overly helpful people, true crime, YouTube

Creeps like her? My unpopular opinion regarding Debra Hunter.

Yesterday, I read the trending story about Debra Hunter, the mom in Jacksonville, Florida who was caught on video last summer, berating a clerk at a Pier 1 home goods store. Heather Sprague, the woman who decided to video Hunter, claims she had listened to her verbally abusing the clerk about an item she had wanted to return, but apparently hadn’t brought with her.

When Hunter noticed Sprague filming, she gave her a “double bird”– that is, both middle fingers in their locked and upright positions. Then, obviously very angry, Hunter said, “I think I’ll get real close to you and cough on you, then, how’s that?” Sprague was one of the few people wearing a face mask in public at the time, since this incident occurred in June 2020, before face masks were required. She says she felt spittle on her face as Hunter then stormed out of the store.

Sprague is a mother of ten and has been treated for a brain tumor at the Mayo Clinic. Because of her delicate health condition, and that of her children, some of whom have special healthcare needs, Sprague claims she had to search frantically for a COVID-19 test. They were not widely available at the time, so she spent some time feeling very anxious. It cost her $150 to be tested. The results were, fortunately, negative.

Ms. Hunter has had her day in court, and Judge James A. Ruth sentenced her to 30 days in jail. Hunter also got six months probation, a $500 fine, must have a mental health evaluation and attend anger management counseling, and she must repay Sprague for the COVID-19 test.

After reading the many outraged comments people had about this case, I decided to watch the entire proceedings on YouTube. It was about a three hour video. One of the reasons it took so long is because there were technical difficulties, as the proceedings went on via Zoom.

Is she really that much of a creep? People should watch Ms. Hunter’s testimony. She doesn’t sound like a narcissistic creep to me.

Once again, I find myself disagreeing with the masses about this case. I read gleeful comment after delighted comment that Debra Hunter is going to go to jail for a month. I read many people condemning her character, based on headlines. I read that Debra Hunter and her family had received many death threats related to this incident, and her children were forbidden from playing with their now former friends. Ms. Hunter and her family are now pariahs, and now she will be going to jail for up to 30 days.

I know a lot of people think this sentence is entirely appropriate, and Debra Hunter and her family deserve being thrown to the Internet lions. It’s become very trendy for people to take it upon themselves to film total strangers and upload the videos to social media. Oftentimes, the videos– just a minute or two of someone’s entire life– lead to fifteen minutes of fame for the uploader and years of public ridicule and condemnation for the person being filmed AND their families. Debra Hunter has children too, and they are suffering because Heather Sprague decided to insert herself in a situation that, frankly, was not her affair.

I watched the incident from the video that Heather Sprague uploaded. While I don’t condone Debra Hunter’s actions at all, and I do think most of the punishment she received is appropriate, I don’t think she should be going to jail. It was a very short interaction she had with Sprague and, honestly, one that really didn’t need to happen. Heather Sprague, who claims to be medically fragile and has many children who are also medically fragile, CHOSE to meddle in a perfect stranger’s personal business. It seems to me that if Ms. Hunter was really that out of control, the store manager or perhaps even law enforcement should have been called– especially if Ms. Sprague is a cancer patient with small children at home. I mean, seriously… it’s Florida. She’s lucky no one pulled out a gun!

Many people were saying that Ms. Hunter’s decision to cough on Ms. Sprague was especially heartless, since Ms. Sprague has had cancer. But– if these two women didn’t even know each other, how could Ms. Hunter possibly know anything about Ms. Sprague’s medical history or condition? Yes, it was absolutely wrong for Hunter to lose her temper and cough on another person, particularly during a pandemic. But in June of last year, COVID-19 hadn’t yet wreaked the havoc that it since has worldwide. It was still very much a “novel” virus, and people in the United States were blissfully unaware of what was about to come. At that point, Ms. Hunter probably didn’t realize how dangerous coughing on someone is. The vast majority of us alive today have never before lived through a pandemic the likes of COVID-19. It was new territory in June 2020, and even as angry as Hunter was on that June day last year, I doubt she would have taken that action months later, when it became clearer how dangerous COVID-19 is.

As it turned out, Hunter didn’t have COVID-19 anyway, so while coughing on Sprague was rude, disgusting, and potentially dangerous, it wasn’t a murderous action. But people are still calling what she did “attempted murder” or “attempted manslaughter”. To that, I say “bullshit”. Yes, it was absolutely wrong for her to cough on Ms. Sprague, but I feel quite certain that Ms. Hunter’s intention was not to kill anyone. She was just really angry and having a very bad day, as we all do from time to time. And if Sprague hadn’t been filming her with the apparent intention of shaming, ridiculing, and destroying her life on social media, she probably would not have been on the receiving end of Ms. Hunter’s cough.

