Saturday, August 20, 2016

On Korryn Gaines and (very) imperfect victims

For those not following the story, I’ll start with a recap of who Korryn Gaines was, and what happened to her.

Korryn Gaines was a 23 year old black Baltimore mother who appeared to have anti-government views similar to those held by the Sovereign Citizen movement.  In March, she was pulled over when police noticed that in place of a license plate, she had piece of cardboard with the following written on it:

“Any Government official who compromises this pursuit to happiness and right to travel, will be criminally responsible and fined, as this is a natural right and freedom.”

(While I cannot condone Gaines’ actions from that point forward, I must confess this rather endears her to me.  She reminds me of Ron Swanson with his permit, which sets my cold libertarian heart aflutter.  To think that all this could have been avoided, if only we had privatized roads!)

Needless to say, the police were not satisfied with Gaines’ sign.  The altercation which followed can be seen here, as can all subsequent Instagram and Facebook videos Gaines posted on the matter.  The clip is 20 minutes long, so here’s a summary: Gaines refuses to hand over any license, registration, or insurance information, instead insisting that policeman show her a so-called “delegation of authority order,” on the (very faulty) legal reasoning that such orders are the only constitutional law enforcement authorization.  The policeman very patiently provides proof he that he is in fact a police officer, and gives her several opportunities to resolve the situation peacefully, each of which she declines.  At one point she crumples up her ticket and throws it out the window.  The bickering continues, and eventually the police are forced to remove her from the car and arrest her, which they thankfully accomplished without inflicting any physical injury besides a scraped finger.

Gaines was charged with a slew of traffic violations and resisting arrest.  The video proves she was clearly guilty of each.  Her court date was set for July 16th. In April, while awaiting trial, she filmed herself entering the police department in search of paperwork pertaining to her case, where she started another confrontation with police.  Erratic social media posts continued in the coming months, including several of her holding a shotgun with captions threatening to use it on policemen.

Gaines did not show up in court on July 16th.  This eventually prompted a warrant for her arrest, which police attempted to serve her on August 1st.  She did not answer the door.  When police opened the door with a key borrowed from the landlord, she greeted them with a raised shotgun.

This prompted a six hour standoff, portions of which Gaines also live-streamed to Facebook and Instagram.  During the standoff, Gaines repeatedly pointed her weapon at officers and threatened to kill them, with her five year old son right next to her.  In response to one such incident, a policeman fired what he later described as a warning shot, after repeatedly instructing her to drop the weapon.  She then let loose a barrage of rounds, sparking a shootout that ultimately resulted in her death.  Her son was wounded in the arm by a police bullet during the exchange.

Incredibly, many in the BLM social media movement are holding this woman up as a martyr for racist police abuse.  GQ calls her death “a feat of violence that stretches the bounds of the imagination,” indicating that the author may have a much narrower imagination than most people.  This person employs such fantastic euphemisms for shooting cops as “making the rare choice to take agency over her life and the life of her son,” while the Crunk Feminist Collective labels men criticizing that choice as “mansplainers…turnt all the way up victim blaming her for ending up dead.”  A predictably absurd Black Girl Dangerous article asserts that "Korryn Gaines and Loreal Tsingine were both executed for refusing to lay their bodies at the feet of slave catchers and Indian Killers.”

Vox tries to justify these reactions in a more politically correct way, questioning whether lethal force would have been deemed necessary were Gaines white.  They should ask this question to the family of LaVoy Finicum, the Oregon Rancher who was killed in the standoff with police in a very similar situation (except that there were hundreds of them, and it lasted 41 days, instead of just one person and one day).  If that analogy doesn’t suit your fancy, just go to YouTube and look up police shootings of armed (or unarmed) white people.  You’ll find plenty.  Start here, here, or here.

The Crunk Feminist Collective continues:“Korryn Gaines was holding and protecting her son from state-based terrorists with guns.  That they thought he was an acceptable casualty in order to apprehend her is a failure of their logic not hers.”

Bullshit.  Whatever she may have fancied herself to be doing, Korryn Gaines was not doing jack-diddly-shit to protect her son.  Like the Oregon Ranchers, Korryn Gaines was making a deliberate political statement of high-profile resistance, broadcasting it to social media, and prioritizing that statement ABOVE the safety of her son (and herself).  Surely not even the most brainwashed BLM advocate can pretend that 5 year old Kodi would have been shot had his mother released him to negotiators, as they asked her to do countless times throughout the six-hour ordeal?  Nor would he had she not clutched him to her chest, while raising a shotgun at people who didn’t want to die?  No - Kodi Gaines was never in any danger that Korryn Gaines did not deliberately choose to place him in.  Her logic most assuredly failed.

Non-compliance is not an unreasonable response to oppression,” the Black Girl Dangerous article argues. “Murder is an unreasonable response to non-compliance.” But vehicle registration laws are not oppression, and neither are arrest warrants for failure to show up in court.  In any case, raising and firing a shotgun at policemen serving that warrant is not the same as “non-compliance,” and returning fire at someone shooting at you is not the same as “murder.”  No amount of euphemisms can change the plain truth that the most direct cause of Korryn Gaines’ death was Korryn Gaines.

