Late on a Saturday night in the big city, fleeing the scene of a shooting, a criminal plows into an intersection, the police in hot pursuit. The suspect totals an otherwise uninvolved car, in which a mother is picking up her daughter from work. The innocent mother is killed. By morning, there is an uproar, as activists and pundits rise up to blame the police for the poor lady’s death.
One February evening in a gated community in Florida, a neighborhood watch volunteer notices a young thug in the bushes, apparently high, likely casing potential homes to burglarize. The watchman calls it in to the police, but before the officials arrive, the thug has jumped the volunteer and pummeled him on the pavement. Fearing for his life, his gun having been spotted by his much stronger attacker, the volunteer draws his handgun first and fires, killing the thug in a single shot. Immediately, a chorus of activists turn the late pothead into a poster boy for race relations, and spend a year and a half threatening riots (and eventually delivering them) if the volunteer isn’t railroaded for murder.
The two cases are as different as they can be. The Chicago story involves the death of an innocent bystander whose car happened to be in the way. The Sanford story involves the death of a violent drug-abuser, shot in self-defense by his intended victim. But the stories also have something important in common...
Casting Wildly for Blame
Analyzing the two cases, it’s easy to see who is responsible for the death and destruction involved. In Chicago, the shooter fleeing the scene killed the bystander, and in Sanford, the attacker got himself killed by forcing the volunteer into a position in which he needed to draw and fire his weapon. There is no question in either case.
But these are confused times, in which the obvious answer, however right, is never enough. Political activists can’t raise an army of protesters, file wrongful death lawsuits, or employ lawyers, pundits, rabble-rousers and race hustlers by simply identifying the obvious culprit.
So in Chicago, we see complaints about the traffic patterns of a big city, the red lights, the natural congestion of a Saturday night. And they settle on the police, doing their job in hot pursuit, as an imagined cause. Don’t blame the criminal shooter who tried to kill one person on purpose and then succeeded in killing another by mistake, while fleeing the law; no, they blame the law, in their attempt to do their job. One cannot help but ask, Whose side are they on?
And in Sanford, we see complaints about a culture of endemic racism, accusations of a cowboy mentality, a gun culture gone too far. The Left must blame somebody else, anybody else, but never the drugged-up burglar himself. So they insist that this volunteer watchman, a young man sharing the goal of neighborhood watchmen everywhere – to keep his neighborhood safe from burglars, robbers, car thieves, rapists, and gang recruiters – had gone out looking for black folks to kill. Again one must ask of these pundits and politicians, Whose side are they on?
It’s outrageous. A fair press and punditry would return to every discussion to the first principles… who did what; how, and why? In a sane nation, both of these stories would both be open-and-shut cases.
But there are no ratings numbers in blaming the guilty party anymore. Only by blaming the innocent can the case be puffed up enough to keep the race hustlers and professional whiners in business. Only by turning an open-and-shut case of self-defense into an 18-month-long national ordeal can the nonprofits raise millions of dollars, the politicians make thousands of speeches, the MainStream Media compete for their Pulitzers.
The Unseen Consequences
One of the primary requirements of the great Austrian School of economics is that we view not only the visible results of an action, but also the invisible results, the road not traveled, so to speak.
So if we look at a tax collection, for example, we must consider not only how much revenue that tax raised, but also how much economic activity was frustrated by confiscating it. Because of the tax, the business or individual had less money to spend or invest, so his employees didn’t earn as much (and paid less tax themselves as a result), his potential expansion was frustrated (so his intended contractors and their vendors lost business), he had to raise his prices to cover the tax (so his customers had less to spend on other purchases, reducing their standards of living as well), etc., etc. Only by reviewing all these other tangential results do we see the full effect of any economic choice.
The same approach is helpful, often critically so, in other areas of public policy:
Why was that shooter fleeing in Chicago last weekend? Why was he free in the first place, to shoot one person, then to drive into others? Was he perhaps a gang member or gang leader, a car thief, a wanted man for other crimes? Has he already been caught and convicted a dozen times for other offenses, released too soon into the community, ready to terrorize it again? Most criminals in Chicago are severely recidivist, committing crime after crime utterly unnecessarily, because our sentencing is so often so very short.
We won’t have time to follow up on these questions if we allow the Left to misdirect the conversation – away from the criminal shooter and toward the question of whether police should do their job of pursuing a fleeing criminal. The reporter assigned to check the history of these policemen’s driving records is thus denied the time to check the arrest and conviction record of the fleeing shooter, and follow up on the circumstances of his last release (Was he paroled too soon? Undersentenced? Never charged at all?)
Make no mistake, when a politician wants to make the police the story, it’s because he doesn’t want the real criminal to be covered at all. And in a nation in which the protection of the law-abiding from the law-breaking has always been defined as one of the principle roles of government, such a deflection strategy is worse than irresponsible, it’s un-American.
The same goes for our tale in Sanford, Florida. The story shouldn’t be whether George Zimmerman was too quick on the trigger when attacked by Trayvon Martin, or whether further federal charges should be pursued, or whether Zimmerman should have given up and let himself be killed by the pothead, just to save us all the bother of following it.
The real questions from Sanford – the ones that merit serious analysis – are Why this middle class neighborhood needs to maintain the kind of neighborhood watch that was once limited to wealthy communities. How can there be this much criminal activity in an average neighborhood; what’s wrong with our country?
And Why would a prosecutor’s office, knowing everything they knew about Trayvon Martin, work so hard to suppress key evidence in the case, evidence like the thug’s multiple expulsions from school for drug use (it’s not easy to get expelled once, let alone three times, these days), and the thug’s past apprehensions in which he was found with burglar tools and bags of jewelry. Why did the prosecutor choose to go after a neighborhood watch, instead of supporting that watch by going after the criminal culture?
But again, we can’t ask these questions if there isn’t time to, because the airwaves and newsprint are all filled, top to bottom and left to right, with accusations of racial bigotry, class warfare, and everything else but the issues that matter.
The name of the game is Deflection, and, to the eternal shame of our national culture and politics, the American Left is the master at it.
Copyright 2013 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and trade compliance lecturer. A former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has now been a recovering politician for over sixteen years (but, like any addiction, you’re never really completely cured).
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