“A moral panic is a widespread fear, most often an irrational one, that someone or something is a threat to the values, safety, and interests of a community or society at large….Moral panics are often centered around people who are marginalized in society due to their race or ethnicity, class, sexuality, nationality, or religion. As such, a moral panic often draws on known stereotypes and reinforces them. It can also exacerbate the real and perceived differences and divisions between groups of people. Moral panic is well known in the sociology of deviance and crime and is related to the labeling theory of deviance.”
The prosecution should have had an academic testify about moral panic. It is a familiar term, used all the time in sociology, especially among those who work in the fields of criminology and social deviance.
The people in Satilla Shores worked themselves up into a moral panic about crime in the neighborhood. It is relatively easy to create such a panic just by word of mouth. Social media just makes the creation of a moral panics easier. Once people started talking about, posting about, “intruders” in the neighborhood, and items being stolen, the narrative took on a life of it’s own.
Every unrecognized person becomes an “intruder.” Every misplaced item becomes “stolen.” Even when individuals encounter facts which disprove the “intruder/crime” label, they rarely go around the neighborhood and tell everybody that they were mistaken.
Several witnesses in this trial admitted that while they had heard that the owner of the construction site thought he had had items stolen from his boat, they never heard that Larry English had driven that boat back and forth to various locations and wasn’t sure himself where these items had been stolen. English never even told the police that the items were stolen in Satilla Shores.
It was brought out through testimony that strange cars were reported as being in the neighborhood only to later be identified as cars belonging to relatives of residents. Items that were reported as stolen (including a supposedly loaded gun belonging to Travis McMichael) were left in unlocked vehicles. One woman who testified whose purse was widely discussed, left her own purse in an unlocked car and it wasn’t stolen. Somebody reported that their brother-in-law had a case of beer stolen out of a car parked in Satilla Shores. (Folks, if you believe that one, you are really sheltered.)
What happens when people work themselves up into a moral panic is that every misplaced item becomes “stolen” and fodder for more gossip and speculation.