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J. PHARAOH DOSS

My title is a takeoff from the novel: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

Robert Ford’s cowardice is legendary.

Ford was a member of the James gang, but for reward money, Ford shot James in the back while James stood on a chair cleaning his mantle. Ford turned himself in and received a full pardon from the governor. It was a calculated win-win for Ford. Contemporary lawbreakers might say: It was business, not personal.

So, what made Robert Ford a coward?

Ford violated a code of honor among gunslingers by shooting James in the back. (These codes of honor were preached, but rarely practiced, like modern codes of the street, all mythologized in fiction and movies.) But if Ford waited for James to turn around, and then shot James, Ford wouldn’t have been regarded as a coward. I’m pointing this out to suggest if Ford honored “the code,” public perception of Ford would have been different, but not the outcome of the event.

Today, Scot Peterson is also becoming legendary for cowardice.

Peterson is the former Parkland school resource officer who became infamous for remaining outside the building while the Parkland school shooting was in progress.

First, President Donald Trump called Peterson a “coward” who “certainly did a poor job.” (Peterson was suspended without pay and then resigned.) Now, Parkland parent, Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter, has filed a wrongful death suit against Niklolas Cruz, the 19-year-old shooter, the estate of Cruz’s late mother, the family who took Cruz in after his mother died, the mental health agencies that “failed to treat Cruz,” and school resource officer Scot Peterson.

But Cruz was the culprit. Why was Peterson included?

Pollack explained, “I filed a wrongful death suit against Deputy Peterson… I want to expose that coward so bad. Wherever he goes I want people to recognize him and say, ‘That’s one of the cowards of Broward. The SRO that let those children and teachers die.’”

The grieving father even quoted Confucius: To know what is right and to not do it is the worst cowardice. Pollack said that quote perfectly summed up Scot Peterson’s conduct.

Does it?

Notice how Pollack’s quote begins, “To know what is right.” That’s a huge assumption. It suggests that Peterson knew precisely the right thing to do while a shooting was in progress. That’s impossible, unless one believes “the trained response” is automatically correct. Peterson claimed he thought the threat was outside; that’s why he didn’t enter the building. (Many say Peterson was lying, but who can say for a fact what was going through his mind while the shooting was in progress. And if the shooter was outside and Peterson ran into the building he would have been accused of running to hide.) For Pollack the right action was to save his daughter, but Peterson couldn’t have prevented anything. Even surviving teachers stated that fact after Peterson was criticized.

But it seems Pollack would have been satisfied with a recorded image of Peterson drawing his gun and running into the school like Wyatt Earp, but that’s no different than Ford waiting for James to turn around. It just alters the perception. Pollack would have respected Peterson for his bravado, but the outcome would have remained the same.

Robert Ford violated “the code” by shooting James in the back, but Pollack’s actions are the equivalent of kicking a man while he’s down.

That can be considered cowardly, too.

I know…I know…people grieve in different ways, but grief is not license to assassinate character. Confucius also said: Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.

(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)

 

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