Stop the Scapegoating
by Ari Armstrong, October 4, 2006
The nation witnessed two horrific schoolroom murders of children within the span of a week, one on September 27 in Bailey, Colorado and the other on October 2 in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania . Every murder represents the ultimate evil -- the taking of innocent life. But these murders were particularly gruesome, the perpetrators especially depraved.
The murderers added insult to atrocity by offering the most pathetic of excuses for their crimes. In an October 4 article for the AP, Mark Scolforo summarizes what happened in Pennsylvania: "As authorities swarmed, [Charles Carl Roberts IV] opened fire on 10 tied-up little girls, fatally wounding five, and then killed himself." In a note, Roberts blamed his heinous act, in part, on his "hate towards God" over the death of his prematurely born daughter. According to this twisted rationalization, the fact that his own infant daughter died from medical causes nearly a decade ago somehow has something to do with his intentional taking of innocent life.
Roberts murdered little girls in some sick attempt to lash out at God? Reprehensible.
A September 29 article by The Denver Post describes what happened in Bailey: Duane "Morrison took six female students hostage, sexually assaulted them, released four girls and then killed one as police broke in after a four-hour standoff..."
A September 29 article by 9News describes Morrison's 14-page letter sent to family members. "Park County Sheriff Fred Wegener said" that Morrison "made several references to his impending death. The 9NEWS Investigative Team has also learned Morrison alluded several times to being molested. Wegener added that Morrison did not say what he intended to do, but [Morrison] apologized for the actions that were about to occur."
An apology in advance of the heinous act is a contradiction in terms. Morrison wasn't apologizing; he was expressing knowledge of the viciously evil nature of his planned acts. While details about his letter remain sketchy, apparently he too was trying to lash out against some real or perceived injustice in his life -- by committing the ultimate injustice against an innocent girl.
The actions of the killers make no sense, but that's the nature of such gross rationalizations. What these grotesque shadows of men have in common is that they victimized and slaughtered innocent people in some twisted attempt to strike back at the world for some perceived cosmic wrong. If these damned cowards could not elicit sympathy, at least they could elicit horror.
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Scapegoating takes many forms and results in consequences of all magnitudes, from the mass slaughter of Jews by Crusaders and Nazis to hate crimes committed against racial minorities and homosexuals to certain strains of anti-immigrant sentiment. Examples are endless.
Scapegoating necessarily relies on rationalization, a faux "reason" that allegedly explains why a certain person or group "deserves" the blame for some injustice or harmful act of nature.
Scapegoating twists the form of justice to become its opposite in substance. Justice means giving to others their due, as established by the objective facts. Scapegoating means giving to others what is not due to them, but what is arbitrarily assigned to them based on a distortion of the facts. Following are examples of scapegoating. "Ethnic group (fill in the blank) is responsible for (ruining the economy, undermining public morals, or any number of other alleged harms)." "Homosexuality is responsible for cultural decline." "Mexicans are responsible for net loss of American jobs." "Outsourcing and international trade are responsible for net loss of American jobs." "Capitalists inherently exploit workers." Scapegoating can be right-wing, left-wing, religious, or secular in nature. It can be practiced by one individual against another or by a massive group against another.
The difference between scapegoating and justice is, again, that the former does not rest on the facts, while the latter does. (There are many cases that involve obvious scapegoating, many where the just conclusion is obvious, and many in which the facts are disputed and the issues more complex. That doesn't change the basic principle.) It is scapegoating to claim that homosexuals are depraved. It is justice to claim that Nazis are depraved. It is scapegoating to take out aggression on God or little girls. It is justice to call the murderers evil monsters. It is scapegoating to blame capitalists for exploitation. It is justice to punish particular people for particular, demonstrated acts of violence or fraud.
Here's another act of scapegoating: "Yet again, Colorado has achieved the dubious distinction of hosting a school shooting where students have died. Why is this? I blame the National Rifle Association." That's what Paul A. Thompson of Belleville, Illinois wrote in a September 29 letter to the Post.
Blaming the National Rifle Association, along with its millions of responsible members, for a murder is horribly unjust. The NRA promotes responsible sporting and defensive use of firearms. By protecting the right of self-defense, the NRA acts to save lives and reduce victimization.
Apparently, Thompson's "reasoning" goes something like this: "The murderers used guns to perpetrate their heinous acts. The NRA supports the right to bear arms (for sporting and defensive purposes, a point that must be left hazy for the rationalization to work). Therefore, the NRA is responsible for the murders." Thompson thus scapegoats millions of responsible gun owners for the murderous act of a depraved individual. Thompson's "logic" is no better than that used to rationalize the scapegoating of any other group.
