Saturday, June 07, 2008

When is an Assault Not an Assault?

I heard this story first on KUOW (Seattle's NPR radio station) this morning, and thought it wacky enough to look it up. For more background, here's the story just the week before the jury rendered their verdict. Both articles are in The New York Times.

Two men are in a spin class in an upper east side gym (in New York City). Mr. Carter the stockbroker finally has enough of Mr. Sugarman the investment partner, whose loud grunting and exubarant vocalizing during class are annoying him. When asking the class instructors to ask him to quiet down doesn't work, when yelling at Sugarman doesn't work, Carter lifts the front end of Sugarman's bike and lets it drop, while Sugarman is still on it. Sugarman sees doctor, is diagnosed with injuries, and presses charges. Carter was just found not guilty by a jury. Why? Because there was some reasonable doubt that the injuries were caused by that incident.

To me this is wacky because while Sugarman was presented as rude, obnoxious and not exactly truthful on the stand, I did not read any contention that Carter did not commit the actions that landed him in court. Where's the accountability for his actions?

My favorite quote from this article, given by one of the jurors:
B. J. Tormon, a 21-year-old nursing student whose thick biceps indicate that he has spent some time working out, said confrontations in exercise class were common. “Stuff like that happens in the gym,” he said.
"Stuff like that happens" because people can get away with it. And don't call it "stuff," call it what it is: violence. Carter got away with violent behavior.

When I was in elementary school, two wrongs did not make a right. Two wrong still don't make a right, especially when committed by middle-age men acting like children.

I teach classes where students learn life skills like de-escalation, productive confrontation, assertiveness and self defense, so that violence like this is less likely to occur. Stories like this remind me why I'm still in business.

Have you ever encountered someone so annoying, so grating, so rude that you felt you needed to put them in their place? What did you do? Email me your story (, or add a Comment to this blog.

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