There was rioting in Ferguson, Missouri last night after a prosecuting attorney announced that a grand jury had declined to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.
Shortly after the verdict was announced the police officer’s grand jury testimony was released. According to the Associated Press report, Wilson said he had seen Brown walking with a handful of cigars, which he connected to an earlier report of a convenience store robbery. Wilson testified to an escalating confrontation in which Brown punched Wilson while Wilson sat in his patrol car, Wilson drew his gun, the two struggled, Brown ran away, Wilson gave chase, Brown turned to face the policeman, and ultimately Wilson fired the fatal shots.
Rioting began almost immediately after the no-indictment decision was announced, with crowds setting fire to vehicles and buildings and looting local businesses. Police fired tear gas and made numerous arrests. President Obama quite properly appealed for calm and noted that the United States is a nation of laws and the grand jury was the institution charged with deciding whether the officer should be charged with a state-law crime.
Should the standards of what constitutes an actionable threat of physical violence be changed in the era of the internet and social media? Next week the Supreme Court will consider that question, which probes the tender intersection of the First Amendment, criminal law, and society’s interest in protecting people from impending harm.
In the Supreme Court case, the defendant created Facebook posts about his estranged wife, writing about “a thousand ways to kill you” and asking whether the protection from abuse order she received was “thick enough to stop a bullet.” His lawyers contend that the statements are simply “therapeutic efforts to address traumatic events” and references to the violent, misogynistic imagery of the defendant’s favorite rappers. The defendant also argues that other actions like the placement of an emoticon — a face with its tongue sticking out, purportedly to indicate “jest” — must be considered in assessing whether the speaker truly intends menacing behavior or is just blowing off steam.
I’m a big supporter of free speech, and exercises in line-drawing are always difficult, but I don’t see any need to revisit long-time legal standards just because the internet has been developed. Domestic abuse is a huge problem, and we need to protect the abused. If prosecutors are required to prove “subjective intent,” and the placement of emoticons or the couching of unambiguous threats of violence in the context of rap lyrics become viable defenses, the ability to protect the abused will be diminished. I don’t know of any real “therapy” that encourages disturbed people to make specific threats of violence, and I don’t buy the argument that standards of lawful behavior should be reduced simply because some anonymous people treat the internet as a kind of free-for-all zone.
Standards exist for a reason, and we shouldn’t be in a hurry to lower them. It’s not unfair to hold people whose behavior already has given rise to legitimate concern — like the defendant in the Supreme Court case who was the subject of a protection from abuse order — accountable for specific violent statements, on social media or otherwise.
I’m sure readers of our blog get sick of postings about the Cleveland Browns. I ask for forgiveness. The Browns have been so wretched for so long that I just can’t help myself. And when the Browns reach 7 wins, as they did today with a lucky victory over Atlanta on the road, I feel that I need to acknowledge the occasion.
The Browns’ success this year demonstrates the wisdom of the NFL statistical gurus who take a team’s record into account and try to design schedules that will result in every team ending up 8-8. Teams that stank last year play considerably easier schedules than the tough teams that made the playoffs. That’s the sole reason the Browns have reached 7 wins this year. Still, hitting 7 wins feels good — if only because the Browns have been terrible and gotten the benefit of the cupcake schedule in past years and still laid egg after colossal egg.
I don’t think the Browns are one of the best teams in the NFL by a long shot, but their defense is improving and they have some weapons on offense with the return of Josh Gordon, the development of their two young running backs, and the fact that they finally have some reliable possession receivers. If Jordan Cameron gets healthy, the Browns could pose a challenge to opposing defenses — if they had a quarterback who didn’t make stupid decisions. Unfortunately, Brian Hoyer is regressing in that category, and his bonehead plays today produced three interceptions that almost gave the game away.
It was lucky for the Browns that they overcame three bad interceptions and won — but the main thing is they won. They remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, and it’s the latest in the season that they’ve been in contention for a long, long time. It feels good to write that.
Last night Kish and I went out for a nice dinner with the Cleanliness Queen and her husband, the Dessert Dude — so-called because he somehow is able to eat two large desserts at every dinner we have without putting on a frigging pound. At the midpoint of the meal the CQ mentioned, with a grim shudder, that she had watched a disturbing hidden camera show about hotel rooms.
