Open Letter to Ari Armstrong: I am not a Monster
Since Ari Armstrong has unfriended me and not allowed me to respond to the allegations that I am an uncaring monster, I have no choice but to make my response clear here. Ari's post had to do with police reform and police violence.
Ari was a friend of mine when I went to college in Denver, Colorado. He wasn't a student, but a professional writer, as he is today. He was part of the sizable objectivist/libertarian community in Denver, and we saw each other at events quite regularly. He gave me tips and pointers on becoming a writer. When he worked for The Objective Standard, he even gave me some (quite brutal but honest!) editorial comments of my submissions. I was very grateful.
Normally, I don't respond like this to "facebook quarrels" but this one is special for four reasons. One, I had respect for Ari Armstrong. Two, I still have quite a few friends in the Denver area. Three, Denver is a top three location for me to move to next. Four, he edited his facebook post thread in such a way as to make his word final, and then deleted my response. Thus making his attack on my character the final word. (I will provide pictures below).
There is so much I want to say about this issue today. But I will simply quote Sam Harris when he said in a recent podcast, "Conversation is the only tool we have for making progress, I firmly believe that. But many of the things we most need to talk about, seem impossible to talk about." I am an advocate of law and order. I have stated numerous times (including in the comments to Ari) that I am pro-police reform. But my question has to do with an important concept: context.
As a writer, Ari knows this more than most, the context of his audience is important. He has an obligation to take that into consideration when selecting stories to share and write about.
Let's get into the post now. And I will do my best to be objective, while counting on you the reader to help point out any of my own flaws in logic.
Here is Ari's original post:
Many people responded with comments, but I did not read those comments. I posted the following:
(one correction I have to make is my mistaken quote from Sam Harris. Harris asked his audience to guess how many people total are killed by cops. Here is the full quote with the correct numbers of police killings: "One thousand people are killed by cops in America each year. There are about 50 to 60 million encounters between civilians and cops each year, and about 10 million arrests. That’s down from a high of over 14 million arrests annually throughout the 1990’s. So, of the 10 million occasions where a person attracts the attention of the police, and the police decide to make an arrest, about 1000 of those people die as a result. (I’m sure a few people get killed even when no arrest was attempted, but that has to be a truly tiny number.) So, without knowing anything else about the situation, if the cops decide to arrest you, it would be reasonable to think that your chance of dying is around 1/10,000. Of course, in the United States, it’s higher than it is in other countries. So I’m not saying that this number is acceptable. But it is what it is for a reason, as we’re about to see." Again go here to listen to the full episode.)
As you can see, I had in fact not finished reading the article on Elijah. My question had to do with the narrative of police brutality that this article engendered, and it did so without context.
I have since read the article, and I would amend one thing to my post above. The police were completely justified in stopping Elijah for questioning, and he refused to stop based on their commands. After that, we don't know exactly what happened (at least not from this article). I'll say, that if a man is running around my neighborhood, in the heat of summer, at 10:30pm, wearing a full ski mask and a jacket, yes, I want my police officers to stop and question that man. And if he doesn't stop, they have no choice but to bring him to the ground by force.
The problem here is that from this article, many facts are unclear. All we know is what I just stated. Did the cops just see some random black man and say to each other "hey let's go kill this kid?" No that's ridiculous. Yet this is why context matters. Because that is exactly the feeling most readers of this post would have. What is the role in this moment of saying Elijah was a kind kid who played violin for kittens? It's to paint the police as uncaring monsters. This article doesn't indicate anything about the actual guilt or innocence of the police. It insinuates their guilt.
Again, the police don't know anything about Elijah's relationship with kittens. All they know is that a guy in a ski mask is running around at 10:30pm on a hot summer night in a jacket. There are many killers who were seemingly kind. In James Holme's court case, the picture painted of the Aurora Dark Knight Theater Shooter was that he was a kind and good kid.
What we now know about Elijah's kindness is irrelevant to the facts that the police had at that time.
After further consideration, I fully stand behind my question to Ari Armstrong. With the current Defund the Police movement, why pull out a random story from last year that provides little explanation and no context as to what happened? All it accomplishes is further pushing forward the narrative that cops are evil monsters who target innocent violin playing black people.
If this were the end of the Ari interaction, then I would not be spending my Sunday morning writing this blog post. The fact is that Ari posted a response under my comment thread, and he accused me of being uncaring.
