… we all hear about.
The latest one is from Wesley Chapel, near Tampa. Before the 1:20 showing of Lone Survivor, an ex-cop named Curtis Reeves was pissed because the guy in the next row was texting. Reeves went to find the manager but when he was unsuccessful, he returned to his seat and began to berate the other guy, Chad Oulson. Oulson did not feel at all bad about texting before the movie even started and was not shy about saying so. Reeves got angrier; Oulson laughed and tossed a handful of popcorn at him. Reeves drew a pistol and shot Oulson in the chest, killing him.
Boy, as Ron Burgundy would say, that escalated quickly.
Whatever happens now, Reeves is going to die in custody. Maybe because of his age, 71 years, or his status as an retired policeman, the prosecutor might go easy on him and accept an otherwise unreasonable plea to manslaughter. Maybe he will be allowed to plead some sort of diminished capacity and sent to a hospital instead of a prison. It barely matters; at his age and weight (he is 275 pounds, very fat on a six-foot frame), he will never walk free.
That is justice. Oulson will never walk free either.
On the other hand, let’s be clear here: Oulson died of being a jerk. He laughed at a nearly senile old man and threw food at him. That is jerk behavior, regardless of the provocation.
I am not innocent of jerk behavior. You are not either, and if you claim you are, then you’re a jerk and a liar. We all do it. We follow too closely on the highway, we litter, we flip off people in passing cars, whatever. Not always, not even often, but some times. ’Fess up.
Sure, we have excuses. We’re in a hurry; there’s no trashcan; he had it coming. Something.
Which is why I am not entirely unhappy about what happened.
Willa Cather wrote, “Even the wicked get worse than they deserve” and Oulson, to my knowledge, was not even wicked, and got far, far worse than he deserved. But maybe some good will come from his death.
Maybe someday someone—and let’s be honest, it will probably be me—will be tempted to insult a stranger, almost irresistibly tempted. I will be provoked and the cutting witticism will be right on the tip of my tongue, when I remember the unfortunate Mr. Oulson and out of a mixture of prudence, cowardice, and I hope, a little bit of grace, I will resist. Say something nice or if I cannot do that, say nothing at all.
That guy probably was not going to shoot me anyway. But if I am kind to him, maybe when the next guy provokes him, he will not react; maybe he will use a kind way to turn away wrath. And that next guy might himself…
You see where I am going with this. It is not impossible that an incident like this will slow the spiral of ill-behavior and harshness that characterizes modern life. Of course, my saying this is like the proverbial second-marriage: the triumph of hope over experience.