When violence occurs, the debate over events and rights gets really hot really fast. While I like a good debate as much as anyone else, it sometimes seems like the arguments miss the real world. Which brings me to the case of Joe Horn.
Around 2 in the afternoon of November 14, 2007, Pasadena resident Joe Horn, age 61, called 911 to report the break-in at his neighbor’s house. So far, so good, and no one has a complaint. But as he waited, Mr. Horn became concerned on two points: He mentioned fear for his own safety, and a growing annoyance that the burglars would escape before the police got there. It was at this point where, according to the 911 tape, Mr. Horn threatened to shoot the burglars:
JOE HORN, TEXAS RESIDENT: I’m sorry. This ain’t right, buddy.
911 OPERATOR: You’re going to get yourself shot if you go outside that house with a gun. I don’t care what you think.
HORN: You want to make a bet? I’m going to kill them.
911 OPERATOR: OK? Stay in the house.
HORN: They’re getting away.”
Joe Horn took his shotgun, went out to confront the burglars as they were leaving his neighbor’s house, and shot both to death. That much is agreed by all parties. Immediately, questions came up:
1. Horn said ahead of time that he would kill the men. Did this make it premeditated murder?
2. Horn also said in that 911 tape that he feared for his life. Did this help his case?
3. The police are not known for fast responses, except when imminent danger is known. Did Horn’s warning that he would shoot cause the police to make an effort to arrive sooner?
4. The law allows citizens to use deadly force under certain situations. The law states that deadly force can be used against burglars to prevent them fleeing the scene, even of a neighbor’s house, but specifies that this applies at night, but makes no statement about a mid-afternoon burglary. Was that law intended to grant a basic or restricted right to use deadly force?
Those questions alone could make an interesting debate. But the scale quickly grew. Two days after the incident, the story broke on national news, largely as a question of gun rights.
This expands the debate. Regardless of whether Joe Horn was right or wrong, there is a strong discontent in the way police respond to calls. [Full disclosure; I have been robbed or burglarized several times in my life – in none of those cases did the police respond within two hours of the crime, in none of those cases was evidence collected in a professional or serious manner, and (no surprise) in none of those cases were the criminals apprehended or punished] People realize that because of the sheer number of crimes committed and the limited resources of the police, the probability is that most non-violent crimes against ordinary people will not be solved, and some of the violent crimes as well. The need for self-defense is frankly beyond dispute. Yet some towns have gone to the point of punishing citizens for protecting themselves, their families, and their neighbors. This has finally reached a point where public outrage against a bias in favor of the crooks is demanding government recognition.
But we’re not done yet. As so often happens these days, a certain local camera whore, one Quanell X, whose habit of blaming white people for every slight, imagined or real, against black people, decided to make an issue of the death of what he saw as two innocent black men. Mr. X was, as usual, unaware of the facts. The dead men were Hispanic, not black, and died as a direct result of committing a felony. But this had no bearing for Mr. X, who organized a protest by the New Black Panthers in front of Mr. Horn’s house. After the announcement, many other people organized a counter-protest which effectively chased away the black militants.
Adding to the debate, are the facts that the men were shot in the back, but also were illegal aliens, and already suspected of belonging to a crime ring responsible for a number of prior burglaries.
Also, a plainclothes police officer was actually at the scene when the shooting occurred, and police reported that
the plainclothes detective, whose name has not been released, had parked in front of Horn’s house in response to the 911 call. He saw the men between Horn’s house and his neighbor’s before they crossed into Horn’s front yard.
Corbett believes neither Horn nor the men knew a police officer was present.
“It was over within seconds. The detective never had time to say anything before the shots were fired,” Corbett said. “At first, the officer was assessing the situation. Then he was worried Horn might mistake him for the ‘wheel man’ (get-away driver). He ducked at one point.”
When Horn confronted the suspects in his yard, he raised his shotgun to his shoulder, Corbett said. However the men ignored his order to freeze.
Corbett said one man ran toward Horn, but had angled away from him toward the street when he was shot in the back just before reaching the curb.
“The detective confirmed that this suspect was actually closer to Horn after he initiated his run than at the time when first confronted,” said Corbett. “Horn said he felt in jeopardy.”
It needs to be said, that a Harris County Grand Jury is hearing the case, and will decide whether Joe Horn should be tried, which is as it should be. But in addition to the earlier questions, this new information raises additional questions I feel are worth discussion:
5. Is the race of a burglary suspect a valid factor in deciding to kill a criminal?
6. If a criminal is an illegal alien, is this a valid factor in using force?
7. The right to freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution, but should protests or marches be allowed in front of someone’s home, especially as a tool for intimidation or to provoke violence?
8. Should people who live near the scene of a crime be forced to endure the further disruption of a group protesting in their neighborhoods, preventing them from meeting daily obligations and enjoying the security of their homes, or should the rights of homeowners to be free from intrusion on their private property be respected as much as the right of a loud arrogant figurehead playing up a tragedy for his own personal image?
I look forward to your thoughts.