A Voice of Reason

Some weird hits came in a few days ago from a “disqus” comment thread at a board I hadn’t heard of before.  This isn’t particularly unusual, as there is no telling where or why a link to a post is going to end up in an unusual place.

In this instance, it was a Catholic-based bulletin board discussing overmilitarization of police based on the purchase of an army surplus armored vehicle, segueing into Radley Balko’s excellent book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.  A couple of links to posts here involving police misconduct were tossed in for support.  They elicited this reaction:

Can you please cite to some factual sources that actually support your generalization that “police murder or rape people in their custody”? The simple justice link you provided is so overtly biased, inflammatory and hysterical that it’s nothing more than a rant and doesn’t merit serious consideration.  Tons of opinion, very few facts.  The fact that you’re calling an anal cavity search RAPE doesn’t lend you credibility, either.

To the extent that a blawg like SJ serves any purpose beyond giving me something to do in the wee hours of the morning, it’s to provide the commentary of one old criminal defense lawyer applied to things that happen around us.

With occasional exception, SJ is not a news source. That’s why posts here include links to other sources, where the underlying facts are provided.  This is opinion, hopefully insight. It exists as a continuum, with the whole body of content here as the context for any individual post.  In total, it’s highly unlikely to align perfectly with anyone else’s views. Nor should it.

But the reaction in the disqus thread, that SJ reflects anti-cop hysteria, is disturbing.  Not because any particular reader’s bias makes the content here seem too negative toward law enforcement — that’s bound to happen — but rather because what may strike someone who revels in their own personal reasonableness as being hysteria is simply reality. They may not like that I write forcefully about police misconduct, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that it isn’t as significant as it comes off.

There are two fairly common reactions to posts here. One is that I must be a cop-hater due to my posts routinely discussing negative news about police, rather than stories of cops saving kittens in trees, and for my failure to include the obligatory caveat. The other is that I refuse to tar all cops as inherently evil, or promote the use of force to resist them.  I can’t win.

So, the commentary at SJ doesn’t go far enough, or it goes too far. Take your pick.  My view, to the extent I let it enter into my thinking as I tap on the keyboard, is that it’s better to come off less hysterical than not. My reasoning is straightforward. To the extent that people are not already inclined to understand and appreciate the significance of systemic or institutional police and prosecutorial misconduct, my ability to convey the message and persuade people to be concerned about it is dependent on their willingness to hear the message without it being so far removed from their reality as to seem hysterical.

It’s not that I cater to those who maintain the belief that the police are the good guys, but rather that vast majority of people aren’t particularly concerned or attuned to the issues discussed here, and aren’t ready to accept that there is a lot of bad stuff happening, and it can very easily ruin their lives one day.  Sure, they learn it quickly when reality smacks them upside the head, but the hope is that more people will come to see the issues as worthy of their attention before their kids get busted or they inadvertently meet the business end of a Taser.

And yet, SJ can still come off as a hysterical anti-cop rant, all while some readers rip me to shred for what they perceive as my tepid approach to dealing with “the real problem.”  For those inclined to scream about the horrors of the system, consider whether it’s worthwhile to makes yourself, and SJ, as unpersuasive to the “reasonable minds” who have yet to recognize that there are real problems with the system, with law enforcement, with the courts, and prefer to pretend that things are going pretty darned well, a few bad apples notwithstanding.

More can be accomplished by some level of moderation than by trying to smash the problems in everyone’s face.  And for those muttering under their breath as they read this, “take your own advice, jerk,” I actually realize that to many the commentary here is way too strident, far over the top.

One of the first things I learned from blawging is I can’t please everybody. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to try to persuade as many people as possible to see the light, without giving up the ability to make my point clearly and accurately. It’s just that everybody sees the light differently.  And if you can do a better job of it, go for it.

11 comments on “A Voice of Reason

  1. pj_cryptostorm

    The world is chock full ‘o mealy-mouthed, “reasonable,” pablum-producing writers who offend (mostly) nobody and can tell themselves their “reasonable” critiques are going to “convince” that legendary middle-of-the-road Everyman not to support degrading policies and destructive social structures. There’s no shortage of such writing – it’s generally quite easy to do. Just don’t say anything that goes against “conventional wisdom,” and if you do just make sure to couch it in so many caveats and “on the other hand” quibbles that nobody feels threatened.

    But none of that shit changes the world. It never has, it never will.

    Occasionally, it’s time to actually speak truth and do so with clarity and insight. That those who profit from the continuance of bad things will be “offended” by such writing isn’t a bug, it’s a feature: if your opponents don’t find your writing threatening enough to cause a startle reflex upon ingestion, then it’s not powerful enough to do the job.

    Or: don’t ever be afraid to speak truth to power – even if power (and its syncophants) rarely wants to hear it.

    Leave it to mediocre writers and mediocre thinkers to water down the core concepts enough to spoon-feed it to the muddled middle (or whatever). There’s folks who have a gift for such things. But what will they water down, if there’s not someone out there writing sharp-edged, exhilarating, transformative words?

    Ed Abbey and crew had it right: if everyone rushes to the “middle” in a blind panic, then the “fringes” get reset ever-downwards until there’s no room for an actual middle to exist at all. There’s a healthy role for a strident stance – even if it’s only to make other stances seem less “unreasonable” in comparison.

    Nobody remembers the well-reasoned, calm, gentle suggestions that slavery might not be such a wonderful thing. Everyone remembers the Declaration of Independence… and more than a few have been and continue to be profoundly changed by the words of John Brown. Had I a fraction of the talent to write at that level of impact, I know which path is the one I’d gladly choose.

    Even if random internet tsk-tskers derided it as “hysterical.” So be it.

    1. SHG Post author

      The trick is to do both, write forcefully and with purpose, and yet persuade those who can be persuaded. It’s not an easy thing to do.

      1. pj_cryptostorm

        Indeed, it’s one of the more challenging elements of writing – to do both. Possible, yes…. but never easy.

        Still, I believe it should always be our goal. Best to aim high, in such things. We’re not all Mandelas – but a high standard is preferred, and reminds us that such is possible even if far from guaranteed.

  2. John Neff

    I think that fear interferes with critical thinking. One would think it is selfevident that nothing good can come of allowing the police to have too much power. Obviously that is not the case even when there are repeated examples of police abuse of power. We have good reasons to fear the bad guys and the police but those fears needs to be managed and it appears to me thar now we are in the dithering mode.

    1. SHG Post author

      For some, yes. For others, I think it’s just regularity, expectations of normalcy and that bad things are so abnormal as to be unworthy of much thought.

  3. Alex Stalker

    One of your problems may be that this blog is too sophisticated for most non-lawyers, even when discussing arguably non-lawyer issues, which is a sad commentary on the critical thinking skills of the majority of Americans. Or at least that is the line of thinking I tend towards whenever I see someone state as “obvious fact” that the non-consensual penetration of the sexual organs or anus of another isn’t rape.

    1. SHG Post author

      That is always a problem with anything that appears on the internets. Anyone can read it. Everyone can’t understand it, and I can’t explain everything here in terms that every potential reader can appreciate.

  4. ExCop-LawStudent

    I don’t know if you are aware, but the city and county settled the anal cavity “search” in NM for $1.6 million. It is still ongoing against the doctors and the hospital.

    [Ed. Note: Here’s a link to the Reason post on the settlement.]

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