Why the Acquittal of George Zimmerman Was a Good Thing

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trayvon

Several months have passed since a jury in Florida acquitted George Zimmerman of the charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The decision was sadly unsurprising to many. But to many, including myself, it still filled our hearts with anger. Many of us felt the decision was unjust. After the trial, we were left with nothing but the bitter irony of one’s life undeservedly lost and one’s innocence undeservedly gained. The worst case scenario for Trayvon Martin supporters following the trial was to watch George Zimmerman walk free. Which is exactly what he did.

I have wrestled with my own emotions, repressing the pent-up anger I have towards Zimmerman’s “innocence”. My opinion of the jury’s decision is that it was a systematic failure of due process (They were clearly misled by the jury instructions). Yet, despite my strong feelings, a small part of me is convinced that it was for the best. Here’s why.

Following his acquittal in July, Zimmerman hoped to fade back into society, unnoticed. However, despite his efforts, Zimmerman has been arrested not once, but twice for violent domestic disputes.

In September, at the home of Zimmerman’s parents-in-law, his estranged wife Shellie called 9-1-1 reporting that Zimmerman had smashed her iPad and punched her father in the nose. Zimmerman was not charged following the incident. Allegedly, there was video evidence of the fight on the iPad, which was conveniently destroyed beyond repair. The argument occurred only days after Shellie announced she was divorcing Zimmerman due to his increasingly aggressive behavior and also because she was starting to doubt his innocence in the death of Trayvon Martin (her words, not mine).

Two months later, it happened again. This time, at the residence of Zimmerman’s (now ex) girlfriend–Samantha Scheibe. This time, he was charged with aggravated assault plus one count of misdemeanor battery. Zimmerman allegedly pushed Scheibe out of her home after threatening her with a shotgun and then barricaded himself inside until police arrived. According to the judge, there was an unreported incident ten days earlier wherein Zimmerman choked Scheibe after a similar dispute.

Most people (normally, including myself) look at Zimmerman’s recent behavior and are refueled by anger, as the truth slowly reveals itself; a truth they have known all along. It has become increasingly clear that Zimmerman was likely the aggressor on the night he shot Travon Martin. Subsequently, causing insult to injury months after the trial ended.

I shared this sentiment at first. Even though Zimmerman had finally been charged with a crime, even though the judge banned him from using firearms, it was barely recompense for the life he took away and the lives he changed forever.

It should be known that I’m inherently cynical about almost everyone and everything. But despite my cynicism–in rare form–I am optimistic. Because, if anything, this proves we [supporters of Trayvon Martin] were right. I consider all of those around the country who supported Zimmerman (a lot more than you would think). People who actually searched deep-down within themselves and came to the conclusion that it was justified for a man to pursue and kill an unarmed teen out of suspicion. I consider these simple-minded American folk–in lieu of recent events–and I smile. I think about the jurors–who are sitting at home watching this on the news–and I smile. Because now they must witness how wrong they were. Now they must bare witness to the true character of a man they wrongfully defended.

If Zimmerman had been found guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin, he would have been locked away for the world to forget. In accordance, he would have ostensibly become a martyr for everyone who defended him. Sure, hypothetically, justice would be served if he spent the rest of his life in prison. But the perceived ambiguity surrounding whether or not Zimmerman was actually the aggressor that evening, would continue to perpetuate the same uncertainty surrounding Trayvon’s death. Instead, Zimmerman’s persona has been revealed: someone who is (undoubtedly) gun-obsessed, irrational, and violent. The prosecutor’s couldn’t have painted a better picture themselves.

A reaffirmation of our beliefs is a small victory in the grand scheme of things (not to mention, self-satisfying). In a way, the recent events are disheartening. Because Zimmerman’s behavior only confirms what many of us have believed for so long. It’s easy to become further enraged about the fact he was acquitted in the first place. But, at the same time, I believe it’s subtle retribution. If the jury couldn’t incriminate him, at least he’s doing it to himself on public display. It’s certainly better than Zimmerman simply fading into obscurity, enjoying his freedom unhindered.

The big problem with a disguise is that, however hard you try, its always a self-portrait. In other words, George Zimmerman can’t stop himself from being George Zimmerman. Perhaps, having to live with himself, is an existential punishment to fit the crime.

