John Wayne and Clint Eastwood Characters – Entertaining on the screen, poor role models for real life

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Less violence in our lives would make this world a better place for our Grandchildren.

Two recent murders in opposite corners of the U.S. got me thinking.  The first murder, in Florida, made national headlines.  Seventeen year-old Traywon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman. (Yes, I’m adding my small voice to the choir, “Why hasn’t Zimmerman been arrested and charged?” – He would/will get his day in court to determine guilt or innocence.)  The second murder occurred in Spokane, Washington and made page three of my local (Eastern Washington) paper.  Eighteen year-old Treven Lewis was charged in the beating death of 65 year-old Frank Motta.

What’s the tie between these two murders and the characters that Wayne and Eastwood play?  Vigilante-ism. While Wayne and Eastwood portrayed a number of law enforcement officers dealing out justice via guns and fists, they also played a number of citizens who took matters into their own hands, literally: “Pilgrim, that was a bone-head move and somebody should punch you right in the nose, but I won’t.  The hell I won’t, POW!” or “I understand you boys were just having a little fun shooting at my mule’s feet, but my mule doesn’t understand, and his feelings are hurt.  So if one of you will just apologize to the mule, we can forget about this”…guns draw, BANG, BANG, BANG, bad guys dispatched. This is great entertainment in the movies, because the “victims” clearly deserved their punishment.  Life is not that simple, and we cannot have citizens running around solving differences with fists and guns.

In the Florida case Mr. Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, took his duties way beyond “watch” and attempted to detain (for what?) Mr. Martin, who was in the neighborhood visiting relatives.  In the Washington case Mr. Motta attempted to break up an underage drinking party at a neighbor’s house.  A fight broke out, and Mr. Lewis is charged with beating Mr. Motta to death.  In both of these cases ordinary citizens decided they should assume the role of police officers and become physically involved, and in both cases an unnecessary death resulted.  One can well imagine what started as verbal confrontations, escalated to pushing and shoving, leading to physical combat and death.  These deaths are tragic for several reasons. By all accounts Mr. Martin was a good student and citizen who would have made many contributions to the world.  Mr. Motta had served his country in the Air Force and as a principal and was just beginning to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.  A huge empty hole will be left in both of their families.  And the perpetrators?  Neither were intending to commit a violent crime (for the record Mr. Zimmerman has not been charged).  Neither took a gun to a robbery or a gang fight, demonstrating a premeditated willingness to commit a violent crime.  However their lives will be changed for the worse – forever, and this will be a permanent dark emotional stain on their respective families.

We’ve all had times when we’d like “to punch some pilgrim in the nose,” and they may well have deserved it.  But maybe the situation was not what we thought it was, and if it was serious, then we should let the police do the work they’ve been trained for.  Taking the law into our own hands generally leads to a bad outcome.  Adding more confrontation and violence does not make this a better world for our Grandchildren.

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