A recent article on mlive.com discusses cases where citizens have defended themselves against a violent attacker, and the police have determined that the citizen was justified in doing so. The article takes a rather pro-criminal standpoint, second guessing the victims who defended themselves from violent attackers who were in the wrong – and I find that to be the unreasonable:
Jerome A. Washington, 40, showed up [at the door of a man whom he had quarreled with before, to accuse that man of stealing from his apartment] with what looked like a gun. It was just a plastic toy. Washington was fatally shot April 23 by the man who said he feared for his life and also had a gun — a real one. His death was ruled a justifiable homicide.
“I don’t feel like someone should be able to take someone’s life with a gun, and they still get to face some freedom,” said Washington’s grandmother Eula Smith. “It just doesn’t add up. I don’t believe he did go there to start any problems.”
Here we have a man who went to his neighbor’s house with a fake gun, acting like a vigilante out to settle a score. The neighbor feared for his life, as any reasonable person would, when an armed and angry man with whom there have been problems in the past showed up at the front door. The neighbor was justified in shooting Jerome Washington, as no person can be expected to sit idly by while an armed man illegally threatens their life. While I can understand Washington’s grandmother’s sadness over the death of her grandson, it is unreasonable to say that he wasn’t trying to “start any problems” when he tried to use a fake gun to threaten a neighbor. If that neighbor truly broke into Washington’s home, then Washington should have called the police, rather than taking the law into his own hands. For those that don’t see the difference between the neighbor’s legal action in defending himself, and Washington’s illegal actions, please read this article.
The issue also raises some big moral questions, such as whether crimes including petty theft, assault and even armed robbery should really be punishable by death.
When a citizen defends themselves against a robber or other such criminal, they are doing so not to punish the criminal for the offense of robbery, but to stop the criminal from killing or seriously harming them. The fact is that robbers often get violent, even when their victims comply with their demands. It is therefore unreasonable to expect a victim to not defend themselves, as an innocent person’s safety certainly shouldn’t be subordinate to the safety of the violent criminal who is attacking them. Again, there is a difference between vigilantism and self defense, which the above article fails to recognize.
“(The store owner) didn’t have to shoot him eight times to knock him down,” [a relative of another dead criminal] said. “It’s just goofy. That’s the hard part, that nobody faced charges in his death.”
Here we have another example of the criminal’s relatives second guessing the person that dead criminal tried to victimize. The fact is that a person who is facing a violent criminal is under an incredible deal of stress, and is likely experiencing a situation that they have never had to deal with before. As such it is wrong to heavily scrutinize their actions, especially when it comes to how many shots they fire. Also, the human body is quite resilient, and individuals who have been shot multiple times can sometimes continue their attack. Hits to anything other than the heart, spine, and brain generally take many seconds if not minutes to incapacitate the criminal, and it takes just seconds for the criminal to murder the victim. It is therefore not reasonable to expect a victim to risk their life by ceasing fire to try and determine the exact moment in time when the criminal has been stopped. While any loss of life is sad, it is far better that that risk of death be borne by the violent criminal than their innocent victim.
My thanks to Anders for pointing out the above discussed article.