And THIS Is Why Celebrities Should Shut Up And Act, Sing, Dance, Look Good, Or Whatever They Did To Get Famous . . .


Elizabeth Banks, a B+ movie actress whose career zenith was either playing Jeff Bridges’ wife in “Sea Biscuit” or a supporting role in “The Hunger Games” movies, decided to rant about “Stand your ground” laws last week. The impetus was the Ohio legislature passing a version of the law, thus joining about half the states. Banks responded by tweeting, to her

“Stand Your Ground is BS. We used to play hide and seek all over the neighborhood on summer nights. Intent was to play. We were kids but some of my cousins were big guys. There were a few easily-jumped fences in the neighborhood but also houses with no fences at all. A new neighbor moved onto our street. Apparently he mistook us hiding behind trees in his unfenced yard at 9pm for … burglars? Predators?” All of a sudden, an arrow was shot into the tree behind which we hid. From a professional bow and arrow. This guy didn’t yell out ‘who’s there’ or ‘get off my property or I’m calling the cops’ or any other question or warning. He just shot at children. He hit the tree so it was seemingly a warning shot. Message received, WE yelled out that we were just playing and could he let us please run away without shooting. Then we ran.”

“Also sometimes our dog got loose. We would go into yards looking for her. All I can think about when people pretend Stand Your Ground is about anything other than permission to kill people are those moments when I myself stepped onto a neighbor’s property. Where is the evidence that Stand Your Ground does anything but endanger your neighbors, their dogs, their kids? It helps nobody but people who want justified reasons to use a deadly weapon. If I’d been shot and killed playing hide and seek, would that new neighbor have been able to just shrug his shoulders while living across the street from my grieving parents? With laws like this, probably yes.I don’t want to live in a world where we fear our neighbors so much that we can’t freely lose a ball/dog/frisbee or cut through somebody’s yard to avoid harassment — all things I have done. What yards did you wander into and why?”


Continue reading

No “Stand Your Ground” For Domestic Abuse Victims? Law vs. Ethics Strikes Again!

Domestic violenceA hoary statutory destruction debate that hails from the Fifties centered on the simple prohibition, “No Vehicles in the Park.” The question is whether the reasonable and proper interpretation of such a prohibition should rest on the clear meaning of the words alone, or whether the underlying purpose and reasoning behind the rule or law must be taken into account. A tank is a vehicle: does the rule mean that a WW I tank can’t be placed in the park as a memorial? Is a baby stroller a vehicle (the dictionary says yes)? If we accept the literal approach—the school of jurisprudence championed by scholar L.A. Hart that is called legal positivism—we take legal interpretation out the realm of ethics and morality, and give judges only the power to apply laws as written, results be damned. The other approach, more popular with non-lawyers and many judges but not necessarily correct, is identified with Hart’s contemporary Lon Fuller, and called the natural law approach.

This conflict has arisen in intriguing fashion in a South Carolina dispute over the application of that state’s Stand Your Ground law in domestic abuse cases. In 2012, an abusive boyfriend, Eric Lee, dragged Whitlee Jones down a street by her hair. She got away, and Lee returned to the apartment they shared. A 911 call prompted by the hair-dragging spectacle brought a policeman to visit, and Lee put him at ease, saying that all was well.

It wasn’t. Jones, having retrieved her hair weave that didn’t survive the drag through downtown Charleston, returned to the apartment to pack her belongings and move out. As Jones began to leave the apartment, Lee blocked her way, and according to Jones, began to shake her. She pulled out a knife and stabbed him once, and once was enough. Lee died. Jones was arrested for murder. Continue reading

And The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck Rolls On…Apparently Forever

It may be a train wreck, but if you're a liberal race-baiter, it's such a darned comfy one...

It may be a train wreck, but if you’re a liberal race-baiter, it’s such a darned comfy one…

The Michael Dunn trial ended without a verdict on the first degree murder charge, and the news media just couldn’t help themselves. Although the facts of two cases have virtually nothing in common, various prominent media figures could not resist connecting it to the Trayvon Martin killing and George Zimmerman’s trial, thus compounding the damage they have already inflicted on the public’s understanding of law, race, and ethics.

Other events spurred them on as well. There was the George Zimmerman interview in which he described himself as a victim, and this set some people off. Zimmerman is a victim—a victim of being made the race-conflict advocate’s poster boy for profiling villainy and bigotry when there are absolutely no facts that support such a characterization. He’s just not the dead victim in his tragic episode. Nor is the status of irresponsible, gun-toting fool necessarily incompatable with the status of victim in his case, but such nuances are beyond the comprehension of many among us, especially the many with press credentials.

