June 02, 2004

Paging John Galt....

I was checking out the Legal & Political Forum at The High Road & stumbled upon this thread. It points to a blog called Hello, My Name Is Kate. Actually it points to a particular post of hers entitled Teens on Trial. It's not the most reader friendly site I've ever seen. The link to the specific post will show her copy of a news article. Things she wants to call to your attention are in bigger & differently colored print than the rest of the article. If you scroll down you'll see a "next" button. Clicking it will take you to another page where she copies a news article. The articles date from 1997. Click the "next" button once more & you'll find another news article. But the third time is when you get to her observations on the situation.

What's the situation? A man propositioned (or was propositioned by) two underage girls. The man picked them up & took them to his house. No sex ensued & he took them back where he picked them up. They demanded money & threatened to blackmail him. He left. Twenty minutes later the girls & two guys knocked on his door. One of the girls claimed she left a lighter there. The man turned to look for it & was beat over the head & stabbed in the back. He was prevented from leaving while the four rummaged through his house, vandalizing & stealing. He was then dragged upstairs where he was able to retrieve his handgun. He confronted a girl & a guy, told them to both drop the knives they had & shot the girl when she lunged at him with the knife. All four fled & were later arrested. Here's a case summary of an appeal of one of the robbers.

The articles were from 1997 & the summary was from 1999. A time before fisking as it were, so I won't hold Kate's style of presenting the story then her opinion against her, even though it isn't the most reader friendly format ever encountered.

Here's where we need John Galt.

Kate is upset that the man who shot the girl was never charged or tried & she feels the girl did not deserve to die, nor did her accomplices deserve the prison sentences they received.

Now a fisking of her comments on the matter:

"These newspaper articles were not the first I heard of the story. It was told to me by a friend of the accused 'teen-agers', as the story of Jessica's death.
I don't know anyone in the story personally, with the exception of one brief meeting. I'm not involved... except the story involves me, because I am struggling with where to place myself, how to understand."

Clearly the relationship of the robbers had an effect on her opinion. Reading about total strangers may not have caused a reversal in attitude, but I think that the proximity of her life to the robbers did engender a sympathy that perhaps wouldn't have existed otherwise.

"The 'Victim'
This man killed Jessica. We hear about death everyday, but I heard about this death as the death of a friend, a young girl, who bled to death from a stomach wound in a Texaco parking lot. I saw the parking lot. I have heard a song written for Jessica. My friend mourns the loss of her. This death is real, more real than murder victims on the news, or the startling early deaths of celebrities. This death is real, and it is the only permanent injury that came out of this event.
And the killer is not even being tried. I realize he'd probably get off on a plea of self-defense. But why isn't he being forced to PROVE it? Why isn't a jury watching his character on trial just as this jury watched a 16-year-old 'unnamed' girl's character be defamed with rumors of gang association? From the newspaper stories alone, I know that the man is the sort of scum that meets underage girls at coffee shops and agrees to pay them for sex, despite being married. He obviously pulled a gun on people who only had a knife. And he's a Shriner clown, a fact that somehow is important enough to be mentioned in all three articles. What kind of person is a Shriner, anyway?? It's creepy"

Note the scare quotes around "victim". She then proceeds to state that this man is a killer. While factually correct the use of scare quotes around "victim" coupled with the reference in the previous paragraphs to the "accused 'teenagers" does tip off that there is a bias at work, facts be damned.

There's no question that the four teenagers were robbing the man, nor was there any question as their method: use & threat of a knife. One was killed for her actions & the rest were tried for their actions. I do not know the outcome of the trials (other than the one discussed in the legal summary linked above) but since no mention of acquittal was made by Kate I assume they all were found guilty. So calling the robbers "accused" while stating the man is a killer is a little bit off if you look at the facts.

She then waxes poetic about death - the sadness of it & the mourning of friends, the gruesome nature of it & its "realness". Here she slips in another implication:

"This death is real, more real than murder victims on the news..."

Subtle, huh? Shifting the focus from the "death" of a robber to it being more rooted in reality than murder victims. She does not directly state it but I feel she wishes you to draw no distinction between the death of this robber & a murder.

