Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cop Killings in New York: Who's Responsible?

Who bears responsibility for the actions of Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley? Who bears responsibility for Brinsley’s murder of two New York City police officers?

Is Brinsley alone guilty of murder or do those who incited him bear some of the responsibility?

Are there different degrees responsibility or are there different kinds?

When Jared Loughner opened fire at a Gabby Giffords campaign event, leftist commentators rushed into print to blame it all on Sarah Palin. Why? Because she had “targeted” Giffords for defeat in an election.

Some conservatives believe that they should not blame anyone but Brinsley for his actions. Under the banner of individual responsibility they choose to exculpate those who might have influenced or incited him. 

They do not want to find themselves in bed with the leftist attack squad that has always rushed to blame violence on the Tea Party.

On this issue conservative opinion is divided. In National Review Charles Cooke argued that the full burden of responsibility lies with the disaffected maniac who pulled the trigger. Others believe that those who incited mobs to murder police officers bear some measure of responsibility.

But, what if Brinsley was criminally insane? Ought he to be placed in the same category as James Holmes, Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza?

Clearly, he believed that his was a righteous action. He was killing the policemen to advance a political cause.

Effectively, he knew the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, he believed that he was doing the right thing.

If we assume that Brinsley was merely a nobody who wanted to become a somebody, who believed that fame or even infamy was preferable to anonymity, he would have needed to know which actions would receive the greatest attention and would most fully advance his ideology.

Holmes, Loughner and Lanza did not know right from wrong. They were not incited to mass murder by a chanting mob.

The average schizophrenic is not seeking out infamy. Often he is merely doing what his voices are telling him to do. At times, he believes that by following the voices’ commands he will free himself from an unbearable anguish.

Many of these tissues have been central to jurisprudence for centuries, if not millennia. With Andrew McCarthy to guide us, we will attempt to sort through the complexity of the issues. Having worked as a federal prosecutor, and having prosecuted terrorism cases, McCarthy is well qualified to examine the way the law addresses these issues.

Of course, the criminal guilt for Brinsley’s actions belongs only to Brinsley himself.

But, McCarthy continues, that is only the beginning:

Only Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley is guilty of murder, but that is not the end of the culpability inquiry.

It’s one thing to pull the trigger. It’s quite another to incite others to do so. Laws on incitement are subtle and complex, so McCarthy is at pains to explain them carefully:

Incitement is not as serious an offense as the murder and mayhem it can result in, but it is still a serious wrong. As a matter of law, incitement to violence is so serious that we criminalize it — meaning the violence called for need not even happen for the inciter to be prosecuted. Consequently, when murder and mayhem do follow from incitement, of course we should regard the inciters as partially responsible.

Incitement, McCarthy continues, is not protected by the First Amendment:

As the late Judge Robert Bork argued, bolstered by such precedents as the Supreme Court’s 1942 Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire ruling, there have always been well-known exclusions from it, including speech that is slanderous, obscene, or profane; or speech intended to instigate lawlessness, particularly “fighting words” meant to provoke violence.

And, as we all know, the First Amendment does not protect you from shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre.

Obviously, it is not black-and-white. The law recognizes the complexity of human motives and actions, especially as they involve intent and likelihood:

Naturally, our law has developed principles for judging the intent of the speaker and the likelihood of violence: We ensure that the fan who vacantly yells, “Kill the umpire!” is not treated as if he really wants the umpire killed, and that someone who is merely teaching students about a violent doctrine is not treated as if he were advocating violence. But the bottom line is that speech calling for lawlessness is worthy of little, if any, protection. Speech calling for violent lawlessness can be legally actionable and should be deemed morally culpable.

Those who provoke mobs and incite to violence do bear a measure of responsibility:

People who organize mobs knowing full well that eruptions of violence are foreseeable are culpable when violence erupts. You want to say they are not guilty of murder? Fine, but that should not absolve their contributory responsibility for the loss of life that predictably occurs. The same goes for others who incite the mob: those who call for the killing of cops. They are not equally as culpable as the murderer. That’s why our law punishes murder more harshly than it does incitement. But those who incite are proportionately responsible — and when what they are inciting is atrocious, they should be regarded as atrocious, too.

