You might think “Zero Tolerance” is a playground issue — just a way for school administrators to deal with violent kids. If you did, you would be wrong. ZT is a mindset of black-and-white rules applied to a gray world. “We tolerate no disobedience on the topic of [fill in the blank].” Thus, a “no guns” policy meant to keep firearms off school grounds (a laudable goal) gets applied to “squirt guns” (a silly result) — or even crude crayon drawings of guns (a ridiculous result).
Since these rules are “black and white”, that means the punishment is the same: suspension and expulsion. So in the name of keeping firearms away from schoolchildren, kids are being kicked out of school for drawing pictures — treated the same as a kid who brings a real loaded gun to class. Outrageous! The “punishment” should fit the “crime” — the actual crime.
And kids getting tossed out of school for silly, innocent, childish behavior happens again and again and again. For just some of the examples reported on in This is True, see my main Zero Tolerance essay.
And the concept is spreading outside the school setting and into the adult world, as the following story from True‘s 26 August 2001 issue demonstrates:
Rule Of Law
Detrick Washington, 25, was at his business partner’s San Francisco, Calif., home office when two men forced their way in. The robbers got $3,000 from the safe, but figured there must be more and beat and cut their victims to get them to talk. “I’ll go and kill the kids and that girl if you don’t give me the rest of the money,” one of the robbers said. While they ransacked the home, Washington saw his chance: one robber put his gun down, and Washington grabbed it. When the robber lunged at him, Washington shot him. He then handed the gun to his partner to cover the other robber and went to call police. “Stay down! Don’t move! Don’t get up!” his friend told the second robber after Washington left the room. Then Washington heard, “He’s getting up, he’s getting up!” and a shot rang out — the second robber was killed too. “He took a chance. I believe we could call him a hero,” police Inspector Armand Gordon said. Washington “basically saved five people’s lives, including his own” by grabbing the gun. Police ruled the shooting justified, yet Washington is in jail: he is on parole from a previous drug conviction, and parole rules say parolees cannot “possess” a firearm. Because Washington grabbed the robber’s gun, he was in “possession” of the weapon and violated his parole. (San Francisco Chronicle) …And here you thought “zero tolerance” was only for school kids.
Update: the San Francisco Chronicle reported six days later: “At the time, agents said Washington could be held at San Francisco County Jail for six business days while they reviewed the case, meaning he would have been behind bars until [Wednesday]. Instead, they quietly let him go Friday, after The Chronicle reported he had been jailed.” Yep, that’s a bit hard to calculate — the paper doesn’t actually say how long Mr. Washington was in jail for saving several lives. As near as I can tell, however, it was two days. No doubt he would have been there much longer if the media hadn’t highlighted his outrageous arrest by state parole officers.
Most people readily made the connection — why this was a “zero tolerance” story, rather than just an ordinary outrage. A reader letter — and Randy’s response — will help clarify it for you:
Obviously, we’re not talking “zero tolerance;” we’re talking stupidity and narrow-mindedness. It is truly frightening to consider the number of small-minded, undereducated people who have power over us. Our schools, our judicial system, businesses, all are rife with these petty power-grabbers who either are incapable of thinking, or are scared to death of it. This is the type of person who made up, with such enthusiasm and abandon, the SS and the Gestapo; fortunately, this modern version is too stupid to organize. What we need, in “expose” articles such as this, are the names of the bugwitted individuals responsible. A little (direct) publicity might do wonders. –Tim, Pennsylvania
Tim, you just described Zero Tolerance exactly! Stupidity; narrow-mindedness; scared of thinking for themselves. That is the ZT mindset! And unfortunately, they do organize — all to support each other that they’re “doing the right thing” even in the face of evidence that they’re causing more harm than good. And as this story shows, we’re seeing it expand from school bureaucrats into larger society. ZT is idiocy. It’s a lack of judgement in favor of “following the rules” even when the rules don’t make any sense! Suspending a 6-year-old child under a ZT “anti-drug policy” when he gives candy to friends on the playground makes no sense (even if the teachers did initially think the candy was cough drops), and defending that action when they learned it wasn’t cough drops is an outrage. (Yes, that did happen: see my ZT essay!)
Similarly, arresting a parolee for “possessing” a gun that he wrestled away from a robber is ridiculous when investigators all agree that he had to do it to save many lives. It’s the exact same mindset, and if reasonable, thinking people don’t object strongly to it and demand a common sense approach replace it, ZT will continue to spread for the reasons I outlined long ago in my essay.