The entire chronology of this story, from March through August, is a series of unnecessary fights that Korryn Gaines picked.  Had she registered her vehicle, like she knew she had to, she would never have been pulled over.  Had she accepted the ticket, like she knew she was required to, she never would have been arrested.  Had she showed up in court, nobody would have tried to arrest her again.  And had she not threatened policeman with a lethal firearm for six hours, she would not be dead.  Again and again, she went out of her way to start trouble, knowing full well what the consequences would be on each occasion.  She very clearly wanted a showdown with the Baltimore Police Department, and eventually she got one.

The police, by contrast, wanted no part of this showdown, especially in beleaguered Baltimore County.  From the outset, they did everything in their power to avoid it, bending over backwards to de-escalate the situation during all three of their interactions with her.

Each time, she deliberately forced their hand.

The police were to Korryn Gaines what a grizzly bear is to a hiker.  If a hiker encounters a grizzly bear, that’s not their fault.  One could argue it is the Park Ranger’s responsibility to protect you from bear attacks, so it would be reasonable, after such an encounter, to march down to the Park Ranger’s office and demand they do something about the overpopulation of bears, so that you can enjoy your “pursuit to happiness and right to travel” without ursine molestation.  This is what BLM does, in our analogy.  I mostly agree with them.

But it would not be reasonable, not matter how unjust the continued presence of bears may strike you to be, to walk up to one and poke it with a stick until it ate you.  And if you did do that, people may rightfully say you brought your death upon yourself, because for so long as there are bears in the park, you can’t really blame them for doing what bears do.  Anyone who knows what bears do, and still decides to poke one with a stick, probably deserves some of the blame for their own death.

Just as bears do not meaningfully “choose” whether to protect their cubs, the institution of law enforcement has no agency on the question of whether it’s necessary to enforce the law.  It’s what they do.  That’s their job. The moment government lets people opt out of its laws is the moment it becomes a private organization.  The moment police decline enforcement of those laws is the moment they cease to be police.  For better or for worse (and I think it’s for worse), violence is all government is capable of by definition.  Until laws are done away with, people of all races have to navigate that landscape.

This state of affairs is not Korryn Gaines fault, but it was her decision how to respond to its existence.  And just as hikers know what bears do, Gaines knew how police would respond if she pointed a weapon at them long enough.  She knew they had no option to walk away – that they could not leave until they served this warrant – and she deliberately left them with only one means by which to do that.  She had the full and exclusive power to determine how the incident would resolve, and she used it to make a series of decisions calculated to provoke a certain reaction.  She may not have hoped to die, but she certainly hoped to make some headlines, and at the decisive moment she proved willing to make a martyr of herself to do it.

Gaines had the opportunity to surrender up until the moment she pulled the trigger, but the police lacked that luxury by virtue of their being police.  To give law enforcement a choice between not enforcing the law, and killing you, is to commit suicide by cop, and that’s what Korryn Gaines did.


Why have I spilt so much ink on this three-week-old news story?  In short, because the progress BLM and I jointly seek on criminal justice reform is hindered each time the far-left revs up the outrage machine in cases where it just isn’t warranted.  It waters down our message and arms our opponents with the anecdotes they need to depict ALL our concerns as crazy.  The biggest threat to any good idea is not that it be skillfully attacked, but that it be improperly defended.  There are more than enough examples of unconscionable police violence against blacks and whites to make our case without resorting to incidents that are either super murky, or really, really a stretch.

Not all victims need to be perfect to warrant our indignation.  But not everyone killed by police is a victim – in fact, most are not.  There are roughly 1100 police killings every year.  Many of them are filmed, and only the most egregious make it onto social media.  The rest are predominantly justifiable responses to armed and dangerous people (and usually white people) who are threatening innocent life and frankly had it coming.  Police deal with armed robbers, gang shootouts, hostage situations, serial killers, school shootings, and high speed chases on a daily basis in this country.  The world is a happier place without such people.

None of this means we shouldn’t be vigilant in keeping the police accountable, it just means you should have a filter and reserve judgment.  Don’t be gullible.  Left-leaning, quasi-media clickbait outlets like Salon, NowThis or have discovered it is extremely profitable to stoke up racial tension as much as possible.  Reporters in search of controversy descend like hounds each time a black person is shot by police, hoping against hope that the circumstances will allow them to make it into the latest viral horror story of police abuse.  Sometimes it is – sometimes it isn’t.  Be able to tell the difference.

With that said…

It is possible for police shootings to be both justified on the individual level, and problematic on the systemic level.  On the individual level, Korryn Gaines brought this on herself - and yet, her death is still a tragic consequence of vast and interconnected systemic failures. The CFC got it right for once when they wrote this in their article’s comments section:

“It’s the convergence of many things — disability, poverty, housing discrimination, militarism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, all on the body of a 23yr old Black woman/girl (and her baby). It’s soul crushing. One of my friends said, “the state been killing her since childhood.””

THIS should be our response to stuff like this.  Just as BLM is wrong to blame the individual cops who were forced to take her life, resentful whites are even more wrong to dismiss their concerns or ignore the larger issues that contributed to her death.  Which leads me to my next post…

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