of an African American must be presumptively rooted in racial animus rather than the shortcomings or fault of the black citizen involved. Others who use this strategy of race-baiting as a political weapon are not as sincere as Staples—he writes this kind of thing in editorial columns all the time—but they have joined with him to do terrible damage to race relations, all in defense of a President whose incompetence is too painful for his supporters to accept.

I realized that this would be an unethical political weapon Democrats could not resist using back in 2008, when Obama was running against John McCain. I warned against it then. The Democrats were arguing that Obama was so clearly the only choice for voters that he could only be defeated by racism, for only racists would oppose him. I wrote..

This strategy would be unethical even if the Democrats weren’t the party nominating an eloquent abstraction with less governing experience than any Chief Executive within memory. It is insanely irresponsible when used to back a candidate about whom there are many legitimate doubts, mysteries and questions. Both parties deserve respect; both candidates deserve respect. And the democratic system deserves the most respect of all.  

But is the Democratic message wrong if party decision-makers and faithful really believe it? Yes, because the belief is unsupported by hard, persuasive, un-slanted facts, and that makes it irresponsible and unfair…A belief alone is not enough to justify claiming victory for an untested leader with plenty of holes in his resume. Belief alone is not sufficient justification to lay the groundwork for race-baiting in the wake of an electoral loss in November.  

I’m a rational, informed voter who does his research and knows the issues, and I may choose not to vote for Barack Obama for any number of legitimate reasons—including the offensive attitude of his party—that have nothing whatsoever to do with his race. How dare the Democratic Party, Obama, or anyone shout to the media that my vote is motivated by racism? This is playing with societal dynamite. 

The Democratic message that the election is a slam dunk for Obama if America can only avoid bigotry and election fraud is a recipe for civil unrest, racial tension, and the unraveling of public faith in our institutions. It is reckless and offensive, and, take note, Democrats, idiotic.

Continue reading

The Disturbing Case Of The Intimidated Juror

Courtroom Jury Box

I don’t like the implications of this story one bit.

In Clayton County, Georgia, a jury had just come in with an acquittal verdict in the trial of Eric Lydell Smith, who had been charged with nine counts including malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault, in connection with the death of his neighbor, Eric Hernandez. Two years ago, Smith and Hernandez got into a fist fight on the street where both lived. Smith, an African-American, says he shot Hernandez—the mainstream newsmedia would refer to him as a “white Hispanic” if he had done the shooting— in self-defense, but prosecutors and witnesses told the jury the fight had ended and Hernandez was walking away when Smith killed him.

“Not guilty of malice murder,” the jury foreman read from the verdict form, as Hernandez’ family openly wept in court. One not guilty verdict after the another was announced. Then prosecutors, nobody is certain why, asked the judge to take the unusual step of polling the jury members. The first eleven jurors, in turn, repeated the announced verdict of “not guilty” on all counts. Then the 12th juror, a white woman,  answered the judge’s  “Is this your verdict?” with a shocking “No, your honor.”

That’s a mistrial. Smith will probably be retried. Continue reading