To all those who might one-day contemplate the fate of someone like this:

Think hard about your decision. This is what being wrong looks like.

zimmyUPDATE: Zimmerman charges dropped (New York Times)

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Analysis of the Oscar Pistorius Murder Case

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pistorius

Since the earliest days of my journalistic endeavors, I’ve been enthralled by true-crime stories. It started while growing up in the 90s. I remember, at a very young age, spending hours in front of the television, unknowingly indoctrinating myself by watching episodes of Rescue 9-1-1: a show featuring re-enactments of real-life emergencies, hauntingly narrated by William Shatner. Perhaps, through this, I became subconsciously desensitized to graphic details.

William Shatner in closeup

Shatner was my Mr. Rogers.

More recently, I fell in love with Capote’s In Cold Blood. Without a doubt, the most visceral piece of investigative journalism in American literature. It should come as no surprise that one of my personal heroes is Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective: Sherlock Holmes.

Holmes was a master of “deductive logic”. It’s a form of reasoning that can be understood as “top-down”: moving from generalities to reach a logical conclusion. A famous Holmes quote summarizes this type of reasoning:

“When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” -Arthur Conan Doyle

When I analyze a crime, I attempt deduction to reach a conclusion. My role is an observer. I have no personal stake in this case. I have no access to any information that the public does not. The following is simply an analysis of the available information on the Pistorius murder case and my opinion about what happened that night. My only bias lies in the fact that I believe his story is bullshit. I know that’s not the correct legal term but it’s my preliminary assessment.

pacino

 I’m outta order?! This whole courtroom is outta order!

Let’s start with the facts. In the early morning of February 14th, 2013, Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his estate in Pretoria, South Africa. He claims he thought she was an intruder and acted out of self-defense. On February 22nd, Pistorius was granted bail at $113,000 and will remain on strict house arrest until his trial in June.

You can view Pistorius’ defense affidavit (his version of events) here. It’s important to read for the purpose of context. However, I’ll restate the crucial pieces of testimony later in my analysis. In the meantime, here’s a diagram:

Spread template 2011

The key area of dispute is whether Pistorius shot Ms. Steenkamp accidentally. The prosecution and police argue that the athlete deliberately shot his girlfriend through a bathroom door at his home following an argument. Supporting this theory are a number of inconsistencies between Pistorius’ account and the lead detective’s initial testimony.

Detective Hilton Botha had been assigned the Pistorius case and already testified in court, until he was abruptly suspended from the investigation following the discovery of a re-opened case in which he was involved and charged with seven counts of attempted murder. South African news reports said at the time of the alleged shooting in 2011 that Botha and two officers were pursuing a man accused of murdering and dismembering a woman before dumping her body down a drain. They fired upon a taxi-bus carrying seven people, believing the perpetrator was on board (hence, the seven charges of attempted murder). The prosecutor of the case also alleged Botha and the officers were drunk at the time. Specific details have proven to be elusive. In the end, all three officers were acquitted and only recently was the case reopened.

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Detective Hilton Botha

A police spokesman, Neville Malila, said police learned on [2/20/13] that the director of public prosecutions (DPP) had reinstated the charges against Botha. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the charges against Botha were originally reinstated on February 4th (10 days before the crime). Why did it take so long for the police to be informed? Botha faces seven counts of attempted murder–a crime he was already acquitted of–yet it took over two weeks to inform him that the case was re-opened? Doesn’t that information merit a sense of urgency?

Malila claims the reinstatement of the case on February 4th is purely coincidence. I buy that. But the fact that the police weren’t informed about this until February 20th–less than a week after the murder and in the midst of Pistorius’ bail hearing–seems way too convenient.

On 2/19/13 the judge agreed–given the circumstances–that the charges against Pistorius were worthy of premeditation; considered a major victory for the prosecution. Yet, within 24 hours, the DPP informs the police about the re-opened case against Botha and has him suspended from the investigation. Botha was subsequently eviscerated by the defense during cross-examination (retracting half of his original statements). Still, I find it hard to believe that Pistorius’ attorney, Barry Roux, wasn’t involved in pressuring the DPP into pressuring police. Especially given his questionable background:

Roux once represented Lieutenant-General Lothar Nethling, an apartheid-era police chief. A separate client was Casper Greeff, convicted of killing his wife and another man. Accordingly, reporters describe Roux as a legal gun-for-hire, by no means pursuing law as a form of altruism. I think it would be naive to not consider the possibility that Roux was attempting to destroy Botha’s character by using the re-opened case as ammunition. Remember, he gets paid to do that.

barry roux

Defense Attorney Barry Roux

The police said they chose Botha, an officer for 24 years and detective for 16, in spite of the charges because of his experience. If they thought his past allegations affected his credibility then why assign the veteran detective to the most high-profile murder case in the world? I’m inclined to believe his credibility isn’t negligible. Especially considering that the allegations are from a completely unrelated case.

