I would stand in front of them and tell them, ‘go to hell.’
My own sense is that he didn’t actually apologize at all, though he expects people to take what he said as an apology. What he actually said was:
I do not hide behind flowery language I do not pull my punches ah, when I’m passionate about something it comes out on the air, it’s real and it will always be that way …. What I said Friday was an emotional predecessor to a thought which can and will find a more refined expression by me and others in the future, I guarantee you. But this isn’t a newspaper or a magazine and we don’t filter our views or commentary before we say it, it is radio, it’s immediate, it can be emotional both in its immediate expression as well as its response. It’s unrealistic, I think, to expect a compete filter for anybody doing live media …. Um, but there are those who would silence the opposition in their desire to have their way, majority rule not withstanding. We all have the right to express our opinions on any subject.
So, yeah, not an apology.
Instead, he made it seem like critics of his ridiculous and offensive remarks were attempting to stifle his freedom of speech, he promised his listeners that they’d continue to get the unvarnished “truth” from him in the future, and he made clear that he’ll continue to explore the idea that led him to want to tell the Newtown shooting victims and co-victims to “go to hell.”
(Cross-posted at the Terrible Apologies blog)
“I don’t know what to do,” sighed Gene Rosen. “I’m getting hang-up calls, I’m getting some calls, I’m getting emails with, not direct threats, but accusations that I’m lying, that I’m a crisis actor, ‘how much am I being paid?’” Someone posted a photo of his house online. There have been phony Google and YouTube accounts created in his name, messages on white supremacist message boards ridiculing the “emotional Jewish guy,” and dozens of blog posts and videos “exposing” him as a fraud. One email purporting to be a business inquiry taunted: “How are all those little students doing? You know, the ones that showed up at your house after the ‘shooting’. What is the going rate for getting involved in a gov’t sponsored hoax anyway?”
What did Rosen do to deserve this? One month ago, he found six little children and a bus driver at the end of the driveway of his home in Newtown, Conn. “We can’t go back to school,” one little boy told Rosen. “Our teacher is dead.” He brought them inside and gave them food and juice and toys. He called their parents. He sat with them and listened to their shocked accounts of what had happened just down the street inside Sandy Hook Elementary, close enough that Rosen heard the gunshots.
In the hours and days that followed, Rosen did a lot of media interviews. “I wanted to speak about the bravery of the children, and it kind of helped me work through this,” he told Salon in an interview. “I guess I kind of opened myself up to this.”
A few important points:
1. Rosen isn’t a hero, though the piece in Salon repeatedly says that he is. Rosen is a good person. He helped people in need by simply opening his door to them. He wasn’t putting himself at risk or making any sort of sacrifice. Though this doesn’t make him any less good, it also means he didn’t do something heroic. If sitting with frightened children and calling their parents amounts to heroism today, we’re all in a lot of trouble.
2. The people who are harassing Rosen are awful and foolish. This shouldn’t be particularly surprising, as there are a great many people out there who are paranoid or just generally terrible. But it is nonetheless disheartening to see how many such people exist, as well as how virulent they are in their hatred of others and how their fear of everything gets turned outward toward others.
3. We would all benefit a great deal from a general lessening of wingnut conspiracy theorizing. This is the absolute worst part of human nature on display and we can only hope that fear of harassment won’t stop the next nice person like Gene Rosen from doing the right thing and helping others.
HT: Michael Tofias.
I’ve seen this poem on Facebook and Tumblr quite a lot over the past week or so. In trying to find more information about it and its author, Cameo Smith, I learned that the poem has even made an appearance on Dr. Phil’s television show [video here] in addition to being shared all over the country and the world via social media:
'Twas 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38 when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate. Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air. They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there. They were filled with such joy; they didn't know what to say. They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day. “where are we?” asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse. “This is heaven” declared a small boy. “We’re spending Christmas at God's house”. When what to their wondering eyes did appear, but Jesus, their savior, the children gathered near. He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same. Then He opened His arms and He called them by name. And in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring those children all flew into the arms of their King and as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace, one small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face. And as if He could read all the questions she had He gently whispered to her, “I'll take care of mom and dad.” Then He looked down on earth, the world far below He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe, then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand, “Let My power and presence re-enter this land!” May this country be delivered from the hands of fools” “I’m taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools!” Then He and the children stood up without a sound. “Come now my children let me show you around.” Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran. All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can. And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight, “In the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT.”