If cleanliness is next to godliness, then one day the CQ inevitably will replace St. Peter. She’s the kind of person who takes Lysol and other cleaning supplies when she travels to wipe down her hotel room, just to be on the safe side. I suspect she’s got a secret compartment in her luggage for a toilet brush, and it would not surprise me if she carries an ultraviolet scanner to identify any stray unclean areas. She’s probably sufficiently fluent in other languages to grill hotel maids in every country in the world about precisely what they did in cleaning her designated room.
The CQ explained that the hidden camera show revealed that some maids were using the same dirty towel to wipe down — in this precise order — the toilet bowl, the toilet lid, the sink top, and the shower stall. Ugh! And, rather than running them through a scalding water device, used glasses were just put in the sink run under warm water, dried with a towel, and then the little white cap signifying germ-free status was misleadingly put back on top. No! This then led to a discussion about bad hotel hygiene incidents, including people on a beachfront vacation who found sand from a prior occupant in bedding that supposedly had been changed. Arrgh! By the end of the discussion, the CQ was profoundly troubled.
Let’s face it — if you use hotels regularly, you just have to acquire a willing suspension of concern about the fact that your room has been used only hours earlier by complete strangers, much less what they did when they were in it. I’d like to think that the room has been completely sanitized with some powerful cleaning agents, whether that’s actually been done or not. I’ll cling to that illusion because it helps — which means I just need the room to be clean enough that there is no visible evidence of predecessor guests, and I’ll gladly avoid any TV shows that expose an inconvenient truth to the contrary.
Thanks to being a fan of both the Ohio State and Cleveland football teams, I have a split gridiron personality. The Dr. Buckeye part expects perfection and routine drubbings; the Mr. Brown side knows that disaster and doom will inevitably rear their ugly heads.
Today’s Ohio State win over Indiana fed both halves of my schizoid football fan persona. The Buckeye Nation part nods approvingly at the fact that Ohio State is undefeated in the Big Ten and has clinched a spot in the conference title game. The Browns Backer saw a sloppy game in which Ohio State had three first-half turnovers and actually trailed an overmatched team in the second half. The Buckeyes fan saw Jalin Marshall score four second-half touchdowns and show some of the lightning-in-a-bottle capabilities of the OSU offense. The Browns fan saw the defense gashed for more than 200 yards and two appallingly long runs by a good running back as well as a ridiculous rumbling, stumbling, fumbling run by a freshman QB that set up Indiana’s first score.
The commentators say that Ohio State needs style points if it hopes to make the college football playoffs. Maybe, but the Browns fan in me says that I should be happy with a win that followed on the heels of two high-intensity, on-the-road wins and just be pleased that the college kids on the team finally righted the ship in the second half and prevailed. And the Buckeyes fan says that Ohio State had better have worked all of the turnovers, penalties, and blunders out of their system, because now things begin to get really serious.
At the Webner House, we’re all about supporting local businesses. Two Columbus businesses that we enthusiastically endorse — especially after we’ve enjoyed their products — are two local distilleries, Watershed Distillery and Middle West Spirits.
Kish and Richard and Russell are the occasional whiskey samplers in our family, and they’ve enjoyed making Manhattans and Old Fashioneds with OYO whiskey, one of the trade names used by Middle West Spirits. Made from 100 percent Ohio soft red winter wheat, OYO Whiskey has won a number of distilling awards, as well as a lot of fans.
Watershed’s distillery is just west of downtown in the Grandview area, and Middle West’s distillery is in the Short North. Both are the kinds of successful local businesses that employ our neighbors, pay local taxes, care about the quality of their products, and help to keep the Columbus economy ticking — which is why we support them.
The next time you’re out on the town and in the mood for a mixed drink, give one of their products a try. You won’t regret it.
Let’s all take a break from the work week, decompress a bit, get a good chuckle, and get mentally ready for a nice pre-Thanksgiving weekend. And to help us on the way, how about this vintage, poorly directed and trite video of Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale?
Whiter Shade of Pale is a great song — but I’m betting you’ll get a laugh out of the video, with its clumsy cuts, out-of-sync lip-syncing, and late ’60s Nehru jackets. It reminds me that, long ago, UJ asked for a Nehru jacket and got it. I think he maybe wore it once.