This is one hypothesis in regards to Botha’s suspension: the detective had accumulated a plethora of incriminating evidence against Pistorius in the week leading up to his bail hearing. This is validated by the fact that the judge agreed pre-meditation was an appropriate charge–there was obviously substantial evidence there. Roux, feeling threatened, dug up whatever dirt he could possibly find on Botha. What Roux found was that the NPA had reinstated a case against Botha on February 4th, and then had the DPP inform the police on February 20th. Why? Because regardless if there was a legitimate case against Botha or not, the media would find out somehow and subsequently blow it out of proportion (and that’s exactly what they did). In turn, whether or not Botha was credible became irrelevant. In the eyes of the public, he wasn’t. Police had no choice but to remove him from the investigation. Genius. This type of legal maneuvering is called “being a lawyer”.

Does this scenario sound familiar? It should. Flashback to the O.J. Simpson trial. During cross-examination, lead detective Mark Fuhrman, when asked by defense attorney F. Lee Bailey whether he had used the word “nigger,” said he hadn’t used the word in 10 years. The defense produced four witnesses to establish that Fuhrman had used the “n-word” more recently, as well as an audiotape contradicting his testimony. He was charged with perjury and his credibility was destroyed. As a result, Fuhrman is a convicted felon. He is the only person to have been convicted of criminal charges related to the Simpson case. As we all know, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of all charges.

oj

Obviously innocent.

While I can’t say with certainty that my hypothesis concerning Roux is the truth (even I’ll admit it’s a stretch) I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t far from it. I’m a realist. No amount of nefarious back-room politics would surprise me when it comes to lawyers.

Before offering the following analysis, I feel it’s necessary to inform you of everything upfront. Considering the early inconsistencies in this case are found within the contrasting accounts between Pistorius and Botha, Botha’s credibility is what all of the evidence relies on at this point. Personally, I still believe Detective Botha to be credible. Thus, I haven’t discounted his preliminary investigation. If you believe otherwise, well then, I’m sorry. That’s why it’s called an opinion. Go watch Nancy Grace, instead.

nancy grace

“Rabble-rabble-rabble! Casey Anthony! Rabble-rabble-rabble!”

ANALYSIS:

“I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes with a view to commit crime, including violent crime. I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before.

  • Oscar Pistorius’ estate is, literally, the safest neighborhood in the entire country of South Africa. The area consists of more than 1,600 plots built around an 18-hole golf course. Security measures include electrified fences and 24-hour armed guards. While it’s true that South Africa has some of the highest rates for violent crime in the world (avg. 50 murders/day) I don’t believe Pistorius is a likely victim of one of those crimes. Furthermore, playing the victim of crime while you live in a $5 million estate in the safest area of the country, appears to be a desperate plea to gain sympathy and/or humanize him.

During the early morning hours of February 14th, 2013, I woke up, went onto the balcony to bring the fan in and closed the sliding doors, the blinds and the curtains. I heard a noise in the bathroom and realised that someone was in the bathroom.

  • Pistorius wakes up in the middle of the night–he’s walking on his stumps–and for some reason he decides to get up out of bed, go out to the balcony, bring in the fan (without his legs?), close the sliding door, close the blinds and the curtains. ALL in the dark, mind you. As he would later say that it was so dark that he couldn’t tell whether or not Reeva was in bed. So why get up and do all of that in the pitch dark? Like most people, it’s become habitual that I close the garage and lock the doors in my house before going to bed every night. I’ve been doing that routine everyday for years (and I live in the suburbs). Point being, if Pistorius was “acutely aware of violent crime” and had also been a “victim of violence and burglaries” then why wouldn’t he shut the balcony door before going to bed? Why wouldn’t he shut the open window in the bathroom? (Which he later said made him apprehensive of an intruder because there were construction workers at his property earlier that day who left a ladder against the house). Given the fact that he was consciously aware of the construction workers, knew the ladder was still up, and was “acutely aware of violent crime” in his past, why didn’t he make sure his house was secure before going to bed? I think the circumstances surrounding him waking up in the middle of the night are odd, at best. If he felt it was so important to do this routine at 3 A.M., why wouldn’t he have done it before he went to bed that night? I also don’t believe that walking out on the balcony provided Reeva enough time to slip out of bed unnoticed by Pistorius, as the defense claims.