I don’t think Debra Hunter’s actions in June 2020 were appropriate. She was extremely angry that day, and according to Ms. Sprague, Hunter had been going off in the store for about fifteen minutes. Friends and colleagues who testified on her behalf in the above video claim that this behavior was out of character for Debra Hunter. Her husband testified that the two of them had been trying to build a house and had run into significant problems with the contractors who were building it. Then, their rental house caught on fire and they lost a lot of their personal possessions. If what Ms. Hunter’s husband says is true, I can understand why Ms. Hunter was upset. No, she certainly shouldn’t have been taking out her stress on the Pier 1 clerk, nor should she have lost her temper with Heather Sprague’s busybody proclivities— but I can see that she was under a lot of stress. And, not knowing the story behind why she was trying to return the item to Pier 1, I don’t have a clear idea of why she was projecting her rage on the sales associate, attracting Ms. Sprague’s attention.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I really don’t like this trend of people videoing strangers and making them go viral. I think such an action, while probably very satisfying for the person filming/judging/meddling, as well as the people who watch the videos, can have serious second and third order negative effects that don’t fit the “crime”. Everybody has bad days, and not a single one of us can be defined by the worst thing we’ve ever said or done. Is it really appropriate to destroy someone’s reputation and livelihood, as well as that of her family’s (particularly the children’s) just so someone can get fifteen minutes of fame?

I would have been much more impressed with Heather Sprague if she’d intervened by being kind. Perhaps if she had interjected by asking Debra Hunter if she was okay… or tried to help her calm down a bit. She mentioned Hunter’s child being there, doing the “potty dance”. Maybe Sprague could have redirected Hunter’s attention to the child, rather than whipping out her cellphone. If she really felt the need to intervene in this situation, she could have done so with a spirit of wanting to be helpful, rather than being judgmental. Now, thanks to Heather Sprague’s brand of “help”, Hunter’s children are being ostracized and may suffer psychological effects from this incident. Hunter will be going to jail, where she might be exposed to COVID-19 and, frankly, it’s doubtful that punishment in jail will rehabilitate her in any way.

I know a lot of people, particularly in the United States, think jail is the end all, be all of punishments. For some reason, a lot of us LOVE to see people rot behind bars, for the most trivial of infractions. Many Americans seem to enjoy it when someone gets the book thrown at them, and a lot of us are slow to forgive, unless the situation involves a pretty celebrity of some sort. But, I wonder how many rank and file Americans would like it if some stranger videoed them in the act of having a bad day, and took it upon themselves to put that moment or two on social media?

Would they say to themselves, “I deserve the death threats and the nasty phone calls, letters, and text messages from thousands of people around the world.”? Would they say, “I was a jackass, and my kids totally deserve to be ostracized and harassed by their peers because of what I did.”? Would they be completely fine with losing their job, as well as their spouses losing their job, based on something that occurred outside of work hours? My guess is that the vast majority of people would not. And I haven’t even mentioned the hate mail and vitriol people who have the misfortune of sharing the name “Hunter” have gotten in the wake of this fiasco. Several innocent people have had to make statements that they weren’t involved in this incident.

I will agree that Ms. Hunter didn’t seem overly concerned about Heather Sprague’s welfare. But, I would submit that Heather Sprague wasn’t too concerned about Debra Hunter’s welfare, either, when she took it upon herself to make her Internet infamous. I’m truly sorry that Heather Sprague was so terrified that she might get COVID-19 from being coughed on… but this was a situation that she could have avoided by simply minding her own business or, barring that, asking someone in authority to get involved. And if I were someone who suffered from a brain tumor and had medically fragile children to care for, that is what I think I would have done. Or, I would have alerted someone who could have intervened without as much personal risk. I’ve heard many people say that anyone who is medically fragile in the age of COVID-19 ought to “stay home” and avoid the risk of catching the virus. Seems like that advice could apply to Heather Sprague, too.

Perhaps it’s my time in Germany that has made me find this practice of making people Internet infamous so distasteful. Here, people have the right to be forgotten. Even people who are accused and convicted of crimes have the right to anonymity. Media outlets don’t always print people’s full names, nor do they show their faces, if they have been accused or convicted of a crime. Now, I don’t mean to imply that this is necessarily how it should be everywhere, but I do think there is something to be said for letting people live down their past misdeeds and get on with their lives. I don’t think the trend of making people go viral is fair, nor is it practical. Because, eventually, people who screw up, need to be able to go on with life. They need to be able to find employment so they can support themselves. They should be able to redeem themselves, so the rest of their lives aren’t completely fucked up forever.