She claims the only permanent injury was that of the deceased. Well, I won't argue that death isn't the most permanent form of injury, but sadly it's not the only one. The man was beaten, stabbed & held prisoner by four teenagers. He was in no doubt afraid for his life & his salvation came through his killing one of them. I hope he doesn't have any emotional scars from his act of self defense, but odds are he does. Even if he doesn't though, the ordeal he went through will leave damage to him. Not as permanent as death but they shouldn't be dismissed as temporary either. This mindset is not any different from those that tell women to not resist rape with deadly force because rape is not a permanent injury.

She then laments that the man is not being tried. She concedes that self defense would probably be an adequate defense but seems outraged that he doesn't have to prove it. I wonder what the logical conclusion of that attitude would be?

To repeat the last part of the paragraph:

"...Why isn't a jury watching his character on trial just as this jury watched a 16-year-old 'unnamed' girl's character be defamed with rumors of gang association? From the newspaper stories alone, I know that the man is the sort of scum that meets underage girls at coffee shops and agrees to pay them for sex, despite being married. He obviously pulled a gun on people who only had a knife. And he's a Shriner clown, a fact that somehow is important enough to be mentioned in all three articles. What kind of person is a Shriner, anyway?? It's creepy."

The man either propositioned the girls or accepted their propositioning of him. It is unknown if he realized they were underage by one year. He did not attempt to force them to have sex when they returned to his house & even drove them back to the place they met once he realized sex wasn't going to happen. He was married at the time. Were his actions immoral? Yes, considering he was married & possibly depending upon whether he knowingly propositioned underaged girls.

But he didn't resort to violence or the threat of violence to take something from someone else. He didn't try to rob or otherwise defraud anyone except his wife (assuming they didn't have an "open" relationship). He didn't attack anyone with a deadly weapon unprovoked. The four teenagers robbed him, beat him, stabbed him, detained him, stole from him & destroyed his property. I can understand why they would be tried just as I understand why he wouldn't be tried. He was their victim. Should he be tried for fighting his attackers? Should he be forced to defend himself in court when he clearly had to defend his very life in his own damn home?

Oh, the girl's character wasn't defamed by rumors of gang associations - it was defamed by participating in a home invasion with the intent to seriously harm, if not kill, her victim.

As for pulling a gun on someone who "...only had a knife..." I am of the understanding that a knife is a lethal weapon, particularly after you've been stabbed with one. So I don't think the disproportionate force argument has any bearing - well not in this country. Not yet.

"The 'Perpetrators'
And yet, what's on the other side of the story? Two girls who decide to rip off a dirty old man, and agree (even if they didn't mean it) to have sex with him. A boy who came with them with a knife and stole stuff from him. I don't understand this. I mean, I understand the events as they happened. But... I don't have friends that do these things. I don't mean simply breaking the law, or even stealing. I mean, being intentionally hurtful and mean to people. Like robbery.
(The difference between theft and burglary and robbery: Theft is stealing. Burglary is stealing from a building (after breaking in). Robbery is stealing with the victim present and a threat of violence.)
So I don't know anyone who robs, and so I've never talked to anyone about why they would rob. Or accepted it as something if not normal, plausible.
Complicating matters is that, according to her friends, Jessica was the instigator. It was her idea, and her that persuaded the others to come along. This is what I was told. But in the trial, and in the trials to come, will her friends speak so poorly of the dead? Will they instead claim responsibility?"

Kate does not know any thieves; at least not any serious thieves. So she has trouble understanding that people do these kinds of things.

Tell you the truth I find it distasteful that people try to take by force the property of others. Hell, I find a lot of what people do to each other to be distasteful, especially when it's under the guise of "good government". But my distaste & Kate's disbelief do not mean that these things don't happen. Not understanding why someone would do something so injurious to others is not gonna make it go away.

Robbery, murder, rape, taxes (the last one was redundant wasn't it?) - all are plausible even if we can't fathom what motivates a person to undertake such actions. They happen. Every. Friggin'. Day. & they happen to people. Just. Like Us.

