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The "Death Wish" Question By: Richard Poe
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, August 30, 2001

ACCORDING TO UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring, the best way to survive a robbery is through "active compliance." In other words, do exactly what the criminal says, as quickly as possible.

However, the statistics suggest otherwise. After examining data from the Department of Justice National Crime Victimization Survey from 1979 through 1987, Gary Kleck found that the best way to survive a criminal attack was to resist – with a gun.

Women were 2.5 times more likely to suffer serious injury if they offered no resistance than if they resisted with a gun. Having a gun made the crucial difference. Women who resisted without a gun were four times more likely to be seriously hurt than those who resisted with a gun. "In other words," writes John Lott in More Guns, Less Crime, "the best advice is to resist with a gun, but if no gun is available, it is better to offer no resistance than to fight."

In the case of men – no doubt, because of their greater physical strength – having a gun made considerably less difference in the success rate of their resistance and in the likelihood of their being injured. But it still proved advantageous. Men who offered no resistance turned out to be 1.4 times more likely to be seriously hurt than those who resisted with a gun. Men who resisted without a gun were 1.5 times more likely to be injured than those resisting with a gun.

The Wichita Horror

Kleck’s study is compelling. But these dry statistics tell only part of the story.

There is another reason for people to think twice before engaging in "active compliance." Victims who choose passivity risk far more than mere injury or death.

On December 14, 2000, a young schoolteacher – identified in the press only as "H.G." – went to visit her boyfriend Jason Befort, 26, at his townhouse in northeast Wichita, where he lived with two other men. As Jason and H.G. lay in bed, the porch light came on and they heard one of the roommates Aaron Sander, 29, talking to someone.

The next thing they knew, "the bedroom door burst open," the woman later recalled in court. "A tall black man was standing in the doorway. He ripped the covers off of me, and I don't remember what he said. Right after that, Aaron was brought in by another black male. He was kind of just thrown onto the bed."

The two men pointed guns at their prisoners and demanded to know who else was in the house. When all occupants – three men and two women, all single, white professionals in their twenties – had been rounded up, the intruders demanded that they strip naked.

The Horror Unfolds

It has been alleged that the intruders were Jonathan and Reginald Carr, two brothers, ages twenty and twenty-three. They ransacked the house for booty. At one point, they found an engagement ring. "That’s for you," said Jason Befort to his girlfriend H.G. "I was going to ask you to marry me."

Befort’s girlfriend has reported that, during the course of the night, she and the other woman Heather Miller, 27, were repeatedly raped. She also said that the bandits forced the prisoners to perform sex acts on each other.

The intruders then asked for the car keys and began driving the prisoners one by one to the ATM, to make withdrawals, leaving the others back at the house, under guard, locked in a closet. At one point, two of the men were in the closet together.

Befort’s fianceé recalls, "Aaron asked Brad [Heyka, 27] if we should try to do anything, if they were going to kill us. Brad didn't respond."

Finally, the thieves drove their prisoners to an empty soccer field and told them to get out. "I turned to Heather and said, 'They're going to shoot us.' " remembers the schoolteacher.

She was right. All five prisoners were made to kneel in the snow. The bandits shot them, one-by-one, execution-style, in the back of the head, then ran over the bodies with their truck.

Only Jason Befort’s fianceé survived to tell the tale. Naked, bleeding and shot in the head, she managed to walk more than a mile through the snow to get help.

A Massive Coverup

Those five young people in Wichita, Kansas chose "active compliance." They did exactly as they were told. Perhaps if more people understood the sorts of things that can happen when you choose this course, they might weigh other options more seriously.

Unfortunately, the general public usually does not find out about crimes such as the Wichita Horror. They are reported only in local papers, and often with the most horrifying details edited out. When it first occurred, only the Wichita Eagle paid attention to the alleged crimes of the Carr brothers. Our webzine, FrontPageMagazine.com discovered the story about a month later and published it on the Internet, whereupon it rapidly became a cause celebre – but only on the Internet and in conservative papers such as The Washington Times. You will not see Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather or Peter Jennings talking about this crime.

Our Censored News

The reason such crimes are covered up probably has a lot to do with race. As previously mentioned, news organizations routinely ignore most crimes that occur within minority communities. Any newspaper or TV station that tried to report every black-on-black murder, in all its gory details, would be accused of "racism." They would be charged with presenting minorities in a negative light.

Covering interracial crimes – crimes between people of different races – can also be politically risky for journalists. In approximately 90 percent of all interracial attacks, white people are the victims and black people the perpetrators. If these crimes were all given equal weight in the press, once again, journalists would be accused of "racism" for portraying African Americans as the villains in so many cases.

