A Series of Unfortunate Events

The death of Justine Damond is a human tragedy. However, I must say that I now understand the lack of fuss in a way that I did not fully comprehend before. Yes, someone died under problematic circumstances. But the story of Damond’s passing helped me understand how someone can view these incidents as just a confluence of unfortunate events and not anything that we need to be concerned about in any meaningful way.

Let’s really examine the circumstances that led to Damond’s demise. At first blush her death seems to be an unjustifiable injustice but upon further review a different picture can emerge. Damond, a former addict who has a self-admitted family history of addiction, seemed to be turning her life around. The genesis of her passing was even something that seems positive – she called 911 twice to report a possible sexual assault. The police came to investigate and did not find anything to justify the call. Unfortunately Damond was not more specific in terms of where she thought this possible crime was occurring. Possibly if she had been more observant or helpful, maybe she would not have died. According to reports, the officers faithfully performed their duty, canvassing the area looking for the crime they were led to believe was taking place. Finding no evidence to substantiate Damond’s suspicions, they took another call and were preparing to assist other citizens in accordance with their duties. It was in this moment that Damond made what was a foolish and soon to be fatal mistake. In order to get the officers’ attention she slapped the back of their car and approached the driver’s side door. Startled by the sudden noise and at the height of tension, the officer in the passenger’s side fired through the door and struck Damond. Despite the administration of CPR, Damond died in the alley behind her home.

There are several arguments that could be made in Damond’s defense. Each of those arguments has a logical counterargument that places responsibility for Damond’s death in her own hands. It is definitely illogical for Damond to think that the best thing to do in this situation would be to bang on a cop car and frantically approach police officers in the way she did. Police officers are trained to work in a heightened state and make split second decisions based on a number of factors occurring in a moment. The officer’s fearful state can be argued as perfectly reasonable and as such his use of force completely justified. After all, it had been less than two weeks after a police officer in New York was ambushed and murdered in a similar scenario. Police officers seek to do their jobs responsibly but are also concerned for their safety. They just want to make it home to their families at the end of the day and will occasionally need to make tough decisions in order to do so. Some might argue that in her rush to help and being in need, Damond was equally frazzled. That may be true – but that excuse did not lead to a conviction for the officer who shot Jonathan Ferrell, and I can intellectually understand how someone could view Ferrell’s and Damond’s situations as analogous.[1]Moreover, it seems that any group that wishes to come to Damond’s defense has bigger fish to fry. Opioid addiction, which is prevalent amongst White people, is on the rise in Minnesota. Once we decide that these types of deaths are just unfortunate, it becomes totally reasonable to shift our focus to stemming the tide of that drug crisis and the deaths caused from that before we rise up in revolt about one person who died under rare and unrepeatable circumstances. This applies to gender as well as race. If any women’s group is concerned about Damond’s passing, logic demands that they be more concerned about the approximately 650,000 lives aborted in this country on a yearly basis.

I can also now see how some Christians would believe it is their duty to make sure that people who may be unnecessarily concerned about these events view these situations in the proper way. In a previous Spectrum post, I formulated a challenge to White Adventists that mirrored the anguish of Habbakuk. “How long will you see these things happening and excuse them away? How long can you see the pain and anguish of the people you believe you will share Heaven with and ignore their cries?” A reader emailed me an answer, respectively replying, “There is nothing to see here. It is purely biased news reporting of a problem that does not exist,” and “Like the scare of Y2K, people are afraid of [a] problem that people perceive is real, however insignificant and non-existent it is.” At the time I was upset, but I now see what this reader was trying to tell me. He believed that when someone is grieving, the worst thing we can do, the least Christ-like thing we can do is let them grieve mistakenly. To mourn with them is to run the risk of having them believe that you support them in their beliefs about their reality when you actually don’t care about their pain at all. And to be dishonest in that way is problematic for them and for you. Truly following the example of Christ is not about meeting them at their lowest point of grief and sadness and inhabiting that space with them. It is pulling them from their mistaken grief to a higher standard of truth and into the cold light of reality. At least that what it seemed like this person was saying to me, and I can understand how that would make sense to someone. As another reader expressed to me, we would not want our empathy to be confused for pity. It is unfortunate that death exists in our world, and so long as we can find the most attenuated logic to justify these horrors – so long as we can justify our unwillingness to confront the possibility that different groups of people might have a different experience on this planet, we are correct to follow those logical paths to our reinforced conclusions. It is for this reason we have joined our cause to the cause of Christ and it is our righteous witness to a sinful world. I get it now.

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[1] Jonathan Ferrell was shot by police as he approached them for help after having been in a car accident

Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

Image Credit: 2015 photo of Justine Damond (also known as Justine Ruszczyk) from Sydney Australia. Photo released for media use by Stephen Govel Photography in New York on July 17, 2017.