Some reader comments, the first responding to Tim’s bringing up “the SS and the Gestapo”:
I am very familiar with the German history — because I am German and think of it as an important lesson in history that may not be forgotten neither by the Germans nor by any other people — and I don’t see how Tim can say that the SS and the Gestapo were made up by “a number of small-minded, undereducated people…incapable of thinking, or scared to death of it”. I’d really like to say that they were. But that’s not true. The men who created the system of the so called Third Reich, the SS and the Gestapo were definitely not undereducated. We, as “educated” people tend to dismiss the atrocities of that era as acts of people different from ourselves but it is established fact that the system was organized and run by some really intelligent people. People who used their brains for the worst possible crimes but nevertheless they used them. Don’t get me wrong: I am absolutely not saying that I admire them or tolerate what they’ve done. Quite the opposite, in fact. I just say that it were intelligent people who did these things. Can anyone imagine some “undereducated, small-minded” idiots planning the murder of millions of people — of a whole people? Intelligence does not protect us from being misguided and comitting genocide. Undereducated people are 9 out of 10 times not the ones who plan and start a world war. They are the ones who die in it. –Florian, Germany
Wishful thinking, perhaps….
I haven’t reviewed the laws recently, but I suspect that the problem here is with the law, rather than with those enforcing it. I don’t think there’s a “do what has to be done” exception to the law against felons posessing guns. I agree that the fellow’s treatment was wrong, but I also wouldn’t want to encourage every law enforcement officer to concoct a unique interpretation of whether a particular law should be enforced. (Remember “rule of law, not of men”.) –Jordan, California
Police officers have always been allowed discretion in the application of the law. It’s extremely rare for anyone to be pulled over and ticketed for going 1 mph over the speed limit — and when they are, I’ll bet in most cases the cop’s using that as “probable cause” to stop someone he’s suspicious about. Someone had to interpret the law to equate “wrestled gun away from a robber” with “possession”. And they did a damn poor job of it.
Another letter on the story shows that such thinking is not just a bureaucratic thing, and not just a U.S. thing, but rather something that’s creeping into everyday consciousness (although some readers think this is more a reflection of political differences between the U.S. and the U.K.):
I do not think that Detrick Washington’s arrest was entirely unjustified. I respect and admire him for being willing to kill to save the lives of those he cared for. For risking his own life to save lives. But at the end of the day, the robbers were killed. I am not in a position to say if one person’s life is more or less important than another’s, except for what we *feel* personally. That is, without a doubt we value the lives of those we care about higher than those of strangers, or in this case armed robbers and would-be murderers. However, I don’t think that it is possible for anybody to ever give up their right to life, no matter what they do. Put in the same position I would like to think that I would have done exactly what Washington did, but I also like to think that I would not expect to escape punishment. It is a difficult situation. Certainly Washington made the right decision — it was a true dilemma for him when both outcomes carried negative repercussions — but I still think that we can not leave killing unpunished. I do think that it was ridiculous Washington was jailed for parole violation, because he technically was ‘in posession’ of a gun, however I do think that killing robbers would also count as parole violation. No matter how much worse the alternative was — and it would surely be a greater crime to stand by and let innocent people die when it can be avoided — I do think that there needs to be *some form* of punishment. He saved many lives, and for this he should be rewarded — however I don’t think it should be ignored that in doing so he took a life. Under no circumstances do I believe we should ever just let it pass when someone takes a life. I know that wasn’t the point of the piece, but I felt the need to comment and hope I haven’t made myself sound stupid. –Jay, England
I don’t think Jay is stupid, but man do I think he is misguided! Punishment is for people who do wrong, either by doing something they know they shouldn’t have been doing, or (to some lesser extent) by their own negligence. These were robbers who chose to do wrong. They clearly would not have hesitated to kill their victims — just as they threatened. Washington just didn’t grab a gun and start shooting, he grabbed their gun and told them to stop. They didn’t stop: they tried to grab the gun back to continue their crime, so they were shot. The only people who did something “wrong” here, in my opinion, were the robbers. They got their “punishment”; Washington deserves no punishment if in fact the situation went down as described (and, to make it clear, the police are satisfied it did happen that way). People who, as Jay said, “do the right thing” don’t deserve punishment!
Even after thinking about it more — and reading my reply to his letter — Jay didn’t change his mind. He replied: “You make a good point. I think we’ll agree to disagree on whether it is possible to give up your right to life unwillingly. Yes, Detrick Washington was more than justified in killing to protect himself and his family — this I do not dispute — but I do not think that there should be differences in murder. But I will not convince you of my case, and I doubt if I would admit it if you convinced me.” Huh? No matter what evidence you’re shown that your argument is wrong, you wouldn’t admit it if you changed your mind?! Admitting you’re wrong is the first step toward getting it right, Jay. No one is right all the time.