Then the Providence College Black Studies Program announced that it would continue to give out an annual award called the Trayvon Martin Award for Social Justice, intended to honor those who have shown leadership and commitment to ”challenging and eliminating racism” and “empowering others to seek social justice.” The inexcusable implication of the award is that Trayvon Martin was the victim of racism, and that Zimmerman’s acquittal was social injustice, when in fact it was the epitome of the justice system working well. The program established the award in 2012, before Zimmerman had been tried or permitted to mount a defense in court, so this was no surprise. In fairness, the award needs to be renamed the Trayvon Martin “Our Minds Are Made Up So Don’t Confuse Us With Facts” Award. But then, fairness is not what the enshriners of this false but convenient narrative care about.

This morning,  CNN’s  over-opinionated morning news co-anchor Chris Cuomo (I’ll bet you he runs for office as a Democrat within five years or less) was showing part of his taped interview with Dunn prosecutor Angela Corey. I admit that it was fun watching Corey squirm under Cuomo’s biased and misleading questioning regarding the Martin and Dunn trials; she contributed greatly, after all, to the rush to judgment and trial-by-publicity in the Zimmerman case. Still, Corey tried to make a valid point to Cuomo (whose partner, Kate Bolduan, increasingly sits compliantly and submissively in silence while Cuomo takes over the broadcast and crosses lines of journalistic objectivity left and right): by focusing on a few high-profile cases, media coverage distorts the public’s perception of Florida’s stand-your-ground law as well as the justice African-Americans, victims as well as those accused of crimes, receive in the courts.

Cuomo proceeded to prove Corey correct. First he falsely described the Martin case, describing it as an instance of a young black man, minding his own business, getting into a confrontation, who “wins a fight, essentially”–these were Cuomo’s exact words—gets killed for it, and his killer goes free. This would be unforgivable from a guy in a bar; it is outrageous from a news anchor. If Martin had been shot by Zimmerman after the fight had ended, as Cuomo’s false description suggests, then he would have been guilty of murder beyond question. The evidence presented at trial indicated that Zimmerman shot Martin while he was losing a fight, and when he had no way of knowing how victorious the man on top of him intended to be. That created sufficient evidence of self- defense to win Zimmerman an acquittal. Cuomo was spreading false information to fit a politically motivated false narrative. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: My “Disrespectful” Comment


There has been an epic thread, over a week long now, I think, on Ampersand’s blog about the Zimmerman trial. It has been very illuminating and valuable for me, because the vast majority of the discussion consists of articulate knee-jerk liberals desperately searching for some way to hold on to the myth that Trayvon Martin was the victim of racial profiling, and that George Zimmerman, a closet racist cold-blooded killer, got away with murder. It is fascinating, if depressing. So many seemingly smart people who just “know” that Zimmerman was really guilty, and that Martin was gunned down because he was wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles.

One of the outnumbered rational commenters there, a chap calling himself Conrad, responded to a persistent Zimmerman-hater who kept saying that it was “50-50” who started the fatal fight, and that it should disturb anyone that there is, therefore, a 50-50 chance that Zimmerman got away with murder. Conrad pointed out that the evidence, in fact, strongly suggested that Zimmerman did not provoke the physical encounter, and, sure enough, none of the  factual arguments to the contrary were deemed persuasive. I had intervened several times in the discussion (since it was launched in the blog post by Ampersand saying that my assertion that there were no legitimate grounds on which to challenge the jury’s verdict as anything but compelled by the evidence was biased), and this was the final straw.

I wrote, to Conrad:

“Fascinating, isn’t it? So many compassionate, fair, intelligent people tying their brains into knots because they have staked everything on a badly cast George Zimmerman being the epitome of a murderous, conservative, vigilante racist. Oops! He’s not white! Oops! His prom date was black! Oops! He voted for Obama! Oops! He never used a racial slur! Oops! He was jumped by the victim! Oops! He really was injured! Oops! The evidence and all the witnesses support his account! Never mind…you just KNOW he did it.

“This is the real lesson of this endless mess–how confirmation bias makes good people into bigots and persecutors.

“There is another piece of evidence: when police, while interrogating Zimmerman, told him that the entire altercation was caught on a security camera—a lie, to check his reaction–his instant response, according to witnesses, was “Thank God!” Clever guy, that George. Quick thinking!

“But this has never been about evidence. It was about making Obama’s base fear for their lives just in time for the 2012 elections, and increasing racial divisiveness for cynical political gain. At least I hope that was what it was about, because if there wasn’t some tangible reason for it, it is the stupidest self-inflicted wound on society that I can remember.”

I was shortly thereafter shocked to receive Ampersand’s stern reprimand for this comment.

“Jack, please reread the moderation goals for this blog. In particular, this bit: “Debates are conducted in a manner that shows respect even for folks we disagree with.” If you don’t find it possible to disagree with people while treating them with respect, then I’ll ask you to stop leaving comments here. Where would make me unhappy, so I hope it doesn’t come to that. –Amp”

He generously left my entire post up with a strike-through, making it unreadable as well as  hanging a scarlet letter on the content. Nice. Apparently it was all too disrespectful. (In fact, I would judge many of the approved comments in the thread far more directly insulting to specific commenters than mine, which impugned the whole anti-Zimmerman chorus.)

