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"Pride and Prejudice,’ and hangman tees

As all you literati know, “Pride and Prejudice” was Jane Austen’s masterwork. First published in 1813, the novel portrays life in the genteel rural society of the day, and tells of the initial misunderstandings, and later mutual enlightenment, between Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty Darcy.

The title “Pride and Prejudice” refers (among other things) to the ways in which Elizabeth and Darcy first view each other. There is not the slightest mention of T-shirts to be found anywhere in the text, to say nothing about hangman tees. Perhaps this is a reflection of the sobering fact that 200 years ago there was no such garment as a tee. More on that in a just moment.

In the current Kobe Bryant climate, T-shirts, of course, have particular resonance. Not only was it elicited at the preliminary hearing that the alleged victim’s blood was discovered on the tails of Kobe Bryant’s tee (do T-shirts even have tails?), but T-shirts figure as well in a pride and prejudice sort of way regarding the tangled Bryant affair.



Where, then, does the hangman figure? Well, in a species, on the tee. If not “that” tee, then on other tees which have recently become of issue in the Bryant mess.

As you may have heard, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office (or at least the bulk of the officers) marched en masse to order hangman tees. Two designs of T-shirts were ordered and then unordered. The back of the first tee held the message “I am not a rapist. I’m just a cheater.” Between the two lines of text was Kobe Bryant’s number 8. Below the second line was, as in the child’s game of hangman, spelled out K_B_ BYR_NT.” On the front was a pictogram of a stick man being hung.



The second tee said as follows on the back: “First class plane ticket $600.00. Hotel room $5,000.00. Surgery $25,000.00. Not bringing your wife to Colorado with you, PRICELESS.” The front was emblazoned with the stick man hanging and Kobe Bryant’s name.

Amusing? Maybe. I’ll leave that up to you. Perhaps humor, even in the face of an allegedly violent rape, still has its place. Noire humor has always sidled up with bleakness and despair.

Which leads me, in my own way, to the HMS Titanic. Yeah, that one. The one that sank with lots of fuss, a tragic loss of life and, eventually, a Celine Dion soundtrack. Recently, I received a catalog from a company called Despair.Inc. They sell posters and the like that are the antithesis of those posters you’ve all seen spewing out supposedly motivational pablum. Stuff like “Teamwork” and then some catchy motivation phrase meant to inspire the Dilbert masses to great feats.



This catalogue is different. Instead of motivation, this company offers despair. Pure and unabridged. The way despair should be.

With their catalogue came a few sample cards meant to tempt you into orders. In the meanwhile, you could send them to whomsoever you chose as the target of your scorn. One such card pictured the Titanic in mid-sink imposed before a truly glorious sunset. Beneath the photo, the card said “MISTAKES: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”

Oh, I was tempted!

There is a fellow attorney who, as of late, has earned my considerable scorn. I thought the Titanic card was just the thing to let him in on my disdain. Of him. I imagined with glee the look on his face when he received the card and instead of some pithy motivational verse, he instead realized that I held him up as the exemplar of everything I didn’t want my kids to turn out to be.

But then I thought it over. I reflected. The glee would be as fleeting as a breeze (a calm, utterly refreshing one, to be sure). The rift it would drive, however, would last. An enemy would be earned where now there was little more than polite antagonism. Nothing other than my momentary childish delight would be served. And so I stuck the card back in the catalogue.

And that, precisely, is what the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office should have done.

It should have entertained the humor of the hangman tees and then dismissed it. By exchanging e-mails with the company, ordering and then un-ordering the tees, the department created an unnecessary mess.

This now is where the pride and prejudice comes in. First, the pride. Pride can be defined in another word as “haughtiness” or in another as “arrogance.” It means a high regard for self and disdain or disrespect for others.

In entertaining themselves, the ECSO let us down. It lowered the bar of respect for the institution of local law enforcement and diminished itself accordingly.

The prejudice has to do with the potential harm to fairness in the Kobe Bryant trial. Did the ECSO contribute to potentially poisoning the jury pool? In ordering, then un-ordering the tees, did it wear its heart on its sleeves, shoulders and broad backs? In a word, did its actions potentially prejudice the administration of justice in the Kobe Bryant matter, even a little?

This, to say nothing what I’m certain was the inadvertent racial component, is the hangman evocative of lynchings which have marred this nation’s past? Did the ECSO overlook the undeniable racial component of the Bryant case? Did it forget that a certain segment of the world will find fault in Mr. Bryant’s conduct (criminal or not) simply because his skin is black?

Simply, this should have been thought through. Thoroughly thought through.

Do I think the ECSO’s office is comprised of evil people? Not at all. The deputies I know seem sincere and dedicated people. What I know of Sheriff Hoy, I like enormously. I have great and sincere respect for them, one and all.

They simply shoulda thunk things through. And in not so doing, they have nudged things a little more awry. Something that this matter, in the intense glare of the national spotlight, certainly didn’t need.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. He may be reached at 926-4461 or e-mail robbins@colorado.net


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