As for the public officials, when the president and attorney general and mayor of New York signal that righteous anger might reasonably lead to violence or when they declare that those who riot need to have their grievances heard, they too bear some responsibility for the fallout:

When public officials signal to the mob that its anger is so justified that its criminal behavior, even if not exactly condoned, will be rationalized, minimized, or ignored, they are facilitating criminality. So of course they should be deemed contributorily culpable when the criminality happens.

McCarthy continues:

To say that the mayor, the attorney general, and the president are not guilty of last weekend’s murders of two police officers is not to say they are blameless. To distinguish them from the murderer is not to pronounce them suitable for the weighty public trusts they hold. There is guilt here to be apportioned. Apportioning it is not collectivizing it — it is not engaging in the same convoluted demagoguery that blamed Sarah Palin’s electioneering for a mass-murder in Tucson by a man with a history of mental illness, or that blamed bourgeois America for the killing of John F. Kennedy by a Communist.

There are degrees of responsibility and there are kinds of responsibility. Some are covered by the criminal law. Some require a reference to moral law.


Ares Olympus said...

I've thought about this sort of issue of "assasinations" before.

I was born in 1968, and too young to have any memory of MLK or RFK, but I can imagine having "crazy people" assassinate your political rivals can be a very convenient occurance, and ideally if you also never personally made any public statements in favor of violence.

Its rather surprising that we've largely avoided political assassinations in this country.

Killing of police officers is a different category. Seemingly Brinsley had no "personal" animosity towards these two officers, but they represented the symbol of oppression in his mind.

I was glad to read wide and immediate condemnation by the #blacklifesmatter leaders, condemning all violence as a means to their ends.

My own hope would be that the blacklivesmatter demonstrations would add the names of police officers killed in their grief rituals, both as sincere grief, and as a peace offering to show the individual police officers are not their enemies.

A parallel issue might be the prolife movement that can publicly condemn violence, while benefitting when a crazy person shoots an abortion doctor.

And in both cases you don't know privately what they really think, so perhaps some look at tactics and see violence committed in their names only divides people against their cause, that is to say righteous grievances are tougher to sell when others commit crimes in your cause. But perhaps others feel secret joy that their projected enemy, and it does seem the young are easily swayed by weak morality, and are looking for scapegoats, and have all the proof in their minds of the corruption of "cops" and (wrongly) believe perhaps they'll act better if they are more afraid of random acts of violence? (Being young doesn't seem to be a time of great thinking)

So back to responsibility, if President Obama (or the mayor of NY) make statements in support of police abuse against black, where some of that force can't be avoided by the nature of police work, then you could say they are undercutting the authority of police to do their jobs, and to protect themselves.

What made the most sense to me is to see that slain police officers are all properly documented, while killings by police are not centrally recorded. But to the degree they are counted, it does look to be an unfair playing field, with police killing much more frequently than they are being killed, and police are armed, while many times they are killing people who are not armed, again, an unfair playing field.

So I don't have answers, except to see we should document police killings, and try to NEUTRALLY identify patterns of excessive force and deadly force, and seek to find ways to reduce them.

When the movement says #blacklivesmatter, it is a profound statement. It would be nice to say #alllivesmatter, but I admit I myself don't feel particularly afraid of police, and I don't personally know anyone who has been killed by the police.

My own little suburb has a memorial park to ONE police officer murdered in the line of duty in 1977. I'm sure there must have been some deaths since then, but the police have their annual ceremony in that park to show #policelivesmatter, and when you've got deadly force, and you know people can do stupid things when they are afraid, you must accept YOU are an unfair target, and yet can't take that fear out on the people who you are supposed to serve.

Ritual expressions like memorials are interesting, somewhat outside of normal utilitarian life. Perhaps the police officer who died in 1977 actually, if all the facts came out, acted badly, and caused his own death, but it was his legend was rewritten into a heroic one, for those still alive, who need to recognize their predicaments.

And those protesting for Michael Brown and others are in a similar ritual place, wanting to see the bigger picture of police abuse, even if the facts are not entirely on their side, even if we knew exactly what they were.