“I felt a sense of terror rushing over me… Although I did not have my prosthetic legs on I have mobility on my stumps.”

  • This statement is the defense’s equivalent of “having our cake and eating it too”. Basically they’re saying, Pistorius’ judgement was clouded by the fact that he was paralyzed by fear. However, it wasn’t paralyzing enough (no pun intended) to stop him from grabbing his gun and approaching the threat–without his legs and in the dark. If he felt a “sense of terror” and vulnerability then why didn’t he remain next to the bed in a defensive position? (Perhaps with his gun pointed toward the narrow hallway. Basic defensive instincts.) According to blueprints, the intruder would have had no choice but to emerge from the hallway into the bedroom, completely vulnerable to a surprise attack by Pistorius and his 9mm.

“I grabbed my 9mm pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom I screamed words to the effect for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed.

  • Detective Botha testified that the holster to Pistorius’ 9mm was found on Reeva’s side of the bed. Barring the possibility that the detective’s entire investigation is bullshit, this is one of the most incriminating pieces of evidence in my opinion. It’s far-fetched to believe Reeva would not wake up if Oscar yelled in her ear while she slept right next to him. Additionally, if he was next to her, why didn’t he reach up onto the bed and see if she was there? I would estimate that 9 out of 10 people would check the bed in that situation. Especially if she was your extremely hot model girlfriend who you wanted to protect.  How could he possibly think Reeva was still in bed after she didn’t respond? Why didn’t he take simple measures to make sure whether or not she was there? 

“I noticed that the bathroom window was open. I realised that the intruder/s was/were in the toilet because the toilet door was closed and I did not see anyone in the bathroom. I heard movement inside the toilet. The toilet is inside the bathroom and has a separate door.

  • Again, coming back to the open window in the bathroom. Why was this suddenly unnerving? Pistorius said he woke up in the middle of the night to close the sliding door to his balcony. Which suggests it wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary to leave a door and/or window open in the house while they slept. Also, I reiterate another point by asking: why did he pursue? He had his gun, he had located the threat within the bathroom, and the intruder’s only way out was back through the bathroom window or down a narrow hallway. If anyone had tactical advantage in that moment, it was Pistorius with a 9mm pistol aiming down a hallway in darkness while standing half the height of an average man (if he had actually done that).

“As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself. I believed that when the intruder/s came out of the toilet we would be in grave danger.

  • This might sound insensitive but the fact that Pistorius is a paraplegic is basically the only leg he has to stand on–dammit! I got to stop doing that. Excuse the pun. What I mean is, the fact that he’s handicapped is the only reason that his story is plausible. If he was able-bodied, this story about mistaking his girlfriend for an intruder and firing four shots through the bathroom door, would be considered a complete farce. Pistorius and the defense are relying too much on his perceived “vulnerability”. Their persistence about this seems manipulative to me. If Pistorius had legs and/or wasn’t a celebrity, I seriously doubt he would be out on bail right now. The reality is, you don’t need legs to fire a weapon. Let alone, fire it four times. Insensitive? Yes. But a valid argument? I think so. Pistorius said, “I believed that when the intruder/s came out of the toilet we would be in grave danger.” Yet, he pursued. Pistorius–with limited mobility–made his way down the hallway toward the bathroom and the perceived intruder. If he felt “in grave danger” why was he acting like the aggressor? Keep in mind, Pistorius was the only one with a gun that night, whether he knew it or not. The intruder was entirely a misperception. Even if Pistorius was under duress, there was no actual threat to cause him to react the way he did. A “noise” is suspisious, not a threat.

I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond and I moved backwards out of the bathroom, keeping my eyes on the bathroom entrance. Everything was pitch dark in the bedroom and I was still too scared to switch on a light. Reeva was not responding.

  • “Everything was pitch dark in the bedroom…” So, I’ll assume the only light on in the master bedroom was the bathroom light (Why would Reeva be on the toilet in the dark?) In relation to that, you would have to be the most clueless burglar in the world to enter a bathroom window at 3 A.M. and turn the light on. “And I was still too scared to switch on a light.” Isn’t turning on the lights an inherent response to fear? Pistorius was too scared to gain more visibility? He claimed he already felt vulnerable. Why leave the lights off? Just as I believe that 9 out of 10 people would have checked if Reeva was in bed, I believe 9 out of 10 people would have also turned the lights on, immediately. His basic instinctual behavior repeatedly contradicted what someone would be expected to do in that same situation. Everything in his story seems too contrived. 