While its virality makes clear that readings things like this is very comforting to a great many people, and while I’m sure the author had nothing but the best intentions, I think it’s really problematic in at least three ways.
The first is that it seems to suggest that we don’t have to do anything about the problem of gun violence in our society because Jesus says he’s going to take care of it. This is precisely the kind of “All Part of God’s Plan” thinking for which non-religious people rightly criticize religious people all the time.
The second is the mash-up of Church and State called for in the middle of the poem, wherein the author imagines Jesus saying that he’s going to take back this country from which his “power and presence” have been made absent (which sounds a bit too much like Mike Huckabee’s nonsense about how too little religion in schools is the real culprit of crimes like this one) [HT: Allen Stairs].
And the third is that not all the children who were killed in this terrible outburst of violence were Christian. The author simply presumes their Christianity — incorrectly, of course — and I can’t imagine that the non-Christian parents of a murdered child feel particularly comforted by such a non-inclusive message. Some might even be offended.
This website, which is selling armored backpacks for little kids, is a pretty good example of everything that’s wrong with America:
Sewn into the rear of the pack, you can always be confident that the armor hasn’t been accidentally left at home and that you or your child are protected in case of the unthinkable.
The problem in Connecticut was that too few of the kids had armored backpacks, not that one person had a bunch of guns. Rather than worrying about ways to limit school shooters, since apparently there are no ways to do that, they’re focused on making a bunch of money through fear-mongering:
"Your kids are definitely going to get shot at in their classroom, but here at the body armor store named for the 2nd Amendment (where we love guns and all things related to them), we’re selling exactly what they need to survive that shooting.”
Here’s one case of a guy stopping a shooter. Although I’m not really compelled. Just thought I’d throw it in for reference.
This nifty little post has been making the rounds over the past few days as a good example of why we need more guns to combat school shooters rather than gun control.
The whole thing begins with “Ever heard of the Pearl River, MS shooting? Probably not.”
The hope of whomever created this little piece of pro-gun propaganda is that you’ve never heard of it and that you won’t Google it. Because the vast majority of the information presented here is factually incorrect.
First of all, this case is being presented as some sort of response to last Friday’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, even though these events in Mississippi took place in 1997. Since it happened in 1997, why would “the mainstream media” talk about it now? I guess because it’s the one good example of someone stopping a school shooter, right?
After all, it is very true that the assistant principal stopped the shooter by pointing a gun at him. But “stop” is being used pretty loosely here.
The assistant principal stopped the shooter after he had already killed his mother and two other students, and wounded seven others. And was attempting to leave the school grounds in a car. That’s what five seconds of internet research turns up.
So, no, I’m not buying that we just need more assistant principals with handguns to keep our kids safe.
On this episode of the Hero Report podcast, we discuss the heroism shown at Sandy Hook Elementary School as well as the difficulties of recommending heroism as a course of action when it hits close to home.
Tell us what you think about this episode, discuss these issues with us on Twitter (Matt Langdon / Ari Kohen), and join us every Friday at 4pm Eastern on Google+ for our live broadcast (where you can chat with us while we’re on the air and contribute to the conversation).
Want to make the podcast portable? Subscribe via iTunes (audio-only).
Yesterday, I posted a picture of a gun and lamented that it was legal to own it. It was a picture circulated widely on Twitter, identified as a .223 rifle. That’s how I came across it.
Almost immediately, people responded that I only chose the picture because the gun “looked scary” or was black. They noted that only someone who is ignorant about guns — and their many, many virtues — would choose to post a picture of a gun like the one I chose.
One person wrote:
Hilariously, thats a 10 round mag, with a floated bull barrel, and a bipod with rear stabilizer. It’s a classic hunting/sniper loadout. Perhaps you are jumping on the evil black gun bandwagon without even knowing what you are looking at?
your “BAD-ASS” gun picture is really just a low end hunting rifle that looks scary and big (for those who don’t know guns) cause it’s black. You might want to pick a higher end assault rifle with more magazines and bells & whistles.
