Not Even For One Day, And Why Fault Lines Is Needed

It was, to be blunt, disappointing to read the comments to my post in the aftermath of the Dallas murder of five cops. I want to believe that I have a better class of reader than reddit. Not that anyone is less inclined to favor a side, but that you have the capacity to appreciate that no side is pure and perfect, no side evil and wrong. While specific instances of conduct can be carefully fit into their proper place, the generalizations upon which we rely are mere generalizations. They are no definitive, reliable absolutes.

All cops are not racist killers.  Even the cop who is a little too racist,* a little violent, will be the nice guy who saves a kitten up a tree or helps an old woman cross the road.  Then some will gush, “he’s the one good apple,” because you’ve reduced a human being to one act, good or bad, like a cartoon character. People are like that, variable, inconsistent, sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes in between.  You know that, right? Right?

So the comments to the post disappointed me. I trashed almost all of them. I refused to allow that post to become the soapbox for more of the same generalizations of the other side, the one you hate the most, the one you love the least.  For one post, one friggin’ post, could you not put down your team banner and not persist in arguing that, “but, but, but . . . we’re RIGHT and they’re WRONG!!!”  Some of you, many regular commenters here, could not. You just couldn’t do it.

As this is a blog written by a criminal defense lawyer, it naturally favors the rights of the accused. I tend to be critical of police. It’s my point of view. I’m not inclined to search for an excuse to justify police violence or misconduct, and not inclined to be particularly forgiving. But within that perspective, I also try not to be so blind as to refuse to understand that the other side has a perspective too, a legitimate point of view. And on occasion, they are in the right, they do what we need them to do, ask them to do.

In the mindless fantasies of some of the most delusional, you think our world would be just great if there was no such thing as police. As I’ve tried to explain, there are bad dudes out there, people who do harm to others. These are not merely flawed, sympathetic creatures, but some truly bad people. And we need people to do the ugly job of stopping them from harming others.

We will frequently criticize cops for how they do their job, for harming the innocent or harming the guilty who need not have been harmed, but we don’t talk about them being evil when the person they stopped needed to be stopped.  They are a necessary evil in many ways. To not realize this isn’t just myopic, but wrong. It does’t matter that some guy has a child who loves him dearly. If that guy is about to do horrific harm to your child, you will want him stopped any way possible. To deny this is to be insane.

Yet, there some of you were, arguing why the Dallas cops had it coming, not because of what they individually may have done but because of the tenor of police and race relations in America. Not even one day, one post, could you let go of your feelings long enough to de-escalate the anger and hatred toward the other side. And there were some pro-cop comments, as well, doing the same thing.

At Fault Lines, Greg Prickett wrote an analysis of the killing of Alton Sterling from the cop perspective.  The appreciation of readers for getting a different point of view than their own was underwhelming.

Liz W
7 July 2016 at 1:30 pm – Thank you for reminding me why I don’t read anything written by cops or ex-cops. Currently writing a script to filter your posts out. See you never.?

This was one of the nicer comments. I trashed the ones that did nothing more than scream hatred at him. And then there was this illuminating comment:

Mr. Crispy
8 July 2016 at 2:24 pm – Yet another apologist for the racist police state. I’m sure you don’t see it that way — and that’s the problem in a nutshell.

Greg knew going in that his writing from the cop perspective wouldn’t please everyone, so he can shrug off this stuff.  The Fault Lines resident prosecutor, Andrew King, regularly receives similarly appreciative comments. He, too, has a thick skin, and is capable of shrugging it off, realizing that zealots won’t merely disagree with what he writes, but will hate him for presenting a view with which they disagree. It begets a comment like this:

8 July 2016 at 3:03 pm – That’s a body blow to Fault Line’s credibility.

Because credibility means confirmation bias. One of the earliest complaints about Fault Lines was that it lacked a “focus,” it wasn’t all for one side but presented all criminal law perspectives. It’s not that I agree with everything Greg and Andrew write, but that I always appreciate learning their view because it isn’t necessarily mine, whether I agree or not.

Some hated this, as they only wanted to read views that echoed their own. They wanted to never have their feelings hurt by learning that there might be other legitimate views that differed from their own.