When I reached the bed, I realised that Reeva was not in bed. That is when it dawned on me that it could have been Reeva who was in the toilet.

  • So, now he decides to check the bed? After blindly firing four shots through the bathroom door? I don’t think Pistorius would make a good cop. He lacks a certain…what’s the word? Restraint. How does the possibility that your girlfriend is in the bathroom not cross your mind? And why, during this entire episode, does Reeva apparently never respond to Pistorius once? He said he was calling out to her at 3 A.M. and yet she doesn’t say a word?

Two witnesses have testified in this case. One witness claims to have heard a gunshot between 2 A.M. and 3 A.M., followed by more shots 17 minutes later. The other witness claims they heard one shot, followed by screams, and then more shots. The witness also alleged that the lights were on and that they heard a female screaming.

“We have a statement of a person who said after he heard gunshots, he went to the balcony and saw the light was on [at Pistorius’ estate]. Then he heard a female screaming 2-3 times then more gunshots.” -Detective Botha

Keep in mind, these witnesses testify under oath–facing the penalty of perjury charges. Why would they risk jail time by lying? What would they have to gain from that? The witness testimony completely contradicts Pistorius’ account, where he claims to have fired four consecutive shots through the bathroom door. Supporting this is the fact that Reeva was only hit by three bullets, not four. Additionally, she was only hit on the right side of her body. This suggests she might have had her body pressed up against the door or was hiding in a corner. Was she protecting herself from a perceived threat or a real one?

Detective Botha arrived on the scene an hour after the shooting. He originally testified that the trajectory of the bullets appeared to be “top to bottom”. Suggesting that Pistorius was indeed standing with his prosthetics on when he fired into the bathroom. All four bullet casings were recovered from the scene. One casing was found in the hallway and three were found in the bathroom. This is consistent with witness testimonies that claim one shot was heard followed by more shots.

Botha claimed that one of the bullet casings was found inside the toilet bowl. Ask yourself, how is that possible? If he was shooting through the door, how would a casing end up in the toilet? The only logical explanation I can think of is that he initially tried to hide the evidence, then stopped, perhaps realizing his mistake. If he was truly innocent and this was truly an accidental killing, why attempt to cover your tracks? It’s indicative of guilt. If it can be confirmed that four shots were fired through the door, then the fact that a bullet casing was found in the toilet is definitely incriminating. Additionally, Reeva’s cellphone was also recovered from the bathroom floor. Which raises another question: who brings their phone to the toilet at 3 A.M.? Why would you? Checking your Facebook status? Or was she calling for help?

Full disclosure: a formal ballistics report is not available at this time and Botha is not a ballistics expert.

In closing, I believe first and foremost, that Oscar Pistorius deserves his day in court. No matter what happened that night, due process is a guaranteed right. I have no personal distaste for Pistorius. I honestly knew little about him before this case. I know that to have accomplished what he has accomplished takes someone with a strong-will and determined character. I understand he’s an inspiration. I understand that it’s completely possible that what happened that night could have been an accident. But right now–given what we know–I don’t believe that. It goes without saying that the investigation is currently pending.

Oscar Pistorius is a world-class athlete and a national treasure in South Africa. But this seems to overshadow the fact that an innocent young woman had her life cut short under shady circumstances. My only motivation for writing this is to find the truth. If not for justice, at least for Reeva.

The important thing to remember is that everything I have presented is circumstantial: inferences acquired through deduction. It is the nature of circumstantial evidence for more than one explanation to be possible. I can’t say with certainty how right or wrong I am. However, I’m certain there is more to this case than meets the eye. At least there is more than what Pistorius alleges. What we need now is more concrete evidence: ballistics report, cell-phone records, autopsy, toxicology, blood spatter analysis, etc. There just isn’t enough information to make any conclusion with a sense of certainty. In the words of Sherlock Holmes:

“It is a mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

reeva

R.I.P.

Reeva Steenkamp 8/19/83-2/14/13

Implications of the Alabama Hostage Crisis

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Law enforcement personnel walk away from the perimeter of the scene of a shooting and hostage taking in Midland City

“I want a television and camera down here and broadcast live on the news”.

