Last night, I read Cassy’s piece on the latest “civil rights” outrage to draw national attention, and her linking it to the “Jena Six.” And then I did the dumb thing — I read the comments.
There were only two things that were dumber than that decision. The dumbest was the local civil rights community’s protests and cries of racism. But running a close second was certain people (yes, “civil behavior,” I mean you) assailing Cassy for posting the story.
I don’t quite follow cb’s logic. He describes most of the people at the heart of the story as indefensible — the surviving burglar/would-be murderer and the local chapter of the NAACP. But he also lumps in Cassy (well, “the person sitting at the computer who wrote this entry,” but I cheated and looked at the top of the story to see who the author was) for “trying to deflect their own desire to incite by sharpening the racist debate using words as a weapon against those who in a general sense HAVE been discriminated against and still are.”
I have a bit of a different perspective from cb. (This should come as no surprise to long-time readers. Or, for that matter, anyone else who’s read more than a few words written by either of us.) I heard something a while ago that struck me as pretty insightful and dead-on, and I’ve let that sway me on matters such as this:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The case in Lakeport is a simple one. Three men broke into a house and violently assaulted one of the residents, nearly killing one and leaving him pretty much a vegetable — perhaps for life. Another of the residents chose to take defensive action, killing two and driving off the third. The police, in accordance with the long-standing principle of “felony murder,” are charging the survivor with participating in the crimes that led to the deaths of two people. It’s hardly the first time that a surviving criminal has been charged with the deaths of his accomplices at the hands of the victim.
The theory behind the “felony murder” concept is, I believe, a good one. If you willingly and knowingly take part in a crime that leads directly to the death of someone, then you are liable for that death. In the eyes of the law, it makes no difference if you pull the trigger, if your accomplice pulls the trigger, or if the would-be victim does and kills your accomplice — the root cause of that death was the crime being perpetrated by you and your accomplices, so you are responsible for all the foreseeable consequences of that decision.
And in this case, if you and your buddies break into a house to rob it and, in the process, beat one of the residents almost to death, it’s not surprising if another of the residents should choose to use force — even lethal force — to stop you.
The element of racism here is in the surviving invader’s defenders. They are saying that the only reason he is being charged is because of his race.
As I said before, the doctrine of “felony murder” is clear. I know it’s sometimes dangerous to use Wikipedia as a source, but it has a very clear run-down of the concept, with examples and everything.
The precise law being used here is a California refinement of that concept. And, again, it’s been tested — and survived legal challenge.
The fact that the invaders were black and the homeowner was white is, to me, utterly irrelevant. The invaders made the choice to invade the home; the residents did not have any say in the matter and did not specify “whites only allowed to break in and beat us.”
That the jurisdiction where the crime took place is also irrelevant, but the defendant has already won a change of venue. So that whole matter is moot.
One corollary of Dr. King’s dream is that when people are judged by the content of their character, we may find that certain people are vile scum. This is true of all races. No single race holds a monopoly on scummery; I can cite people of all races, all sexes, all creeds, all colors, all ethnic heritages, all national origins (well, mostly — no Tibetan Buddhists come to mind, but I haven’t looked into those vow-of-poverty-taking monks who forked over big bucks to Al Gore’s 2000 campaign too carefully) who are noble and who are vile. To try to reduce the deeds of people — for good or ill — on the basis of race is, in and of itself, racist.
There seems to be little dispute among the basic facts of the Lakewood case. Three men broke into a home, beating one of the residents so severely that he is severely disabled — quite possibly for life. Another of the residents got a gun and shot two of the invaders. The third fled, and is now being charged for participating in the violent crime that triggered the whole chain of events.
Whether or not Mr. Hughes will be convicted is yet to be determined. But there is certainly strong legal grounds for charging him — and race does not appear to have been a deciding factor.