Hindsight is 20/20

By Guest Columnist Apr 07, 2008

By Rend Smith Friday night, ABC’s 20/20 ran a piece on John White, the African-American Long-Islander convicted of killing Daniel Cicciaro Jr, a white 17-year-old. If you’re not familiar with the case, here’s a quick and dirty summary. Cicciaro, known to his friends and family as Dan-o, showed up in front of White’s house one night, spoiling for a fight with White’s son, evidently over a girl. Cicciaro, drunk and angry, was accompanied by 4 friends. The Whites maintain that the teenagers blocked the driveway of their suburban home while making threats and using the N-word, and that the group of teens resembled a lynch mob, prompting father and son to grab weapons and attempt to drive them off. During the confrontation, White’s unregistered, heirloom pistol–passed down to him from his grandfather–was fired, and Cicciaro fatally shot. White says it was an accident. The jury didn’t agree, the 54 year-old was convicted of manslaughter. Later, a seemingly sympathetic judge sentenced the construction worker to 2 to 4 years in prison. His lawyers are appealing. Evidently, some black activist believe that the amount of years White should spend in prison are exactly 0. 20/20’s b-roll showed a substantial crowd of African-American protesters chanting "Free John White." But for us black, liberal, anti-violence-rally-types, White, like all other 2nd amendment cowboys, is guilty of a personal militant-ism that we prefer our courts stamp out(even if it has to be done one case at a time). That is, as long as it’s done with fair impartiality. Much has been written about White’s case, nothing better, in my opinion, than Calvin Trillin’s New Yorker article, Letter from Long Island, The Color of Blood: Race, memory, and a killing in the suburbs. "To convict someone of second-degree manslaughter in the state of New York," Trillin writes, "the prosecution has to prove that he recklessly caused the death of the victim—"recklessly" being defined as creating a risk so substantial that disregarding it constitutes "a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe"—and that he had no justification. In its decision in the case of Bernard Goetz, the white man who in 1984 shot 4 young black men who had approached him on the subway demanding money, the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state, ruled that justification could have a subjective as well as an objective component—fears raised by the defendant’s past experiences, for instance." We forgot about that Subway Vigilante guy: the white dude who shot 4 black teens who may or may not have been trying to rob him, who mowed them down with an unregistered Smith and Wesson (that wasn’t inherited from his grandfather) and who said a whole bunch of cavalier things afterwards. In 1984 Goetz became a kind of perverted, "Mcgruff the crime dog" mascot for paranoid New Yorkers. Following the shootings, he did 250 days on a weapons charge. We thought White got off easy. Human life is invaluable, and nothing to become too politically clever (or flippant) about. But what do we do, we anti-gun liberals, when faced with the behaviors of a legal system, that, when it comes to race, displays all the scruples of a psychopath unloading bullets into a horrified crowd? I say we do the only thing we can do in situations of contradicting values and paradoxical facts: we slowly come to the defense of sanity, even if at our next anti-violence-rally, we’re forced to chant something convoluted and clunky like, "Free John White…or either er…arrest Bernard Goetz…" Rend Smith is a freelance writer who has been employed by the Antioch Review, the Dayton City Paper, and the Hill Rag. He has won several awards and two grants in connection with his work.