Perspective by B. Durbin
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.
—Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”
Early this March, a man was stabbed.
Pause here for a minute. I want you to think about what came to mind when you saw that phrase, hold it in your mind, because I’m about to change that picture.
Early in March, a man was stabbed in a parking lot by a stranger.
Pause again. What changed about your picture? Does it make a difference to you where this happens, that the person with the knife and the victim didn’t know one another?
Early in March, a security guard was stabbed in the parking lot of the store that was his charge, by a patron of that store.
Each bit of information causes you to revise that picture in your head a little more, doesn’t it? And I’m doling out that information in infuriatingly tiny bits. In a trial—which is what this is scenario is based upon—it’s far slower. You hear testimony after testimony, view evidence that is available to be viewed, and it takes a very long time. This particular case was a super-short one, with the presentation of evidence only taking one full court day.
You have a picture of the security guard in your head, don’t you? Well, I’m about to break it, because the victim of the stabbing survived and was the very first to testify.
And he was a kid.
Mind you, I don’t have a lot of standing to pull on this, because he was in his mid-20s, and I’m not old enough to have a kid in their mid-20s, but he was this tall, lanky guy, without that broadening of chin and chest that so often hits males in their early 20s, with tattoos on his arms and a longer cut of hair. He looked barely out of college age, young enough to be thoroughly embarrassed by the medical photos in evidence, and the security thing was just a job.
He suffered a stab wound slightly to his back, puncturing his left lung and severing a wrap-around abdominal muscle. He also suffered a glancing blow to his arm and reported several more cuts in his jacket (not produced in evidence.)
You’ve got a pretty detailed picture in your head, right? How about this: He received those injuries in a scuffle which included both him and another security guard, and the security guard kicked the knife-wielder a couple of times.
Or this: There was a third security guard, who was armed, who was not involved in the scuffle, but who was following the other two.
And this: The knife-wielder was black, and followed through the parking lot by three security guards who, while not white, were considerably lighter in skin tone than the guy with the knife.
Everybody with the political sense of a gnat is wincing right now.
Was there video? Amazingly, yes, there was, and very clear for being across the parking lot. (On that note, who sees people on the ground in the street and blithely drives by them? Thanks for making it that much harder to determine what went on.) You could see the security guards following, the guy turning back several times, the victim pushing him, and finally Knife Guy turning around and throwing punches. Except—when did he get the knife? The video isn’t that clear, and that’s important, because if he were to get it out on the ground, the defense’s argument of Self Defense takes on new importance.
Do we have the knife? We do—and I’m going to take a bit of a digression here. I’m fairly well acquainted with knives. We have dozens of kitchen knives, a number of utility knives (mostly of the folding sort) and a few daggers for pretty. I also have a couple of sheath knives that I’ve never had reason to use, because what the heck would be the point in an urban environment? And as for camping, the folding knives are sufficient for that.
Knives are a horrible choice for self-defense, and here’s why. 1. They require close quarters. The whole point of self-defense is to get away intact, and the more distance you can get, the better. A gun or pepper spray is better suited to getting someone to keep their distance. 2. A person who is stabbed doesn’t immediately go down—in fact, the security guard in this scenario didn’t immediately know he was stabbed. He saw the knife, so after the guy ran off, he checked himself. (And then he started coughing up blood, but still…) 3. If you take out a knife, someone is going to get cut—and that someone is going to be the weaker one. Knives favor the strong. If someone were to perform a home invasion on me, I would use just about anything, even smashing a nice guitar over their head, before I went for a knife, because the odds are better that I would be the one hurt.
So a guy carrying a sheath knife an inch and a half across the base, several inches long, and with some serrations near the base, that’s going to get my attention.
Back it up. Why were they following him across the parking lot? Well, it seems there was a minor altercation on the other side of the store, where three guards (the armed one on a break) interacted with Knife Guy. According to their testimony, Knife Guy head-butted the victim before walking off. This is not on video; the security cars block the view.
And why did this happen? Well, prior to that, he was following a woman, presumably toward her car. As far as we know, this woman was unknown to Knife Guy, and from an earlier video where you can see their faces, she’s carefully not looking at him. According to testimony, she pointed out that Security was right there, and the security guards told Knife Guy to leave her alone.
There was a lot of discussion with the jury once deliberations took place, and I do find it interesting that the women were more on the Guilty side at the beginning of deliberations. Most women have at least one story of being followed by a guy bigger than them, and all women know the cases where an interaction with a stranger gets a woman killed. At issue wasn’t the fact of Knife Guy doing the stabbing; the issue was whether there was reason to believe it was in self-defense.
We watched the video enough to make me surprised it didn’t show up in my dreams. (At least, it hasn’t yet.) The conclusion we eventually came to is that he had the knife when he turned around and jumped the security guard, and there was no chance for him to have stabbed later. And after a lengthy discussion of the word “immanent”, we came to the verdict of Guilty of assault with a deadly weapon.
Short trial. Only three days, plus a day for jury selection.
So why does this matter? Because it took three days, plus intensive attention and discussion, to figure out the legal meaning of an interaction that took all of twenty seconds—or three minutes, if you go back to Knife Guy exiting the store. And so much of what passes for political discourse these days is based on soundbites, or fractions of video, or single-point perspectives. We think we know what is going on, or at least we act as if we do. Yet twelve people can see and hear the same things and come to different conclusions—but those same twelve people can agree on something if they take the time to talk it out, and to listen to everybody else.
A headline that says “Unarmed Man Stabbed in Parking Lot” is correct. So is “Multiple Security Guards Involved in Altercation With Black Man.” You’re going to be presented with very different points of view in those two articles, and we haven’t used more than a handful of words. Pay attention. Pay close attention. Everyone knows less than they think they do.