The safest sort of crime story for a journalist nowadays – and the type of story most likely to win him praise or awards – deals with a relatively rare sort of crime, one in which a white person attacks a black person (or some other protected "minority"), as in the beating death of gay student Matthew Shepard or the dragging death of James Byrd, a black man killed by white bigots in Texas.

Untold Stories

Focusing on "hate crimes" committed by white people might be good for a journalist’s career. But it gives the public a very inaccurate view of what is actually happening on the street. We journalists are often accused of focusing on bad news. But, in some ways, the news we present is not as bad as it needs to be. Sometimes people need to hear the worst, in order to wake up to real dangers. Many of the "racially sensitive" crime stories that journalists censor happen to be exactly the sort of stories that people of all races need to hear, in order to be aware of the dangers inherent in "active compliance."

For instance, on July 21, 1997, three white Michigan teenagers, in search of adventure, decided to jump a train. Unfortunately, they got off in the wrong neighborhood. A gang of armed, black youths surrounded them. They killed Michael Carter, 14 and shot Dustin Kaiser, 15, in the head (miraculously, Kaiser survived). The third victim, a 14-year-old girl, was pistol-whipped and forced to perform oral sex on the gang, after which she was shot point blank in the face. The six gang members were later captured and prosecuted. The outrage was reported locally, but did not receive national attention.

Then consider the case of Terrell Rahim Yarbrough and Nathan D. Herring. On May 31, 1999, they kidnapped Brian Muha and Aaron Land, two white college students at Franciscan University in Ohio. According to the suspects’ own statements, the students were beaten, robbed and – in what is fast becoming a familiar scenario – forced to perform oral sex on each other, before they were shot with a .44 revolver. Yarbrough and Herring were convicted and sentenced to death. Their case has been largely ignored by the mass media.

Death Before Dishonor

In each of these cases, "active compliance" resulted in suffering and indignity far beyond mere injury or death. Since the victims were unarmed, it is hard to say what might have resulted had they attempted to fight back. Perhaps they would have died anyway. But they would have died with their dignity intact. And their struggle might at least have given the bandits something to think about next time.

In past generations, girls and boys alike were taught to prefer death to dishonor. Rape was called "a fate worse than death." Girls were expected to defend their chastity, even at risk of their lives. How far we have come from our forefathers’ thinking. In the 1970s, feminists actually began suggesting that women ask their rapists to please use a condom.

During World War II, parents who lost a son at the front would display a gold star in their window, for each child lost. A "Gold-Star Mother" was honored in her community. She displayed the star proudly as a token of her sacrifice for the greater cause.

Society changed during the 1960s. The anti-war spirit that swept America during the Vietnam conflict wiped out any notion that death could be honorable. "Make love, not war," said the hippies and protesters. Nothing was worth dying for. All that mattered was staying alive.

Not Worth Fighting

On July 14, 2000 a woman named Glenda Renee Hull entered a 7-Eleven store in Martinsburg, West Virginia, brandishing a rifle and demanding money. Store clerk Antonio Feliciano jumped her and held her down until the sheriff’s deputies arrived. In another time, Feliciano would have been hailed as a hero. But in this age of "active compliance," he was fired for his action.

``No asset in a 7-Eleven store is worth defending with an employee's life,'' said company officials in a statement explaining Feliciano’s firing. The 7-Eleven chain requires employees to hand over the money quietly during robberies.

Feliciano remarked that company regulations had not been his top concern during the crisis. "I just wanted to be sure that I was coming home that night,'' he said.

A Nation of Cowards

Did those 7-Eleven officials have a point? Is it right to risk your life or to take someone else’s life, simply to prevent money from being stolen? Attorney Jeffrey Snyder says it is. In his now-famous 1993 paper, "A Nation of Cowards," he explains why:

Crime is… a commandeering of the victim's person and liberty… It is, in fact, an act of enslavement. Your wallet, your purse, or your car may not be worth your life, but your dignity is; and if it is not worth fighting for, it can hardly be said to exist.

Snyder went further. He concluded that, "Crime is rampant because the law-abiding, each of us, condone it, excuse it, permit it, submit to it. We permit and encourage it because we do not fight back immediately, then and there, where it happens ... The defect is there, in our character. We are a nation of cowards and shirkers."

A Safe Distance

Few would deny that the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe had the right – even the obligation – to take up arms against their oppressors. After all, their lives were at stake. Yet, at the time, most Jews had no way of knowing, up until the moment they were killed, that death would be the final result of their "active compliance" with the SS. Most hoped they would survive if they just quietly did as they were told. And, indeed, many did manage to escape with their lives, even after years of imprisonment in death camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka.

