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P.Y. Laligand
Father and husband, French and Googler, ice hockey and soccer, all rolled into one!
Father and husband, French and Googler, ice hockey and soccer, all rolled into one!
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Warning: The video below shows a man being executed. The post below contains graphic details and discussion.

Early this morning, Baton Rouge police arrested a local man named Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, for selling CD's outside a local food mart. In the video, you can watch two officers throw him to the ground and pin him with their bodies; then one of them draws his weapon, places it inches from his head, and fires twice. After the camera turns, you can hear three more shots fired.

According to the coroner's initial report, Sterling was killed by "multiple shots to the chest and back." (See:

I'm deleting the rest of what I wrote here – a quite lengthy, second-by-second analysis of the video – because trying to do this highlighted a more important point for me.

I've been in lots of hand-to-hand fights. I've been in fights at this range involving lethal weapons, and I can imagine this fight from any of the three perspectives. I can tell that at 0:18 – when officer #1 has Sterling's legs pinned, officer #2 has his upper body pinned, and officer #1 yells that he has a gun – officer #2 has no way of knowing whether #1 means that Sterling has a gun on his person, or whether he's drawing and trying to fire. I can tell that drawing a gun, pointing it at someone's head, and threatening them is exactly what I would have done from 0:19 to 0:21. I can feel in an internal rhythm exactly how long those last three seconds would have lasted during a fight – the exact sort of pause that normally leads to a fight ending.

And I can also tell that what happened at 0:22 – firing twice, pausing five seconds, firing three times – is not something I would have done unless my intention were to kill. I can work out exactly three ways it could happen. One is if Sterling suddenly tried to escape; but the video shows nothing like that. The second is if I panicked in the heat of a first real fight. I could easily see someone untrained and inexperienced doing precisely that – and even continuing to shoot later, after they staggered back. That's the exact sort of reason why untrained and inexperienced people shouldn't walk around with guns. But nothing suggests these cops were like that.

The third, and the only one I can't work around, is if officer #2 – I can't imagine myself in this position anymore, but I've seen other people do it – was in an unstoppable escalation mode from the time he drew his gun. The sort of situation where you aren't really seeing anything around you, just responding to your own adrenaline and impulses. But if that's what happened, that explains the first two shots, not the last three. The last three were making sure he was dead.

But what I realized when writing the much more detailed analysis was how little of this matters. I was trying to write out a second-by-second analysis, deliberately taking the officers' position to see how it would look from there, and realizing that there would be some shred of doubt, absolutely.

And if I imagine prosecuting this case, I realize that it turns entirely on the characterization of the people.

If this had been a fight between three civilians, with two of them having – let's just assume – a very good reason to be tackling and immobilizing the third, then I would feel confident that I could get a conviction. The video clearly shows the shooting; they would have to prove self-defense, which would mean convincing a jury that Sterling was about to kill them. There's nothing on the video showing it; you would have to convince them that he was the sort of dedicated killer who, even pinned by two people and with a gun to his head, and even in the fog of a fight, could quietly and calmly draw and aim.

Being brutally realistic: race would matter to a jury in a case like that. If three white people had been in a fight like this, it would be all about establishing the character of the people, who was likely to be telling the truth. If three black people had been involved, the jury would have enough doubts in their hearts about the self-defense argument that they would convict, especially on lesser charges. If two black people had attacked a white person like this, the trial would last ten minutes. If two white people attacked a black person, it would be touch-and-go; anything bad in the victim's history would get the killers off.

The fact that it was police officers in this case simply makes things far more extreme. Even leaving aside the tremendous procedural obstacles to ever prosecuting a cop – they can't legally even be questioned in Louisiana until they have both a lawyer and a union rep, and are allowed thirty days to get that – or the even more tremendous political obstacles – that a prosecutor depends on the police, and vice-versa – any shred of doubt will weigh on their side, as otherwise you're trying to stop police from doing their jobs. Any indication that the victim was less than an angel will be more than enough. You'd be a fool to go to trial.

And more importantly, what I realized when trying to write out the detailed analysis was that I was trying to defend my conclusions, very carefully, from the inevitable response of people who could watch the same video and extract reasonable doubt from it.

The fact is this: if the players in this story were three different people, nobody would be trying to extract every even vaguely credible hypothesis to defend them. That's exactly the same issue as I mentioned for a jury, above; there will be enough people who watch this video, wanting to find that doubt, that even as I tried to simply write an analysis which didn't exonerate them I realized that I was reaching infinitely far for justifications, which I would never do in other circumstances.

That's the thing: "reasonable doubt" is a dangerous creature. The way I normally explain it is, if you can come up with a story for what happened that explains what you saw in court and doesn't make you immediately say "oh, bull shit," that's what a reasonable doubt is. It doesn't have to be the defense's story of what happened, although they may give you such a story. If you can tell a story that explains what you just saw where the defendant isn't guilty, that's reasonable doubt. And if you can't, if every attempt to explain the evidence otherwise makes you think someone is pulling your leg, that's when you can convict.