The internet is replete with partisan blogs of varying degrees of stupidity, where lies and absurd spin prevail to confirm bias. Hell, the entire concept of reddit is to create echo chambers where no differing view can be uttered and where mind-numbingly stupid comments are applauded by the similarly ignorant choir. I’m not so foolish as to believe that this doesn’t wash over to readers here and Fault Lines, that the same people who come here and want only to read about how their team is the team of righteousness no matter what.

Over the course of a couple days, a lot of blood was spilled on both sides of the cop and race equation. It was a moment to step back, to stop pushing, arguing why one side was right and the other was wrong. Innocent blood is innocent, no matter which side you’re on. And so many people just couldn’t muster the ability to let go of their self-serving emotions long enough to realize that killing is wrong no matter which side you’re on. Not for one day. Not for one post. You just couldn’t do it.

Very disappointing. It gives me deep pause to realize that I’m feeding your simplistic anger and hatred here, and it reinforces my belief in the vitality of people like Greg and Andrew facing the idiots and presenting their perspectives so that Fault Lines never becomes your echo chamber of hatred.

*For the thinking challenged, this means beyond the usual racism from which we all suffer.

34 thoughts on “Not Even For One Day, And Why Fault Lines Is Needed

    1. SHG Post author

      For what? Trying my best no to be stupid? One of the guy’s who commented yesterday (a first-timer) left a follow-up that got trashed to bitch about my not showing him the respect he thought he deserved, ending in “good riddens.” At least we agreed on that.

  1. CLS

    One of the best things about Fault Lines is when Greg or Andrew writes stuff that makes me want to throw things and scream at my computer. Knowing they get vitriolic hatred from people expecting a “right” point of view at FL is astounding and yet illustrative of why Fault Lines is so damned important.

    I would’ve written something the last three days or tried to make comments. I’ve just been hugging my kids and wife, because that seems like the best thing to do right now.

    1. SHG Post author

      That Greg and Andrew know, going in, that they’re going to get slammed for a post, yet don’t care at all, impresses the crap out of me. The FL contributors, regardless of POV, have all come to appreciate what they bring to the table, and wouldn’t have it any other way. How pathetic that some readers not only refuse to consider any ideas that don’t validate their feelz, but go so far as to feel compelled to let them know.

      As Greg said, “don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.” The one things FL will never be is an echo chamber. If that’s what a reader is looking for, they came to the wrong place.

      1. JAV

        I don’t know if it’s naivete or misplaced hope, but I keep getting blown away by the heat AK and GP get for their posts. Every time I read their posts I learn something. I won’t say I always like it, but that’s what I appreciate about FL and SJ.

        It’s so damn easy to get mad and throw a fit, but that doesn’t change a thing. This week was about doing a lot of reading, and just as much thinking.

        1. SHG Post author

          Exactly. Some people think that the purpose of a post is to convince readers to agree. It’s not. It never is and never was. It’s to make them think. Where they end up is their choice, but that they had to think to get there is what matters.

    2. Scott Jacobs

      Greg seems to get hammered fare less often than Andrew, mainly because he’s explaining the why behind a cop’s actions, and Andrews trying to explain why prosecutors should be allowed to do a thing that is bullshit.

      Also, Greg can’t do the cop stuff anymore, and Andrew can actively be a shitweasel 5 days a week.

      And I too would have made a comment in the last few days, but finals and my uncertainty on how to word what I was thinking right led me to just reading. And being mean on Twitter. That’s how I deal with that sorta thing.

  2. Scott Morrell

    I did not read yesterday’s blog or comments but I did read today’s…and thank God!

    I am really sick and tired of falling into teams all the time. Whether the teams are Democrats vs. Republicans, Blacks vs. Whites, Protestants vs. Muslims, Americans vs. the French during the Iraq war, etc.

    Who decided the wisdom that life is black and white? I will tell you what is black and white….the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Most everything else is an opinion and subjective. Perspective by seeing things from someone else’s shoes is imperative.