Sam L. said...

Do we know that Brinsley was aware of these incitements? I don't. Still, the "climate" those inciters cause...

Ares Olympus said...

Sam L, we know his motives from his Instagram texts, fantasy justice, revenge for the black team.

Maybe the bible agrees, except the fact he got the wrong cops.
Exodus 21:23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

By early Saturday afternoon — just three hours before shooting Liu and Ramos — vile anti-police threats were posted to Brinsley’s Instagram page. The threats referenced the ­recent police-involved killings of Garner and Brown.

“I’m Putting Wings on Pigs Today,” a person believed to be the gunman wrote.

“They Take 1 Of Ours . . . Let’s Take 2 of Theirs,” the post continued, ending with, “This May Be My Final Post.”

Dennis said...

I have a different take. After attempting to kill his former girl friend, he wanted to gloss over that fact of his real life and go out in a blaze of glory by using this action to cover his rather crime filled life. The mere fact he mentioned that this would probably be his last post means he was basically committing suicide by cop and become something he was not in real life.
A coward seeking glory by assassination.
No one I know that is ProLife sees any gain out of the death of an abortion doctor because they are only going to be replaced. Far better to shame them. Might want to check those suppositions. Just as one cop's, or Black's, action does not represent the vast majority of cops or Blacks. Bad actors represent themselves.

Recruiting Animal said...

I remember that when Yitzhak Rabin was shot his wife claimed that reactionaries were responsible for creating a climate of extreme hate that prompted the crime.

I don't think that happened here. Life in a free society is based to a large extent on the criticism of the ideas and actions of other people.

If you criticize someone or some institution and some nut takes that as a cue for murder it can't be your fault.

It doesn't matter if our ideas are right or wrong. If they were not wildly reckless or intended to lead to extreme action they can't be blamed for doing so.

Ares Olympus said...

Dennis, so what you're saying is he was nursing a persecution complex to avoid a guilty conscience or shamed heart at being a failure as a human being? Rather than face his own heart of hatred, he projected it on to his imagined enemies.

I'll go with that too.

In regards to "cowards" I remember the same question over the 9/11 terrorists, Bill Maher's quote:
Last year, on the first episode of his “Politically Incorrect” show since the Sept. 11 attacks, he infamously compared the bravery of American politicians with that of al-Qaida terrorists. “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly,” Maher said on the Sept. 17 episode. “Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”

It's an open question to me, and I can say all violence is cowardly, but I agree a bully, someone who wants both to dominate others, without any threat of personal harm, might be more cowardly on some karma system.

On the other hand, I agree death is the easy way out, a coward's way.

On the same ground, more "cowardly" men succeed with killing themselves when they become old and useless because they like guns, while women pick less competent ways to end their life and fail more often.

Anonymous said...

Ares at 11:53;

Ever wonder what Bill Maher would be willing to die for? There's nothing like a coward appointing himself to be the critic of cowardice.

The 9/11 hijackers were not cowards, they were lunatic Islamic fundamentalist psychopaths... pre-programmed robots who yelled Allahu Ackbar as they flew into their targets.

But every human society defends its interests while seeking to minimize their own casualties in the process. This is what cruise missiles are for.

The problem for Bill Maher is his error in moral equivalence. He is an angry, messed-up, pseudo-intellectual comedian who wants to pass as a serious thinker when it suits him. If there's any fallout from what he says, he can claim he was 'being funny.' That's another way of being a coward, but he's a coward nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Ares at 8:49;

You said:
'A parallel issue might be the prolife movement that can publicly condemn violence, while benefitting when a crazy person shoots an abortion doctor. '

The prolife movement stands for the protection of human life.

A leader who publicly condemns violence in a forthright manner is not a beneficiary in any way.

Someone from an alllivesmatter organization has much greater standing than one based on racial exclusivity. Prolife isn't just black prolife. I haven't heard from anyone on the blacklivesmatter side talk about all the black babies aborted. They're included in the horrifying number of abortions each year.

Prolife people are not Marxists, looking to promote racial division and class struggle by whatever means necessary to achieve their ends.

There's no parallel whatsoever.