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Mob mentality

Posted: August 21, 2014 9:50 a.m.
Updated: August 22, 2014 6:00 a.m.

I have admitted in this column many times that I have become a “grumpy old man.” Well, folks, here I go again. I often blame technology and the instant sharing of news and opinions on many of society’s ills, and that’s what I’m doing again today.

It happens all the time, but three recent cases have really caught my attention and raised quite a bit of disgust in me with the “mob mentality” that prevails on the internet. All three stories have caused division online and in “the real world.”

The first and I would say the biggest is the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the African-American in Ferguson, Mo., who was shot and killed by a white policeman. There are conflicting reports about what happened, but there’s one thing I can say as an absolute fact. I was not there. I didn’t see it and I would bet you didn’t, either. I would bet the protesters, rioters and looters in Ferguson didn’t, either. I can’t say who was wrong or right there, because I just don’t know. The Missouri authorities are investigating the incident and I say we all should let them figure out what happened, then accept their findings and move on.

The mob, in the streets and on their computers, say they want justice. But what’s going to happen if the investigator’s findings are that the shooting was necessary? I’m afraid the mob mentality will rise to a level far higher than what we’ve already seen. The other side of that is I hope the Missouri authorities aren’t influenced by the mob out of fear of what will happen if the officer is found to not be at fault. That would not be justice. I’m keeping a close eye on this one.

The second thing is the tragic case of upper-echelon NASCAR driver Tony Stewart striking and killing another driver in a sprint car race at a dirt track in upstate New York. NASCAR fans are very passionate about their favorite driver and equally as passionate about those they loathe. Stewart has lots of fans, while many others can’t stand him. Those who hate him are calling him a killer and even a murderer. Those who like him are saying it was an unfortunate accident that essentially was caused by the dead man, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., who wrecked, then got out of his car to confront Stewart, who was still driving his car on the track. Ward was struck by the right rear wheel of Stewart’s car and thrown violently to the track surface. There is a homemade video circulating on the internet of the event and, as usual, it’s amazing how many people can see the same thing, yet see something different. This tragedy is also being investigated and again I say let’s wait for the official results before we pass judgment on anyone. I know most people won’t and if they disagree with the outcome, they will surely cry “foul” and argue all the more.

Finally is the sad news of the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. It has been reported he suffered from depression for many years and he openly admitted to substance abuse problems, although by all accounts he had been clean and sober for a long time. From what I have seen online, most people’s comments were supportive of his family and friends and offered condolences. But, there’s always a group of jerks in the mix. It’s been said Williams’ daughter, Zelda, had to remove herself from social media websites because of inappropriate comments being posted about her father taking his own life. I can’t find the words to describe what I think about that kind of behavior. Rude certainly is not strong enough and what I’d really like to say about it can’t be printed in a community newspaper. It’s just wrong to kick someone when they’re down.

I guess it’s the journalist in me, but I’m a big believer in due process. We should let the proper authorities find the answers and conclusions in the cases of Michael Brown and Kevin Ward Jr. and not convict someone in the media or on an internet message board without knowing all the facts. Robin Williams’ death is not under investigation per se, but it should serve to educate us that mental illness does not discriminate based on fame or fortune and we’re wrong when we judge someone for it, regardless of their station in life.

Mob mentality will never go away. It’s always been here, eons before there was an internet, but these computers and smartphones and such sure have made it a lot easier to join the mob. God help us all.   


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