Your Ethics Quiz as we head into the first August weekend:

Was it too disrespectful? Continue reading

Don Lemon For President

Ethics Hero.

Ethics Hero.

Bear with me: I’ll get to Don Lemon eventually.

In a mature, rational, respectful democracy with an objective and competent news media, difficult and contentious issues would be thoughtfully debated with open minds and fearless honesty, without the toxic influence of rigid ideologies, partisan loyalties, group identification, or biases. The objectives: reach the truth, identify problems, begin solving them.

This process is difficult under the best of circumstances, and in the United States, circa 2013, it is nearly impossible on any issue, and dangerous on the issue of race, with both the media and elected officials actively seeking to exacerbate racial divisions and misconceptions. A recent poll suggests that the perception of racial divisions in America has worsened by 25% since Barack Obama was elected President, following decades of steady improvement. Why is this? There are many reasons, but the cynical pandering to misconceptions in the black community is one major suspect.

President Obama, had he been fair and responsible, might have used his remarks about the George Zimmerman trial to point out that neither the incident itself nor the verdict of the jury were relevant to race issues, or created by a “stand your ground” law that has been a lightning rod for accusations of racism in the justice system. Instead, he talked about how he “understood,” and apparently agreed with, an interpretation of the events based on past African-American experiences with racism. This was irresponsible and wrong. It was as much an endorsement of irrationality, ignorance and bias as it would be to explain that current day racists see blacks through the prism, “those sets of experiences” in Obama’s words, of their region’s history of culturally acceptable slavery, and we have to respect their views as a result. The President has not, as would be a far more justifiable statement, explained that opponents of same-sex marriage are not bigots, but see the issue through the ” sets of experiences” of their religious upbringing. Serial rapists may also see women through the prism of their childhood abuse—those are rather damaging “sets of experiences”— at the hands of their mothers.

There are always powerful reasons why people have hatreds and biases, and reasons why hatreds and biases cripple their ability to interpret reality and act responsibly. We can all understand that, but it doesn’t justify distorting the facts. Blacks are not inferior to any other race, no matter what the “prism” says. Gay marriage poses no harm to society, and gays deserve the same rights as anyone else, and the Bible doesn’t change those facts. Rape victims are not responsible for the misogyny of rapists, no matter how their distorted thinking came to be.

And the acquittal of George Zimmerman was not evidence of rampant white racism, regardless of the African-American experience. The President had a duty to say that. He had a duty to say, “I understand, but you are wrong on the facts.” He did not. Instead, he encouraged and supported a distorted and biased narrative that is harming race relations and respect for the justice system, and far too many in the news media—which is to say, anyone in the media who is stooping to this—are trying to continue the process. For example, Abbe Smith, in the Washington Post this weekend, had an article on a topic I have discussed here more than once: the challenge of a defense attorney representing a guilty and heinous client. It was an excellent piece, but the Post headline writers and editors unconscionably and unethically decided to pander to the city’s  predominantly black population’s bias by publishing it under this:

“What motivates a lawyer to defend

a Tsarnaev, a Castro or a Zimmerman?” Continue reading

Unethical Quote Of The Month (Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck Division): President Barack Obama

 “I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?”

—-President Barack Obama, in hisunscripted remarks yesterday regarding public reaction to the George Zimmerman acquittal.

"That was fun! Let's do it again!"

“That was fun! Let’s do it again!”

The chorus of Hosannas following President Obama’s latest foray into inappropriate Presidential interference with local law enforcement—a virtual trademark of his leadership—were as predictable as it was wrong. As for the President’s remarks, they were more than wrong: they were reckless, foolish, irresponsible and dangerous.

That race relations is an appropriate topic for a Presidential address is not in question, nor is it to be denied that many of the comments and observations in President Obama’s remarks yesterday were valid, nuanced, perceptive and worth making—at another time, in connection with another case, and certainly not in connection with this case, at this time. That this is true should be obvious, and it should have been especially obvious to President Obama. That he went ahead and made those statements anyway suggests either a stubborn arrogance or sinister motives. Third alternative is stupidity, and the President is not stupid. Continue reading

Unethical Blog Post of the Month (Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck Division): “The Wire” Creator David Simon

Well, that's one more show I won't be watching on Netflix...

Well, that’s one more show I won’t be watching on Netflix…

On his blog, the creator of the critically-praised HBO drama “The Wire” hit all the marks of Trayvon Martin derangement—misstatement of facts, ignorance of the law, presumption of guilt without proof, unreasoning fury, and appeal to violence. David Simon wrote, Continue reading