Opinion » Letter From The Editor

Be Polite. Be Good.

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NRA types like to say "an armed society is a polite society." To which I add, "... with lots of dead and wounded people." But there is a corollary to that philosophy that occurred to me last week in the wake of the United Airlines "pulled passenger" fiasco, the two cops getting fired for hitting a suspect during a traffic stop in Georgia, and the sex-scandal-induced resignation of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.

The fact is everybody's armed now, after a fashion; not with guns (at least, not most of us) but with video cameras and recorders — the ones on our phones. And like guns, cellphones can be used for good or for mischief. And they can backfire, big time.

It calls to mind the adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Updated, it might read, "The cellphone is mightier than your bullsh*t."

With more than a billion smartphone users worldwide, the odds of an event — or an incident — being captured on camera or video have never been better. The video evidence of United Airlines' unseemly treatment of a passenger was online and available to the public — and to the media — within seconds. The combination of digital camera technology and social media's ability to transmit images almost instantly to a global audience, has made citizen journalists of us all.

The two officers in Georgia gave a false report of an incident in which they pulled over a motorist, claiming the driver got out and attacked one of the officers. Two videos of the incident shot by onlookers made it clear the citizen had gotten out of his car with his hands up and had been struck in the face by the officer without provocation. The officers were fired.

As has been amply demonstrated in recent years, video evidence of police misbehavior doesn't always end in justice being served, but it sure is better than the old days, when police officers' reports were the only accounts available of such incidents.

And Governor Bentley was outed by his own cellphone, which posted his text messages to his mistress to the Cloud, where his wife could read them in real time on her iPad. Oops.

And speaking of oops ... Memphis social media went berserk last weekend over a recording of racial slurs and insults allegedly made by a Memphis couple who were vacationing in the Turks and Caicos. The recording was put on a local TV station's website and went viral from there.

Since the alleged callers were from a prominent Memphis family, social media posts went up proposing boycotts of the family's business interests and demanding actions and retribution for past — and current — racial injustices. The couple's attorney denied the allegations, claiming the phone had been stolen and that the voices that had been recorded were not those of his clients. But the damage had been done.

Since there is no video of the incident and no crime was committed, it is unlikely it will be investigated further, and it is doubtful we will ever know the truth. If the couple did it, they'll probably get away with it. But even if they didn't do it, their reputation has taken a massive hit.

There are lessons here for all of us: Be good to your customers. Do the right thing when serving the public. Don't be a moron and cheat on your spouse.

And be polite. Someone nearby is probably "armed."

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