Several True readers had plenty to say to Jay:
When I read the letter from Jay in England, all I could think of was that he and like-minded, though clueless, people ought to work in a busy county morgue for a while. When the coroner performs a post mortem on a victim of violence, it’s to ascertain which of several possible causes of death killed a person. Trust me Jay, you do not want to die from violence. The human being is a tough organism and it takes quite a bit of abuse to kill one of us. During those autopsies, I’ve seen, in grisly detail, from the inside out what happens to people who die violently and those people died hard, painful, nasty deaths that were not quick. And they knew they were dying so they were terrified. I can’t think of a more horrible way to die. And Jay thinks it’s unfair to take a life in defense of himself and others? When I confronted a criminal breaking into my home and I got my gun before he got me, all I could think of was “please go away so I don’t have to kill you because I WILL kill you.” I have no doubt that he meant to kill me and every autopsy I ever saw flashed in front of my eyes so I knew I’d blow him away if he stepped so much as one step closer to me. It’s been almost 30 years since that night and I still thank God I didn’t have to kill the guy. But I would have, without hesitation. Criminals are not bound by any kind of moral reasoning except for their own selfish, brutal, sicko interests. The only reasoning that works is the threat of force, and a loaded gun is the very best way of making “no” stick. –Barbara, Maryland
What Jay doesn’t understand is that the robbers did not give up their right to life “unwillingly”. They gave it up the instant they willfully and credibly threatened someone else’s life. –Ray, California
Jay states “I think we’ll agree to disagree on whether it is possible to give up your right to life unwillingly.” That is not what these individuals were doing. They willingly embarked on actions that any reasonably rational individual simply must know could lead to a dire or fatal conclusion. Mr. Washington also embarked on that kind of journey when he picked up the gun, but his actions were in response to the actions of the robbers. I can’t imagine living in a society where reacting to lethal threat and force is punishable, as long as your actions are just that… “reacting to lethal threat.” The outcome of reacting to lethal threat may or may not lead to death. You stated that the police were satisfied with Mr. Washington’s actions, and therefore, I am as well. The only way that Jay would be right (that Mr. Washington should be punished for his actions) would be if the robbers surrendered at the time Mr. Washington got the gun and he shot them down anyway. That would be crossing the line and improperly assuming that they had “…give[n] up [their] right to life unwillingly.” –Michael, Texas
The comments made by Jay from England seem to grapple with an idea that I have also heard many “modern”, liberal friends take on: when does an act of self-defense or an act intended to stop a crime start to encroach on the “rights” of the criminal? I must be an alien, but the idea that criminals have rights is entirely nonsequitur (and completely preposterous) to me. In my opinion, a person knowingly engaged in the commission of a crime has waived his rights by making a conscious choice to violate the law. He or she has chosen to take the ultimate risk, gambling their own devious devices, skill, and power, and their very life and liberty against that of a victim who has no such choice. When the would-be robber, murderer, or rapist loses their gamble, how can anyone other than themselves be at fault? I believe our society errors when it judges the response of the prey, rather than the actions of the predator. –Bob, Colorado
You said “I don’t think Jay is stupid,” but I do. (I realize that, even if you also think so, you might not say so in so many words –at least given that Jay is trying to be thoughtful and openminded.) I’ve been disappointed in the typical use of the term “misguided” for at least a few years now, because, by itself, it implies that somebody else misguided the person(s) in question. Maybe Jay was literally misguided by somebody else’s influence but he certainly is carrying this stupid-ball all by himself right now. (And I gotta admit that often, when I’m trying to find a substitute term for the way most people use the term “misguided”, I can’t think of an appropriate substitute. Darn it! Anyway…) Why do I say he’s stupid? He’s obviously thinking really hard, trying to cover all the possible bases, so to speak, in this matter. By my interpretation, he’s trying to reach the Nth degree of moral correctness; to deserve to stand in the court of god, if I may so exaggerate the point. But, in trying to do so, he has obviously gotten himself in over his head, and he doesn’t even realize that he is drowning in a sea of convoluted pseudo-reasoning, and that he unwittingly walked into that over-his-head depth, basically on his own accord. Consequently, I refer to him as stupid. Maybe he’s not stupid but, rather, he’s simply in a stupid rut, regarding this issue at this time. Let’s hope he figures out his need for a life-preserver and gets back to shore before it’s too late for his mind, if it’s not too late already. –John, Illinois
Wow — this is fantastic (as in mad, crazy, insane, foolish, idiotic, lunatic…). Two days [in jail] for saving five lives. If he stopped the Unabomber would he get life or death row? –Vikki, U.K.
I wonder if what Jay is trying to say is that killing is wrong and that, as such, one who kills another, even if it’s justified, should have some sort of punishment so he is able to atone for his “sin.” If you serve some sort of punishment for your sin, you might not feel as guilty for taking someone’s life, even if it was justified (as I believe was in this case). –Rebecca, Illinois
Yes, Jay clearly worries about any killing being “wrong”. And I do understand that many philosophies have a problem with it. If that’s yours, and you are “forced” to kill someone, and you feel guilty about it (even despite being exonerated by official investigation), fine: go see your pastor and talk to him or her about it. But that’s not what Jay’s main point was — the part I so strongly object to. Jay was saying that Washington should be “punished” for his defense of his own life, and the lives of four other people. Punished! He used the word several times in his messages to me.
People who do the right thing shouldn’t be punished. Washington is a hero! What I particularly worry about is that by saying Washington should be “punished”, what Jay is really saying is that Washington should live by Jay’s philosophy. Wrong. If Washington feels guilty about doing “the right thing,” he can talk to his pastor, or friend, or parent, or parole officer, or therapist — his choice. Not Jay’s choice.
Jay’s letter is symptomatic of the curious mindset displayed by many of my fellow Englishmen, and is one of the reasons we have such draconian gun laws in the UK. They seriously seem to think that passing laws against crime — or the tools used by some to commit crimes — will deter criminals, and that all anti-social/dangerous behaviour can be legislated out of existence. I’m sure nearly all rational human beings think it is wrong to take life lightly, but in the circumstances described there was no time for philosophical debate. Life must sometimes be taken instantly to preserve other lives. But some people cannot see a difference between murder and killing. And of course we value the lives of our loved ones and friends more highly than we do those of strangers, that truly is human nature. As for Jay seeming to accept all your arguments but refusing to admit that he is wrong, he’s just being English, Randy 😉 We like to think we’re a cold blooded and logical race, but we rarely are; it’s just the way we dress up our emotions and instincts. –John, England
I think it’s important to remember that parole is very strict contract between a criminal and society. In exchange for a chance to prove oneself fit to live outside prison walls earlier than the court system’s sentence, the parolee agrees to terms that free members of society do not have to heed. This was not a normal member of society and the same rules, and even “common sense”, do not apply. Judging by reports of the conduct and especially fabrications and manipulations of some parolees, I’m not convinced that 6 days back behind bars is unwarranted while the system double-checks the judgement of the local police. Innocent citizens are subject to short jail stays all the time under our system while the process cranks out an appropriate result and everyone seems to agree this an unfortunate but necessary part of the process. As a parolee, you agree to a much more thorough scrutiny of every move you make — 2 days or 2 weeks, I think detention in this case was justified, if unfortunate. Police officers are always pulled from active duty any time they’ve shot someone, no matter how obvious it was that the shooting was justified in order for the process to verify that fact. That’s part of the process they agreed to. I think being a parolee signs you up for some contractual issues and that’s the way it should be. I think the American ideal of our right to defend life and property has clouded people’s judgment in this case — the system is far from ideal, but it was working, and in this situation I’d bet it would have worked itself through to proper conclusion. How many of us are willing to pay the taxes needed to have a system that can get to that result in a few hours time in situations of similar seriousness? Once again, as a parolee, you should expect that the discretion of police and parole officers will err on the side of caution and harsher enforcement, that’s the deal you accepted and it may mean that you will be subject to the slow wheels of justice in more situations than the rest of society expects, that’s reasonable. Sorry, but no sympathy here. –Jeff, California
You have, to be sure, provided the first reasonable explanation behind the actions in the case, but you missed a few points. For instance, the stated reason for tossing Washington in jail was because he violated his parole for “possessing a firearm” — not to let the “system double-check the judgement of the local police.” Even a parolee, who indeed gives up many rights (e.g., the police can usually pat down a parolee at will, despite the Constitutional prohibition against “unreasonable search”), is presumed “innocent until proven guilty.” Since the police did clear Washington of any crime — and did not arrest him — I submit that he, even as a parolee, should have been given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to remain free while any necessary investigations were concluded, rather than be incarcerated for what surely anyone with common sense agrees is a ridiculous excuse (being in “possession of a firearm” because he grabbed it from a robber!) After all, he was hardly a flight risk: he was cleared by the police, he was employed, etc.
