For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap

Update, July 8, 2018: Having just re-read this blog post, I find nothing I would change. However, it is clear that judges, and indeed the Supreme Court, are not agreeing that a civil wrongful-death suit should not be heard. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, David Savage cites two other Supreme Court decisions that have gone the other way. In one of these, “a woman in Tucson [was shot] as she was standing in her yard holding a large knife at her side.” In the other, “two San Francisco officers . . . twice forced their way into the living quarters of a woman who had a mental disability. They shot her when she raised a kitchen knife.”[1]

We do not know the Supreme Court’s reasoning. “The justices without comment or dissent denied the county’s appeal seeking immunity for the officer.” Their decision upholds the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which in turn upheld a ruling by an Oakland judge[2]:

“Andy was walking normally … in broad daylight in a residential neighborhood,” and did not display “aggressive behavior,” the judge wrote. Moreover, the deputy “deployed deadly force while Andy was on the sidewalk holding a gun that was pointed down at the ground,” and “without having warned [him] that such force would be used,” he said.[3]

The functional difference seems to amount to, on one hand, a toy gun, albeit one strongly resembling an AK-47, on a public sidewalk; and on the other, knives on private property. Which seems to me to amount to a strong prejudice in favor of the toy gun, even though it looks very much like an AK-47 (see figure 1 below). I’m mystified.


I have withheld comment on a police shooting which occurred not far from where I presently live,[4] certainly not because I am sympathetic to police,[5] but rather because of this (fig. 1):

Figure 1. Original caption: “Santa Rosa Police Lt. Lance Badger holds an actual AK-47, left, next to a replica Airsoft carried by Andy Lopez, 13, when he was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy on Tuesday [October 22, 2013]. The guns were displayed during a press conference led by Lt. Paul Henry, left, in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, October 23, 2013.” Santa Rosa Press Democrat file photograph, fair use.
Figure 1. Original caption: “Santa Rosa Police Lt. Lance Badger holds an actual AK-47, left, next to a replica Airsoft carried by Andy Lopez, 13, when he was shot and killed by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy on Tuesday [October 22, 2013]. The guns were displayed during a press conference led by Lt. Paul Henry, left, in Santa Rosa on Wednesday, October 23, 2013.” Santa Rosa Press Democrat file photograph, fair use.
13-year old Andy Lopez was shot by a Sonoma County Sheriff’s deputy, Erick Gelhaus, when, apparently, instead of dropping his toy gun, shown at right in the image (fig. 1), when ordered to do so, he whirled around and appeared to raise the AK-47 replica, a replica which Gelhaus could not reasonably have been expected to distinguish from a real AK-47.[6] Accordingly, I do not blame Gelhaus as an individual for shooting Lopez.

Rather, a sign held by a young woman at the center of another image (fig. 2) comes closer—but not close enough—to the truth for me:

Figure 2. Original caption: “Demonstrators hold up signs Tuesday protesting District Attorney Jill Ravitch's decision that no criminal charges will be filed against Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez.” Photograph by Conner Jay, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, fair use.
Figure 2. Original caption: “Demonstrators hold up signs Tuesday protesting District Attorney Jill Ravitch’s decision that no criminal charges will be filed against Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus, who shot and killed 13-year-old Andy Lopez.” Conner Jay, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, fair use.

This sign says, “The whole system is guilty 4 murder.”[7] I would say, rather, that our entire culture is guilty of murder. I have repeatedly commented that our society is a viciously violent one,[8] and events like the shooting of Lopez should be understood as one possible—and understandable—consequence of our society’s view of replica weapons as toys.

This, in itself, has little to do with the fact that the person who shot Lopez was a sheriff’s deputy and little to do with Lopez’ ethnicity. It seems, however, that this shooting and the outrage it provoked are part of a larger, much more compelling story. In this instance, it seems that Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch is allegedly

“giving permission to the deputies to kill our children and kill us — people in the community — and get a paid vacation and no repercussions,” said Nicole Guerra, whose son, Tony, had been a close friend of Lopez. . . .

“It’s not justice,” [Melissa] Ortiz said. “After this, it doesn’t make me feel safe around them (law enforcement officers).” . . .

“We’re living in terror,” [Ismael] Mondragon said. “We have no protection.” . . .