    The incidences which happened over the last 5 days amplifies this characteristic flaw in many of us. It is also self-destructive and continues a cycle in perpetuity which ensures every side loses.

    Perhaps lawyers on this site will appreciate this. A good negotiation is when both sides leave the table slightly unhappy. Oh how true that is. However, that is the way we must get along in society.
    Absolutism is a cancer. It shows a closed-minded viewpoint. Why can’t people agree that there can be two truths at the same time – that there are some miserable cops that are indeed racist and view blacks as dangerous. Likewise, the vast majority of cops are very respectable people who put their lives on the line for us every day to secure our peace and protection.

    Not to get political, but people who like black and whites probably favor one political figure that sound like “flump.” This is no pass on this persons’ political rival by the way with all his opponents flaws. I prefer to be open-minded and see that it might be time to take a “rational change” and vote Libertarian. Some people are so fed up with our politics that they will blindly vote for someone simply because they are on their team! They want change for change sake by supporting a person who loves and only sees the world in black and white, winners and losers, me vs. us.

    I am very glad you wrote this blog today. It gives me faith that there are some people who can see things from both sides, and for that, our society just might have a chance to finally heal and be better in the future.

    1. SHG Post author

      I could have used you yesterday. It was a bad day all around, which included the comments here.

  3. Mark C

    Not all readers (yes that’s supposed to be a morbid joke – and my wife says I have no humor).

    I’ve only written once before – to ask a question. What you all do at FL, and what you do here at SJ is greatly appreciated. One of the reasons I tend not to write is mostly it would be ‘me too’. Some days I feel like I read for the articulate confirmation of my own biases. Some days I’m pleased and irritated to have those biases challenged. What I’m really trying to say is thank you and all the contributors at FL (even, and especially Greg and Andrew) for sharing perspectives about the law. I’m in IT / Techie guy and have an appreciation for people who can write about deeply technical topics in ways that are understandable to folks not familiar with the industry jargon. It isn’t nearly as easy as y’all make it seem.

    1. SHG Post author

      It is sincerely good to know that Greg and Andrew are appreciated. I know I do, as do the rest of FL contributors, but that there are readers who “get” what FL is about is appreciated.

    2. Troutwaxer

      Agreed, what you do is definitely appreciated.

      I won’t bother you with my own take on Dallas – this thread is obviously not the place – but I like to think I’d have registered as half-intelligent at least. I read you daily, so please keep doing what you’re doing.

  4. Patrick Maupin

    For the longest time I tried to avoid Fault Lines, not because of the viewpoints (which are appreciated and sorely needed), but simply because I don’t need a whole ‘nother website to get sucked into.

    But then it happened anyway. Sometimes I’m caught up on it; sometimes I binge-read it. In any case, it’s a core part of my reading habit now.

    As JAV noted above, “This week was about doing a lot of reading, and just as much thinking.” Yesterday, when you wrote your post, the news was still breaking. Hell, it’s still breaking; for example, the shitstorm over exactly how the cops managed to make such a big, targeted explosion so quickly is bound to escape the fringes of the interwebs and enter the mainstream consciousness soon. That’ll certainly be a healing conversation.

    Anyway, I can’t be your only regular reader who doesn’t believe that the answer to a system that coddles and enables bad cop behavior is to get rid of all the cops. Most of your readers are probably much more thoughtful than me, and don’t bother to comment at all. And then, of course, there’s Barleycorn, who almost always knows the right thing to say when it really matters.

  5. John Barleycorn

    For what it is worth your decision to keep rolling with a trilogy of headlines was uniquely thought provoking and nutritious without the need for vitamin supplements.

    P.S. I tend to agree that more cerebellums and limbs for the pot at FL will in the end do more than flavor the stew.

    Afterall, if someone doesn’t start putting some meat back on the bones of the “discussion” soon all that may be left is a hollowed out justice system rattling bones to the echoing beats of vengeance drifting up off the walls of the decaying canyon halls.

  6. PVanderwaart

    It’s so nice to be quoted. Thanks.

    I recognize that Andrew King had a point to make, but he destroyed his own credibility e.g. by referring to “the Clinton crime family” and to “Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison Clinton”. Whatever these refer to, it has nothing to do with an email server.

