Sunday, July 23, 2017

Oh Florida - Personal Responsibility In the Sunshine State

5 teens laughed as Jamel Dunn, 31, drowned
In many ways the state of Florida is something of a unique entity unto itself.

In the physical sense it's an oddity, connected to the continental U.S. in the north but jutting out on its own like an odd appendage, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

It's just a stones throw from Cuba and the Bahamas, and is arguably almost a part of the Caribbean.

Upon landing there in the spring of 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon promptly christened it "La Florida" (land of flowers), and from its vast swamps and wetlands to its hundreds of miles of beautiful coasts and beaches, it is a place of stunning natural beauty.

It is, as those who've visited there multiple times, or live there can attest, almost like another country.

But after reading the horrific story about the five teenagers aged 14 to 16 from Cocoa, Florida who stood next to the edge of a pond and watched 31-year-old Jamel Dunn struggle for his life before drowning while they mocked him and laughed back on July 9th, I gotta say that right now Florida doesn't feel like a part of the United States that I was born and raised in, and am proud to call home.

Like millions of other people who've expressed outrage over this incident, I feel a sense of sickening anger at those teens, at least one of whom used a cellphone to videotape Dunn drowning and then had the gall to post the video to Youtube.

 How hard would it have been to just dial 911 and call for help?  

Jamel Dunn just before drowning 
As CNN reported yesterday, a spokeswoman for the Cocoa Police Department, Yvonne Martinez, observed:

"I've been doing this a long time, probably 20 years or more... I was horrified. My jaw dropped."

Speaking as a former Boy Scout (and as a human being), it's simply mind-boggling that someone could see a person drowning and not at least attempt to help or call for help.

When I was working to get my Swimming Merit Badge, we learned the term, "Reach, Throw, Row, Go".

Those four words describe the sequence of steps one takes in the event you should come upon someone struggling in the water or starting to drown.

The first step is always Reach.

Use a stick, a branch, a belt, a pole or anything that can be used for the person in the water to grab a hold of so you can pull them to safety.

If they're too far in, grab something that floats (a floatation device, life jacket, anything) and throw it to them so they can grab on and steady themselves.

If nothing is available to throw and there's a row boat, canoe, kayak or motorboat available, then go out and get them - swimming out to get a drowning victim should always be the absolute last resort.

Unless you are a professional swimmer it's risky to swim out and save a drowning victim because once you reach them, the first thing they're going to do is grab you in desperation, and because they're likely going to be in state of panic or hysteria, they could unknowingly risk your life in their attempt to stop themselves from drowning or try and breathe.

Secondly, and I learned this trying to get my Life Saving Merit Badge (which I never got because it's unbelievably difficult), a body in the water is really heavy, especially if they have clothes on.

There are techniques to grab someone in the water and then use a sort of side-crawl motion to swim for safety.

Minneapolis PRI radio exec Vidal Guzman, 60,
drowned in January trying to save his son
But you have to practice them in the water repeatedly with a real body (something most people aren't going to take the time to do) and again, if the person being rescued is in a panic, they could put the rescuer's life in danger.

You know how you hear all those stories about how someone drowned while trying to save someone?

That's why.

Just last month a 57-year-old man drowned in Alabama while trying to save some children who were swimming in the Gulf of Mexico - sadly it happens all the time.

Back in January, Vidal Guzman, a well-respected executive for Minneapolis Public Radio International who was an advocate of diversity in the media industry, died in Puerto Rico over the Christmas holiday while trying to swim out to save his son on a beach 50 miles west of San Juan.

But to get back to those asshole Florida teens, what's also troubling is that the Republican-majority state legislature, notorious for being one of the most conservative in the nation, have never bothered to enact a law that requires that someone attempt to help, or at least call for help in the event that someone's life is in danger.

The same legislature that actively sought and passed Stand Your Ground legislation that makes it legal for someone to shoot and kill another person anywhere based simply on the abstract claim that they felt their life was in danger, have no law that makes it a criminal offense not to help someone whose life is in danger.

Now how does that make any sense?

It would seem that Florida Republican legislator's insistence on "personal responsibility" depends on which private interest group they're shilling for.

Florida District 54 Republican Erin Grall
For example, as reporter Michael Moline observed for Florida, back in April, that same Republican-majority state legislature voted to repeal personal-injury protection insurance requirements for all motorists in Florida - proposing instead to make such insurance optional.

Sound familiar?

The sponsor of that bill was self-described "conservative Republican" Erin Grall, who was elected to represent Florida's District 54 in 2016.

"Today, we have the ability to start thinking about personal responsibility in a different way, and shifting that paradigm in the state of Florida and how we do auto insurance." she said of Florida HB 1063, the bill she sponsored.

Which of course benefits both the insurance industry and the litigators who negotiate for and defend them and act on their behalf.

"Individuals will have the ability to decide whether or not they need to purchase medical payments coverage in order to be covered in the event of an accident." she reasoned.

Yes, no doubt a young mother working at Walmart who gets injured by a tractor trailer that slams into her car while she's on the way home will want to "decide whether or not (she) needs to purchase medical payments coverage".

Obviously it's the same kind of asinine logic House Republicans in Washington talk about when they self-righteously pontificate about Americans having the "freedom" to choose whether or not they want to have healthcare coverage.

But it's not surprising given Erin Grall's political policy stances, which include opposing using state funds to expand rail service, blocking Syrian refugees from coming to Florida, "school choice" and of course opposition to women making their own reproductive healthcare decisions.

Oh and Grall is a lawyer and shareholder in her family's law firm who specializes in civil litigation - HB 1063 makes a lot more sense right?

But alas, once again I digress in the political sense.

Florida State Attorney Phil Archer
In the wake of the public outrage over the Florida teen's appalling lack of personal responsibility, last Thursday Florida State Attorney Phil Archer released a statement saying that there was no criminal charge that could be filed against them for refusing to help Jamel Dunn while he was drowning.

While the Cocoa Police have said they want to pursue some kind of charges in this case to hold the teens accountable, as Arriana Brockington reported for NBC News on Saturday, the only thing that it appears that they could conceivably be charged with from a legal standpoint is a violation of Florida Statute 406.

Which makes it a first-degree misdemeanor not to report a death to the local medical examiner.

But that's only a $1,000 fine, and given the depraved indifference the teens demonstrated in mocking and laughing at Dunn then posting a video of his death on Youtube, that hardly seems adequate in holding all Florida citizens accountable to basic standards of personal civic responsibility.

So consider this, racist killer George Zimmerman stalked, confronted, then shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin who was walking back to his dad's place with a juice and a bag of Skittles back in February of 2012, but a Florida jury found that he was not personally responsible for the kid's death.

(Members of that jury are now trying to defend their decision by the way.)

But if a person were to walk by a river and see someone drowning, or walk by a house that was on fire and hear kids screaming inside, they are under no obligation by Florida law to, at the least, call 911 and report it.

The same Republican state legislators in Florida who have, in the words of federal judge Mark Walker, passed voter suppression laws on a mass scale that represent an "obscene undeclared war on voting rights", have never bothered to take the time to pass legislation requiring what most people in communities around the U.S. would do without being asked - call for help if they see someone's life is in danger.

Oh Florida.

Sometimes it really does seem that you are like another country, and I ain't talking about the humidity.

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