I’ve previously written two posts on the Scot Peterson case under the title of “The Premature Demonization of Scot Peterson.” Here’s the first post, and here’s the second. Here’s background on the criminal case.
Having revisited and followed the case for the last few weeks, and having had a couple of conversations both with Peterson and with one of his colleagues, I’ve decided to turn this into an ongoing series. But there’s no need at this point for the overly cautious title I initially used. The demonization of Scot Peterson isn’t just “premature”; it’s an act of collective irresponsibility verging on hysteria. I so far have not been convinced that Peterson deserves to be called either a “failure” or a “coward,” much less a criminal. It seems more apt to describe him as the unfortunate victim of a society addicted to loose talk and unrestrained vindictiveness. As I see it, even commentators properly skeptical of the criminal charges against Peterson have bought too easily into the claim that he “failed” to stop the shooter out of “cowardice” (and have irresponsibly repeated those claims).
My advice to anyone who wants to pass judgment on Peterson: first master all of the relevant facts of the case. Then put yourself fully in Peterson’s shoes, taking stock of the duress he was under, the uncertainties of the situation, and all of the variables he had to juggle under the circumstances. Then ask yourself, realistically, what you would have done in his shoes. Then ask whether you really have the experience to know what you would have done. Then judge–if you can.
When I undertake this exercise myself, I come reluctantly to the conclusion that I would at best have done what Peterson ended up doing–assuming that I didn’t panic and run for my life. I say this as someone who’s been threatened by a gunman, has seen a knife attack, has been in a couple of riots, and has been shot at. Though I felt my heart pounding in my throat every time I was in one of those situations, I didn’t panic. But then again, none of the situations I was in was nearly as frightening or dangerous as the one Peterson confronted. So I can’t tell you with any certainty how I would have reacted to the Parkland shooting, and wouldn’t bother trying–unlike, say, such bona fide heroes as Donald Trump.
Now that Peterson is facing criminal charges, it’s become harder to discuss his case: anything that anyone says, especially someone in contact with him, could be distorted, taken out of context, and used against him in a court of law. To see what I mean, just look at the warrant that established probable cause for his arrest, which reads like it was written by a bunch of teenagers. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think there was probable cause for any of the eleven charges brought against Peterson, including perjury. But Peterson now faces almost 97 years in prison for what is widely (but unwarrantedly) believed to be his quasi-murderous act of “cowardice.” Despite what anyone thinks, or thought, he won’t be the last victim. Once they’re done with Peterson, they’ll go after his colleagues in law enforcement (starting with this clown), then school officials, then people in the mental health field, and the like. One scapegoat is never enough for a mob.
Anyway, here’s one of the best things I’ve read on the case–in USA Today, by Philip Hayden, a former FBI agent and expert on police procedures. I don’t think Hayden goes quite far enough in defense of Peterson, but what he says makes good sense as far as it goes. The last few lines:
I’ve testified in hundreds of use-of-force cases, and I know that many times the actions that led to a trial were considered “right” at the time. As someone with extensive experience in law enforcement, I see no easy answers here.
Nonetheless, we should at least be asking the right questions, such as what realistic expectations we should have of people in Peterson’s role, and what sort of schools we want to have.
Unfortunately, it’s easier to vilify a single person than it is to address some of the bigger issues his actions, or lack thereof, raise.
Read the whole thing. If only the prosecutors had.