    1. SHG Post author

      Not buying. We all use snark as a rhetorical device, and it’s all good until it’s used in a way that challenges our bias. Then it’s cred? If he’s wrong, then I have no cred at all, as I use snark constantly. Had Andrew written that, and snuck in a pro-Trump line, I might have taken it differently, but he didn’t. This was fair comments on her history, and she’s no more immune from some snark than anyone else.

  7. Kevin

    If it makes you feel better, when my 16 year old son asked me about it, I used the 2 wrongs don’t make a right analogy. I told him the hard part is every one finding the happy middle ground and respecting all lives. I just wish I could say I didn’t see something like this eventually happening.

    1. SHG Post author

      Anybody with their eyes open saw the potential for a great deal of bad coming down the road. Particularly these days, when emotion is so rewarded and bad actors expect to be applauded for doing bad in the name of good.

  8. Dick Taylor

    I mostly lurk here, rather than comment – I’m a non-lawyer (physician/engineer, if you want to know) and I would rather learn than proclaim my ignorance. Plus, I know that you read and consider every comment, and I try very hard not to waste your time.

    That said, this post prompted me to emerge briefly to say that I tremendously appreciate the writing of the past several days both here and at FL. There’s a common thread through both sites – the willingness to express an opinion clearly and unambiguously, the desire to understand the viewpoints of others, and the knowledge that everyone has a stake in not letting blind tribalism and confirmation bias rule the day. You may carry the banner of the criminal defense attorney, but it doesn’t seem to blind you to the need to be honest, reasonable, and to consider your opponents to be human beings who might occasionally have a good point. On behalf of myself and any similiarly-situated lurkers, thank you.

    1. SHG Post author

      My experience is that engineers have a unique ability to be objective. You can’t bullshit physics. It’s one of the things I most admire about engineers.

    2. Lesley Stevens

      I would like to “me too” Dick Taylor’s comment verbatim, except I’m a middle-aged Iowa housewife instead of an engineer.

  9. Bl2r

    Hi, I’m one of the “disappointing” commenters from yesterday. You can read what I wrote and how Scott responded from the linked post at the top of the page: I’d link to it myself but Scott has a pretty clear policy about hyperlinking in comments. In a separate comment on the same page Scott linked to my comment, writing, “Great. The other side of simplistic ignorance. We now have a matched pair of bookends, who ably demonstrate the point of this post even though they will never have the capacity to grasp why.” So that’s how I know my comment was one of the disappointing ones.

    Here’s what I wrote, after quoting Scott saying that one can’t infer anything about BLM from the Dallas shooter(s): “I notice you did not state the converse; that a cop shooting an innocent civilian does not say anything about cops at large.” Now Scott says exactly this in this post and in the comments of the post I’m referring to, but not at all in the body of the text of said post. I was genuinely curious about this discrepancy. I was not trying to defend cops who shoot innocent people, nor was I looking to blame BLM for the Dallas shooting. I’m honestly trying to see what about my post makes it a “bookend” of “simplistic ignorance.”

    1. Miles

      This is kinda sad and pathetic. Here you are, hanging your butthurt out in public and no one gives a damn about some first time commenter who feels misunderstood. I’m going to help you out because I’m a great humanitarian.

      First, the problem with your comment was that you tried to nitpick a detail to show that shg was being biased in a post that was about not trying to manufacture bullshit reasons for outrage to support one side against the other. In other words, your comment did exactly what they post was about not doing.

      Second, your comment was idiotic. The police and BLM are not equivalents, even though they are on opposite sides of this situation. Police share relatively universal training, culture, legal protections and public support. BLM is a loose, ruleless, leaderless grass roots movement. The arguments and concerns are very different. Something that needs saying about BLM doesn’t necessarily apply the same way or need to be said about police.

      Third, there is the concept of Gertruding, that there is no need to make the standard disclaimer. SJ readers are a fairly knowledgeable crowd. We’re past the obvious, and there’s no reason to expressly repeat it. That could be the reason why no one else “noticed” what you noticed, and why no one else found it to be an issue.

