May 13, 2010
The bullet did it. End of narrative?
A horrible carjacking in Detroit resulted in the tragic death of an innocent grandmother, but the headline and the focus of the front page story in today's Detroit Free Press is on a bullet. They really make it stand out too.
Geraldine Jackson was happy her granddaughter was back from the South. To welcome her back to Detroit, the 69-year-old was cooking a celebratory soul-food feast on Wednesday in her home on the city's northwe --If you relied solely on that story, you would tend to think that the victim was way out of line in the way he used his gun.
Was he? According to The Detroit News, there may have been an exchange of gunfire between the carjacker and the victim:
The 65-year-old then shot at the thief. The bullets traveled a block away, police believe, and struck Jackson under the right arm and the stomach.I hate it when I can't get the facts from a front page story and have to resort to Google, but that's what happens in cases involving the "let's blame the bullet" narrative. Anyway, a local Fox News account says the suspect has been arrested:
This all started when police say a man was checking on a vacant house on Evergreen in Detroit. Another man barged into the home and robbed him at gunpoint. That armed suspect then hopped into the robbery victim's truck and took off, but he did not get very far. He was clipped by a car, struck a tree and then took off running.Not all of the accounts use the word "carjacking" but this one does:
Sgt. Eren Stephens tells The Detroit News the woman was hit in the chest Wednesday afternoon by a bullet from the gun of a 65-year-old man, who minutes earlier had been robbed then carjacked.And this story confirms that the robber/carjacker was arrested, and also reports a crucial detail -- that shots were exchanged between him and his victim:
the victim, Geraldine Jackson, was hit by a stray bullet after two men began shooting at each other outside her home.OK, this would make a great law school exam question, but for one thing: it is impossible to know the facts. Based on what I have read, I cannot say what happened. (Actually, not being able to ascertain the facts might make it even better as a law school exam question.)
If it turns out that the victim was using lethal force after the crime had already taken place, then he might not have been within his rights. But I stress might -- because in some instances lethal force may be used to recover property, and if this carjacking is ongoing in nature, it's not quite the same thing as retaliation. Moreover, the guy was driving like a madman (one account says he already struck another car), and the victim may have acted both in fear of his own life and in order to protect others. So it's not quite the same thing as if someone breaks into my house and then runs out the door with my stuff, and I run down the street and shoot him a block away. In any case, if I were to go running after him and he started shooting at me, I would be allowed to return fire.
What is being completely missed, though, in any of these discussions, is something everyone who goes to law school learns in basic criminal law.
The felony-murder doctrine provides that if a homicide occurs during the commission or attempted commission of a felony, the homicide is a form of murder.While Michigan has abolished the felony murder rule, it has retained it in the case of carjackings. However, to prove first degree murder, intent to kill is required, so whether this would be first degree murder would depend on whether or not the armed carjacker in fact exchanged fire with his victim. If he didn't, then it would still be second degree murder:
intending to kill or do great bodily harm or knowingly creating a very high risk of death or great bodily harm knowing that death or such harm would be the likely result of his/her actions.But for whatever reason, the focus here is not on the carjacker (who by any standard is the primary, if not the only wrongdoer) but on his law-abiding victim who was found himself in a very dangerous position through no fault of his own.
The focus ought to be on the criminal, but they're acting as if he's irrelevant.
Imagine if the same criminal had robbed a police officer who was inside the same house, and managed to carjack his police car. If the officer gave chase and opened fire, would he be facing charges? I doubt it. And if he did, the news media would not be blaming "the bullet."
Of course, I'm so cynical that I suspect that if it turns out that the carjacker did in fact fire shots at the victim, it won't be widely reported. And even if it turned out that the grandmother was killed by one of his bullets fired from a gun he feloniously possessed, the blame would still be on The Bullet.
But let's suppose for a moment that there had been no bullets involved, but that instead the grandmother had been struck and killed by the vehicle as it was being driven at breakneck speeds by the same carjacker. Would "The Bumper" that crushed through her chest be blamed?
(I guess that was another cynical rhetorical question. Narratives seem to invite them.)
posted by Eric on 05.13.10 at 09:58 AM
Search the Site
Classics To Go
See more archives here
Old (Blogspot) archives
A knee sock jihad might be premature at this time
People Are Not Rational
No Biorobots For Japan
The Thorium Solution
Radiation Detector From A Digital Camera
This war of attrition is driving me bananas!
Attacking Christianity is one thing, but must they butcher geometry?
Are there trashy distinctions in freedom of expression?
Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood