published Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Cook: Shoot thy neighbor as thyself

One October night, a man named Dale Bryant Farris looked out across his Estill Springs, Tenn., neighborhood and saw some teenagers rolling his neighbor's yard.

They were kids being kids. The yard belonged to their school principal, and they were tossing toilet paper all over his trees.

So, according to police, Farris, 65, did what anyone might do in 21st century America.

He grabbed his shotgun, walked outside and shot one of the boys.

Three weeks later, on a November afternoon, a man named Fred Steven Youngblood heard some noises outside his run-down Ringgold home. Two teenagers were looking to steal some scrap metal and thought Youngblood's old house was empty.

It wasn't.

Youngblood, 69, grabbed his pistol and yelled at them. Then, as anyone may do in 21st century America, Youngblood shot at them, killing one of the teenagers.

The boy was 17 years old.

Fifteen days later, on the day before Thanksgiving, a man named Joe Hendrix woke up in the dead of night hearing noises outside his fiancee's home in Walker County, Ga.

The noises were coming from a church-going, family man who lived nearby named Ronald Westbrook. He was 72. He'd been wandering through the night for nearly four hours. His two dogs were with him. The weather was below freezing. He was dressed in a thin coat and straw hat.

Westbrook had advanced Alzheimer's disease and was lost.

"This one house at the end of the cul-de-sac had a porch light on," the Walker County sheriff said at a news conference. "I tend to think [Westbrook] was drawn to that light."

Inside the house, Hendrix called 911. After nearly 10 minutes of waiting on the police, Hendrix grabbed his handgun and walked outside. When Westbrook didn't leave, Hendrix did what anyone may do in 21st-century America.

He shot Westbrook in the chest and killed him.

"Love thy neighbor as thyself," Christ once said.

Here in the Stand-Your-Ground South, we have lost our way, no longer able to distinguish one another as either enemy or neighbor. As if afflicted by a cultural Alzheimer's, we have forgotten so much, thus cursed to stumble through the dark night, firing bullets at one another.

We shoot kids pranking their principal. We shoot teenagers trying to steal scraps from our yard. We shoot an old man as he walks the neighborhood at night.

Like a Dr. Seuss book, we arm ourselves in outlandish ways that don't match the reality before us. We want guns in our car. We want guns in the bar. We'll arm our teachers. We'll arm our preachers.

Big Media and the NRA besiege us with false narratives that encourage us -- try it, try it, you'll see -- to turn away from the truth of things, which is that we are brothers and sisters of one another, bound together in unfathomable ways.

Or do you even believe that anymore?

The future of our 21st century America will be based on competing narratives, one of which tells us that we are strangers to each another, bloodthirsty, just a nudge away from violence.

The other narrative -- the property of religion, myth and science -- tells us that we are creatures hardwired for cooperation and community. We are not natural enemies. We are not meant to shoot our neighbors.

Yes, there is war, rape, burglary and violence. But if that was our dominant way of life, our time on this planet would have ended long ago.

And yes, we have every right to protect ourselves. But these Stand Your Ground laws give more protection to the shooter than the person shot. The man who killed the 72-year-old Westbrook? Police let him drive away, free as a bird.

Why is such a standard never applied to urban crime? When black men shoot at other black men in the city, they're practicing their own version of Stand Your Ground self-defense. Why does this law never apply to them?

Youngblood (the man who killed the teenager in his yard) has not been charged, as police await medical records that should tell us whether the boy was running toward, or away from, Youngblood.

Does it even matter?

No one shoots another and goes undamaged. Witnesses say Youngblood and Hendrix are shaken up about what happened. It's like blowback, some retort that shrapnels all kinds of invisible wounds into our interior world.

Why? Because what you do unto your neighbor -- either love or shoot them -- you do unto yourself.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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WHS1970 said...

Amen to that, David Cook.

December 3, 2013 at 12:38 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

Thank you David, well said.

December 3, 2013 at 8:07 a.m.
Carl said...

Excellent - thank you for writing this. I wish everyone would read it and reflect on it.

December 3, 2013 at 8:44 a.m.
AgentX said...

It would appear you have intentionally left out important facts of each incident, in order to make them seem more alike. They are all completely different circumstances. I think that only one of them could possibly apply the stand your ground law- with the kids trying to rob the man. If his story is true, and they approached him after he told them to leave, then it's reasonable to assume that an elderly man would feel threatened by two teenagers approaching after trying to rob him. In the most recent incident with Hendrix shooting Westbrook, I don't see that stand your ground can apply. Mr. Hendrix should never have left the house until the police arrived. If he had truly felt threatened, he should have stayed inside, gun in hand, and stood by his family. You don't pursue a threat like that and claim you were scared for your life.
It seems people continue to incorrectly assume the "Stand Your Ground" law applies to all shootings.
If I was in Mr. Hendrix position, I would have stayed inside next to my family and waited on police. Should the "prowler" kick in a door or break a window to gain entry, I would have shot then.

As for your article, please don't edit the details down to suite your point of view. I am a gun owner, and I have a permit to carry. And I don't quite agree with the outcomes (to date) of these shootings. I do believe that Mr. Hendrix should be charged with something, I'm just not sure what.

December 3, 2013 at 8:48 a.m.

You can't be too careful nowadays. I don't trust anyone I don't know. I too have a handgun permit & likely would have done the same thing to protect my property & family, especially since we have been broken into three times & had thousands of dollars worth property & vehicle stolen or destroyed by vandals. As far as today's youth go, most are becoming sorrier, lazier, & more worthless as each year passes & as more parents either neglect or enable them (often in the name of "spoiling"). Parents need to step up to the plate & be parents & NOT buddies, reinstilling the discipline lost over the years & perhaps these sort of unfortunate incidents would be cut down or go away altogether.

December 3, 2013 at 10:36 a.m.
LibDem said...

"I don't trust anyone I don't know." What a desperately sad way to live.

December 3, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.
AgentX said...

This is essentially the "stand your ground" rule. Basically means that you don't have to run and hide if someone breaks into your home and comes after you (as an example). Without the "stand your ground", you would be expected to retreat from an intruder in your home. Under certain circumstances, you can meet force with force. You can not shoot someone for stealing your TV, unless they hold it up like a weapon and come running at you, and claim that's part of "stand your ground".
TN code 39-11-611(b): Notwithstanding § 39-17-1322, a person who is not engaged in unlawful activity and is in a place where the person has a right to be has no duty to retreat before threatening or using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury, if: (A) The person has a reasonable belief that there is an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury; (B) The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time; and (C) The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.

December 3, 2013 at 11:31 a.m.
AgentX said...

This is why I believe that Mr. Hendrix will likely face some sort of charges for the shooting: 39-11-611(c) Self Defense (c) Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury within a residence, business, dwelling or vehicle is presumed to have held a reasonable belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury to self, family, a member of the household or a person visiting as an invited guest, when that force is used against another person, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence, business, dwelling or vehicle, and the person using defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

December 3, 2013 at 11:36 a.m.
schizka said...

You can not shoot someone for stealing your TV, unless they hold it up like a weapon and come running at you, and claim that's part of "stand your ground".

Yes you can if there are no witnesses to refute your claims; or if you can find a fellow buddy, friend or relative willing to corroborate a lie.

Not sure about the TN and Ga SYG law. However, in some states no one will be prosecuted and the families can't even sue when an innocent person is caught in the crossfire. It doesn't matter if that innocent bystander is a child or adult.

2010, Columbia South Carolina: 33 year old Shannon Anthony Scott opened fire on an SUV full of girls who were trying to fight his daughter. Instead he shot and killed 17 year old Darrell Andre Niles who was sitting in his car and some say attempting to help Scotts daughter. Although Scott was initially arrested for the murder of 17 year old Niles, all charges have been dropped.

"Despite being arrested and charged with the murder of Niles immediately after the shooting, Scott's legal team successfully argued for immunity under the state's Protection of Persons and Property ACT, otherwise known as the Castle Doctrine or 'Stand Your Ground' law."


December 3, 2013 at 2:49 p.m.
AgentX said...

I have not had time to read the article, but based on what you've said, it sounds like it came down to lawyers and the courtroom. There must have been something come up that gave cause for dropping the charges. I suppose there could still have been a civil case.

39-11-604. Reckless injury of innocent third person.

Even though a person is justified under this part in threatening or using force or deadly force against another, the justification afforded by this part is unavailable in a prosecution for harm to an innocent third person who is recklessly injured or recklessly killed by the use of such force.

HISTORY: Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 1.

December 3, 2013 at 3:11 p.m.
petrmoo said...

