Juxtaposition isn’t everything, but it’s an often-overlooked tool that can help us think about public events. It can be provocative, even illuminating. Comparing two stories together can lead us to insights we might have missed by absorbing them separately, each without the context of the other.
Consider two road rage incidents in Indianapolis, both ending with gunshots causing death.
In one case, Dustin Passarelli followed a car driven by Mustafa Ayoubi into a parking lot off of I-465, after, he reportedly told police, the car flew up behind him and he heard a bang, and he thought the other driver threw something at his vehicle. He said he wanted only to talk about the incident, but witnesses said the two exchanged words and Passarelli shot Ayoubi through his car window, then fired again when he tried to flee.
In the other, two drivers started flipping each other off on East 38th Street after one driver, according to police reports, swerved to avoid a sewer cap. The other driver, Andrew Holder, apparently took that as a sign of aggressive driving. When the two cars finally stopped at a light, Holder allegedly pulled and fired a handgun. The first driver then pulled his own gun and fired back, missing Holder but hitting and killing Brandy Brock, a passenger in Holder’s back seat.
In each case, an innocent person died for what amounted to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
That is hard enough to process with cause-and-effect rationality. But relatives of the victims want us to consider questions that add another level of complexity.
Witnesses said that during the Ayoubi shooting, Passarelli, who has been charged with murder, shouted anti-Muslim slurs, including “Go back to your country.” Ayoubi’s sister wants a hate crimes investigation, but the prosecutor says even though he’d like to, he can’t do that because Indiana is one of five states without a hate crimes law.
The driver whose bullet killed Brandy Brock isn’t being charged because it was Holder, the driver of her car, who fired first, and Indiana’s self-defense law is very strong. A person who “reasonably believes” the use of unlawful force is imminent is not required to retreat and is justified in using reasonable force.
Brock’s mother thinks that is small comfort for the grief she is feeling.
I’d ask questions of prosecutors in both cases. Would tacking on a hate crimes designation change anything in a case where the victim is dead and the shooter is already charged with murder? And, just how ironclad is the Hoosier self- defense law – does it justify any sort of response, even one that recklessly results in the death of a bystander?
But we don’t have to get too deeply into consideration of hate crimes or self defense to see that what ties them together is that we are asked to bring a degree of subjectivity into the equation. We have to read the minds of the people pulling the trigger. Did this one really have hate in his mind? Did that one really believe peril was imminent? I’m not sure the criminal justice system is capable of such psychic detection, even if we sometimes think a persuasive case can be made for the effort.
Equal justice under the law is a noble goal but a difficult task. The simple act of making the punishment fit the crime for the right criminal is seldom as straightforward as we think it should be. Throw hate or fear mixed with white hot anger into it all, and I see a maze that can be impossible to negotiate.
Leo Morris is a columnist for The Indiana Policy Review. Contact him at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected].