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Squires: Don’t blame Jordan Neely for his tragic death

New York Daily News / Contributor, ALEX KENT / Contributor | Getty Images

The most polarizing man in politics and the media gave a prophetic warning to every American that we should consider in the wake of Jordan Neely’s death.

Neely was a 30-year-old, mentally ill homeless man who died after being restrained in a chokehold by a 24-year-old Marine on a New York City train. A freelance journalist named Juan Alberto Vazquez was on the train and said Neely started screaming that he had no food or drink, was tired, and didn’t care if he went back to jail. Vazquez said Neely then took off his jacket and threw it on the ground. Video of the incident went viral. Neely’s extensive criminal record — more than 40 arrests – was used to justify bystander intervention.

His death also brought out the predictable group of progressive politicians who comment on the crime and disorder only when an incident lines up with their color-coded algorithms. This translates to intense media scrutiny and maximum virtue-signaling when a black person is harmed, or even harassed, by a white person. There were also strong reactions on the right side of the political aisle. What started with criticism of New York’s inability to deal with crime in the subways ended with the conclusion that the unnamed Marine was a hero who had no other choice but to choke Neely.

This incident is exactly the type of story Tucker Carlson would’ve covered on his former show. But the media outlets that cheered his departure from Fox News inadvertently gave the public a Tucker monologue that rivals anything he ever said in his primetime slot.

A private text message from Carlson that was made public this week is what every American needs to see and hear in our current era of hyper-partisan conflict. In it, Carlson expressed how he went from enjoying the sight of a group of “Trump guys” beating up an “Antifa kid” to becoming concerned that his disdain for the man’s politics overshadowed the man’s humanity. He concluded his message with a candid moment of self-reflection:

Much as I despise what he says and does, much as I’m sure I’d hate him personally if I knew him, I shouldn’t gloat over his suffering. I should be bothered by it. I should remember that somewhere somebody probably loves this kid, and would be crushed if he was killed. If I don’t care about those things, if I reduce people to their politics, how am I better than he is?

Unfortunately, as is often the case, most of the reaction to the text put the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Our race-obsessed media looked over a treasure trove of deep insights into our most primal urges to focus on two sentences at the beginning of the message: “Jumping a guy like that is dishonorable obviously. It’s not how white men fight.”

The desire to see our enemies punished, at times with violence, is a deeply human phenomenon — but it is one that must be held in check if we have any hope of living in a civilized society. This is why maintaining law and order is one of the government’s primary jobs. The civil magistrate must do all it can to keep both lawlessness and vigilantism at bay.

When it comes to the blinding glare of vengeance and tribalism, the truth is that most people have far more in common with the progressive cultural commentator Touré than they do with conservatism’s most influential media personality.

The author and columnist for TheGrio tweeted that a homeless man yelling on the subway is “normal” in NYC and that the Marine’s conduct was unjustified and warrants charges. His principle seemed straightforward enough: Aggressive and threatening speech does not justify the use of potentially deadly force.

This revelation would be quite a shock to Touré: 2021 Edition. In May of that year, he tweeted about an incident during which a black Dunkin Donuts employee punched a 77-year-old customer who called him the N-word on multiple occasions. The customer died. Touré’s final comment, “He f***ed around and found out,” made it clear whose side he was on.

The political pundit followed up with a poll asking black people whether they would convict the young man who threw the punch. Over 70% of people said they would not. Several conservative commentators expressed disgust at the notion that words — regardless of how aggressively they are delivered — are a justification for violence.

It is easy to mock Touré’s hypocrisy and callousness toward human life. The truth is that most of us are just like him. This is why we need a standard for truth that is higher than tribal affiliation.

The biblical principle of equal weights and measures is good for both assessing the price of grain in the marketplace and considering evidence during the arbitration of a personal dispute. Objective and consistent standards are essential to the pursuit of justice, which itself should be proportional, impartial, and timely.

The same law or standard should apply equally to rich and poor, black and white, male and female. That is what things would look like in an ideal world. As a Christian, I’m fully aware that we live in a fallen world. The message of the cross is the only thing that can offer a measure of hope. It is there where every person comes to realize the weight of their sins. We should be thankful that God does not judge us in the same way we judge one another. The cross is where we see the intersection of justice and mercy.