Mr. Cook these are radically different scenarios and you omitted many relevant facts. I am pleased this is in the editorial vice news section as opposed to the Youngblood shooting that was originally reported as news with the same goal to attack Stand Your Ground Laws. All these men should have let Law Enforcement Officers do their job. That is why you used them. What about all the home invasions, burglaries, and car-jackings? Why didn't you use those to attack the Stand Your Ground Laws- we all know why? They were not inflammatory enough. The media consistently fails to report legally armed individuals preventing violence, stopping attacks on innocents, and indeed serving our society. Any loss of life is sad but gun violence consistently has fallen as gun ownership and concealed carry permits rise. The same concept of "shared immunity" from immunization protecting society is applicable to gun ownership and Stand Your Ground Laws. Second arguments that is race based should that Stand Your Ground Law is applied MUCH more frequently in poor neighborhoods- no kidding there is also more criminal violence there. I understand your disdain for the Second Amendment and gun ownership that is your right. However after 30 years of military service, I will NEVER allow you to impinge on my ability to protect my family, my neighborhood, my nation, and myself. You are welcome to your opinions but that is all they are, one person's opinion.

December 3, 2013 at 7:31 p.m.
soakya said...

good post petrmoo

December 3, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.
mwarren said...

You can do much better than this article suggests. Here your facts are wrong and your logic is wrong. It appears that you are so anti-gun and so hurt by the tragedy of these cases that your writing is guided purely by your emotional pain. It helps no one to denigrate others based on emotion, faulty research, and erroneous conclusions.

December 3, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.
Art_V said...

"When black men shoot at other black men in the city, they're practicing their own version of Stand Your Ground self-defense. Why does this law never apply to them?"

Sometimes it does apply to them, but often it doesn't -- especially when they're committing a dozen different felonies when the firearm is used. Obviously, urban violence is closely tied to the drug trade, and simply possessing of a weapon during a drug transaction will get anyone (regardless of their color) a one-way ticket to jail. Additionally, most large cities have laws against conceal carry, ensuring that only criminals have firearms.

December 3, 2013 at 11:46 p.m.
yddem said...

mwarren, you are dead wrong. Not one of the three shooters had any legal basis to shoot anyone. If they had stayed inside their homes and waited for the police, there would have been no murders. If any of the victims had tried to break into the homes, stand your ground would have been a defense. No one, not even a police officer, has the right to shoot some one who is stealing. If you have any binding legal authority to the contrary, lawyer warren, post it.

December 5, 2013 at 4:12 p.m.
LibDem said...

petrmoo, I'm in my 8th decade in this country and, except my years in the Army, I've never had or needed a gun. I'm sorry that you live in such fear.

December 5, 2013 at 5:42 p.m.
moon4kat said...

Over the course of more than six decades, I've lived in big cities (Los Angeles, Washington, DC) and in small towns in California, Colorado, and Tennessee. I have never encountered a situation that would have been improved by me having a gun. Like LibDem, I also feel sorry for folks who are so paranoid that they have to make their lives about owning a gun. And, not just owning. One who owns guns must practice often, spend more money on ammunition, store the guns properly, clean them regularly, and always be mindful that they are not within reach of a child or deranged person. Some gun owners probably do all that. I have no problem with the responsible sportsman or gun hobbyist who is not also a paranoiac.
Personally, I'm just not interested in becoming the full-time caretaker of a weapon. And, the problem is: far too many gun owners are paranoid and/or lax caretakers of their lethal "toys." Far too many want the swagger without accepting responsibility for fatal errors in judgment.

December 6, 2013 at 11:20 p.m.
schizka said...

Which reminds me, moon4kat. I went out one night to place something in my garbage can when my neighbor must have heard something (my drive way and a small portion of his yard only separate our houses) and he came out with his gun prepared to shoot. I looked at him as if he was the most stupidest person in the world, shook my head and casually walked back into my house. Now this person has security lights and everything all around his house. Lights that come on in the middle of the night if something as small as a stray cat or squirrel wanders near his property. All night long, glaring lights constantly going on and off shining through your bedroom window. It's very annoying. I regret the day he moved in next door. Prior neighbors weren't that paranoid; and yet with all that security someone still walked up on his porch one night and stole a large heavy flower pot.

I'm like you, I've lived in many places around the nation and a few others around the world, but I've never felt the need to pack a gun. Americans are some of the most paranoid people I've ever come across. They trust no one. Barely speak in passing to neighbors they've lived among for years. Why are Americans so mistrusting and paranoid? What wrongs have they committed that they fear it might come back on them? Believe me when I say, it's not like that in other countries. Even in war torn countries and communities people are more trusting and not paranoid like Americans are.

December 7, 2013 at 8:42 a.m.
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