Published Jan. 13, 2021 in newspapers
It’s been one week since we saw a reckless mob converge and violently destroy public property in the name of… justice… or freedom… or equality… or something. (Your message gets lost when you’re literally climbing walls, swinging from doorframes and looting government buildings.)
I’m talking about the riots in Washington, D.C. Like most Canadians – and others around the world – I was in awe of what I saw. It was interesting to hear the cable news commentators talk about “shock” but say they weren’t “surprised” by the events. I fail to see the difference in definition in this case.
Here’s what “shocked” me.
Onlookers and outsiders said to the rioters, “You got what you deserved.” In that, they usually mean arrested or charged, perhaps some sort of injury. I was fascinated to see how many people said Ashli Babbitt deserved to die.
Babbitt was one of the rioters who proudly posted on social media ahead of Wednesday’s unrest. At first, when word got out that she was an air force veteran, people gasped that a veteran was killed in the melee. (Note how I wrote “at first” – because that feeling didn’t last long.)
According to reports at the scene, based on shaky cameraphone video, Babbitt was shot through a window by police guarding the other side of the door where the violent confrontation was ramping up.
What surprised me is how level-headed viewers said that Babbitt deserved to die. And I’m not talking about one-sided commentators on social media. I’m talking about everyday people who chimed in on conversations about the drama.
“You’d think a veteran would have more respect for government and the people there,” said one colleague. “You hear Americans say veterans automatically get a pass for things. Probably not something like this though.”
A listener emailed me after a radio segment and was a little more aggressive.
“She acted like a wild animal and was there to (cause) damage,” he wrote. “How do u (sic) feel sorry for someone like that? Bullets don’t discriminate. She got what she deserved. One less idiot to worry about. Done. Simple.”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. This is only the second time a news event has made me question, “Did that person deserve to die?”
The first time was when Osama bin Laden had been killed. I recall watching the news of revellers outside the White House partying into the night. They were cheering somebody – a bad guy, a terrorist – was dead. By definition, was Babbitt a terrorist? Do terrorists deserve to die?
The argument could be made that she left behind a family and friends, so what about their loss and their feelings? But then it boils down to wondering, if she didn’t care about those loved ones, why should we?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s the right or wrong way to think. Hearing that point of view makes me question a person’s logic and probe to understand why they have the opinion they do.
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