Uninvolved people who take it upon themselves to film strangers behaving badly are basically acting as judge, jury, and executioner when they upload that stuff to social media. I think, if a person films something that is criminal, it’s more appropriate to give that footage to authorities, rather than taking it upon themselves to put the footage on YouTube or Facebook. Frankly, I won’t be surprised if people start suing these meddlesome folks… or much worse, someone gets shot for pulling out a cellphone.

One more point I would like to add. Judge Ruth reasoned that he sentenced Debra Hunter to jail because he hadn’t heard her express remorse to Heather Sprague. He seemed to imply that she wasn’t sorry for what happened. Personally, I disagree with his assessment. I listened to Debra Hunter’s testimony. At about the 1:30:00 mark in the video, Hunter’s lawyer invites his client to speak on her own behalf. She tells the judge that she’s already written a letter and won’t put him through listening to her points again. The judge interjects and tells her it’s “her day” in court. She speaks about how her three children have suffered because of what “she did”. She sounded genuinely sorry to me, and even said she could empathize with the parents who stopped letting their kids play with Hunter’s children. The judge even told Ms. Hunter to slow down and relax, because she was clearly very upset. At 1:40:00, she legitimately starts to sob. And yet, so many people, reacting to headlines, are calling her a narcissistic monster who should lose her kids and rot in prison. WTF?

I have had lots of dealings with real narcissists… and they don’t behave like Debra Hunter did in her hearing. I would encourage those who think she’s a monster to actually listen to her testimony. At 1:48:00, Debra Hunter actually says she deserves what she’s getting… in contrast to what the judge said, I did hear her mention Ms. Sprague and how this affected her, again at about 1:48:00. She mentions that there has been a “lot of fallout” for Ms. Sprague and her family. At 1:50:00, she apologizes to Sprague and mentions the letter of apology that she sent to her soon after the incident.

The judge says that due to the length of Ms. Hunter’s tirade and the fact that there was saliva that came from the cough, she deserves jail. Well, as we’ve learned since last year, saliva and spittle is a thing when we talk, breathe, sneeze, and cough. Even if Ms. Hunter hadn’t coughed, there would have been saliva droplets. That is the nature of things pertaining to the oral cavity, and why we’ve all been forced to wear masks for the past year. I’m not saying the cough was appropriate. It wasn’t. I’m saying that there would have been saliva regardless, and this occurred at a time when we didn’t know as many of the facts about COVID-19. Again– if this incident had occurred this year, I doubt Ms. Hunter would have done what she did, and she might have been wearing a face mask, anyway.

I know my opinion is unpopular. I expect some people will feel the need to correct my opinion in the form of strongly worded comments. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably already know how I feel about people who feel the need to directly “correct” people’s opinions. I just don’t think, in this case, the punishment is appropriate. Yes, Ms. Hunter should have been in much better control of her emotions. I do think she needs some help from a mental health professional. I do think it’s right that she pay a fine and reimburse Heather Sprague for what she spent on the COVID-19 test. I think community service and probation would also be appropriate. But we have so many people in jail, and the fact that the Hunter family has endured almost a year of “venom” (at 2:50:00) from the court of public opinion is already a heavy punishment.

And that venom hasn’t just affected Debra Hunter. It’s affected her business, her family, her children, and friends, as well as perfect strangers with the last name Hunter who have gotten hate mail and death threats, or had their businesses negatively affected by Sprague’s decision to film. That’s a whole lot of punishment delivered to uninvolved people for something that, prior to Facebook, would never have been international news, and probably would not have affected so many people besides those directly involved in the incident.

My guess is that most of the people– completely uninvolved strangers— who are calling for Hunter’s head on a platter would NOT like it if they got the same treatment for similar behavior. Anyone who thinks this can’t happen to them is fooling themselves. I’m sitting here reading this and listening to the actual court case in GERMANY, for Christ’s sakes. Think about that.

I wish Debra Hunter well and hope she and her family can move past this incident without too much trouble.

complaints, condescending twatbags, family, rants

Why don’t you drive your own car, and let me drive mine?

When you have to tell someone to STFU…

Yesterday, Bill had to take me to Clay Kaserne so I could turn in a passport renewal application. Because we live in Germany under special circumstances, we have to renew our passports through the Army instead of the usual way. I will get my tourist passport updated, and then it will get a new “SOFA” stamp, which is basically like a residential permit for people affiliated with the U.S. government.