But those we call heroes were the ones who fought back, in suicidal gestures such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Their resistance may have ended in death. But at least they died fighting. From the safe distance of 60 years, we admire their conduct. Yet, we do not seek to emulate it in our own lives.

The "Death Wish" Question

In the 1974 film Death Wish, a Manhattan architect played by Charles Bronson comes face to face with the emptiness of his liberal ideas when intruders kill his wife and rape his daughter, leaving her a mental vegetable. He becomes a vigilante, prowling the streets and subways of New York, gunning down anyone who attempts to mug him.

In one scene, the Bronson character and his son-in-law Jack debate the ethics of taking the law into one’s own hands.

"We’re not pioneers anymore," his son-in-law objects.

"What are we, Jack?" Bronson responds. "If we’re not pioneers, what have we become? What do you call people who, when they’re faced with a condition of fear, do nothing about it – they just run and hide?"

"Civilized?" Jack suggests.

Bronson shakes his head. "No."


Who Are We?

The question Bronson asked in that 1974 film haunts our society still. Who are we? What are we? What have we become? What do you call people who sit and do nothing while their loved ones are raped and butchered? What do you call people who fear death so deeply that they will accept any dishonor in its stead?

Those who push for gun control say that Americans no longer need guns to defend themselves. After all, we are no longer threatened by Indian raids. And we’re not facing a Nazi extermination effort, such as the Jews faced in World War II.

But their complacency is unjustified. Those five young people in Wichita, Kansas are just as dead as if they had been scalped by Indians on the frontier, or machinegunned at Babi Yar. What difference did it make if the intruders were marauding Indians or marauding street thugs? The result was the same.

Like the Jews in World War II, the Wichita victims faced a choice. They could fight or obey. Until the very end, they placed their hope in obedience. And, like the Jews in Nazi Europe, their "active compliance" led them to catastrophe.

Judge Not

When we first published the story of the Wichita Horror on FrontPageMagazine.com, a number of readers posted comments on our message board, asking why the victims had not fought back. It is not my purpose to raise that question here. The dead must rest in peace.

We can no more judge the actions of the Wichita Five than we can judge the 34,000 Jews who perished at Babi Yar in September 1941. Whatever choices they made seemed right to them at the time. None of us can say what we would have done in their place, because we were not there.

I earlier quoted Abram L. Sachar in The Redemption of the Unwanted, who wrote of the slaughter at Babi Yar, "This, the most appalling massacre of the war, is often alluded to as a prime example of utter Jewish helplessness in the face of disaster. But even the few desperate attempts, almost completely futile, to strike back served as a reminder that the difference between resistance and submission depended very largely upon who was in possession of the arms that back up the will to do or die" (emphasis added).

So it was with the Wichita Five, none of whom possessed the arms they needed to "back up the will to do or die."

The question of resistance is both moral and practical. The moral dimension can be resolved only in the privacy of our hearts. The practical question can be determined only in the moment of crisis, depending on the situation one faces.

I offer this chapter not as a facile prescription for action, but as a spur to soul-searching. It is worth pointing out that the one time in my life that I was held up at gunpoint, I handed over my wallet instantly. I do not know, any more than do my readers, what I would have done at Babi Yar or in that deserted soccer field in Wichita. Until the crisis is upon us, the question yawns unanswered like a black and empty abyss.


End Notes

Scott Harris, "Call Me Blockhead, Take Your Best Shot," Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1997, Part B, page 1.

2 John Lott, 1998, page 4.

3 Valerie Richardson, "Kansas Tries to Keep the Peace By Keeping Murder Case Quiet," The Washington Times, May 7, 2001; Ron Sylvester, "Survivor Tells of Grisly Night: Woman Recounts Her Friends’ Final Hours," The Wichita Eagle, April 17, 2001; Valerie Richardson, "Wichita Horror Fuels Debate Over Hate Crimes," The Washington Times, February 11, 2001; Scott Rubush, "The Wichita Horror," FrontPageMagazine.com, January 12, 2001;

4 Walter Williams, "What About Hate Crimes By Blacks?" Cincinnati Enquirer, August 22, 1999, p. D-2.

5 David Horowitz, Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes, Spence Publishing Company, Dallas, Texas, 1999, page 26.

6 Richard Poe, "Priests in the Temple of Hate," FrontPageMagazine.com, July 27, 2000.

7 "7-Eleven Hero Clerk Fired," Associated Press, August 2, 2000.

8 Jeffrey R. Snyder, "A Nation of Cowards," The Public Interest, Fall 1993.

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