I once thought that understanding the motive of robbers, rapists, murderers & taxmen (there goes the redundancy alarm) could help us stop these crimes before they happen. But sadly the motive is something embedded in human nature & won't change unless human nature itself is changed. For most purposes the motive simply doesn't matter. At least, while it's happening to you the motive doesn't usually matter. What matters is stopping them before you are harmed.

"The 'Unbiased' Media
Having the perspective I did (already knowing the story), I was shocked at the bias of the three newspaper stories. Maybe it's not as blatant to everyone, but it glared out at me. There are, of course, obvious reasons for it: the man was the 'victim' in the trial, not the accused; and society's unreasonable fear of non-conforming teenagers (pot! gangs! eek!). But you would think that a journalist would be trained to recognize these biases and keep them out of what they call 'news'. The bias belongs on the editorial page (where there was no mention of the case)."

Hey, I'll be the first to agree the media is biased on many subjects. These stories aren't an example of it though. In fact I thought they were fairly accurate accounts.

the man was the "victim" because he was the victim! He was beaten, stabbed & robbed without just provocation. He wasn't the 'accused" because he was not being tried for robbery, assault or any other crime.

& society in general is leery of "non-conforming" people, be they teenagers, adults, or elderly. But I think the focus in the articles wasn't that we had to watch kids because they smoked pot, but because they broke into a man's house, beat him, stabbed him & likely were going to kill him! Call me old fashioned but I think those are reasonable areas of concern.

"The reporters try to cover themselves by repeating over and over, '...Hansen testified,' '...Hansen said,' so, technically, it wasn't the reporters who told the story from Hansen's perspective, but Hansen himself. Nothing from the girl's perspective was even mentioned, aside from some small quotes."

Actually a reporter is doing his/her job when they use quotes of the parties involved as long as they're in context. Provide the context for the quote then let the quote tell the story.

But the perspective of the robbers was not harped on either because their attorneys thought it best if they not offer any interviews or perhaps the newspaper thought it best to not attempt to justify acts of robbery, kidnapping, assault & attempted murder.

"Jessica's death lies buried in the second- or third-to-last paragraph in the stories and is completely unadorned with emotion or comment. As if it was an inconsequential detail; a by-product. As if a death like that was to be expected."

Break into my house, beat me & stab me while you're tearing the place up & stealing from me. Your death will be expected. & if that does happen there will be emotion about your death, but not involving pity or regret. Then again I can't say I wouldn't have some twisted admiration if you got as far as the teen aged criminals did as my money would be on you not stepping completely inside the door.

In any case if you break into someone else's home, whether you know they're there or not, death should be expected. You should realize that your life is forfeit when you commit such an act. Should you not be killed instantly & proceed to assault someone in the house (or attempt to) then your death should not be expected: it should be certain.

Harsh? Nope. That's being realistic. If you disregard my life to the point where you come into my home & threaten it, damned skippy I will disregard yours. In fact I'll argue that not being able & prepared to kill an intruder is what's immoral.

Relying on the mercy of an intruder is admitting that your life is at their disposal. You may live or die as they see fit. Your life is nothing to you & if they wish to take it it's theirs. You reduce yourself to the state of being someone else's property. That is immoral & should disgust any thinking, living person.

"And the other thing that bugs me about these articles is the giving of names and addresses. Is this peculiar to San Antonio (the setting of the whole thing) or do most papers do this? They gave the full name, age, and address of two suspects who are under age, and supposedly innocent until proven guilty. And yet the paper is so very virtuous about not releasing the name of the girl. What is this? The newspaper obviously considers these kids throwaways."

Apparently in Texas 17 is the age of majority. The two boys were 17 at the time of their crime, while the two girls were not. The paper is being consistent in not publishing the names of underaged persons who commit or are accused of crimes while publishing those of persons who are of age. I don't really see the value in publishing the addresses & will concede that it's a questionable practice by a newspaper, but one that's been going on for a long time.

I also agree in innocence until guilt is proven. At the time of the article nothing was proven. However there was enough evidence to charge the teenagers & it was decided that the man would not be charged as the shooting was justifiable.

"The Observer
So how do I process all this? Where do I put it? If I had only read the newspaper articles (which I might just have skimmed otherwise), I probably would have ended up with a similar bias. They deserved it."

