Sunday, December 21, 2014
When lies become cultural memes
I've been puzzled, then bewildered, and finally exasperated by the lies that have come out of the shooting of Michael Brown and the death of Eric Garner. They're parroted by protesters, and violence is committed against property and persons because of them . . . but they're lies. They're false from beginning to end.
From the moment of his death, self-asserted 'eye-witnesses' claimed that Michael Brown had his hands up in the surrender position, and was shot to death by a policeman while not resisting. This is, of course, completely false, as has been demonstrated by the autopsy evidence. None of the wounds on Mr. Brown's body (particularly his arms) were consistent with the 'surrender position'. Furthermore, allegations that he'd been shot in the back were proven false as well. However, demonstrators across the country are still parroting the slogan "Hands up! Don't shoot!" as if it were some sort of mantra. Every time they do so, they're perpetuating a lie - so why should I take them seriously? Does honesty mean nothing to them? The phrase has even become a tag at the Huffington Post. So much for honest journalism . . .
What's more, that slogan might get some of them killed. Let's say an armed citizen is confronted by a mob of rioters. They move menacingly towards him, and he draws his gun in response. As soon as they see it, they begin shouting "Hands up! Don't shoot!" and raise their hands in the surrender position . . . but they continue moving towards him, just as protesters have done towards police. At that point, he's more than entitled to assume that they haven't stopped their threatening behavior towards him; that their proximity means they're more of a threat than ever; and that if they get any closer, they may get their hands on his gun and steal it, or - even worse - turn it against him. At that point he can legitimately argue that the protesters pose a threat to his life and/or safety, and have the ability, opportunity and demonstrated motivation to put that threat into effect. If he opens fire on them as a result, I think he'd have fully satisfied the demands of the law in terms of legitimate self-defense. The (surviving) rioters will, of course, protest that their hands were up and they were engaged in peaceful protest. I don't think so . . .
As for the protest slogan "I can't breathe!" (spoken by Eric Garner as he was restrained by police in New York), I have news for them. I've been trained in how to apply numerous restraint holds. Believe me, if you're in a real choke hold, you won't be able to get enough air into your lungs to say anything! I'm profoundly sorry that Mr. Garner died, and I believe the grand jury erred in not finding any officer at fault for his death; but he most certainly could breathe throughout that incident. As far as I've been able to determine from news reports, his death wasn't caused by asphyxiation but by a heart attack subsequent to his arrest. His morbid obesity was probably a major contributing factor.
It's a well-known tactic among offenders in prison to claim that they can't breathe in an attempt to get extra attention, or drugs, or whatever. I've spent hours in the Special Housing Unit (the isolation cell block for the really naughty boys, discussed in my memoir of prison chaplaincy) listening to an inmate standing at the door of his cell shouting over and over and over, "I can't breathe! I can't breathe!" The very fact that he could say that for hours on end, at the top of his voice, was the clearest possible evidence that he could, indeed, breathe quite normally. He was merely making the claim in the hope of forcing the officers on duty to afford him some extra attention and perhaps a few special privileges - a well-known tactic.
We know that Mr. Garner could breathe. It's not in doubt. Nevertheless, crowds of protesters are going around chanting "I can't breathe!" as if it were a mantra. NBA players even wore it on their shirts in protest. This just boggles my mind. It's a lie, pure and simple. If I see protesters perpetuating what I know to be a lie, why should I place any credence in the justice of their cause? Why should I support them? This is particularly the case when the phrase is exploited by race-mongering rabble-rousers. They're using a lie for propaganda purposes. Makes sense, I suppose . . . to them, if not to me.
Am I wrong to insist that the truth is important? Am I so far out of touch with modern society that I find it morally wrong to demonstrate over something I know to be an untruth? I have no problem with drawing attention to the very real racial tensions in our society. They're undeniable. However, to do so while parroting lies seems to me to taint one's cause with dishonesty. Can't the demonstrators see this? Or is it that they no longer care about what's factually true or false, but only about their feelings on the subject?