Individuals & Institutions

Angry Mob

A couple days ago, I quoted from New York Police Commissioner William Bratton’s eulogy for Officer Rafael Ramos, who was recently assassinated by a mentally-ill individual because Ramos was wearing the uniform of the institution for which Ramos worked: the New York Police Department.

I started that post by talking about another post that I’d thought about writing. Blogging – for me, anyway – is funny that way. You start out with one idea, and as you write, it transmogrifies; somehow the post itself magically becomes something different than what you thought it was going to be. It reminds me of certain writers I’ve heard who talk about how they can’t wait to see what the characters in their books – the books they are writing! – will do next.

It happened again today. I started with a post titled, “You Were Told,” about all the warnings we’ve had through the years that the police force itself was transmogrifying into something horrifying, something different than we though it was going to be, and how we’ve failed to do anything about to stop that transmogrification.

Anyway, I ended yesterday’s post with this:

As the cause of that iceberg starting to heat up, it is up to the police to start a real, honest, conversation about this with the People.

This is not a time for anyone to be turning their backs on anyone.

Perhaps partly because of the essential need I see right now for some kind of rapprochment, if we are to ever have that conversation, today’s post steered itself away from a modernized Niemöllerian reminder toward this: a reminder of the difference between calling for changing an institution, and insult inflicted through the insouciant conflation of the individual with that institution. [Read more…]

Don’t Turn Your Backs

Unproductive Conversation with a Cop

When I woke in the middle of the night, I began thinking about the post I was going to write today. “A Rogue Army,” I was going to call it.

The post was to be all about how, were I still in the Navy, and decided to protest how our leaders talked about us by turning my back while in uniform, I would have been given a gift card as an apology, and told to run off to Mike’s Brewery to join the boys for a beer on the sidewalk.

Of course, that wouldn’t ever happen: first of all, I’d be punished for such behavior by the commander; second of all, if I stood on the sidewalk with the boys for a brew – especially in New York – I would have been arrested, since it’s against the law. In fact, in some places, cops will arrest you for drinking in a bar. Of course, that would almost always – but not always – only happen if I were black.

In New York, after all, a cop might arrest you for drinking ice tea in public, or just for being in public, outside of your own house.

And, yes, I get that it appears pretty clear that cops think they’re above the law. Despite disgracing their uniforms by turning their backs in an illegitimate form of protest, they think non-police-officers – who, unlike those police officers, actually have a constitutional right to protest – should be punished for protesting. They have no problems with their union-sponsored protest-in-uniform against their “civilian” bosses, but gods help the officer who wears his uniform to protest for something the union doesn’t approve.

But this morning, I decided that’s not the post I’m going to write, after all.  [Read more…]

When the Bough Breaks

Rock-a-Bye Baby

It has now been a week since two New York police officers were senselessly murdered in their cars by a mentally-ill individual.

“Today two of New York’s finest were shot and killed with no warning, no provocation,” Mr. Bratton said at Woodhull Hospital in Williamsburg, where the officers were declared dead. “They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform and for the responsibility they embraced to keep the people of this city safe.”

I may disagree with Police Commissioner William J. Bratton – perhaps to the point of disagreeing with him over the motive for the murders – but I know of no sane person who would disagree that this was nothing short of cowardly, cold-blooded murder.

I have deliberately held off writing about this sooner for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that I want to figure out the best way to say what’s on my mind, and to try to do so in a way that won’t be misinterpreted by people taking up other positions than that I hold. I’ve seen a lot of rhetoric, mostly heated, over the last week. I do not want to join that, though I admit that in the tussle of some online conversations, it is difficult to stay focused amongst the Stupid being flung about by people of all, shall we say, “persuasions.” (Though no one seems to really be persuadable; our minds are all made up.)

I hope the thoughts I express in this post will make people think as much as they’ve had me thinking over the last week.

[Read more…]

Life, Liberty, Happiness, Law

Too many laws

It will come as a surprise to some, but the United States of America did not always exist. [Read more…]

A Giant Ball of Shit

Ball of Shit with dung beetle and fly

It frequently happens when I get a new client that I hear some variation on the following:

I’m completely innocent. I didn’t do anything. The witnesses, and police officers are lying. Nobody even saw me anywhere near where this crime supposedly occurred.

Naturally, I start talking about having a trial, and the procedure for getting us there.

I don’t want to go to trial.

At some point, many – it’s probably safe to even say “most” – people will then start talking about what kind of deal they can get, or how much time they’ll have to do, and so on.

“If you didn’t do anything,” I always say, then why would you want to take a deal? And why would you think you’re going to be required to do time?

Now, people less trusting of my clients than I am may have all kinds of theories for why this conversation repeats itself. But I think the real reason is that, in the United States of America, people are taught that trials are bad things. They’re bad for the accused because they’re expensive; juries are not always fair; prosecutors have more resources than our clients; officers testily; etc., etc., ad infinitum.

More importantly, these days, they’re bad for alleged victims. Because how dare you doubt them, you idiot?!

[Read more…]

Blaming the Messenger

To Pulverize & Shoot

Michael Konopasek, of Seattle’s KING 5 News, reports on a real problem today:

[There is a]n overwhelming negative perception of law enforcement, which is making their jobs difficult.

This is a huge problem:

In the Seattle metro area, police agencies are having a hard time finding qualified people who want to serve, according to Pierce County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild president Cynthia Fajardo. Seattle officers and their colleagues from other agencies say they believe increased quarterbacking, second guessing and simple lack of respect are large contributing factors to the lack of desire to work in the public safety industry.

Okay. Maybe not such a problem.

But assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is a real problem, is – as law enforcement officers quoted in Konopasek’s story state – media, particularly social media, the cause?  [Read more…]

Race War [Updated]

Race War

From the moment the news was out that Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, there was probable cause to hold Wilson to answer at trial.

Yet, from the moment the news was out that Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, I have said that only an idiot would believe that Wilson would be held to answer at trial – or that anyone with the power to do so would ever even say that there was probable cause for that to happen.

As Scott Greenfield has already written – no matter how early I get up, I’ll never beat him to the punch with a blog article on an important issue –

That the grand jury did not indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson was a foregone conclusion.

A foregone conclusion only because

It ended as it was meant to end, as the foregone conclusion demanded it end.

[Read more…]

Truth, or No Consequences

Justice is Blind

Yesterday, I wrote to point out that the death of the Constitution comes more from the lack of integrity of the judiciary, than from the batons, pepper spray, or bullets of cops.

Today, Gideon, a public defender, tells a tale of judicial misconduct that provides yet another example of this lack of integrity.

Yes. I’m going to call what Gideon writes of by what it really is, by categorizing my post under “Judicial Misconduct.”

[Read more…]

A Blank Paper By Construction

Blank Constitution

Scott Greenfield writes today about a new United States Supreme Court decision – better characterized as a non-decision – in which the court had finally been handed a case they supposedly had been waiting for, for quite some time. It was an opportunity to clarify, to fix, an error of the system that they had perpetuated too long, and on too many occasions, in the past. As Scott put it:

It’s one of those reprehensible things the Supreme Court does, allowing bad things to happen to people for years until the right case comes before them, where they then tweak the law to correct what they could have done years earlier, saving thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of people from prison for being caught in the middle of their half-a-decision approach.

For its part, the court allegedly recognizes the problem, and eagerly awaits continues to stall until brought “the right case,” whatever that might mean, when they could allegedly fix things. The question is whether a person can be punished for behavior that a jury had found them not guilty of having engaged in. Because, the truth is, judges generally do not give a crap what juries say, and some judges have been punishing people for charges even after juries have acquitted them. Our system has, for the most part, prevented judges from completely dispensing with juries – but only for the most part. There are myriad procedures judges use to ensure that what they, the judges, believe should happen happens, irrespective of any system of law that might work to thwart them. Too many judges are unafraid to use those questionably ethical – and definitely immoral – procedures.

But the Supreme Court has always at least pretended that this was not so. The judges of our land just need laws clarified, so they will know how to act. [Read more…]

It Can Happen To You

Shredded Constitution

Just about a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a post titled “It Can’t Happen To Me.” In it, I talked about the attitude I run into repeatedly, one that seems to be now as ingrained as the idea that people gotta breathe, which is that constitutional rights protect criminals. Nobody else needs them.

Because if you haven’t done anything wrong, then you’ve nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

Nevermind that non-white people have known pretty much forever that cops don’t just go after criminals. What white people believe runs this country. And white people haven’t suffered these problems of being stopped repeatedly, harassed, or killed for driving while black, kissing while black, or, increasingly, just being black, so they believe it doesn’t happen…very often.

Sure, they’ve heard of it happening, but they’ve never really borne the brunt of it. And they don’t really believe what some black people say about how bad it is. I mean, most cops are good, right? Most cops — so they say — won’t beat you at the drop of a hat, even if they stand around and do nothing while their brothers in blue beat the living shit out of people when the hat drops. Those good cops, though, will indeed not just stand there — they’ll cover for their homies when asked what happened, even if they have to lie under oath to do it.

They just won’t join in the beating. Because, they’re good cops.

The upshot is that as long as white people aren’t subject to being stopped repeatedly, harassed, or killed, we don’t really need constitutional rights.

Constitutional rights just protect criminals. And black people.

But why am I being redundant?

Anyway, like I said, white people got nothing to worry about, so it’s all cool.

The problem is — and anyone who has ignored the “Do Not Feed the Bears” signs for long enough knows this — once an animal gets a taste for humans, it will eventually be impossible to get it to stop eating them.

We — and our judicial system (which is to say, judges) — have allowed cops to feed on humans for too long now.

And the thing is, the chickens are coming home to roost.

You might think I’m mixing metaphors here, but, actually, I’m not — and not just because most cops really are cowardly, if carnivorous, animals. I could, in fact, throw in a few more metaphors for good measure. “Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile” is another that seems to fit pretty well.

Anyway, that’s just what has happened. Cops have been allowed to feast on other humans, without repercussions, for too long. They’ve gotten a taste for it. The judiciary condones it. Some Americans — reminding us of the barbarous audiences of the Colosseum — even encourage it. Some of those because they, too, are sadistic animals; others because it’s good for ratings.

And, somehow, somewhere along the way, we discovered that we really don’t have any unalienable rights. As I noted in “It Can’t Happen To Me,” quoting the great American philosopher, George Carlin:

Image with quote from George Carlin regarding rights versus privileges

The List of our “Rights of Temporary Privileges” is getting shorter and shorter

Our Founders thought they were writing a Bill of Rights, pointedly intended to remind United States government authorities that there are certain lines which cannot be crossed in dealing with individuals with whom they might come into contact. “Criminals,” or not.

The problem is that cops can’t read; judges don’t read; and the Bill of Rights is just words on musty old paper.

Now, it’s not just dark meat that the carnivores are after. They’re developing a taste for white meat. In fact, it doesn’t even matter anymore whether it’s scrawny-ass white meat from you, or the potentially meatier (more worthy) meat of another cop’s kid. The modern police force realizes that their meat tenderizers, cooking prods, and bulletized aerators work just as well on it all.

And if you think it can’t happen to you, well, then, you’re just not thinking.