An Annotated Criminal Tragedy

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright December 2009


On December 10th, 2009 in Times Square, New York City, a spectacular criminal tragedy unfolded -- a scam artist/aggressive street peddler ran afoul of two plainclothes policemen. Rather than get arrested for peddling without a license, he ran, got cornered, started shooting with a gun he had brought with him, and in turn was shot at by the policemen and killed.

What I will do next is create a pseudo-article about that incident and annotate it with my insights based on my essays about Prisoner's Dilemma, Panic and Blunder Thinking and Enfranchisement.

(The pseudo-article will be in italics, and my comments in Roman.)


Gunman killed by police in Times Sq. panic

December 11, 2009

Yesterday police shot and killed a pistol-toting man in a gun battle in crowded Times Square. The daylight gunfight between a CD-hawking scam artist and policemen had bullets crashing through store windows and people diving for cover.

The man, Raymond Martinez, 25, of The Bronx, had been running a CD-hawking scam on tourists in front of the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.

First, Panic and Blunder Thinking

We get to this point -- a shootout in Times Square with a death following -- through a series of panics and blunders.

The first notable blunder was Martinez bringing a pistol to Times Square. This was, in that classic phrase, asking for trouble. Why he chose to commit this blunder -- what his thinking was before this incident started -- we don't know. Perhaps he forgot he had it, perhaps he was planning to go somewhere else and plans changed, perhaps he feared getting attacked by others on the street. We don't know.

He added another blunder by doing his CD-scamming (or aggressive peddling, if you wish to be kinder to his image) while he had the gun.

Around eleven AM, two plainclothes policemen came up to him because they recognized him as an aggressive peddler.

First off, this emphasizes the really high risk Martinez was accepting. He was a known quantity around Times Square. This wasn't the first time he'd done this, and it wasn't the first time he'd been caught by the police doing this. Once again, this emphasizes that this was an accident waiting to happen.

Second, when it does happen: Uh-Oh! Panic Time for Martinez. He is seriously scared and his mind is now focusing down into panic thinking. In his panic, he will be able to think of getting just one thing done. ...

The policemen asked Martinez to show his ID and the tax stamp required to sell CDs legally. Instead of showing the officers what they asked for, he ran away down Seventh Avenue. Along with packing heat and illegal selling, Martinez already had a bench warrant out against him calling for his arrest.

Martinez's mind decides his one action will be to run. ...

Martinez led the cops on a chase.

This is a blunder chain building. Martinez's choice is creating another step in the blunder chain. A blunder is caused by an expensive response to a novel and scary situation. The blunder itself, because it's both expensive and a wrong choice, can create a novel and scary situation for those who experience it, and those around it can now panic, and then blunder.

In this case, now the cops get to feel the primordial heat of the chase because Martinez's choice was a scary and unexpected response to their action. They get to to experience a scary situation of their own, and their thinking is focusing down just as Martinez's is. ...

"Stop! Show me your hands!" yelled one of the policemen.

The policeman is showing some sport thinking here. He's been trained for this. He has to think as fast as Martinez has to, but this situation is something he's thought about before because of his training. Transforming panic thinking into sports thinking is the biggest value of training for what to do in an emergency.

Martinez, on the other hand, is in full, untrained panic. He's focused on just one thing, escaping. The conscious part of his brain is not going to process anything coming into his ears unless his brain expects what he hears will directly help him find a path to escape.

But the Blunder Chain is about to add a new link. Instead of a path to escape, what Martinez can see is that his running has failed to end his problem. Likely, he feels cornered at this point. Time to focus in on the next single thing that his panicked mind will let him think of. ...

Martinez turns, pulls out his pistol, and starts shooting. The two policemen are just two yards away when he opens up on them. After two shots go off, his gun jams and stops firing.

Umm!... here the world around Martinez got lucky. The MAC 10 Martinez pulled out was a semiautomatic pistol with a magazine that holds more than a dozen bullets. It is a lookalike to a fearsome machine pistol of the same name with a huge rate of fire. In the eyes of those policemen at the time, Martinez could have produced a spray of bullets which could have produced a bloodbath, and the bloodbath would have included them!

One of the policeman did what he was trained to do in such a threatening situation: He shot four times hitting Martinez in the chest, collar bone and both arms.

For the policeman who did the shooting, this is now a full panic situation, too, but he has some training helping him through. The training lets his brain move into sports thinking... and he returns fire as he's been trained to do.

But the policeman's wounds didn't stop Martinez, who struggled with the officers as he lay bleeding and still holding his gun.

Panic thinking does not stop when you get hurt. In fact, it will usually get worse because you get even more scared.

A witness reported, "I saw two policemen holding a man down. They were wrestling to get the gun out of his hand.

"He was putting up a good little fight. And then Martinez's brother jumps on the back of the policemen and yells, 'That's my brother! Get off my brother!' "

The brother has panicked as well, the Blunder Chain continues to grow. In this case he is lucky these policemen do have training and can do some sport thinking. Had they been thoroughly panicked and not well trained, they could easily have opened up on him, too.

Martinez was taken to Roosevelt Hospital where he died.

And that is the end of this part of the Panic and Blunder chain. It may not end here, but what comes next won't be nearly so physical or acute. It will become emotional and legal.

This was a text book case of a Panic and Blunder Chain leading to a very expensive solution, in this case, the death of a participant. And it could have become more expensive still, it could have become a bloodbath with lots of innocent bystanders hurt as well, and it could have resulted in the brother taking bullets, too. The lesson here is that blunder chains do finally end, and cool-headed thinking can resume.

Lets move on from Panic and Blunder Thinking to the lesson in Prisoner's Dilemma.


