July 4th Reflections
As I write this I’m waiting for a client to come to the office. Yes it’s a holiday but when someone is charged with a crime, that..situation permeate’s one’s life. The client had some issues that needed addressing so this morning we’re addressing them. Tonight, beer and fireworks.
Because of my work I sometimes get sent links about egregious charging decisions or police conduct. No one thinks I can do anything about it, just “Hey you work in criminal justice. Here’s a story involving criminal justice.”
Like this one. If the allegations are true, a bunch of cops wanted to rent out a guy’s house for “tactical” reasons, and when the homeowner didn’t want to give up his living room, they arrested him, his family, and used his house anyway. He’s suing them now, and I wish him all the luck in the world in his endeavors.
But that story isn’t really about criminal justice or the police. It’s about bullies. People with an over-entitled belief in their own superiority, and the resources to implement them.
We don’t care about people who think the rules don’t apply to them, as long as they don’t do anything with those thoughts. And we don’t care about people with weapons, or even a small army as long as, again, they don’t do anything destructive with those weapons and soldiers. But a group that thinks they’re above the law, with the resources to implement their self-aggrandizing? That’s when people get hurt.
Our constitution, borne of a bloody war hundreds of years ago, enshrines principles that persist today. These principles include restraints on government, a belief of innocence until proven otherwise, and due process of law. These are all responses to a period in our culture’s history where governments were tyrannical and didn’t afford people the basic human right to face their accuser and get a fair trial. The King’s word was law, and he had an army to back it up.
We need to be careful not to backslide to those dark times. Instead of a King, a Police Chief makes a decree and his or her will is carried out. That’s not the society we want to live in (unless you’re in the ruling class I guess, but most of us aren’t).
I’m lucky, I get to fight this. I’m on the front lines every day. I get to say to the powers that be, “Hold on. You need more than an accusation to lock up a citizen, to take away their property and liberty.”
I don’t always win of course. But I make sure, win or lose, that my clients get a fair shake. That they don’t get bullied by people in power simply because a bully think he’s entitled to levy a charge or take something he wants. Our constitution doesn’t promise everyone will stay out of jail. It does promise that if the government tries to put someone in jail, they have to go through a process, and it’s the same process they do with everyone. Part of that process is facing the accuser and testing the evidence. I don’t know if it’s the fairest system in the world, but I like it a whole lot better than rule by fiat.
So my request this 4th of July is to keep sending me those articles of outrageous conduct, but also send them to people who aren’t in my line of work. Share the news of outrageous conduct, shine a bright light on it, so that everyone remembers our society’s values, and what things look like when those ideals are not being met. There are a lot of ways to fight bullies. And bullies deserve to be stopped whenever encountered.
Happy Independence Day.