As we were coming back from turning in my passport application, we were on the Autobahn, and Bill was trying to negotiate as a trucker cut him off in traffic. A woman driving behind Bill obviously thought she knew how he should be driving. She wanted him to get into another lane or move faster, and indicated her preferences rather colorfully in her car. She didn’t see that there was a vehicle in front of Bill preventing him from doing her bidding, but he could see her shaking her head at him and giving him a disapproving look (many Germans are world class at the art of the disapproving look).

As Bill expressed frustration at the meddlesome driver who couldn’t see what he did, I quipped, “Why doesn’t she drive her own car, and let you drive yours?” I’m reminded of that as I write today’s post. Sometimes, we need to remind people to “drive their own cars” instead of driving yours. In other words, you live your life, and I’ll live mine.

My relatives seem to experience different versions of our family, all based on which branch of the family they’re in. I have a bunch of cousins in Georgia and Texas– descendants of one of my dad’s sisters and one of his brothers– who are all pretty close. Or so it seems. My immediate family is not now, nor has it ever been, close-knit. My three sisters and I are scattered and we don’t typically spend a lot of time together. I suspect that when my mom dies, we may even lose touch entirely with each other. I grew up mostly fending for myself, even as people were telling me what to do. I realize that doesn’t make sense. It does make sense if you observe my family. We’re not particularly close, but some people within it have no trouble giving you unsolicited opinions or orders about what you should or should not be doing.

Three years ago today, I had an online altercation with my aunt’s brother. This aunt, who was once one of my favorite people in the world, was married to my dad’s brother, who died of a stroke last year. My dad’s brother and I were pretty close… or as close as one can get in my version of the family.

As I was looking at my social media memories, I ran across the altercation I had with my aunt’s brother. I once had a lot of respect for him. He’s a retired Virginia state trooper, a retired soldier, and has worked with Bill and a bunch of his former Army colleagues. In fact, this guy met Bill in person before I did, and made sure to tell me that Bill isn’t a psychopath. He may be a major reason why Bill and I met and got married. But that doesn’t mean that sometimes he doesn’t deserve to be told to “stifle it”.

My aunt’s brother– I’ll call him Roscoe– used to be a social media contact. He had a bad habit of chastising me for swearing on my Facebook page. He’d leave comments like “quit it” when I’d use the f-bomb or a similarly taboo word. He’d remind me that swearing isn’t “ladylike”. I usually ignored him or left him a gentle rebuke. But three years ago, I finally had enough. When he, yet again, gave me a hard time for using the word “fuck” on my page, I wrote this response:

If it bothers you, you can always hit the fucking unfriend button. Spare yourself and me a lot of fucking grief. I am 45 years old and I will cuss if I fucking want to. Got it? 

A lot of people thought that was a funny comment. I suppose it was pretty funny. But I was being deadly serious when I wrote it. At some point, it’s got to be okay to be who you are. I spent most of my youth feeling like who I was wasn’t okay. It was a message I got from supposed “loved ones” and “friends” who weren’t really friends. I spent a lot of time in therapy and on antidepressants, and I experienced an awakening in my late 20s, realizing that despite using the occasional curse word, I’m really not a bad person. That was a freeing realization, even though a lot of people have missed the memo.

In 2017, I wrote about this incident on my original blog. My original post was pretty good, and explains some of the context of how it happened that I finally needed to explicitly tell my aunt’s brother to STFU.

What happened was, the day prior, Bill and I had a minor argument. It was triggered by an insult I had received on Facebook from a man. I teased Bill for not fighting for my honor. I truly was teasing him. Bill is a bit of a white knight, and I thought it was funny that he wasn’t sticking up for me. It was a joke– because as we both know, in most situations, I don’t need anyone to fight my battles for me. Certainly not on Facebook.

But that gently ribbing comment triggered Bill, whose ex wife used to torment him by telling him about how he didn’t measure up and never “fought” for her. She even went to the point of ruining songs and children’s books by using them as object lessons as to how Bill should behave. It was very insulting to him, especially since he was not the one who was abusive in their relationship.

He got really upset with me. I could see it on his face. For an instant, he looked angry enough to lash out physically, although he didn’t. We had a serious discussion, then made up. Then, the next day, we went to a nude spa and hung out with a bunch of Germans who were also naked. I was relaxed and happy and posted about how being nude with Germans put me in a good frame of mind.

The same guy who had insulted me the day prior and triggered the fight between Bill and me, came back and insulted me again. That time, I posted this:

“What the hell is wrong with you?  Why are you picking on me?  Kindly fuck the hell off, if you can’t be nice.”

The insulter then deleted his comment, but not before the language cop, my aunt’s brother, saw it. He decided to give me some shit for swearing.

