Blue wall no shield in road rage case
What a pleasant surprise it is to hear Schenectady police officials say, without mincing words, that the detective who allegedly pointed his gun in a road rage incident should be fired.
I use the word allegedly because the detective in question, John Hotaling, has not been convicted of the two counts of second-degree menacing with which he was charged in April 2013.
But that hasn’t stopped police officials from coming to their own conclusions, and after conducting their own internal investigation, they have concluded Hotaling should be terminated. They looked into the matter and obviously didn’t like what they saw.
Authorities have said the road rage incident began when Hotaling got into an argument with two people in another car on Maple Avenue in Glenville. The detective allegedly passed the other car in an aggressive manner, and the people in the other car responded by honking and making an obscene gesture, police said. Then, while stopped at a red light, Hotaling and the people in the other vehicle got out of their cars, police said. Hotaling allegedly returned to his truck, grabbed his gun and pointed it.
“We believe in the veracity of the people on the other side of the equation,” Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said. “We believe what he is accused of doing did, in fact, occur.”
It’s worth pausing for a moment to point out that nobody involved in this case behaved well.
In general, confrontations with motorists should be avoided at all costs. Nothing good can come from arguing with fellow drivers, making them angry and getting out of your car to confront them, even when you’re in the right. In the best case scenario, nobody gets hurt and the drivers go their separate ways. In the worst case scenario? Well, I got a glimpse of that while working at a newspaper in Alabama.
In 2000, I covered a deadly case of road rage that involved two female motorists who made the mistake of tailgating each other and driving erratically on a busy interstate. While stopped in traffic on an exit ramp, one woman got out of her vehicle and confronted the other woman, who shot and killed her with a pistol she kept stored in her car. She was charged with manslaughter and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
As this unfortunate case makes clear, aggressive driving and poor road etiquette is no excuse for killing someone. Nor is it an excuse for pointing a gun at someone. This is especially true if you are a police officer — someone who is supposed to uphold the law.
Hotaling, for the record, has denied pointing his gun, and has said the occupants of the other car were the problem.
What’s interesting is that Bennett appears comfortable pushing for Hotaling’s termination regardless of how the court case against the detective turns out. He told the Gazette’s Steven Cook that pointing a gun at civilians, as the detective is alleged to have done, is “serious business. You’d better be justified in doing it. We feel that the evidence we have doesn’t substantiate that being a valid decision.”
I can think of very few situations where pointing a gun at a fellow driver is a valid decision, even if they honk at your car and make an obscene gesture. And I’m glad the police see it the same way.
If the shoe fits …
The main topic on my mind last week was the disturbing murder spree in Isla Vista, California, in which a hateful young man named Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 13 more.
After reading excerpts of the hateful young man’s manifesto, “My Twisted World,” in which he declares “war on women” and writes that even though “I cannot kill every single female on earth ... I can deliver a devastating blow that will strike all of them to the core of their wicked hearts,” I have concluded the best way to describe Rodger is evil, which is not a word I use lightly.
But in this case, I think it fits.
Over the past few days, I’ve grown weary of hearing his deranged behavior described as the work of a madman or dismissed as the result of a mental illness. For one thing, it’s unclear whether Rodger suffered from a mental illness, and although much has been made of the fact that he was in therapy, it’s tough to draw any conclusions from this. Lots of people see therapists, and for all kinds of reasons.
Rodger wrote bile-filled screeds and shot and posted ominous YouTube videos in which he talked of a coming “day of retribution.” Even if Rodger was mentally ill, his diagnosis would do little to explain why he gravitated toward and adopted such a violent and hateful ideology. Maybe the best explanation for his behavior is the simplest one: He was a bad person, with bad ideas. Why sugarcoat it?