It is said when you are young and foolish, you are young and foolish. While a tautology, it is also true.
This is demonstrated by David Hogg, school shooting “survivor” sucking up media time lecturing everyone on violence, while at the same time displaying ignorance of facts, statute law, and Constitutional Law. (I put survivor in quotes because he was in a different building on campus. He had as much chance of actually getting shot as the Broward County sheriff’s deputies cowering outside the building containing the active shooter. Less, actually. There was a diminishingly small possibility the sheriffs might have shot Cruz leaving the building if only out of self-preservation.)
Should I have more sympathy for the kid? Do I know what he went through and how I would react in a similar situation? Well, yes, I have, at about the same age (and level of maturity). That was sure not how I handled it. That gives me the same “moral authority” he has. (Again in quotes. “Moral authority” is a term used to shut down debate when the facts are against you.)
In 1973 I was a senior at Pioneer High School, in Ann Arbor, MI. One day, during lunch period in the cafeteria, I found myself in a knife fight. Or rather, half a knife fight – he had a knife; I did not.
I do not want to talk about the fight. That is worth another post. There were two relevant facts: (1) He started it. (2) It had a happy ending – I won the fight and was 30 seconds from killing him when the fight ended.
This was an unusual occurrence in an upper-middle-class Ann Arbor or Pioneer High School in the 1970s. I think it was the first year in which a student was injured with a knife since the 1950s. Knives were then common in school. Many students carried them. Hunters (some as young as 16) locked long rifles in their cars in the school parking lot. (The knife used against me was not a scout knife or a Swiss Army Knife. It was either a switchblade or gravity knife used to attack people. That was unusual.) The shock waves running through my town were similar to those seen in Parkland.
There were other similarities between the incident that happened to me and the Parkland shooting. The first was the public school system had been letting discipline slide based on an offender’s class and ethnicity. Sons of middle-class whites (and blacks, to be fair) or working class or poor whites who broke the rules experienced strict enforcement. If not . . . they tried to be understanding of your social disadvantages. This was a signal to this privileged class to run wild. They did.
The perpetrator, a 19-year-old special education student had a long history of violence. He was in special education because he was repeating his final year due to missing days because of encounters with the law. He and an identical twin brother had rap sheets filling several sheets of paper – legal-sized paper.
For several years they robbed convenience stores, gas stations, and liquor stores around Ann Arbor. Or rather one would while the other was at a party or some innocent event where they could be seen by unimpeachable witnesses. Since the robber always got away clean, even when the victims pressed charges reasonable doubt existed. Each twin swore they had done nothing. The other twin was the bad twin. Proving they were conspiring was difficult, especially when the defense offered the jury explanations of how the cops were going to extra efforts to jail these two.
My refusal to lie down and play dead (or die) ended that game. It is hard to argue your brother did it when you get arrested at the spot of the attack covered with a pool of your victim’s blood.
Remember how I said the fight ending 30 seconds before he died was a happy ending? It was. Had I killed him, even in obvious self-defense, I would have been charged. The cost of defense would have been on my family even after I was acquitted. Since he was the assailant, he was charged with aggravated assault. I had been stabbed and cut multiple times, including one blow to my chest just to the left of my heart and a second that punctured a lung.
Here is where Hogg’s story and mine diverge: the cops and prosecutor wanted to nail my attacker, badly. They had literally caught him red-handed. Resisting community pressure (and my desires) they had not charged him with attempted murder or attempted manslaughter. Instead, they had charged him with “assault to do grave bodily harm less than murder.”
Why? Intent. For an attempted murder or manslaughter to stick they had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of 12 people he intended to kill me. They had him cold on an assault doing grave bodily harm less than murder. I was in the hospital getting a lung re-inflated because he stabbed me. Grave bodily harm had been done and they did not need to prove he intended to do it.
All that stood between him and conviction was one dumb 17-year-old: me.
While I was in the hospital the school cop dropped by to see how I was doing. I believe he really was doing that, but he was also checking out what type of witness I would make. Did I have any objection to charging my attacker? He wanted to know if I was in a forgiving mood. No fears, there. If I had my way, the only question would have been whether or not to dip him in batter before deep frying him. (Yes, I was a vindictive child.)
I was unhappy about his not being charged with attempted murder. After the cop asked me if I’d rather risk his getting off than going to jail, I conceded I would rather go for the sure thing. The minimums on both were close and he was not getting the maximum. This would be his first felony conviction as an adult.
After ascertaining the fact that we were on the same team, he got to the visit’s major reason: Coaching me on dealing with the press. The only way this guy was getting off was through me. If I made inflammatory statements in the press it could cause a mistrial or an appeal because I had “poisoned the jury pool.” If I came across as a racist yahoo, it could convince the jury I had it coming and they would acquit. He told me I could say anything I wanted to say – it was a free country – but anything I said would have consequences. All in an unwitnessed conversation, during a casual visit to see how I was doing.
After I left the hospital, the press came calling. The real reason they are called the press is not printing methods. Boy did they press. Each time they called my answer was identical: “He was being charged with a serious crime, I was sure justice would be done, and I had no further comment until the trial was over.” They printed every word. (No they didn’t. They ignored me completely.)
The only public statement I made was in response to a letter to the editor sent to my hometown newspaper, The Ann Arbor News. The letter stated my parents should be ashamed if they sent me back to such a dangerous place. (A second stabbing had taken place in a different high school or junior high in my hometown a week after mine, and people were on heightened alert.)
I wrote a response. In two or three paragraphs I stated that the last thing I would permit was to be bullied out of my education by thugs. The proper response was not for the students to flee, but for the administration to step up to their responsibilities to protect the students. (I had more faith in school administrations then than I did now, but I was young and foolish.) I then resumed radio silence.
In truth, there was little danger – of that sort of physical attack. Initially after returning to school, I carried an 18-inch-long adjustable crescent wrench. (Because I was having problems with the bicycle I rode to school and might need to work on it. The lanyard on the handle was so I wouldn’t drop it into some inconvenient spot while I used it. Really.) The school cop knew about it and agreed it could be a useful tool if I needed it, but leave it out of sight when I did not and only use it when I really needed to.
I stopped carrying it after two days. I discovered I was the school’s alpha male. Bare-handed I had almost killed someone who attacked me with a knife. (A Bowie knife. Maybe a machete. Apparently, the knife got longer with every telling – by others. I was not discussing it.) None of the males wanted to mess with me. I was even accorded respect by the jocks. This was a different experience for someone firmly categorized among the Grinds (studies all the time) and Geeks (me: D&D early adapter).
The only potential peril came from the females. They locked on to me with the tenacity of heat-seeking missiles. Apparently, I was the hottest target around (also different). It offered a different physical peril, one appreciated by a 17-year old male. (I was young and foolish enough to enjoy the potential pleasures. I was not so young and foolish as to get ensnared by disease or an unwanted pregnancy.)
The matter went to trial that summer after my delightfully exhausting senior year ended. He was convicted, sent away for 2-1/2 to 10. (The trial, too, probably is worth a separate post.) I afforded no ammunition with which to free him through the press. The defense attorney did not enter my letter to the editor. As intended when writing it – in its full context, it would make things worse for his client. What was unreasonable about not allowing myself to be bullied out of an education – except to bullies?
After the trial, the press came calling. I was free to say whatever I wanted to say, but what was there to say? I stated I thought the verdict was a triumph of justice (the sleazy git was seeing hard time, after all) and I was satisfied with the outcome of everything (I had won the fight, had a truly memorable last half of a senior year, and the sleazy git was going to prison). Not that I stated the parenthetic material aloud. Despite my passion in stating this, the bare words were sufficiently dull that the press ignored them.
Which was fine by me.