Bad words are a dead end. No place on FB.

There I was… in a pretty good mood and posting about it. For that, I first get insulted by a “friend”; then when I confront said friend, I get chastised by a “loved one” for cussing. And I’m in my mid 40s (circa 2017– I’m even OLDER now)! At what point is it okay for me to decide for myself how I will communicate? At what point do people recognize that I can make these kinds of choices and deal with the consequences for myself? I mean, I haven’t lived with my family of origin in decades, but some of them act as if I still need parental guidance.

That’s why I decided to tell “Roscoe” to pound sand. However, I still felt a bit guilty about it. I was raised not to swear, so I feel funny about doing it, even though I do it all the time. I guess it’s a form of rebellion for me. This was his unedited follow up comment:

Why cuss words? A valid issue or concern can do without. Get mad, threatek NJ mm w u atbis by th r poin5 Il)

“Roscoe” responded in a disappointing way. He was very patronizing and non-sensical. So I left another response:

I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to say here, but I would appreciate it if you would let me be me. I’m not a bad person, nor am I stupid or in need of special guidance from my elders. I promise you that when I need to be articulate, I can be articulate. I don’t even have to use what you refer to as “bad words”. But I choose to swear sometimes and that is my right as a grown ass American. If it offends you, there are steps you can take to spare yourself the injury. I, for one, will fucking cuss as much and whenever I want to… especially on Facebook. Good night.

It wasn’t long after that incident that I kicked “Roscoe” off of my page for the same kind of behavior. On more than one occasion, he lectured me about everything from the language I used to my political leanings. “Roscoe” is a devoted Trump supporter and I, of course, am not. And he wasn’t even really my relative– except by marriage. After that, I started kicking other supposed loved ones off of my page. Although it’s sad to me that I don’t have many relatives who are “friends”, I have found that I am a lot happier when I communicate with people who realize that I’m an adult who doesn’t need anyone lecturing or shaming me about the language I use or most anything else.

Not everyone likes me, but one thing I have heard from more than one person is that I am not “fake”. What you see is mainly what you get. For most of my life, I’ve gotten the message from people close to me that who I am is not okay. Now that I’m older, I realize that’s simply not true. And anyone who tries to shame me, when I know for a fact that their shaming isn’t valid, can just fuck off. If the worst you can say about me is that I use “bad words”, I figure I’m doing alright.

One complaint some people have had about me is that sometimes I vent in my blog. Sometimes people read what I write in my blog and feel that I’m “unfair”. Sometimes, people read rants I’ve written about them or someone they know and then try to shame me into shutting up. It’s really simple, though. If you don’t want that kind of feedback from me, you can simply treat me with basic respect or just leave me alone. I’ll do the same, and you won’t be on the receiving end of a rant. With the exception of certain politicians or celebrities, I don’t write these things unless I am provoked.

Don’t treat middle aged people like children. Don’t tell them they don’t have the right to their thoughts, feelings, experiences, or freedom of expression. Don’t be disrespectful to people if you don’t want them to be disrespectful to you. Don’t read things you don’t want to read. Don’t blame other people for things that are your responsibility. As I wrote in 2017,

I have learned that I am who I am, and it’s a lot easier to be that person than to try to be someone I’m not.  I will never be the genteel, sweet, refined Southern lady my dad apparently hoped I would be.  I will never be tiny, demure, super feminine or ladylike.  There was a time when I really suffered because I wanted to be those things… I was pressured to be those things by my father and, to a lesser extent, my mother.  To her credit, my mom has mellowed out a lot.  I think it helps that she’s seen that Bill and I are happy and being who I am hasn’t hurt me.  In fact, a lot of people seem to enjoy who I am.  The ones who don’t probably aren’t worth the effort anyway. 

Trying to be someone I’m not eventually led to depression and anxiety, along with years of flirtation with eating disorders.  It took years for me to move beyond those crippling and very damaging feelings of low self-worth.  I don’t want to go back to those days.  In fact, I refuse to do it. 

I’m 45 (now 48) years old and and I am who I am.  Who I am is not a bad person.  Take it or leave it.  And if you don’t like my use of the occasional four letter word, kindly fuck off and leave me alone. 

I’m sorry for yet another rerun, but I think this is a message that bears repeating. Some people out there in Internetland need to read it, either because people are discounting and disapproving of them, or they are doing the discounting and disapproving.

It’s just so easy. Above all, you live your life. I’ll live mine. You drive your car. I’ll drive mine. Simple… and if I want to curse, Goddammit, I’m going to curse.

And I don’t need protection from “bad words”, either.