At the time that I wrote my brief post, no one had a complete picture of what happened in Connecticut; people hadn’t even begun to misidentify the shooter, let alone figure out which guns he took into the school and which ones he left in the car. I’m still not certain about the timeline, the specific weapons used, and a whole host of other details.
But I didn’t pick the gun picture I posted because I thought it looked especially scary. I picked it because it was ready to hand when I was writing a post about the absurdity of the notion that guns like these are for hunting or for personal safety and about the absurdity of how easily anyone can get his or her hands on weapons that are designed for no other purpose than to kill.
Pretty much any picture of any gun would do.
There’s no shortage of despicable people in the world. Here are a few.
I suspect that in the coming day or two we’ll find out that the shooter in Connecticut had all sorts of mental health issues. I doubt the same is true of these people on Twitter; they just love weapons.
This gun is legal to own.
You know, for hunting or personal safety or any other Second Amendment reasons you might have or for no reason at all but just because America and guns go hand in hand.
I cannot fathom why someone would do the sort of thing that someone did today. And I cannot fathom why the rest of us think it’s acceptable to let anyone get their hands on weapons like these with such ease.
When the Connecticut legislature voted to repeal the death penalty back in April and when the governor signed the bill shortly thereafter, there was much to celebrate. Seventeen states are now abolitionist, with five states doing away with the ultimate punishment in the last five years. Several states will likely consider repeal bills before too long, with California set to address its bankrupt system in November, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see additional legislative victories on the immediate horizon.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this victory was achieved with an important trade-off that bears serious discussion. Doing away with the death penalty –- and thus saving the lives of offenders -– required what amounts to the renunciation of the dignity of these same offenders. In listening to the debate in the Connecticut legislature, I couldn’t help noticing that both supporters and opponents of the death penalty could agree that a primary goal of imprisonment is to make criminals suffer.
The question, then, was about whether the death penalty was the most effective means of achieving this suffering or whether criminals might actually suffer more from life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The reason I have this impression is two-fold. First, some legislators specifically said as much, arguing that prison is (and ought to be) a terrible place. Some legislators decided to support repeal because it was made clear to them that a death sentence should really be considered an easy way out for violent offenders. Second, a great part of the repeal debate actually focused on making prison as terrible a place as possible.
In passing an amendment to the repeal bill, legislators made plain their feelings about prison. This amendment created a more restrictive incarceration status for those serving natural life sentences; for all intents and purposes, this is death row without the death. Inmates are housed separately from the general prison population, subjected to frequent searches, and locked down for all but two hours every day.
It’s noteworthy that there’s no way the repeal bill would have passed without this amendment. But it’s even more interesting to look at some of the other amendments that were presented. Even though these ultimately failed, they speak volumes about the way that people think of inmates. One such amendment attempted to ensure that no inmate held in this special incarceration status could ever have his status altered, even for health-related reasons. Another amendment sought to prohibit inmates correspondence privileges, especially via the internet. The speaker who introduced it said, “These people are the most vile … They should not enjoy any of the privileges or pleasures of our lives.” Of course, these inmates don’t actually have internet access. So another speaker expanded on the problem: The fact that someone who isn’t in prison is creating websites for inmates in order to find them pen pals is very troubling to some legislators; they wanted for it to be unlawful for anyone to create a web profile for an inmate in Connecticut.
At the heart of each of these amendments -– and, indeed, so much of the debate about the death penalty all over the country -– is the notion that the offender is completely and utterly devoid of humanity. WIth this in mind, prison isn’t about correction and rehabilitation; it’s just about punishment and revenge. If the death penalty is too expensive, if it risks the execution of an occasional innocent, and if it doesn’t cause all that much suffering, then it can be jettisoned in favor of a punishment that’s cheaper, that we can correct when we err, and that –- if done properly -– might even be worse.
Why are we committed to making things as terrible as possible for some people? Why isn’t it sufficient to remove someone from society, to restrict his liberty, and to keep ourselves safe while continuing to respect the inherent human dignity of the person in question? In large part, it’s because we have convinced ourselves that these people -– those of whom we say they deserve to die -– are not like us in the most decisive respect.