But real trials don't work that way, for two reasons. The first is that if the jury is predisposed to believe one side or the other, they will stretch their definition of bullshit one way or the other. (The second, less relevant here, is that all evidence indicates that juries don't actually understand "reasonable doubt;" they really vote on "do we think he's guilty?," which is a very different question. For more on that, see Kozinski's famous essay "Criminal Law 2.0:"
And I was seeing the same thing, trying to explain what I saw in this video, which I knew any prosecutor would see trying to explain this to a jury. Enough people will want to believe that the officers did the right thing that you could never convict. And that has nothing to do with what's on camera here; it has everything to do with the stories people want to tell about the people.

The fact is, Alton Sterling was a black man. He very likely did not have a perfect angel's background; I don't know yet, but almost nobody actually does. The people who shot him were police officers. They most likely don't have a perfect angel's background either, but that won't matter; any argument I have to make here, and any argument a prosecutor would have to make in front of a jury, would be about their characters, whether you want to live in a world where a cop might execute a man in a fit of anger or whether you want to live in a world where he probably deserved it. And I know what kind of world most people want to live in.

This sort of thing is exactly why we say that black lives matter. Because if we were talking about a white man who had died, especially a nice, respectable one, maybe someone middle-class from a life like we imagine ourselves having or wanting, we would be looking at it intuitively from that victim's point of view, and looking for a reason why such a horrible thing would have happened to them – and blaming the cops. And if we are looking at a black man who has died, maybe someone who feels very different, even dangerous, then we look at it intuitively from the police officers' point of view, or from the point of view of someone who might have been scared of that man, and look for a reason why such a thing made sense.

It's when we start to make arguments like those to ourselves that we lose track of the fact that this was a fight where two people took on one person, pinned him to the ground, and shot him five times.

And no matter who it was, we should be frightened. Because if they can do this to them, one day they'll feel OK doing it to other people, too. There's no sense in which there's a danger only to black people, or Latino people, or to Jews, or to women; when there is a danger to the person standing next to you, there is a danger to you. You are never safe when your neighbor's house is on fire.

This is why – even if there were no other reason to, even if there were no morals or ethics in this world at all – I would say, Black Lives Matter. I would say, we cannot allow ourselves to look at this video and come up with justifications for why it was okay that we would not do if the person who was shot had looked exactly like us, or our spouses, or our children. That is the plain and simple thing which that sentence means: not that black lives matter more than others', but that they do not matter less, that we can never justify a black death in a way that we would not apply to our own.

And I know, with a stone in my heart, that this is not what many people are going to say. It will be hard to convince people that Alton Sterling's death was wrong – it will be hard to even have the conversation with people – because many people will jump, in their hearts, to explain why it was right. Because they will see themselves only in the police officers, not in Alton Sterling's eyes, and they will reach for justifications as though they were justifying themselves.

I do not ask you to see this only through Alton Sterling's eyes.

I ask you to see it through all three sets of eyes, to watch this video and understand how it happened from each perspective, and to use that to make your conclusions, to have your discussions. To know that you could have been any one of those people, not just one or another.

I see myself through two sets of eyes here, and they make me afraid.

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Game 3, here we go!

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Let's go Shaaaaaaaaarks!!

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12 down, 4 to go! I still can't believe it but the San Jose Sharks are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals. The atmosphere at the Tank was just unreal. Can't wait for the next round!

Full highlights:


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That 4th goal is a thing of beauty. 11 down, 5 to go! The Tank will be loud tomorrow!

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The Tank was booming tonight! 10 down, 6 to go.


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I'm sooo happy Ibrahimovic got this goal at the very end of his very last game at the Parc des Princes playing for PSG. That put him in sole custody of the single-season PSG league scoring record (set 38 years ago), with 38 in 38 games (and he only played in 31 of them!), and concluded a record-heavy league season for PSG.

That was a fun 4 years watching him be Zlatan, with 4 Ligue 1 titles, 3 League cups, 1 French cup (and maybe one more next week), along with 4 Champions Trophy (the French equivalent of the Charity Shield). We also made it to the Champions League quarterfinals 4 years in a row, though we could not quite make it to the next round.

We got treated to a flurry of unreal goals and skills from a truly one-of-a-kind player. Get this: since the 2003-2004 season, the team he's played for has always won the league title, except for AC Milan in 2012. The Champions League is still missing from his trophy room, and being from Sweden there's little chance he's going to get any sort of international title, but he's right up there with the best players of the past 15 years.

Chapeau Zlatan, et merci pour le spectacle!

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Sooooooo good.

8 down, 8 to go.
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