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."

That burns those who loved Johnson. So senseless, such a waste, they say.

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.

Johnson, "Rick" or "Rich" to his friends and family, lived in a tough South Philadelphia area but attended the elite North Philadelphia prep school. In the classroom, he excelled in Latin, Spanish and Greek. At home he talked the talk, hanging out with friends and chilling out and being the super-cool guy, leaving the smart talk temporarily behind.

He moved between his two worlds with ease, his friends said, as much a part of one as the other. He was loved equally in both.

"He was smart, as smart as a whip, but he had everybody fooled on the street," Watson said. "It's a shame to see someone doing so good, and then someone goes and pulls him back."

Johnson, who graduated from St. Joe's last month, was headed for St. Joseph's University on a full academic scholarship. He planned to become a lawyer and had taken a summer job in a Center City law firm.

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.

"I think language was a real gift for him," Clifford said in an interview yesterday in his office at the high school at 17th and Stiles Streets. "His English teacher thought he was a great writer."

Johnson was cited in a school honors convocation program last fall for his academic achievements.

"He had a lot of potential," Clifford said. "You'll just never know how good it could have been."

Police yesterday said they had not zeroed in on a motive for the shootings. Johnson's grandmother said she believes the teen was killed by a neighborhood youth jealous over the academic success her grandson had earned. (Emphasis added.)

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.

The small dispute upset Manigault so much that he picked a fight with Johnson, a peace-loving aspiring lawyer, earlier that day.

"He tried to initiate some type of physical encounter with Mr. Johnson," said homicide Capt. Richard Ross.

But Johnson was "wise enough to try to brush that aside," Ross said at a press conference yesterday morning announcing that police arrested Manigault in Kensington Monday night. He was charged with murder, attempted murder, illegally carrying a firearm and other crimes.

After the earlier encounter with Manigault, Johnson continued his plans for that Saturday night.

He watched his beloved girlfriend of two years, Tee, board the 29 bus on Tasker Street and was looking forward to some Chips Ahoy cookies his mother just bought, his family said.

He was also hanging out with his favorite cousin Christopher Little, who had traveled from Media to spend time with him.

As Johnson and Little walked down Capitol Street near Tasker at about 11 p.m., Manigault rode up on the boys from behind, police say.

He allegedly pulled out a gun and fired numerous times, hitting Johnson in the back of the head and abdomen. Little was hit in the legs, hip and buttocks.

Manigault rode off. As the two boys lay bleeding another person stole Johnson's cell phone, police said. The thief was later arrested.

Johnson died the morning after the shooting. His cousin is back home in Media and undergoing rehabilitation.

For the past week, Ross said, detectives knew whom to look for.

"It was never a great mystery to us," Ross said.

"We were successful for getting witnesses to come forward, which is very difficult nowadays," he said.

Manigault's arrest was a slight relief for Johnson's mother, Catherine Young, who was finishing last-minute details of her son's funeral when the Daily News called her to report the news yesterday.

"I am burying my son tomorrow, and now he can rest in peace," she said.

Johnson's funeral will be held at St. Joseph's Preparatory School today. The viewing is at 9:30 a.m. with a service beginning at 11:30 a.m.

But her relief was short-lived when she realized that it is her neighbor's son whom police said had killed her boy.

"I grew up with the dad," Young said about Manigault's father, who lived with his son in a gray rowhouse on Dorrance Street near Dickinson.

And "it makes me angry. People don't control their children."

Manigault's father declined to talk about his son yesterday afternoon.

"Our attorney told us to say no comment," he said before quickly shutting his front door.

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



If guns "make" people do things, this implies will.
Will implies thought.
Thought implies sapience.

If guns can be ruled as sapient, then do anti-discrimination laws apply to them?

B. Durbin   ·  July 21, 2005 3:12 PM

B. Durbin said it all about the gun issue. About the other thing: He leaves the "smart talk" behind in order to be "cool" with "friends" who don't like "smart talk" -- and then he still gets killed by a kid who hates him for being too smart? Ayn Rand wrote about the loathsome evil of envy, and the appeasement of envy, in her The Age of Envy in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (now re-published as The Return of the Primitive, with additional essays by Peter Schwartz). The whole motive behind the Left's radical egalitarianism, their militant atheism (or anti-theism), and all the rest of it (including the gun control lobby), the motive behind the murder of 9/11/2001, the motive behind Communism, Nazism, and every other such ideology, comes down to one thing and one thing only, that loathsomely evil root of all evil which Ayn Rand identified: the hatred of the good for being the good. We must not appease this evil. We must expose and destroy it wherever it appears.

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