The truth is many of us don’t want a justice system. We want a vengeance system we can use to exact judgment against our enemies and show mercy to our tribe. This impulse goes a long way toward explaining how media narratives are constructed after a newsworthy incident takes place.

Journalists stood with straight faces in 2020 and told viewers that protests where buildings were set on fire were “mostly peaceful.” Liberal politicians and pundits accused the Trump administration of using excessive force when law enforcement cleared Lafayette Square after protesters clashed with police near the White House. The same people mocked Ashli Babbitt after she was shot and killed in the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But that day was an opportunity for bi-partisan flip-flopping. For the entire summer of 2020, conservative politicians, commentators, and media personalities consistently expressed the same sentiment about rioting. They promoted law and order and had little sympathy for police responses to protesters once peaceful demonstrations turned violent.

Not a single conservative would have criticized the police for shooting a protester trying to breach a precinct under siege. But when a glass door barricaded with chairs was all that stood between a mob and elected members of Congress, the officer who shot Ashli Babbitt was called a “murderer” by some of the most reliable “back-the-blue” voices, even Carlson himself.

That wasn’t the only time prioritizing narrative over truth led people to the wrong conclusions about justice.

Kyle Rittenhouse’s acquittal was just because visual evidence proved he acted in self-defense, not because the people he shot included one convicted sex offender and a man who allegedly assaulted family members. I’m fairly certain none of the ESPN commentators who used the airwaves to hold a public therapy session would have taken the same position if a black teen was the one defending businesses — and himself — from white attackers.

The DOJ’s exoneration of Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown was fairly decided because of forensic evidence and witness testimony, not Brown’s size and prior conduct that day. Fighting an officer for his gun is the type of action that justifies the use of potentially lethal force, regardless of the color of the officer or citizen. The people who care only about narratives are still claiming a racist white cop “murdered” Brown while he had his hands up in a position of surrender.

The mindless devotion to narrative is what prompted one MSNBC contributor named Jason Johnson to claim that Brett Kavanaugh — then a Supreme Court nominee — was the “fifth guy in a gang rape.” Why? Because Johnson, like Kavanaugh, grew up in the D.C. area and apparently knew men who had a pattern of sexual assault. Kavanaugh’s anger during his confirmation hearings struck me as perfectly reasonable, not evidence of why he should’ve been kept out of the court.

Our difficulty with consistently applying an objective standard is not confined to crime. Progressive media outlets are sympathetic to “replacement theory” when it takes the form of historically black neighborhoods in the midst of demographic change brought on by gentrification. But they discard their concern with social dislocation when the residents in question are white and the newcomers are not.

Likewise, conservative commentators have very different reactions to stop-and-frisk laws than with red-flag laws. Being young, black, and male in a low-income neighborhood is not a crime. Neither is being middle-aged, white, and a legal gun owner in the suburbs. Yet, significant impositions on the civil liberties of one of those groups are often justified because a small subset of people within it engage in criminal conduct.

There is nothing wrong with talking about the institutions that failed Jordan Neely or the citizens of New York City. Those things don’t change the fact that how we react to his death says a lot about us. It is easy to jump from concern about violence and disorder in the subways to justifying what happened to him based on the conduct of others or his own past behavior.

We should heed Tucker Carlson’s warning about allowing tribal violence to corrode our souls. There is a big difference between acknowledging that criminal and antisocial behaviors lead to a wide range of potential responses — including the killing of the assailant— and feeling a sense of schadenfreude when the worst possible outcome befalls a person.

We should ask what type of society we are becoming if we believe the only way to handle property loss or belligerents in public is by killing someone.

The siren song of tribalism is a sweet melody to each of us at some point in our life. But if the bar for lethal force is lowered to verbal threats and a belligerent attitude, we’ll unleash the biggest depopulation campaign since legalized abortion.

Most of us think of ourselves as principled people, but the only way to tell is to stress-test our principles by applying them to friend and foe alike.

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