The Prisoner's Dilemma and Times Square Hustling

Earlier this year Martinez had been arrested in the Times Square area for selling CDs without a license.

He was one of a group of hustlers who were working a scam in which they would come up to tourists, ask them their names, then write the names on the CDs and demand ten dollars.

Martinez was a Times Square hustler -- a group of people famous for taking advantage of the tourists who come to visit.

Why are there Times Square hustlers?

Times Square Hustlers are people who are taking advantage in Prisoners Dilemma transactions -- they are trading with people, but cheating them when they do so.

How do they get away with this?

In 90% of our day-to-day transactions, we deal with people we know, and we deal with them repeatedly -- think of buying things at the supermarket. In these transactions we are doing what are called Iterative Prisoner's Dilemma transactions -- we deal with the same people over and over. In such a case, if the other person does cheat in a way that we can discover, it's expensive for the other person -- we will finally know about it, and we can take protective actions. In this context cheating becomes expensive, so it doesn't pay to do it.

A few of our day-to-day transactions are one-offs -- we do them once, or only once in a while. This would be things such as buying a house and going to a college. In such cases it is common to add some protections to the transaction -- a legal contract is an example of a protection.

A very few of our transactions are one-offs and not protected. The most common time this happens is when we travel and we must deal with strangers and we must trust them.

Most of the time strangers are trustworthy because this is a one-off situation for them, too, so there is little to be gained by betrayal. But, where there is a continual stream of strangers, there is fertile ground for profitable betrayal transactions. One such place is Times Square, and there you have a thriving colony of betrayers, the Times Square hustlers.

Times Square is a "border town" for New York City. Border towns (which can be border districts, too) around the world are famous for being different in culture from either the home country they are in or the neighboring country they are next to. Other famous border towns are Tijuana, Mexico and Itewan district in Seoul, Korea.

I suggest that part of that difference in border town culture is due to the steady stream of strangers that are part of all border town economies, and the opportunities for betrayal transactions that comes from that.

And that is how the Prisoner's Dilemma can explain some of the background for this tragedy. It explains why there are Times Square hustlers and why they can profitably cheat people.

But there is more than just a Prisoner's Dilemma transaction going on here. The hustlers know they are cheating people, but they don't feel guilty enough about the experience to stop doing it. Why is that? Why don't they feel badly enough to stop?

That is the topic of the next section: Neolithic Village thinking and enfranchisement.


Us-versus-Them Thinking and Enfranchisement

Before the shootout, Martinez had five prior arrests and was wanted for an assault in The Bronx. Earlier this summer he had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, but a warrant had been issued for his arrest because he missed a court appearance.

Anthony Martinez, another brother, said, "The police shot my brother!"

Ancela Martinez, his mother, said, "I want justice. That was my boy. I want to know why the policeman didn't shoot him in the kneecap or something."

Sharanda Martinez, his wife, said, "All I know is that my boy doesn't have a daddy any more."

What the family is saying here is familiar and expected: They are siding with the brother/son/husband who was killed.

But in some ways, this family thinking is strange. Their beloved family member is a shady character, and a habitual one at that. Why are they taking his side?

The answer comes from Neolithic Village thinking. This is Us-versus-Them thinking. He is family, and the cops and those he stole from are strangers -- in terms of Neolithic Village thinking there is no question who should get their support. In spite of the fact that he has a long arrest record and some convictions, he hasn't crossed the line yet, so he gets family support.

But why does he still get that support? He is already a petty criminal and on the fast track to more trouble. Why doesn't the family censure him? Why don't they feel he's bringing so much shame upon the family that they should exile him? Why don't they tell him to shape up or ship out, and mean it? Why don't his friends censure him? Why don't they avoid him and feel like he's pure poison?

They don't because there is another element mixing in with this, too, the element of enfranchisement. Remember when I said that Martinez should feel badly about cheating people? Not only should he feel badly, all of these family members that are supporting him should feel badly, too. But they don't, at least not badly enough to make him feel that he shouldn't do it.

This is where enfranchisement fits into the picture. Martinez and the people he cared about all felt that this Times Square hustling wasn't a bad enough thing that he should stop. It was a case of disenfranchisement, a case of his community feeling, "...Meh." So Martinez kept it up.

And this disenfranchisement -- this "So what? He's a good boy inside." attitude -- was the foundation for the tragedy that this family has now experienced.

This is why enfranchisement is so important to a community. Disenfranchisement is the root of much crime and corruption. Enfranchisement is something that community leaders and government leaders need to be very sensitive to. When enfranchisement is high, crime is low.



This spectacular tragedy has been a textbook for a lot of elements of human thinking. We should learn from this.

The first lesson is that the feeling of enfranchisement is something that community leaders and governments so be much more sensitive to. When people are enfranchised they care -- they feel they have a stake in the community working well, and they feel that the community is paying attention to them. The opposite of enfranchisement is disenfranchisement -- the feeling that the community doesn't care about the person and what the person does has no effect on community wellbeing. It's a "Who cares, I sure don't!" attitude, and it's pure poison for the community.

Second, we should all be aware of Us-versus-Them thinking and Prisoner's Dilemma situations. We should be aware that Us-versus-Them thinking is comfortable, even when it isn't right. We should be aware of when we are getting into Prisoner's Dilemma transactions, and how we want them to be structured. (There are many good ways for many different situations.)

Finally, we should be aware of Panic Thinking and the Blunders it can produce as solutions to new and scary situations. We need to become better at identifying when Panic Thinking is likely to arise, and better at identifying when Blunder solutions are being proposed.

Let's all learn from this situation and make our world a better place.

-- The End --