When we say that someone deserves to die, what we’re saying is that an offense has been committed that is so far beyond the range of normal behavior that we cannot even begin to imagine the worldview of the offender and we cannot imagine continuing to occupy the same plane of existence.
But where things get tricky is that we’re taking a pretty serious leap here: we begin by saying that the action is terrible and we end by saying that the actor is terrible. What needs to be considered is whether doing a particular action either a) tells us something about you as a person or b) changes you in some fundamental way as a person. In other words, if I commit a crime, am I telling you something about who I am as a person? Or is it possible for me to fundamentally alter myself through the commission of some particularly bad sort of crime? My sense is that people are keen to believe both of these things about crime.
A) It is convenient to believe that only monsters commit monstrous crimes because it allows us to compartmentalize things very neatly and, in this country, to destroy the monsters. But, of course, Hannah Arendt’s discussion of the banality of evil in her Eichmann in Jerusalem famously poked a hole in this theory about monsters. From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
As far as Arendt could discern, Eichmann came to his willing involvement with the program of genocide through a failure or absence of the faculties of sound thinking and judgement. From Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem (where he had been brought after Israeli agents found him in hiding in Argentina), Arendt concluded that far from exhibiting a malevolent hatred of Jews which could have accounted psychologically for his participation in the Holocaust, Eichmann was an utterly innocuous individual. He operated unthinkingly, following orders, efficiently carrying them out, with no consideration of their effects upon those he targeted. The human dimension of these activities were not entertained, so the extermination of the Jews became indistinguishable from any other bureaucratically assigned and discharged responsibility for Eichmann and his cohorts.
Eichmann, on this reading (controversial at the time, but not really any longer), wasn’t some sort of monster, even though his actions were clearly monstrous. If we’re willing to accept this thesis about Eichmann –- who was integral to the planning and execution of one of the worst crimes in human history, and who, interestingly, was hanged in the only instance of capital punishment in Israel –- why are we not willing to consider it with regard to those on death row in the U.S.?
B) It is also convenient to believe that crime fundamentally alters a person, that it strips away one’s humanity (and, thereby, one’s rights). But this requires what I take to be an unusual understanding of personhood, one that relies on a set of societally-approved actions rather than one that’s simply a state of being. You might, of course, argue against the humanity of murderers based on a theory of action-based personhood. But to do so you would need to make a case for the ways in which the actions we take alter our humanity. To look at the inverse, can it be demonstrated that when we do something particularly good, we actually become worthy of certain treatment (and vice versa)? I suspect not.
Even if it could be demonstrated -– and I await such a demonstration -– this idea stands in stark contrast to everything that we claim to believe about human rights. After all, at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the statement that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” We’re born with human rights, we don’t have to do anything good to be worthy of them, and we can’t do anything so bad that we forfeit them. It also stands in contrast to our own theories of crime and punishment, since not everyone who does something terrible is executed or placed in the sort of restrictive environment envisioned by the Connecticut legislation. Indeed, almost all of the violent criminals who enter the American penal system are later released from it; if we truly held the belief that they became less human as a consequence of their actions, do we also believe that their time in prison restores their humanity somehow? I suspect that we don’t. But, if we did, why wouldn’t this also apply to those who commit murder and end up on death row or in conditions that mimic it?
The long and the short of it is this: It would be easier for us if there were evil people in the world, rather than normal people who do evil things. It would validate our desire to punish and to avenge. But this is a fiction, one that keeps us clinging to our occasional use of the death penalty or, in the case of Connecticut, to the throw-away-the-key mentality that rests on denying the humanity of the offender.
I’ve been very fortunate to write a monthly column for the Daily Nebraskan this year in which I’ve been able to make arguments and try out ideas that relate to politics, social justice, and human rights.
I began, back in August, with a long piece about my personal experience of getting to know Ronnie Frye, an inmate on North Carolina’s death row who was executed ten years ago. I want to close out the academic year with another column that considers the human face and the human cost of our death penalty system.
I write at a pivotal moment: Connecticut has repealed its death penalty statute, becoming the seventeenth state to do so and, in November, California will consider a ballot initiative to do the same. With five states abolishing the death penalty in five years and several more states seemingly poised to do the same, the dominoes have clearly started to fall. Opponents of the death penalty have found ways to persuade legislators — if not the general public — that the system is expensive, biased, and horribly flawed.