I have been enjoying (for the most part) your e-columns for some time and have never felt the need to respond to on of your articles. That changed when I read your response to the reader letter on the parolee totting a pistol. As a matter of fact your comment, “I don’t think Jay is stupid, but MAN do I think he is misguided!” rightly infuriated me (which is to say I was taken aback by it). The fact is that I believe that you will find that Jay’s viewpoint is not such an aberration and are likely to find it throughout Europe, if not much of the world. I personally do not agree with Jay’s view point, but I can sympathize with it, as I know many people who would agree here in Italy. For instance, in reaction to the death of a protester at the recent G8 summint in Genoa, several police chiefs and officers have been fired for the handling of the issue. I belive if something similar were to happen in America (the shooting of a masked black-clad violent protester brandishing a fire extinguisher, posed to smash a police officers head in) the reaction would not have been of public condimnation of the police officer, but condimnation of the assailant. After all the cops was defending the peace, no? In closing I feel that you should keep in mind the many varying viewpoints that can be found amonst you readers in the 169 countries you purport to reach. –Chris, Italy
Actually, the issue in question notes True goes to 192 countries. In any case, True is not about all the possible viewpoints of all the readers, it’s about my viewpoint. True is, as this web site says on the opening page, my commentary on the news. I think that commentary is based on reason, common sense, and a sense of humor. Sometimes, I don’t think the news I comment on is funny; “ZT” is one of those issues, and I use my space to rail about it. My ZT stories are usually about kids who have done nothing wrong who are punished anyway because of silly interpretations of serious policies or laws. This story is about a man who did nothing wrong who was being punished anyway because of a silly interpretation of a reasonable law. Jay insisted that a man who saved five lives be “punished”. I think “misguided” is a very reasonable description of the mindset behind that demand. I was, to use your word, “infuriated” by Washington’s treatment; I was “infuriated” by the suggestion that he be “punished”. If you’re “infuriated” by my “fury”, fine. At least I made you think about it.
Jay, you twist upon a fabricated dilemma like so many in freshman philosophy. “Someone is going to kill two innocents unless you select one to die, in which case the other will survive.” You are meant to discover that the moral offender is not the person who selects an innocent to save; the offender is the monster who forced the deadly choice. Please grasp this concept before reading the next part: The robbers said “kill us or you die.” Who forced this choice? Surely, Jay, you do not think that by virtue of being a robbery victim, Detrick Washington had unwillingly given up his right to life? Detrick Washington did not mete out justice or punishment, but elected to save innocents in a horrible, deadly scenario set by the robbers. They died as a natural and unavoidable consequence of the choice they themselves forced. –John, Washington
Jay is indeed misguided in his thinking. Your line of reasoning is exactly to the point. The evil would lie in allowing the perpetrators to continue their nefarious acts when presented with an opportunity to rescue the situation. It was the actions of the perps throughout that narrowed the choices to the use of deadly force. Even if religion is set aside, our laws derive in part from the Bible. A relevant point is the moral stricture contained in the Ten Commandments which is properly rendered, “You shall not murder.” The popular mistranslation, “Thou shalt not kill” nullifies the duty to protect innocents against aggressors. A behavior often sanctioned, indeed commanded, by the same God. The only contradiction is the one created by trying to ‘out moralize’ the ultimate moral authority. An activity often engaged in by the zero tolerance pinheads. –Dan, New Jersey
I think you were much too easy on Jay in England. Jay is torn by the fact that Detrick saved several lives, but in doing so took a robber’s life. To him, the lives of violent, murderous thugs are equal in value to the lives of the innocent, peaceful people in the house (including, apparently, several children). To Jay, defending one’s self and family is morally equivalent to attacking others; resisting aggression is morally equivalent to aggressing; the defenders of the Warsaw ghetto were morally equivalent to their Nazi attackers. Jay claims to “respect and admire” Detrick Washington and says that letting innocent people die is “a greater crime.” But he also claims that such judgments are just based on personal feelings. So, to him, they are no more than whims or matters of taste, such as preferring jazz to rock or steak to sushi. Jay’s world view is shared by many others nowadays. These people often speak in terms of “tolerance,” “inclusiveness,” and “broad-mindedness.” They are the people who argue that: * Western values (such as reason, progress, and liberty) are no better than those of primitive savages. Indeed, the latter may be preferable because they lead to living “more simply” and “closer to nature.” * Creators (such as Henry Ford and Bill Gates) are no more deserving than the junkies asking for handouts on the street. Indeed, the latter are more deserving because being needy trumps the “judgmental” concept of having earned something. * The lives of rats, toads, and suckerfish are equal in value to the lives of human beings. Indeed, they rank ahead of human beings because they don’t “despoil” nature. Jay and those who think like him aren’t just stupid or misguided. It’s worse than that: they’re evil. –Richard, Colorado
How about the view of a corrections professional?
