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It's Not Me

Conrad Black talks about prosecutorial misconduct in an article titled “Prosecutors Gone Wild: How Many Wrongful Convictions Will the Public Stand for?”

Even casual samplers of the media now come across colossal injustices and failures in the U.S. justice criminal system every two weeks or so. Yet these stories, everyone [sic] a heart-breaking recitation of how willful prosecution misconduct has ruined a life or a family, with no consequences at all to whoever has abused his great powers as a prosecutor, seem never to elicit any particular public response or gain any traction for review or reform.

Sadly, the reason for this is what I call the “it’s not me” effect.

The “it’s not me” effect helps to explain why other human beings are not up in arms over the increasing numbers of people who are going to prison, or jail, losing their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, along with a bunch of other stuff, like the right to vote. (The right to vote problem is particularly ironic. It results in the only people who actually know what’s going wrong being stripped of the political power to do anything about it.)

The “it’s not me” effect thus explains why you aren’t helping to fix the system, but it does not explain exactly how you screwed it up in the first place.

But I can tell you how that happened — and continues to happen — as well. It’s actually pretty simple, and it’s actually pretty closely related to why you can sleep at night after shrugging your shoulders and saying, “it’s not me.”

In one sentence: It’s because you’re too trusting. Gullible. Prone to take the easy way out. Not willing to do the hard thinking that’s required of an ordinary citizen, in order to keep our once-great nation — rapidly slipping toward Third World status — free and vibrant, a beacon to the rest of the world, rather than an example of how modern societies kill themselves off.

First, you got caught up in the net of hero-worship, which stole your ability to think for yourself, and replaced it with the idea that police officers, district attorneys, judges — representatives of the government, basically — exist to take care of you and keep you safe. In an ideal world, there’s perhaps some truth to that. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in a world where, as has been famously said by Lord Acton as far back as 1887,

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

He also said,

Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.

But these days, it’s all about the secrecy, what with police officers constantly harassing anyone who tries to document their activities and publish them so that others will discuss whether this is really the kind of society you, they, and I want.

But, no, you don’t want this kind of discussion. You don’t want any kind of discussion that admits that power corrupts, and that your blindness to this, combined with the silencing of others by those whom power has corrupted, means no such discussion can occur. You believe that all our police officers, district attorneys, and judges are kind and loving souls who only want what’s best for you, me, and everyone else. Despite the more than 2,000 exonerations since 1989 — with the average wrongfully-accused individuals suffering eleven years before being exonerated.

This recognition that the type of absolute power you have given to those in authority these days could never be anything but harmful is why the Founders of the United States of America originally created a nation where government had very limited power, and a mandate to — for the most part — leave us alone.

So your original mistake of accepting that everything is okay, so long as you personally are not the target of government gone wild is compounded by your failure to recognize that only the diligence and devotion of its citizens keeps a nation free. Government by its very nature, is doomed to failure if you don’t do your job, because government is power. We joke about “corrupt politicians,” but it’s not their fault: it’s yours, for not doing your job as citizens. We can’t stick our fellow citizens in environments that we know will corrupt them, and then fail to keep an eye on them, fail to act to reign in their power when — not if — it is abused.

Your “it’s not me” attitude is going to doom you or your family because, ultimately, this will become a problem for you, or someone you love. As I said above, it’s not a question of “if”: it’s a question only of “when.” During your silence, our government is expanding its power. Law enforcement officials are busily acquiring modern weaponry that will ensure no one — certainly not you — can ever challenge them again.

Tanks, drones that shoot bullets and tear gas, drones that fire grenades — the stuff previously utilized only by the military in wars — are all being acquired for what? To stop bank robbers?

No. It’s to make sure that when you finally wake up, there will be nothing you can do.

When will you recognize, as former police officer and current military man Arthur Rizer said,

If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers? If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.

Yet, it is already happening. Even on college campuses, where law enforcement officers dressed up like soldiers engage in chemical warfare against students. As Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York said, in explaining why he’d rather be Mayor than President of the United States,

I have my own army in the N.Y.P.D.

And the laws our predecessors implemented to prevent such things are being gutted.

But, to a certain extent, I digress. Yet it is this same mentality that prevents us from dealing with the problem I opened with above: prosecutorial misconduct. You trust our government too much. You think you’re safe, because you’re not a criminal.

Increasingly, that does not matter. When law enforcement sets its sights on someone, it doesn’t matter who they are, or how the prosecution gets its conviction. Everyone is at risk — even you — because there are no negative consequences to prosecutors who “cheat” to win a conviction. Even our courts support them.

And prosecutorial misconduct is not as rare as you might like to think. Which brings us back to the question in Conrad Black’s article: “How many wrongful convictions will the public stand for?”

How long before you realize that if you don’t do something, someone else will be hearing about you, shrugging their shoulders, and saying, “It’s not me”?