But this is as good a time as any to begin a difficult conversation.
In particular, I want to suggest that we need to think critically about the trade-off we’re making when we do away with the death penalty and condemn people to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. We should make no mistake that this too is a death sentence and it’s one actually considered to be worse by some of the people who currently sit on death row.
This isn’t to diminish the difficult and important work done by death penalty abolitionists or to discourage anyone in the work that remains to be done. It is only to note that, in our desire to end the death penalty and save lives, we have allowed our opponents to continue to shape the conversation about crime, justice, and human rights. I’m not convinced we need to yield this ground.
In writing about the ballot initiative in California, death row inmate Kevin Cooper argues:
We who are on death row will also lose our legal habeas and habeas appeal process that we have and are currently entitled to under the law. So we are in fact taking a step backwards in our ability to challenge our convictions. We are also having to take our fight for our collective human rights to another level. What I mean by this is, Level IV prisons within the State of California are some of the worst prisons in the world! They are worse than death row in the violence that takes place, in the lack of programs, including educational programs, they stay on lockdown, and many families cannot get to these isolated prisons to visit their loved ones.
Interestingly, many death penalty supporters will see this as a good sign. If we have to do away with the death penalty, then at least we can be consoled by the knowledge that we’re replacing it with a punishment that’s also terrible. This is something death penalty opponents, who often make forceful moral arguments about the dignity and human rights of death row inmates, need to consider carefully.
Indeed, at the heart of the idea of both the death penalty and life imprisonment without parole is the notion that the offender is completely and utterly devoid of humanity. With this in mind, prison isn’t about correction and rehabilitation; it’s about punishment and revenge. If the death penalty is too expensive, if it risks the execution of an occasional innocent, and if it doesn’t cause all that much suffering, then it can be jettisoned in favor of a punishment that’s cheaper, that we can correct when we err, and that — if done properly — might be even worse for offenders.
Why are we committed to making life as terrible as possible for some people? Why isn’t it sufficient to remove someone from society, to restrict his or her liberty, and to keep ourselves safe while continuing to respect the inherent human dignity of the person in question? In large part, it’s because we’ve convinced ourselves that these people — those we say deserve to die — are not like us in the most decisive respect.
When we say someone deserves to die, what we’re saying is that an offense has been committed that is so far beyond the range of normal behavior that we can’t even begin to imagine the worldview of the offender and we can’t imagine continuing to occupy the same plane of existence.
I don’t want to be read as saying these feelings are abnormal. Indeed, it’s quite normal to want to express our solidarity with the families of murder victims, make clear our outrage at the terrible crime that has been committed, ensure our safety, and punish these offenders for what they’ve done. But I think there’s a disconnect between these normal feelings and the desire to punish in a manner that causes the most suffering and that strips the offender of his human dignity.
I’m also not arguing against life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; I’m simply suggesting that the way in which so many people are currently thinking about it — as an opportunity to for society to inflict a lifetime of brutality on offenders — is both troubling and a missed opportunity. Why not, instead, think about life imprisonment as an ongoing opportunity for rehabilitation in an environment that protects the public and restricts liberty as a consequence of bad actions? Changing our outlook in this way would likely mean changing the way we think about prison more generally, and it would cause us to take a long, hard look at prison conditions in this country. But this is long overdue.
In the end, I want to suggest that there’s a middle ground to walk … if only we can begin to look for it. This is a line between toughness and softness on crime, which allows us to stand with victims and co-victims of violence without jettisoning the idea that all human beings are the bearers of dignity. It ultimately recognizes the humanity of even those whose actions have made them the objects of our hate and fear. After all, it’s in treating decently those who have harmed us that we most distinguish ourselves from them.
This will be difficult for us, to be sure, but that’s why we need to begin the conversation now. As we recognize that the death penalty is cruel, unusual, and simply doesn’t work, we ought to also start thinking about what prison terms can and should mean for offenders, for victims, and for society at large.
 An edited version of this blog post appears as the eighth in a monthly series of columns on the problem of justice in contemporary politics and pop culture that I wrote for the Daily Nebraskan this academic year.