Those were Jimmy Lee Dykes’ first demands, according to sources close to Michael Daly (The Daily Beast). Dykes, a 65-year-old Alabama man, captivated the media and the country during a weeklong hostage standoff beginning on January 29th, 2013. It all started when Dykes boarded a school bus in rural Alabama, demanding two young hostages. The bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., heroically intervened and was shot dead. Dykes took only one hostage–a five-year-old boy named Ethan–and exited through the emergency door. Both would spend the next week barricaded within a homemade bomb shelter on Dyke’s property, while the entire country followed their every move. In the end, only one of them would emerge alive.

During persistent negotiations with federal agents, basic amenities were supplied to Ethan: snacks, crayons, and a coloring book. What federal agents were not able to supply was Dykes’ most pressing requisition: a television news camera broadcasting live. This would have required a camera operator, which, in turn, would betray the cardinal rule of hostage negotiations: never introduce a new hostage.

The agents remained faithful to protocol. Instead of offering a live broadcast, they agreed to supply Dykes with a camera to record his message intended for the media. Eventually Dykes would open the hatch of the bunker long enough for agents to throw stun grenades and fire the lethal rounds that would end the standoff as well as Dykes’ life. Ethan was safely rescued.

Jimmy Lee Dykes wanted to feel important. He wanted compensation for the failure he perceived in a lack of reciprocation to his online anti-government tirades. He thought his voice mattered and he wanted to be heard. He wanted America to know his name. With the help of the media, he accomplished that.

Our information-rich internet culture has culminated an emerging phenomenon. It has created a proclivity for self-expression, devoid of inhibition. It provides an unparalleled medium to indulge in our exhibitionist tendencies.

nbk

“The media made them superstars”

“Natural Born Killers” is an Oliver Stone film, written by Quentin Tarantino. The protagonists are a pair of lovers/mass murderers (Mickey and Mallory Knox) who–after finding themselves imprisoned and awaiting transfer to a mental institution–become the masterminds of a prison riot that eventually leads to their freedom. Initially–before they are caught–Mickey and Mallory receive celebrity-status through tales of their misguided love, glorified by gossip magazines and the American media. Each crime they commit expedites their cult following.

In the third act, Mickey Knox is giving a televised interview in prison with Wayne Gale (a gossip columnist). During the live taping, Knox seizes the opportunity to rile his fellow inmates and a prison riot ensues. As the upheaval spirals out of control, Knox takes Gale’s camera crew hostage and forces them to broadcast the event live to the entire country.

When they’re finally free from prison, only Mickey, Mallory, and Wayne Gale remain alive. For the moment, Gale is convinced that he’s safe (reassured by the fact that the Knox’s trademark is leaving one victim alive). But it’s soon revealed who the real survivor is. (Spoiler alert!) Gale is shot dead and the camera continues recording. WE are the survivors: the audience. We are the witnesses, left alive to tell their story.

It reaffirms our guilty conscience, made clear in our fascination with human conflict. It asks the audience:“Why are you still watching this? What the fuck is wrong with you?” Because a small part of us wants Mickey and Mallory to escape. Which begs the question: have we become so overexposed to “reality” that it has completely desensitized us?

hbb“Why are you still watching this? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Jimmy Lee Dykes’ allegedly claimed that he was inspired by the idea after what happened in Newtown, CT. He realized how much media attention was generated by the Sandy Hook massacre and subsequently followed the same equation: violence+schoolchildren=national news coverage. It was his blueprint for exploiting the media.

Did the media cover the Alabama hostage crisis for an entire week? Yes. Did America place Jimmy Lee Dykes under the spotlight? Yes. If you search his name on the internet–for the rest of eternity–will his name and photo be the first result that appears? Yes. And would any of us have known or cared who Jimmy Lee Dykes was if he had decided to kill himself alone in his underground bunker? Probably not.

Call it ‘post-modern gonzo journalism’. Instead of the writer becoming part of the story, the writer IS the story (“the writer”, in this case, being the criminal). It’s unnerving to consider how easily the media can be used as a pawn. It’s complicated by the fact that Americans view reality-TV as a staple of entertainment. Essentially, that’s what the Alabama hostage standoff was: reality-TV produced by a criminal. Jimmy Lee Dykes wanted to be important. For one week, he was the most important man in America. He was Mickey Knox.

We are all inclined to feel entitled to our ‘fifteen minutes of fame’. The question is: how far are we willing to go to embrace it? And if this becomes a growing trend in American culture, how will the media expect to control a story when the story is controlling them?