In an act of self-defense, convenience store clerk Jose Alba fatally stabbed 35-year-old Austin Simon on July 1, after Simon violently attacked the 61-year-old Alba behind the counter of the Harlem bodega where he was working. The incident, fortunately, was captured by a surveillance camera, and has since been observed by millions on television and the internet. Many of the initial viewers were nothing short of horrified when New York County District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, charged Alba — the victim of the assault — with second-degree murder. Thankfully, because of a large public outcry, as well as the support of New York City mayor Eric Adams, those charges were dropped on July 19.
Here, it is important for us to keep in mind the Church’s teachings on self-defense, which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC, 2263-2265). In paragraph 2263 we read: “The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. ‘The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor…. The one is intended, the other is not.’” And then there’s this in paragraph 2264: “Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore, it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.”
As long as the defense is proportional to the attack, it is legitimate and morally acceptable. Jose Alba perceived that his life was being threatened by an unjust aggressor, and he responded by defending his life appropriately. The death of Austin Simon was tragic and regrettable — and we should pray for the Lord to give him a merciful judgment — but it was definitely not a case of second-degree murder.