They did.

"But, really. Even without the realness of this particular death, when I think longer about it, that seems ridiculous. Yes, these kids robbed a man. They threatened him with a knifepoint and took some valuables. Does that call for the loss of one of your best friends, permanently and forever? Do you deserve to watch her die, bleeding, in your arms?"

Deserve? Kate thinks that some unearned merit takes precedence over the direct consequences of their own actions.

Yes, the teenaged criminal "deserved" to watch his friend die in his arms just as she "deserved" to die. They instigated the matter. They robbed & assaulted him. Did they not "deserve" the consequences of their actions?

I don't think Kate understand the reality of the situation. This wasn't just a teen aged prank. We’re not talking about toilet papering someone's lawn. These teenagers beat a man & stabbed him in his own house. The man did not act in any way that merited that treatment. The man was afraid for his life because these teenagers were in his house destroying his property, stealing his valuables & detaining him after they beat & stabbed him. The girl deserved to die because she was an immediate threat to another person’s life without just cause. The teen aged boy deserved to watch his friend die in his arms because he was an accomplice in the actions that lead to her death.

Their being living human beings does not entitle them to protection from the consequences of their actions. They received much less than they deserved. They should have all been killed by the man they harmed.

"Does this crime really call for forty years in prison? We hear the length of prison terms tossed around on the news all the time. But when I think about a friend, or an acquaintance, spending the NEXT FORTY YEARS of their life in prison, that seems ridiculous, unreal. She committed the robbery when she was 16. When she got out of jail, she would be fifty-six! What a waste of life."

Forty years in prison is getting off lightly. As I stated above they should have all been killed as they committed their crime. But I agree it is a waste of a life. But the proper course of action is not to ascribe some unjustified sense of pity on the girl after her actions, but rather to have made her think about spending forty years of her life in prison before she committed her actions.

"Forty years is the maximum. Her sentence was fifteen years, which sounds reasonable only in contrast to forty years. However, she will be eligible for parole in three years. Is that just? I don't know. There is no question she participated in a robbery, though passively."

Passive participation in a robbery is like passive participation in a murder: unless the person was afraid for his/her life then I see no justification for a person to stand idly by while someone else commits a crime. Even then I wouldn't excuse passive participation on account of fear in some situations. That's just a step away from "I was just following orders" & I damn sure don't accept that as a legitimate justification for crimes.

"What angers me is the lack of consequence for the 'victim'. It's hard to call him that when he started it all by propositioning two underage girls. No criticism was heard about that. And HE KILLED A GIRL. Am I the only one that really noticed this (other than her friends)? Why isn't he required to defend his action? Does his volunteer work as a fucking Shriner clown neutralize his predilection for statutory rape and pedophilia?"

He may have propositioned the girls, but that does not justify their beating him, stabbing him or breaking into his house & detaining him. There's a disconnect between his propositioning them (which it may have been the other way around) & they're assault, attempted murder, kidnapping & theft. I don't see how his actions could have had any sort of causal effect on theirs.

Yes he killed a girl. He killed a girl who was threatening him with a knife after he was beaten, stabbed & detained in his own house. He isn't required to defend his actions because his actions were justified. It doesn't take a NASA employee to deduce that when people break into your house, beat you, stab you, keep you from leaving & then drag you upstairs that you feel a certain danger for your life. & when you feel that certain danger & you pull a gun on your attackers you're generally justified in shooting them if they not only refuse to drop their weapons but they charge you with it!

I wouldn't call it "pedophilia" since the girls were within a year of being legal. Neither would statutory rape be correct since no sex occurred. He either propositioned them or accepted their proposition, but all participants seemed willing & when the girls willingness was in question the man simply drove them back to where he found them. Not the most moral thing by some people's standards, but he didn't try to force himself on them & he even gave them a ride back. I really don’t think he violated any laws, although I'm sure he came close.

"This is scary. When you think of it happening to someone you know. This is serious. I can't imagine going through a trial like this. It makes me sad, and frightened, for them."