Before I share that I want to express one mistake that I made in my interaction on Ari's post. There was someone else who posted beneath my comment thread, and I did not fully read all of those comments. In this person's first comment he reinforced Sam Harris' point that there are many police interactions and accidents are bound to happen (I'm citing from memory, since Ari has unfriended me and I didn't take pictures of this part of the interaction.). I expressed agreement with that single point. I did not read the rest of the interaction between this person and Ari Armstrong. I did notice one response from Ari that was aimed at me (as well as this other person). Remember, this is in response to my original comment pictured above:
This to me was a pure emotionalist response. No where did I indicate that I did not care about murder. I care about justice, so I care about murder as an injustice. My question had to do with the reasonableness of a professional writer sharing a post like this without any context at all.
My first response (deleted by Ari Armstrong) expressed the opinion that he in fact did not "care" about murders per se but only about this so-called murder. This is an important issue to suss out.
Of course, murder is horrific (I said so in the comments since deleted). That is obvious and goes without saying. To say someone doesn't "care" about murder is ludicrous. But in another sense, we don't personally care about every single murder. Do you really read every tragic case of murder in the country? This is what I asked Ari. No he doesn't. Of course not. So when he says "care," he really means: "Don't you care that police are criminals who wantonly murder civilians?" There is no other way to take his messaging here.
One more time with feeling: there is no evidence these officers even "murdered" Elijah McClain. Read the original article and think for yourself. Elijah tragically died. But murder means intent. Here is a general dictionary definition of murder "The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another." The important word there is premeditated. Words matter Mr. Armstrong. As a writer, you should know better.
The word "care" has many denotations and connotations as well. I said in my original comment that this seemed like a horrific tragedy. In that sense, I certainly "feel concern or interest; attached importance to something," which is one definition of care. In another sense, I don't attach significance (personal significance) to every murder that occurs. Caring about murder means caring about the virtue of justice. Of course I care about justice in this sense. But life is limited. My time is limited. The things that I allow into my life are limited. As they are for you. We can't spend our time "caring" about every horrific incident in the world. Yes, I want there to be justice. Yes, if these police officers actually just decided to murder someone they should be held accountable. That's what a grand jury discovers.
Here's my broader point. If you "care" about murder, why not share stories about all the murders of police officers occurring right now? Why not share the murders of Chicagoans which are happening at record highs. Why not share any number of senseless murders going on? The only answer: Ari has an agenda whether he is aware of it or not. He is, essentially, expressing the view that the police are uncaring monsters and need to be punished. And this is the broader context into which he is sharing this "caring" article. I do not wish to have to repeat this ever again: what happened to Elijah was tragic. I don't know why it happened. If police were negligent then they should be held accountable. But my guess is that they did exactly what they were trained to do. The individual police officers should not be penalized for carrying out their duty and training. Their training should be reformed.But this is something that requires a longer discussion.
Here was the third time I posted a comment to my comment thread. It also got deleted by Ari:
I believe the following was my final attempt at responding, but this too was deleted:
After he deleted this comment he reached out in a private message and called me a name, which caused me to respond. I don't believe I stooped as low as he did, but I was not proud of my response, so I apologized to him. I then notified him that I would be creating a blog post with the pictures I took. I do have the Private Message in full just in case Ari decides to further accuse me of being a careless monster.
This is a time when conversation is more important than ever. The excuse that "facebook is not real life" is garbage. It is real life. In the same way that media is real life, a phone call is real life and a zoom meeting is real life. The impression we make on the internet matters. And what Ari did was flat out wrong. It is the equivalent of being at a community picnic and one person starts a conversation, but then when another person expresses an opinion, the originator tells them to shut up and leave. Then, that person slanders the other in public. Worse, the original person has the ability to censor certain parts of the conversation and not others. That's unacceptable. Ari had no right to call me out as an "uncaring" non-individualist who doesn't care if police are murdering people.
We all get angry. I did. And I tried to indicate here when I was wrong and even apologetic. Nevertheless, I stand by my statements. I stand by evidence, justice, and truth. And I stand by the rule of law.
Ari Armstrong is a columnist, host of a culture podcast and more. You can find his work here: https://ariarmstrong.com/
I'm host of various literature podcasts and editor of Troubadour Magazine, a literary magazine.