As a corrections sergeant in a small city jail for 7 years, I found it appalling that parole/probation officers arrested Washington on the gun charge at all, and thank you for clarifying the difference between P&P officers and regular police officers. In my experience, I have noticed that often P&P officers called to pick up inmates from our jail for probation violation will simply give them a business card and send them on their way… and for much worse deliberate offenses of parole violation. What Washington did could in no way be construed as wanton or pre-meditated (which is the very definition of a crime). He simply did what was necessary to save his family. I would have done the same without second thought and held my head high afterwards. Frankly, it pays to be a criminal. As for the gentleman from England and his mis-guided way of thinking of the whole thing, WAKE UP! I had a similar arguement with an Englishman while visiting Scotland regarding our views of capital punishment. What most hypocritical Englishmen tend to forget while on their soapbox is that our ideas of capital punishment and an eye for an eye, so to speak, came from England with the pilgrams, and that only in the last century or so has England abandonded their identical views. England can punish people with prison there because it is still a punishment and a deterrent! Unlike the kinder, gentler prisons and jails of America, they don’t treat their ciminals like first-class citizens with 3 squares, private ‘rooms’ and 60 channels of cable TV, while the honest, working man keeps two jobs just to feed his family and pay the bills. Here is a man, living right with a past mistake and trying to stay out of trouble. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Thank you for defending his cause. –Christine (no location given)
OK, let’s cut to the bottom line here: is this story really “about” whether or not a parolee was justified in killing a robber? No. To me, it’s about supposed professionals not using common sense, discretion and reason in doing their jobs, but rather officials with control over other people’s lives applying rote “rules” to situations that don’t require them; it is, at its heart, an example of silly schoolyard “zero tolerance” expanding into the “real world” — not a good trend. None of us want kids taking guns to school. None of us want people robbing us at gunpoint. But neither do I want kids to be treated like criminals because they shared candy at school. I don’t want men who save lives to be thrown in jail. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, giving up our rights to marginally increase our security means we deserve neither. (And, as I discussed in my ZT essay, ZT does not actually increase security!)
Would you want someone who saved your family from being murdered to be tossed in jail? I don’t. But if people are “punished” for “doing the right thing,” they’ll learn to walk away and do nothing. We have — plenty of times — heard of people who “don’t want to get involved,” and that attitude is to the detriment of our society. I want people to “get involved” if they see me or my family being held at gunpoint! Don’t you? Thus, if society starts pressuring us to move in that direction, common sense demands that we speak out against it. It’s self destructive. It’s uncivilized. It’s irrational. It is wrong.
When this story was featured on its 10-year anniversary, not a lot had changed when it comes to zero tolerance graduating from schools into the real world. But I heard back from Jay in England! He writes:
I don’t want to discuss the story again, thankfully, but I would like you to know that I wish to distance myself from the comments made by my 20-year-old self in 2001. I was an idiot. I really really wish I hadn’t read the whole thing again again this morning, including the comments.
While there are no doubt intelligent debates to be had somewhere, some other time, in a more suitable forum, about issues such as gun control and capital punishment and everything else, the story was not about these things. Nor did I did enter any intelligent comments — my comments were just plain stupid and failed to grasp the point.
I just wanted to tell you what I should have said at the time: what was I thinking, of course I was wrong, my comments were stupid. Although I would like people to distinguish between stupid comments and comments made by a stupid person. I appreciate that you were kind enough to see me as misguided.
As we’ve seen over the years, many people I argue with stomp away mad, unsubscribing in protest. A select few — the brave ones — stay on, continue to read, and (most importantly) start to think about their positions. With this note, Jay has justified my faith in him. He proved the important difference between “stupid comments and comments made by a stupid person.” This is not to say I’m always right, of course; sometimes I’m the one to rethink things and admit, in public, I was wrong. (Example.)
Growth happens, and follow-up letters like this help me know it’s worth it to spend the energy to get people to think. Thanks, Jay!