About 25 years ago I killed a man. It wasn’t my fault but I was part of a sad and bizarre chain of events that ended in a man lying at the edge of a Chicago freeway, dying. According to witnesses an Irish fellow with a family history of suicide had been walking back and forth on a highway overpass for over an hour. Without warning he suddenly jumped into the middle lane of heavy early-morning traffic driving to work. I was in the far left lane slightly behind the car he jumped in front of. When I first saw him it looked as if he had been pushed out the back door of that car. He had, in fact, been knocked into the next lane by his violent contact with the grill of the initial car
He landed directly in front of me, not more than 3 feet away. I jerked the wheel to the left brushing along side a concrete divider. I left a 10 foot black mark along that wall. It’s probably still there to this day. I’ll never forget the feel of a human being passing under the entirety of my car from the front wheels to the back. It felt like a continuous series of small but jarring bumps.
He was thrown from beneath my car and lay on his back, his leg grotesquely bent to the side severed under his pant-leg. I pulled over immediately and rushed to the man. I felt for a pulse and incredibly there was one – weak and beating like a machine gun…maybe as much as 200 beats per minute. He died on the spot a few minutes later. The male driver in the first car had stopped as well. A consummately decent person, he felt the same deep regret and sorrow that I did. Drivers in the proximity of the accident did an incredible job swerving away from the chaos. No cars crashed and no one else was injured.
Law enforcement was quick to arrive and assured me that witnesses had already told them I had been driving reasonably and had done everything I could to avoid contact with the poor man. The officer instructed me to sign an official paper and I could be on my way. I tried to be cool, but my hand was trembling so much that I had to hold it with my other hand just to affix my signature.
So I’ve seen death – up close and personal as they say. I also saw a number of people die when I worked as a hospital orderly during my undergrad days. Death is an extraordinary, often gut-wrenching event. It’s not a TV actor dying, then go to commercial. It is someone who goes from a living, breathing and moving organism to non-existence, never more to interact with anything worldly. Nothing prepares you for the stillness of death.
I’ve used up the first half of this submission to make the point that human life is a supremely precious commodity. I was moved to write this piece by the latest local Sunday newspaper headline of apparent vigilante justice born of the same mindset as the Zimmerman/Martin case. The major difference being that Trayvon Martin was an innocent young man not bothering anybody when he was shot to death by a self-styled neighborhood law enforcer.
The two people killed in my story were probably what society would consider ‘bad’ guys. They appeared to be preparing to break into an apartment. One was wearing a ski mask. The 30-year-old man who lived in that apartment was returning home in his vehicle around midnight when he saw the two men and shot them both dead. Since one of the victims (yes, they were victims) was shot in the head, Mr. Vigilante clearly wanted them dead.
The shooter and a woman in his car were interviewed, but not arrested. The ‘investigation’ is continuing. The two men were a little older than Trayvon, 18 and 22, but they did share two characteristics. They were all shot to death and they were all black. The race of the shooter was not revealed. Early accounts are always sketchy, but there is no mention of a confrontation in the article or whether either young man was armed. It’s not clear whether they were given any warning or even had the foggiest idea that the vigilante had a bead on them. It doesn’t mention whether he fired from his car or not. Apparently his were the only shots fired. And he most certainly had the option to keep driving and contact the police.
South Carolina has a ‘Castle Doctrine’ law, first cousin to ‘Stand Your Ground’. The 1976 South Carolina Code of Laws was amended in 2006 by H4301 that says, among other things, that you can plug somebody if you have “reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or an unlawful and forcible act is occurring or has occurred.” That apparently broadens the scope of the law to the exterior of your dwelling.
The initial defining paragraph of the bill provides for the use of deadly force if it “is necessary to prevent death, great bodily injury, or the commission of a violent crime.” None of these criteria seemed applicable in this incident. So, yeah, you see these two dudes preparing to B & E your precious casa, but you’re in zero danger at the point of the shooting. At least that’s my read.
This is not a bleeding heart liberal defense of the two young men. This duo was not the cream of the societal crop if you believe the story that they were breaking the law. So call the cops, arrest them, convict them and send them away for a few years. There is no need to kill people on a vengeful whim.
The South Carolina law is now written in such a way that unless you’re absolutely, 100% positive of success in a private lawsuit against one of these hair trigger vigilantes, it’s going to cost the initiator of the suit dearly for daring to try to bring a killer to at least some kind of economic justice. As H4301 reads, “The court shall award reasonable attorneys’ fees, court costs, compensation for loss of income, and all expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of a civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from prosecution as provided in subsection (A). Does the court make that decision after the action? Nothing like making new law to assuage the NRA gun-nut crowd.
Reasonable people are now caught between a rock and a shell casing and it’s going to get worse until some power boy’s kid is on the receiving end of one of these gun-goobers.