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[1]Jonathan Ferrell was shot by police as he approached them for help after having been in a car accident.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8126
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Actually meeting people at their lowest point is the right thing to do, in my opinion. If your child cries, because he/she believes there is a monster under their bed, as their parent/guardian you don’t tell them that their fear is irrational as your opener. You get in the bed with them, you console them, let them know you hear their cry, but it doesn’t stop there. No, you show empathy and the only way to lift up a person is not to demand them to get to your level, but to lower yourself so that you will be able to lift them up. If Christ looked at us in the same way we would all be lost. Christ literally lowered Himself in order to lift us up (to Himself). Mourning with someone doesn’t mean you support their belief it means you support their humanity, it’s called empathy, which can be shown without agreeing with the grievers’ perspective. You don’t bring someone in to the cold reality without first providing a coat… Just my thoughts.

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I had to read this article twice and I honestly thought it was a joke. As an Australian I am shocked at the assumptions in this justifying this womens death.
'Unfortunately Damond was not more specific in terms of where she thought this possible crime was occurring. Possibly if she had been more observant or helpful, maybe she would not have died.'
Damond reported the crime was close to her house and it is the job of the police to investigate. A person doesn’t need to die because they don’t have all the facts to a crime.

'It was in this moment that Damond made what was a foolish and soon to be fatal mistake. In order to get the officers’ attention she slapped the back of their car and approached the driver’s side door. Startled by the sudden noise and at the height of tension, the officer in the passenger’s side fired through the door and struck Damond. Despite the administration of CPR, Damond died in the alley behind her home.'
Damond slapped the back of the car to alert the officers she was the person that had reported the incident. A person of criminal intent doesn’t alert their victim.
The fact remains the women approached the police car in her pyjamas alerting the police by slapping the car with no weapon and gets shot dead.

The police officers failed to activate their body cameras and the police car camera but according to this author 'The officers faithfully performed their duty’
One can only assume this Jason Hines is a racist against white people and his opinions should be treated with the greatest scepticism.
I could suggest that Noor the shooter is a Muslim and according to some witnesses had a low opinion of women and had charges pending. Or I could suggest Noor is a Somali the average IQ in that country being 68. I understand this is just speculation on my part as to the reason this women was shot but my speculation is a good as the speculation of Jason Hines.

'But the story of Damond’s passing helped me understand how someone can view these incidents as just a confluence of unfortunate events and not anything that we need to be concerned about in any meaningful way.'
As we say in Australia this statement just doesn’t pass the pub test and to treat this killing as ‘nothing to be concerned with’ should make people calling the police for help be afraid for their lives.

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Unless Jason has better evidence than any of us who have seen and heard on TV and the papers, his academic qualifications add nothing new but are only personal opinions.

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Jason, this is brilliant. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.

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I am still shaking my head in disbelief after reading this article which seems to defend the murder of an innocent person, I think if I were Justine I would have done exactly the same, That’s scary.

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I am not sure I follow any logic in this article. He blames the victim, who is new to this country. She reported a crime, and died for doing it. What does her addiction or lack there of have to do with anything? The police surely didn’t know she was a recovering person, unless they were psychic.

Even more so, what does abortion have to do with this woman getting killed? Really? I see NO logic in this comment.

I have family members who are in law enforcement. I have close friends who are too. It is a tough job every single moment you are at work, and even off duty. However, they have specialized training, all the time, to be able to differentiate between someone in distress and someone who is not in distress. Apparently, these officers need a lot more training.

I am sure for the most part that there are lots of really good officers on this police force, as there are in most departments. These few who make such grave mistakes though, make so many look bad.

This officer was clearly at fault. He should have taken more time to evaluate the situation. Period.

Again, not sure why this article was published at all.

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Using the above logic I need not wonder very long if this writer then also believes that Michael Brown was improperly shot. Surely he was not stopped because he represented an immediate threat to Officer Wilson, but solely and unjustly murdered because of his non-melanin challenged skin.

To bring abortion (which demographically is significantly more prevalent in certain sectors) and Damond’s “past drug abuse” into this argument is risibly illogical. Hines “past drug abuse” slur seemingly justifies suggestion he himself is trying to"fry bigger fish". Maybe she deserved it, not only being white, past drug addict, and perhaps-GASP-she had chosen to terminate a baby. Who knows, was she also unforgivably unlike Noor, a non-liberal?

Jason, it might be Friday, but I will not partake in your fish fry. Nor shall I hold my breath waiting for you to do a similar article if somehow it happens , inexplicably, that a black officer shoots a black victim.
Oh, wait, that has happened, but perhaps the victims gender was not useful for your story.