Thompson's comment is only the most direct I've recently read in print. Other similar remarks have been as subtle or somewhat more so.
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A September 26 article by Mark Couch, published by the Post, reports: "Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter on Tuesday said he is bracing for future attacks on his record as Denver district attorney. During a lunch meeting of the City Club of Denver, Ritter said Republican operatives are exploiting victims to promote a political agenda. 'We've heard soundings that there could be more of those type of same things,' Ritter said of a television ad attacking a plea bargain he reached with a hit-and-run driver who killed a 4-year-old girl. 'It is, I think, in one respect, unfortunate because its exploits their tragedy'."
I think Ritter's complaint is legitimate. In our legal system, almost all criminal cases are plea bargained. No prosecutor could possibly try even a large minority of cases, given the current nature of the legal system. Thus, it is inevitable for any prosecutor that some people who get a plea bargain will go on to commit some more heinous crime.
So I do think the ad is a mild example of scapegoating. I say "mild" because there is at least a real link between a prosecutor's work and the length of prison sentences for criminals. So there's room to evaluate a prosecutor's record.
However, I will also point out that Ritter didn't seem to have any problem scapegoating gun owners and exploiting the tragedy of the Columbine murders for political purposes.
I suspect that we'll have to wait until January to see whether Colorado Democrats will again scapegoat responsible gun owners for a murder.
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The September 29 article by the Post also states: "Morrison had threatened two years ago to kill salesmen and staff at Rocky Mountain Harley-Davidson with an assault rifle, according to a police report. During the profanity-laced Nov. 22, 2004 phone message to the Littleton store, Duane Roger Morrison complained about getting a promotional flyer. 'What do you think it will take to get this stopped?' he asked. 'Ah, maybe, ah, maybe a visit with an assault rifle. Damn, I'd sure hate for it to come to that. Maybe we can get something stopped before then.' ... Morrison was charged with harassment in the case. He was released on a $500 bond, but failed to appear on the warrant. He was given a suspended sentence on Aug. 15 [apparently 2005] of nine days in jail, according to Littleton Municipal Court records."
In this case, a slap on the wrist seems entirely inappropriate -- and most unfortunate. Morrison threatened to murder somebody in 2004. He served nine days in jail. Threatening to kill somebody is a serious offense. In this case, it's reasonable to speculate whether, had the 2004 case has been treated more seriously, the 2006 murder might have been prevented. A prison sentence plus counseling may well have alerted Morrison to the evil strain in his character -- an evil that metastasized some two years later.
Of course, the fact that police resources and the courts are bogged down in victimless crimes such as smoking on private property means that fewer resources are available for handling crimes of violence and threats thereof.
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Does anyone remember Luz Maria Franco Fierros? She "was killed Sept. 18 after she was dragged behind a car for more than a mile in the Surrey Ridge subdivision of Douglas County. Jose Luis Rubi-Nava, 36, Fierros' live-in boyfriend, was charged this week with first-degree murder in her death" (Ivan Moreno, Rocky Mountain News, September 30).
Her death too was horrific, and it was covered extensively by the media. However, her murder did not become a media frenzy. Why? Her age and nationality have something to do with it. And the murder weapon was a rope tied to a car, not a gun. No activist group or politician can make a political issue out of a murder by dragging. There's nobody to scapegoat. And therefore the media offers less coverage, everyone readily blames the murderer, and nobody obsesses about the murder weapon.
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Does anyone remember Lawrence Kintz or Chris Cope? Both of these men used a gun defensively to stop a crime, as my father and I recently reviewed.
Breaking its usual silence on defensive gun use, the AP actually quoted Cope: "When [Elartrice Ingram, who went on a knifing attack in Memphis on July 21] turned around and saw my pistol, he threw the knife away, put his hands up and got on the ground. He saw my gun and that was pretty much it."
Those who scapegoat gun owners routinely ignore the fact that people daily use guns defensively to stop crime. Of course, because the crime is prevented, usually without even a shot being fired, there's no bloody story for the media to cover. Defensive gun use usually doesn't bleed, so it doesn't lead, or even follow, in most media reports.
And of course the fact that disarmament laws simultaneously fail to reduce crime and interfere with the ability to use guns defensively hardly ever makes the media.