      Fourth, why do you think “you were genuinely curious” matters? Who cares what you are genuinely concerned about. Your comment was framed as an attack, and weaseling your way out of it by claiming it was just that you were concerned. If true, then you suck at writing and handled it very poorly. But it smells like post-hoc bullshit to me, and probably everyone else, including shg.

      Fifth, this is a law blog for criminal lawyers and judges. We come to these posts with a certain level of knowledge and experience, so that it’s unnecessary to address the sort of basics that often confuse non-lawyers. You’re curious? Who cares? You’re not the center of the universe here, and everything isn’t written for you.

      Sixth, shg hurt your feelz? Press the pink button, but don’t expect anyone else to give a shit. Instead of whining, figure out why you felt compelled to write something stupid, even if you thought your question was brilliant. Better yet, read more, think more, comment less until you have a clue how this place works and whether your thoughts contribute anything.

      You’re welcome.

      1. Bl2r

        Thank you for the measured, thoughtful reply. Your humanitarianism truly does you credit. I was hoping you could further illuminate some points for me.

        1.) I see that, in addition to being a humanitarian, you also count mind reading among your talents. Impressive! I’m afraid, however, that this time your talent has lead you astray. It was genuinely not my attention to attack Scott! I’ve read his recent posts on the first rule of policing with some interest and was in fact curious about the matter I addressed. I’m a bit of a mind-reader myself, so I can predict what might happen now: you’ll keep saying that couldn’t have been what I meant, I’ll keep saying it was, and we’ll either have to take what I said at face value or continue assuming bad faith. I’d hate for it to come to the latter!

        2.) Is this not special pleading, i.e. defending a particular group based on superficial and irrelevant qualities? Does being a motley, disorganized band really make BLM immune to criticism? And didn’t Scott just say that we can’t blame the police as an institution for the violence of its members any more than we can BLM? I eagerly await your insight.

        3.) Fair enough, but as a humble newcomer, I earnestly sought the wisdom that was so obvious to you. I hope that wasn’t presumptuous.

        4-5.) More mind reading! Also, could you please share with me what not caring about what someone thinks looks like? Does it involve responding with lengthy comment posts and posting them in the wee hours of a Sunday morning?

        I earnestly look forward to your response on these matters.

        1. Miles

          You’re most welcome. Unfortunately, my fascination with your feelings has come to an end. Maybe someone else will want to spend their time discussing your earnest self-assessments, but I have given it as much time as I’m interested in giving. Please don’t cry, and have a nice day.

  10. Keith

    You and the folks at Fault Lines have done a big lift in pointing to the forests. It’s easy to mock people over a particular tree.

    Keep up the good work (even if some of the posts do make me angry).

  11. Jonathan Levy

    I keep thinking of Ford Prefect theory that human beings keep moving their lios so their brains won’t start working. Maybe we also focus on hurt feelings to avoid feelings that hurt, like empathy and compassion. I think a lot of us have been too overcome with feelings of one kind or another to say anything intelligent at all, and have been self aware enough not say much at all. Your left with comments from people who can’t stop moving their fingers.

      1. Willis

        Whoa, if you try to say “lips” without moving your lips, what comes out sounds like “lios”.

  12. John

    Your frustration comes across loud and clear. But if you stop being a voice in the wilderness (as well as the rest of the fault lines crew), then the echo chamber effect only gets worse.

    None of you who write for this blog or fault lines owes me or other readers anything, but it is invaluable (for me at least, and hopefully for the other non-lawyers out there) who are trying to make sense of how this all really works.

    So, from me at least, thanks. Thanks for your view point, thanks for challenging my views, and thanks for informing me. You may not want my thanks, but it is there anyway, you grumpy bastard.

  13. MarK M.

    I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who has actually sat at the table next to some of those “dudes” that doesn’t realize we need cops for the reasons you stated. Perhaps mistakenly, I’ve developed a belief that FL and SJ readers are mostly CDLs. I’m very disappointed to think that a person who experiences daily the omnipresent “gray” that is the reality of the human condition could somehow allocate others into restrictive black and white categories.

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