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I agree with the title of this article - it was indeed a series of unfortunate events. Beyond that, I’d like to suspend judgement. I have an Australian friend presently living in North Dakota, who posted on Facebook what is in my opinion the most salient comment yet on this matter (Martin Olsen, I hope it’s OK for me to share this here):

“When the police are scared that everyone they encounter has a gun and may use it against them, they panic, and you end up with Philando and Justine disasters. These guys are not evil policemen, they are police who made massive mistakes on the job, because they live in continual fear of being shot by the people they serve. The graph below speaks for itself.”

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I was eager to see a commentary on this tragic event from a Christian perspective. But I was very disappointed. In my opinion, the author is neither logical, nor compassionate.
So the best defence the officers present (assuming they tell the truth – dead people don’t tell stories) is they were scarred to death by the slap. Is it a crime to do touch the police car? I came recently to the United States and I was not told that. It sounds like we all have to get mandatory training on how to approach police, as if we are engaging in combat. If we fail to comply with the rules of engagement, our blood will rightly be on our own heads. I cannot accept this logic. I can imagine the officers were startled by the noise, but in a few seconds a lady in pyjamas comes to the door of their car. You shoot her? The first thought should be: Is this the victim?
Mentioning, with no reason, the victim’s past problems with drugs, the author seems to imply that the majority of the white people in Minnesota are on drugs. Really?!
I would rather speak on the tragic results of the insistence of people, mainly Christians, to have arms. Instead of bringing protection and safety, it created so much fear and suspicion. I know, after all of that, there are no instant and easy solutions, but at least we should realise that more arms is not conducive to peace. Christ gave us a better way.

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i think the sardonicism in this article makes an excellent point…in many ways, the story of the good samaritan addresses the tension that can exist between truly ministering to people and upholding religious standards in a way that fails to meet their needs, and keeps them at a distance…

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Murky, fragmented, satirical writing??

I have to, respectfully, disagree with the author. As someone who has worked in public safety for over 40 years, I am somewhat versed in this area. When anyone, a police office included, discharges their weapon, they and they alone are responsible for any injuries or deaths that it may cause. In addition, this officer fired toward and across his partner who was sitting in the seat next to him. Based upon the available evidence, which may change, this officer is responsible for MS. Damond’s death and not MS. Damond.

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Like others, I have read this over and over and, not considering myself totally illiterate, have no idea what point the author is attempting to make. It seems devoid of logical or moral reasoning.
The author must also have a hotline to the relevant DA’s office as he seems to be in possession of facts the major news outlets are not.
One explanation for the horrible turn of events is the fact US police, while having a tough job, seem to be among the worst exercises worldwide in recruitment and training. Just ask any allied military personnel who have served with Americans, they are more afraid of friendly fire than the enemy.

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Jason Hines employs a common sort of rhetoric that is often used to explain the unfortunate events that result in police shootings. Usually when such rhetoric is used, it is in the case of police shooting a black person. I think some readers are taken off balance when such verbiage is used to “justify” police shooting a white person. This article is a type of clever satire to encourage us to look at events through a different filter than usual. Helpful essay.

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How about this:

How Long?
22 September 2016 | JASON HINES

The evidence that Jason provided is what we have all been prevued to. When you read his other posts on police violence against people of another race, the rhetoric that is spewed in the comments are the same that is published in this article.
You should probably go read the comments under those articles an offer a different opinion to the spurious comments made by many. His contribution to this forum is invaluable.

I know exactly where Jason is coming from. ( I think Carmen above is correct)

He has received push back from his articles about the police when they have shot black persons. So, he finds an “accidental” shooting of a white person, and then argues like his opponents did when discussing black shootings. He even titles the article “A Series of Unfortunate Events” to highlight his perception of his opponents arguments from the past. Very clever.

He expected that there would be outrage at his arguments (actually his opponents arguments) about this unfortunate white women. But instead people became confused, though a few were disgusted with his apparent position. Others thought is was indeed an unfortunate series of events.

Irony or satire has to be clearly and carefully done to be effective, or the impact is lost.

When I was in high school, we were taught to “Drive Defensively”. That meant to always think the other person did not know what was going on. When you took that into account, you could take the appropriate action even if they didn’t.

You have to think that way about anyone with a gun, even the police. Not doing so could cost you your life. And it might be this is especially important if you are black.

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Like others, I was shocked when I read the article, an article that appears to be impugning Justine Damon’s character and attempting to degrade her worth as a person. It never crossed my mind that I was reading a piece of irony. In any case, the disparaging remarks about her are inappropriate, given that her family and friends are still in the grieving process, while the incident and its aftermath are still very raw for many people. The article may appear to the readership in America as ironic, but Spectrum has world-wide coverage through the internet; to me it seems to be shockingly insensitive.

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Mr. Hines is one that believes the “hands up don’t shoot” falsehood in Ferguson that originated BLM is true. Keep that in perspective of this “clever satire”.