“The effect of this is to embolden police officers, that more than anything they now know that they are not going to suffer any meaningful consequences,” [Lopez family attorney Arnoldo] Casillas said. “This sends a message that use of excessive force is going to be tolerated.”[9]

This is a longstanding and widespread problem. Some of it, including the “Kill Cops Not Neighbors” graffiti I spotted in Oakland (fig. 3), is a relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of it is a larger problem between the criminal justice system and the poor, especially poor people of color, in a cycle which begins legislatively with a group consisting mostly of wealthy white males passing laws criminalizing actions that non-rich people are more likely to commit, while leaving much so-called “white collar crime,” that is, the actions that rich people are more likely to commit, to civil proceedings. Some of it lies with who is investigated, who is arrested, who is charged, who is convicted, and who is sentenced how harshly, which returns to the beginning with the damage done by incarceration not only to individuals, but families and communities as well, that leads to further crime.[10]

Figure 3. Graffiti on San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, August 6, 2011. Photograph by author.
Figure 3. Graffiti on San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, August 6, 2011. Photograph by author.

The cycle is insidious. First, society effectively commits crime against itself with its paranoia of the purportedly “undeserving” poor that is used to justify a harsh criminal justice system. Second, it leaves the poor little alternative to crime with a widespread refusal to take problems of unemployment, abusive employers, and low wages seriously. Third, society brutalizes the poor with an inadequate social safety net, which has been decimated under neoliberal policy in the name of a neoconservative notion of “good government.” Fourth, by incarcerating loved ones, breadwinners, and caregivers, society alienates previously law-abiding persons and destabilizes family and community structures.[11] For all this, imprisonment is estimated, presumably using reductive methodology, to reduce crime rates by all of fifteen percent.[12]

I do not buy into patriarchal monotheism, so I do not, very often, quote the Bible, but one might suspect the phrase “for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7) should probably not be taken to apply merely to individuals or even just to men. We, as a society, are reaping what we have sown, and in this particular example—only an example—a 13-year old boy has paid the price.

Figures:

  1. Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 7, 2014.[13]
  2. Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 7, 2014.[14]
  3. David Benfell, August 6, 2011.
  1. [1]David G. Savage, “Supreme Court clears the way for Sonoma County deputy to be tried in shooting of boy holding a pellet gun,” Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-court-police-pelletgun-20180625-story.html
  2. [2]David G. Savage, “Supreme Court clears the way for Sonoma County deputy to be tried in shooting of boy holding a pellet gun,” Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-court-police-pelletgun-20180625-story.html
  3. [3]David G. Savage, “Supreme Court clears the way for Sonoma County deputy to be tried in shooting of boy holding a pellet gun,” Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2018, http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-court-police-pelletgun-20180625-story.html
  4. [4]Martin Espinoza, “Authorities investigate fatal deputy-involving shooting of 13-year-old Santa Rosa boy,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, October 22, 2013, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20131022/articles/131029886
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Cops, gangs, and the conflation of roles,” August 6, 2011, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2011/08/06/cops-gangs-and-the-conflation-of-roles/
  6. [6]Mary Callahan, “Experts: Many factors in an officer’s decision to shoot,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 7, 2014, http://pressdemocrat.com/article/20140707/articles/140709706; Julie Johnson and Kevin McCallum, “Sonoma County D.A.: No criminal charges for sheriff’s deputy in Andy Lopez shooting,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 7, 2014, http://pressdemocrat.com/article/20140707/articles/140709728
  7. [7]quoted from photograph (fig. 2) accompanying Eloísa Ruano González, “Small but vocal crowd protests Lopez decision,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 8, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140708/articles/140709658
  8. [8]David Benfell, “‘Violence has no place in a democracy’,” Not Housebroken, January 9, 2011, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=2006; David Benfell, “Taken-for-granted violence,” So I’m Vegan, Now What? April 16, 2014, https://vegan.parts-unknown.org/?p=166; David Benfell, “The ‘American’ Way,” July 5, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6471
  9. [9]Martin Espinoza, Eloísa Ruano González, and Jamie Hansen, “Demonstrators denounce Lopez decision,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 7, 2014, http://m.pressdemocrat.com/articles/140707-5b6eaa0945.html
  10. [10]Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: New, 2011); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  11. [11]Steven E. Barkan, Criminology: A Sociological Understanding, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006); David Benfell, “Nothing to worry about,” Not Housebroken, February 9, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6136; David Benfell, “The Quixotic Quest to Comprehend Conservatism, Part 2,” May 29, 2014, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2014/05/29/the-quixotic-quest-to-comprehend-conservatism-part-2/; Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: New, 2011); Herbert J. Gans, The War Against The Poor: The Underclass And Antipoverty Policy (New York: Basic, 1995); Jeffrey Reiman, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 7th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2004).
  12. [12]Ernest Drucker, A Plague of Prisons: The Epidemiology of Mass Incarceration in America (New York: New, 2011)
  13. [13]Mary Callahan, “Experts: Many factors in an officer’s decision to shoot,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 7, 2014, http://pressdemocrat.com/article/20140707/articles/140709706
  14. [14]Eloísa Ruano González, “Small but vocal crowd protests Lopez decision,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 8, 2014, http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20140708/articles/140709658

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.