Sunday, November 23, 2014

Spike Lee was correct: just Do the Right Thing. Please.

Lately we see all this hand-wringing, throughout society and on every news channel, about the way criminal suspects are treated, the way unruly protestors are treated, the way people on Death Row are executed. And similar/related topics.

Those are not insignificant matters. I don't like to turn on my TV and see handcuffed suspects who look as if they've just been interrogated with a closed fist; I don't like to see protestors met on some downtown night-time street by the equivalent of an armored assault battalion that appears to have been photoshopped in from newsreels of Afghanistan. So yes, we must address those issues as part of our journey to the fully civilized society we aspire to be...a society in which we can all take pride, regardless of gender, color, creed, etc....

But can we agree that before any of that, arguably the premier building block of a civilized society is a general recognition and acceptance of The Rule of Law? Watching CNN of late, I feel as if we're ignoring the elephant in the room while we get caught up in the mice emerging now and then from the baseboards.

To start with the Death Row issue, folks, know that I am a lifelong crusader against capital punishment, which I deem barbaric. I cannot believe that in 2014, we're still invoking that hoary, biblical "eye for an eye" crap as a justification for state-sponsored killing. But, yanno, if you don't want to have to worry about the second-rate chemical components of the mysterious cocktail the state is using to bring about your barbaric demise, don't commit a capital crime. Does that seem reasonable? A recognition of the Rule of Law—and the law itself—obviates your need for the teams of specialty attorneys who try to keep people from being strapped to that damned table.

Similarly, if you don't want to risk being manhandled by cops—who are, after all, fallible human beings (in many cases profoundly jaded after receiving way too concentrated a dose of the ugly side of life)—then avoid becoming a person of interest in a criminal investigation. If you must have an encounter with law enforcement, by all means handle it as if you were a paleontologist handling the rarest and most precious intact dinosaur egg ever found at a dig. 

Let's get to the case at hand, the case that has catapulted these questions to the forefront of our collective consciousness. I feel for the parents and loved ones of Michael Brown. I have three grown kids of my own, two of them sons, and I can't imagine what it would be like to lose any of them to such a tragedy. That said, I have to believe that in their heart of hearts, even Mike Brown's parents would agree that their son is miscast as the poster boy for white racism and police malfeasance. He apparently robbed a convenience store just prior to his fateful encounter with Officer Wilson, and then—even the family's attorneys have not denied—tried to wrest the officer's gun from Wilson during some altercation that evolved in the police cruiser. Does that, in and of itself, give Wilson carte blanche to execute the kid? Of course not. And if the grand jury rules that the crisis was already past by the time Wilson fired the fatal shots, I'll be the first one cheering for the officer's arrest and conviction of...something. Maybe not first-degree homicide, but something. Still, if I could go back in time and speak to Michael (Gentle Giant) Brown, I would say to him, "Mike, Mikey, look, don't grab those cigars from the counter in that store, and don't strong-arm the clerk; because then, if you should get hassled by some cop for walking down the street a few moments later, you won't have to worry that the cop is hot on your trail. And if you do get stopped—as African-Americans will, for no good reason, too often—then Jesus Christ don't go for the cop's gun! Because if you come out on the short end of that struggle, what the hell do you think is gonna happen next?"

(Has it occurred to anyone in the Brown family that even if Mike survived his meet-up with Wilson, he'd still in all likelihood be going away for a good while as a result of whatever happened there?)

The Rule of Law. If we all did what we were supposed to do in life, if we didn't steal, stab, shoot, punch, rape and so forth, we'd have little reason to fear the civil-rights infringements that tend to flow as consequences from such untoward behaviors. Why does that so seldom come up? Why is Don Lemon (or one of his hand-picked guests) not making that point nightly? Is it somehow impolitic to talk about law and order? To reinforce its importance in the social contract?

If you throw a bottle at a police tank during some chaotic protest melee, you do not deserve to to be shot in the head. Nevertheless, if you throw a bottle at a police tank during that melee, you risk being shot in the head. So don't throw the bottle.

While I'm on a roll, I would extend that logic to other counterproductive behaviors that are not, strictly speaking, illegal. Forgive me if I sound judgmental—and I know I do—but young woman: Please don't have six kids with four different absentee fathers and then complain about America's insensitivity in the face of poverty. (That admonition "applies double" to demagogues: Just STFU. I don't want to hear it.) Does that mean that I want the woman and her six kids under age 7 to live in squalor and in a constant state of what social scientists call "food insecurity"? No way. I want her and her kids to be housed and fed (even though to some degree such largess incentivizes the ongoing behavior). But, young woman, why would you put yourself—and me, and society, and hateful Tea Party types—in the position of having to make those calls about your life and well-being?

Director Lee said it best in his title so many years ago....

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