WORDS MATTER: Even If You’re Right, What You Say Can BACKFIRE

by Greg Hopkins
Clash Daily Contributor

Social media; the stomping-ground of “The Keyboard Commando”. You know the type: reacting to on-line political disagreements with threats or statements of the decisive acts they would take if confronted by this or that situation. Worse, some of these Rhetorical Rangers resort to ethnic and racial slurs, jokes, and generalizations in their posts.

It’s a form of bullying and showing off. Jesus’ statement that those who live by the sword shall die by it (Matt. 26: 52) certainly applies in their case. Legally, your words can come back to haunt and convict you. Though Jesus was not teaching pacifism in that verse, one thing He was teaching is that venom spewed on the web or conversation can recoil and bite us.

We have become too polarized in America. The world has enough hurt in it already that we should not be the agent by which any more hurt comes. All sides need to tone down the anger in our speech; listen more, talk less, and try to understand (James 1: 19-20). While we are at liberty to say what we want in America, there can sometimes be legal consequences for our words. I’m not referring to libel and slander, but the after-effects of macho challenges, racial epithets, and sexist comments. For instance, you’ve heard the guy who says, “If any of those rioters came to my neighborhood, I’d take my hunting rifle and give’ em what fer!”. Or how about the instruction to anti-gunners that if they see an open carrier, they should pepper-spray them and take their gun? Another is, “The riots stopped after the National Guard shot a few hippies at Kent State, a few dead rioters would be good today, too!”.

I often have to tell people on social media that they are declaring to the world their intent to kill someone for a minor slight or offense. In court, such statements can come into evidence to show that you have a predisposition for violence.

I’m here to tell you that you can’t give someone the death penalty for calling your wife a whore or cutting you off in traffic. People who try that end up in prison. Similarly, telling sexist and racial jokes around the office can get you and your boss sued, or yourself punched. In either case, the other lawyer’s investigators will search your social media history for similar statements, asking all your friends, neighbors and co-workers about your attitudes. Intent and motive is always proven in court by words and actions.

The “innocent” jokes you told at the Elks Club will come back to haunt you. How about the tee shirts you wear with “cute” sayings, like “What Does Not Kill Me Had Better Run”, or “Kill ‘Em All Let God Sort ‘Em Out”? What about bumper stickers like, “Keep Honking, I’m Reloading”, “I don’t call 911, I call.357!”, or home window signs that say, “Trespassers will be Shot. Survivors Will Be Shot Again”?

Now, you have told the jokes, made those threats on the net, worn those tee shirts and posted those signs and bumper stickers, so let’s say a burglar of a different race breaks into your house one night. Though you point your gun and order him to leave, the coked-up guy advances. Since no state requires that you must struggle for possession of your gun with criminal, you justifiably shoot the home invader. He survives, and in the criminal trial against him or the civil trial against you, it is your word against his. He says he just came to ask for directions, but in his intoxicated state, he had trouble understanding you. He contends that because of your previously stated prejudices and your advertised readiness to kill rather than call police, you shot him for no reason.

Think this is far-fetched? Then you’ve never been in a real trial. I once prosecuted a man for DUI. He slid sideways into a busy intersection. Then he fought two cops until they had to “hogtie” him to get him in the cruiser. He placed all his hopes on sympathy from the jury, because his collarbone was broken during booking. But that wasn’t the whole story. Left hogtied at the booking desk because he was still violent, for twenty minutes he spewed filth like, “Why are you arresting me, a good white man, when all these N—–s are out there rapin’, murderin’ and sellin’ dope?’. After calming down, he was being booked when he decided to try to elbow a jailer in the face. The jailer took him down, and his collarbone broke. On cross-examination I ended with, “Sir, do you work with any black people?”. “Yes”, he replied. Do you call any of them “N—–s”? No reply. “Of course not!” I said, “You’d only say that if you were drunk!”, and I sat down. The jury was out ten minutes. The foreman, a black gentleman, gave the Guilty verdict.

Jesus said, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for in the Day of Judgment” (Matt. 15: 36). Considering “Hate crime” laws and all I’ve said, wouldn’t it be a good idea for all of us to start minding our speech?

photo credit: Arun kumar | Photography Crazy selfie via photopin (license)

greg-hopkinsGreg Hopkins is a recovering lawyer, city prosecutor, police Use-of-Force law instructor, former city judge in two towns and criminal defense lawyer. He’s been teaching the Bible to teens and adults for 40 years. He now trains CCP holders and armed church security teams in self defense law. He also does expert witnessing in firearms and self defense cases. His book is A Time To Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism, on the Bible and self defense.

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