A reader pointed me to an article in the February 7, 2009 Flint (Mich.) Journal
about Genesee County's remarkable increase in justifiable homicides:
He knocked on the door, ready to confront the man he believed had broken into his apartment.
It would be the second time that night that the two men had quarreled, and this time, Jerome A. Washington, 40, showed up with what looked like a gun. It was just a plastic toy.
Washington was fatally shot April 23 by the man who said he feared for his life and also had a gun -- a real one.
His death was ruled a justifiable homicide -- one of at least seven in Genesee County last year, a dramatic increase from previous years. An eighth slaying is expected to be classified as justifiable pending review from the prosecutor's office.
But then article starts interviewing the relatives of criminals that died, and the whining starts:
"I don't feel like someone should be able to take someone's life with a gun, and they still get to face some freedom," said Washington's grandmother Eula Smith. "It just doesn't add up. I don't believe he did go there to start any problems."
I understand that someone is grieving because a relative went down a path of either gross criminality or incredible stupidity. One of the whiners tells us:
When you ask Joyce Dye about her brother, there's a slight pause.
The Flint woman had only three short weeks to get reacquainted with Paul Lee Jr. before he was killed. He was fatally shot June 13 as he tried to rob LT's Clothing and Accessories on Clio Road.
He'd only recently been released from prison after serving 20 years. It was a stupid mistake, Dye acknowledged -- but did he deserve to die? She doesn't think so.
She believes her brother's death -- and his life -- were written off in part because of his past criminal history. Lee went to prison in 1986 for second-degree murder.
"(The store owner) didn't have to shoot him eight times to knock him down," Dye said. "It's just goofy. That's the hard part, that nobody faced charges in his death."
For the families who have lost someone, all they hear is that the loved one's life means less. And many times, families say it's because that person had a criminal past.
Uh, no, not because Lee had a criminal past, but a criminal present
. He was shot because he was committing a robbery
--a crime where violence, or the threat of violence, is used to force someone to give up something of value. Lee made the decision that someone else's
life was worth less than the contents of a cash register. Applying the transitive rule tells us that since:
Victim's life worth less than cash register contents
Lee's life is worth less than Victim's life
Lee's life is clearly of the lowest value--because Lee chose to make that equation.
There's a lot of denial going on in some of these cases, which doesn't surprise me:
States vary in their laws for justified homicides, with some requiring that a person being threatened try to flee first.
Leyton said that once he is given the police report, several senior prosecutors review the case, then meet to discuss whether charges should be filed.
"None of the cases we decided in the past year were difficult decisions," he said. "They were all quite clear."
Not to the families of the people who were killed, though. Many of them echo the same worry -- that the deaths of their loved ones weren't taken seriously because of criminal pasts.
Paul Lee's mother, Alice Rawls, said that because her son was on parole from a shooting, she believes police and prosecutors didn't give his death a second glance.
Rawls of Grand Blanc Township remains convinced that her son was set up by someone angry about a previous shooting that landed him in prison more than 20 years ago.
She said Lee was getting his life back on track and was up for a promotion at work.
"He was a very smart person," she said. "They just wrote him off because of his criminal history."
Which is more likely? That the same bad pattern that sent him to prison for shooting someone before was being repeated? Or that he was "set up" and then the prosecutor wasn't smart enough to figure this out?
Of course, here's the clueless academic:
Richard Moran, a criminology professor at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., attributes the increase to laws that make it easier to rule a death justifiable homicide.
"Under the guise of being able to protect oneself, we have kind of given a license to go out and kill people any time you feel threatened," Moran said.
Previous laws on the books protected those who had to kill someone because they were in immediate danger, Moran said, and the new laws give "cultural support for killing other people."
What has changed is that a lot of people that used to be victims now are allowed to defend themselves with a gun, both because permits are now available, and because Michigan no longer requires you to cower in fear and run when attacked
. What used to be a victim is now a victor.
I'm sick of hearing criminal next of kin whine about how unfair all this is. I understand that there are justifiable homicides that make you say, "This didn't need to happen." Over at the Civilian Gun Self-Defense Blog
, I occasionally
post news items that are legally correct, but you just want to cry and say, "You fools! This didn't need to escalate to this level!"
But of the seven justifiable homicides summarized in the sidebar article, there is only one that might be even slightly in this category--and it appears that the woman who started a knife fight died because the other woman also had a knife. The others are not "there was a little misunderstanding" or a minor dispute that was escalated:
Stevens, 46, was shot in the abdomen during a fight March 15 with his 72-year-old housemate. In less than a month, prosecutors ruled Stevens' death a justified homicide, saying he attacked his housemate, striking him with a glass beer mug and pushing him down the stairs.
Jerome A. Washington: Washington, 40, was found dead from a gunshot wound inside a Lapeer Road home about 1:15 a.m. April 23. Police said that earlier in the night at a nearby party store, he'd had words with the man who shot him, but both parties left before the quarrel escalated. Later that night, Washington showed up at the other man's apartment with a plastic gun that resembled a real gun and was fatally shot. The shooter told police he had felt threatened.
Going looking for someone that is not a threat to you any longer, and then threatening him with what appears to be deadly force. That's a no-brainer. That also describes what Washington apparently was.
Cordero Jones: Jones, 21, was fatally shot in the early morning hours of May 8 in what officials said was a shoot-out when he entered a home with the intent to rob someone.
No sympathy at all.
Raymond Blount: It was nearly 4 p.m. May 17 when police said Blount popped out of a closet in his ex-girlfriend's home, armed with a knife. Another man in the house, armed with a handgun, confronted Blount, chased him out of the house and shot him. Police said they couldn't prove whether Blount was shot inside the home before being chased outside. The ex-girlfriend was cut on a finger by Blount's knife and was treated at a local hospital.
How much clearer does it need to be?
Paul Lee Jr.: Lee had been out of prison for only about seven months before he was fatally shot June 13 during an attempted armed robbery of a Clio Road store. Police said Lee went into LT's Clothing and Accessories with a handgun but was stopped by the store owner, who wrestled with him for the gun. The store owner was shot in the hand before he grabbed his own gun and shot Lee several times.
Too stupid to live.
Perry D. Manuel Jr.: Manuel, 28, was at a party when he shot at another man, grazing his face with a bullet, police said. Officials said the two men met up a short time later, and again Manuel was armed. Prosecutor David Leyton said the shooter feared that Manuel was going to shoot at him again, so he shot first, killing Manuel.
Maybe strictly not necessary
, but Manuel had an option to not get shot--don't run around shooting people.