July 21, 2005
The stupidity of brazen feelings
I've been having a tough time making sense of an account of an apparently senseless murder:
Police have arrested a 16-year-old in Johnson's murder. As to motive, homicide Capt. Richard Ross said, "It appears that this was just some stupid little encounter... brought on by the fact that an individual was armed with a weapon... and as a result felt a lot more brazen that he would have otherwise."Surely, Captain Ross is not asking us to believe that the mere state of being armed is a motive. I'm armed, and it doesn't motivate me to do anything, because a gun is an inanimate object. A gun is no more of a motivation than a computer. Would people who didn't like this blog say that it was "brought on" by the fact that I'm "armed with a computer"? I doubt it. If I hacked into a commercial website or sent threatening emails, would the computer be the cause? Surely, Captain Ross cannot think that.
So, let's stick with the "stupid little encounter" meme. Can stupidity ever supply a motive?
Low IQ equals violent crime? Is such a thing possible? I seriously doubt that too. There are so many stupid people in this world that if stupidity really caused crime, no one would ever be able to venture out of the door. Plus, based on my experience in life and with the legal system, I can assure readers that many, many criminals are highly intelligent people. Stupid criminals might be easier to catch, but I think it stretches credulity to say that stupidity actually causes crime.
However, from all accounts, the murdered kid was no slouch. Richard Johnson was an "A" student at prestigious St. Joseph's Preparatory School, yet he seems to have deliberately hidden the blazer-wearing, preppie side of his life:
"Who knew Rick was a collar-, blazer-wearing fella?" said Chenel Watson, 16, who grew up with Johnson, as she looked at the formally dressed boys around her.Moreover, even though I was on vacation when the initial story came out, I now see that at the time of the murder, the young man's grandmother believed that jealousy over academic success was the motive:
"Smart kid. He had real strong areas of interest," said the Rev. Thomas F. Clifford, Johnson's high school principal. Clifford said Johnson spent four years in the study of Spanish, three years of Greek and two years of Latin.Jealousy. Isn't that a better motive than stupidity? I'm not saying the shooter was (or wasn't) stupid, mind you. Just that stupidity isn't a motive.
Or, is jealousy a stupid motive?
The more I looked into this story, the less sense it made. Fortunately, Philadelphia has another daily newspaper, the Philadelphia Daily News, and finally, I was able to decode the mystery. It seems there was a family feud of some sort:
Sometime ago, a female relative of Manigault's argued with a female relative of Johnson's.So, the grandmother at the time of the shooting blamed jealousy, and the mother of the victim grew up with the father of the shooter. Why, then, are we told that the gun "brought on" the killing? Why was this inter family dispute (most likely involving jealousy of some sort) referred to as "urban warfare"?
Finally, why are we told by a high police official that "as a result" of the gun, the shooter "felt a lot more brazen that he would have otherwise"?
Can he he be so sure of the shooter's feelings? What about the earlier encounter in which he tried to initiate a fight with the victim? If you think about it, doesn't an unarmed physical confrontation require a more heightened "feeling" of brazenness than hiding behind the safety of a gun? I think a good argument can be made that it requires more bravery to walk up to someone and start a fight than it does to walk up and shoot him. The word "brazen" denotes impudently and shamelessly. I don't mean to be facetious, but how is a gun supposed to make a violent, angry person less ashamed of his conduct? Certainly, using a gun lends a certain finality to the dispute, and in this case the shooter will always be able to claim that he "won," but I just don't see how the gun could have made him less ashamed than he was when he picked an unarmed fight. (I know I'd be more ashamed to shoot than strike an unarmed person.) If anything, the fact that he upped the ante and returned to his victim later with a gun indicates premeditation and deliberation. While it's possible that he was unable to cool off and eventually his extreme anger culminated in murder, he might also have been coolly vindictive. But either way, I don't see how this deliberate escalation of a family dispute -- from physical violence to gunfire -- can be said to have been grounded in any loss of shame (brazen feelings) "brought on" by the gun.
A couple of days ago, another Philadelphia street fight escalated to murder. [Murder is, of course, only alleged.] In an argument over "a girl," 20 year old Jason Sannasardo [it is alleged] drew a knife and stabbed 19 year old Michael Franzone to death. I have a question: why is there no discussion by police officials of the knife as a cause? Why no brazen feelings? Might it be that knives just don't fit in with the local marches against "gun violence"?
If there's something missing in my logic, someone please tell me. Meanwhile, I'm marveling over how I had to pull teeth to get the details.
Whose news is this, anyway?
UPDATE: In these and other posts, I should remind readers that I used the word "murder" in the allegation sense only, and I note that Sannasardo is only charged with the murder of Franzone. There is technically no murder absent a conviction. Likewise the details ("a fight over a girl sparked the July 19 confrontation") are recited from news and police accounts.
posted by Eric on 07.21.05 at 08:23 AM
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