Yet the victim disarmament lobby tirelessly argues for more and more restrictive gun laws. For evidence, that lobby and its supporters point to the fact that existing laws are an utter failure. So because existing laws that restrict the right to bear arms have so completely failed to stop criminals, goes this "reasoning," therefore, these laws should be expanded and the rights of responsible gun owners further restricted. Such is the "logic" of scapegoating.
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Scolforo reports, "Roberts... sent the boys and several adults away and bound the girls together in a line at the blackboard." The Post reports that Morrison "took six female students hostage." The details are unclear. Apparently, though, Morrison separated out at least older high school males. Did adults also leave the scene?
The thought of adults leaving little girls in the hands of a murderer is horrifying. And many older male high school students are tough guys. Why did nobody fight back? This question is not about assigning blame. Obviously, moral blame lies solely with the murderers. Still it is a legitimate question how to respond to murderers.
Why no sharpened pencil through the murderer's throat? Why no mass tackling? Obviously a deranged, armed man going for homicide and suicide is extremely dangerous. That's precisely why the advice to "fight or flee" is so imperative. What are schools teaching older teens, and their teachers, that they line up or see their companions lined up to be executed by sick murderers? Obey. Surrender. Don't fight back. Make sure all potential future victims are also passive, disarmed, and utterly helpless. What about ATTACK! once other options have been exhausted?
Actually, in one case of a school murder, "Wrestler Jacob Ryker, shot through the lung in the first wave of bullets, charged the 15 feet separating him from [the murderer], tackled him, and disarmed him. Had Ryker not done so, the toll could have been much higher than the roughly two dozen injuries and two deaths the shooting caused. In a Nightline broadcast shortly after the shooting, ABC's Ted Koppel credited Ryker with halting the shooting. But once the details of the shooting were out of the way, the program quickly turned into another debate on gun control. Koppel and his reporters never explained how it was that Ryker knew when to attack [the murderer]; the hero could have been doing nothing more than making himself a better target in a suicidal charge. It turned out that Ryker and his family were hunters and target shooters. From the sounds the gun made, Ryker knew [the murderer] was out of ammunition. Ryker's parents credited his familiarity with firearms with helping to stop the shooting."
Charley Noecker of Boulder writes in an October 3 letter to the Post that allowing "concealed weapons on school grounds.... is crazy talk." No, we couldn't possibly put a sign on a school's front door that states: "Warning to Criminals: Select, trained parents and teachers carry concealed handguns on campus at all times." We couldn't possibly do that, because, first, it would usually work (Noecker ignores the obvious deterrent effect), and, second, the whining of leftist prissies is a more important consideration than the safety of children. Instead, the adults must simply leave the room and leave the children in their care to be lined up and slaughtered.
Yet, as an October 4 article by David Montero for the Rocky Mountain News states, "New security measures will be taken at Platte Canyon High School, including the hiring of security guards and a requirement that all adults coming onto the campus have ID badges, district officials said Tuesday." Will these security guards be armed, by chance? (I find it difficult to believe that someone intent on murder and suicide will be deterred by an ID requirement.) The police officers who interrupted both murders were armed. The simple fact is that men with guns save lives in both cases. The problem is that those with guns were too far away to immediately respond.
But arming responsible adults is not the only sensible step. Rick Sprenger writes in a letter to the October 4 Post: "Why on earth are we not teaching martial arts in our kids' gym classes?"
Many children today are taught to be victims. This is a fact that will have repercussions for crime, the growth of state power over the individual, and the vulnerability of our nation to foreign attacks.
The proper lesson is also the title of an NRA course: Refuse to be a victim. Of course, it's hard to do that if you're too busy scapegoating the NRA to take safety seriously.
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I have said that scapegoating is blaming somebody for something apart from the facts. Placing blame in accordance with the facts is entirely appropriate and an exercise in justice. I believe that the speaker announced by Front Range Objectivism will offer the facts to support his controversial theory (sure to be a favorite with the teachers' unions). Note that the speaker's argument can also apply to adult products of the institutions he describes:
Seven years after the horrifying Columbine High School massacre, America's public schools are still plagued by student violence. On October 5th, Dr. C. Bradley Thompson will examine the causes of that violence in the inaugural lecture of "Think!"- -a new series of public lectures sponsored by the Center for Values and Social Policy in the Philosophy Department of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Of course, Thompson can at most describe a contributing factor, as almost all people go though the "education establishment" without becoming deranged murderers. Yet it would be useful to fix the problems he describes.
January 10, 2008, update: Today I received the following e-mail:
Following is my reply:
You are referring to my article, "Stop the Scapegoating," at http://www.freecolorado.com/2006/10/scapegoat.html