What about the man? Doesn't Kate think being beaten, stabbed, detained & generally afraid for your life is worthy of some sympathy? Perhaps killing the girl was emotionally hard on him. But Kate would rather lavish her sympathy on the criminals who sought to harm someone else.

"So, I can't help but come down on the side of the kids. I have trouble understanding what it is like to be them, even though I have had friends who committed crimes. Mostly, I mourn for Jessica. I suppose her death could be considered her fault or that of her friends. But I'm really not a fan of circumstantial blame. Hansen pulled the trigger."

No she can't help but come down on the teenagers' side. To do otherwise would require thinking & assigning values & blame & it might, heaven forbid, require the use of logic. That might interfere with raw feeling.

They death could be considered her fault? It is her fault. Kate's not a fan of "circumstantial blame"? I'm just taking a guess that it's similar to circumstantial evidence. It could be some new phrase that denotes a meaning not expressed by the definition of its individual words. The girl charged a man with a gun while holding a knife. This was while she was committing a crime in his house. That's a little bit more concrete than being a victim of circumstance. Her getting shot was a direct consequence of her action. Yes, the man pulled the trigger, but he was justified in doing so. Hell, he'd been stabbed once, how much closer to death should he have been before he would be permitted to save his own damn life?

"I write about this because it has been occupying my mind, the struggle to understand, to place this. I don't know how to end. It's really only beginning; a jail sentence for the girl; and a new sense of doom to the boys who are awaiting trial."

It's always a struggle to understand when we don't want to accept the facts or their logical conclusion. The teenagers committed a violent crime in which they threatened & harmed a man. The man fought back & one of the teenagers was killed. The logical conclusion is that the man suffered more than the teenagers because he did not instigate any wrongful acts of force upon anyone, while the teenagers did. Further because of the teenagers actions he was physically injured & emotionally traumatized, not in the least by having to resort to lethal force to save his own life.

But Kate does not wish to see that. Instead she sees young lives thrown away either in death or in prison. She cannot seem to grasp that consequences for actions are as real as the actions themselves. She feels it unjust for one of them to be dead & the other facing prison because they were young. She feels the man should be condemned because he would not let them have their teen age fun at the expense of his life &/or health. Kate has a sense of morals that is reversed from their natural state.

John Galt argued against this type of philosophy where what's good is condemned while what's bad is uplifted. He was speaking more in an economic sense but he also spoke of other socio-economic issues in relating his point. His thesis was that the most immoral was not the person who believed that achievement should be condemned while unmerited need was rewarded, but the person who let’s those people get away with it while knowing better.

I do not know what he would say specifically to Kate (although I'm sure it'd be more than a single paragraph) but I do know what he'd say to me: that if I let Kate's view go unchallenged, if I refuse to call her on her mistake out of pity, or if I help her in any way advance her ideas then I am even guiltier than she is.

Kate is misguided. I'll assume it's out of ignorance & not maliciousness that she states her position. But whatever the reason, hers is not a lone opinion crying in the wilderness. Look to England, Australia, hell - most of Europe & you'll see Kate would find a comfy majority to wallow in her ignorance & denial of reality. The danger to us is not that Kate will think the way she thinks, but that Kate's response will be typical.

If it's a friend. relative, lover or child you must offer correction when you hear Kate's words on their lips. Even if there's no hope of correction you should do it if for no other reason than not letting such bullshit go uncontested in the world.

John Galt is a character from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. It's a long, damn wordy read & it won't be easy to get through. But if you haven't read it pick up a copy. If you can wade through the verbosity it's actually an interesting story. My appeal to him is because in the book he gives a very exacting (if not mercilessly drawn out) speech that identifies & outlines the nature of statists. Well perhaps statists is too narrow a word, but read the book & you'll understand why the lesson Rand uses him to deliver is something that we all should keep in mind, especially when we're confronted with the Kate's of the world.

If I seem harsh on Kate I am. She's condemning a man who defended himself while attempting to exonerate the people who tried to kill him. That's a perversion I cannot let stand unchallenged. I know damn well Galt wouldn't. Too bad he's only fiction while Kate is reality.

Posted by Publicola at June 2, 2004 06:39 AM
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