Cleaning Up The Dead Bodies of Change

Ed. Note: Before saying anything else, I want to applaud the New York Times’ merger with Teen Vogue. I was on the verge of changing my daily read to TMZ for credibility, but I’m now comfortable knowing that it has righted its ship and refocused on what really matters. Anal sex.

It’s not what I would have imagined, years ago, as I tweaked my neck watching the pendulum swing swiftly past those of us who worked in the trenches, knew how bad it was, recognized the publicly adored police and tough-on-crime blood that flowed through the veins of legislators and mayors. These were hard issues to address, which is why they were intransigent socio-legal problems rather than easy fixes.

Whenever someone tried to impose the quick fix, often in the name of a dead child, it invariably blew up in all our faces because it both failed to fix the problem and caused significant collateral damage. Sometimes it was unintended damage, but more often, we knew what the damage would be. Yet the passion of the moment, hysteria in the hands of dilettantes, precluded anyone from giving a damn. People demanded that something be done, so something was done. Years, and lives, were spent cleaning up the mess the ignorant made after the applause died down.

Today’s New York Times has some pretty scary headlines.

After Protests, Politicians Reconsider Police Budgets and Discipline

Elected officials are exploring changes ranging from defunding police departments to requiring more accountability.

Defying Police Unions, New York Lawmakers Ban Chokeholds

Legislators, responding to protests over the death of George Floyd, are approving a package of bills aimed at police misconduct.

And, of course:

Democrats to Propose Broad Bill to Target Police Misconduct and Racial Bias

Elements of the package, to be unveiled on Monday by House and Senate Democrats, are certain to meet with opposition from police unions and their allies.

To those with the deep knowledge of law and the legal system that makes one a twitter expert, these are wonderful things. A mad rush to react to undo the one-sentence concept of what has ailed society for decades, if not centuries, all fixed by the least knowledgeable people around in shifted positions developed after minutes, sometimes hours, of thought. And how could they not be sound, believing that if given half a chance, we would all turn into beautiful, caring empathetic people who would wash each other’s feet and supplicate ourselves to the general marginalized good. What could go wrong?

This isn’t to say that there aren’t a great many reforms and changes that should be made. There are, though most of the people marching wouldn’t have a clue what they are, as the screamers have seen only the most simplistic aspects of problems and, lacking any depth of knowledge or experience, can’t possibly appreciate how they are intertwined with a hundred other aspects of law and society.

And the hucksters, desperate to push their tiny bit of the agenda while the pushing is good, will lie through their teeth about it, ignoring the complexities and the damage that might ensue so as not to confuse the useful idiots as to which side of an issue the truly righteous should support. Let god and us janitors sort it out later, after they’ve won the moment, and clean up the mess they’ve made and the dead bodies on the ground they leave behind.

An academic friend, a hard lefty type, asked me yesterday whether I supported the Minneapolis plan to “disband” the police. My reply was cautious, that without knowing what the plan was, I couldn’t support it. His response was less cautious. “I’m a lefty and I think it’s totally clueless.”

As my buddy Jake would say, “maybe it will work.” And maybe it will, but the odds of such mindless, knee-jerk simplistic fixes working are similar to putting a monkey at a typewriter and his producing Hamlet by the end of the day. And to add insult to injury, people who have some knowledge about the law, and whose passions have been swept up in the moment, are applauding these blind reactions, even though they are painfully well aware of the reality that there will be blood in the streets later.

Whether this is because they would rather risk the catastrophe of social and legal upheaval for their side after having fought it when the public overwhelmingly back the other side, or whether they just want to bask in the popularity of the moment, is unclear. But they know better, just as I do, and they don’t care.

Criminal defense lawyers, as the janitors of the system cleaning up the messes left behind by every mayor, governor, legislator, judge, cop and activist, were once at the forefront of seeking change, reform, improvement of a system that ran roughshod on civil rights in the name of safety and maintaining the status quo. We fought this, usually banging our heads against brick walls built by the same nice folks who are marching in the streets lately. They may forget how much they desire to feel safe, and what they will demand to achieve it, but we don’t. Well, most of us don’t, anyway.

When the wind shifts again, whether it’s some vicious rape in Central Park or passionately argued Satanic sex cults sacrificing children at day care, or even the dead bodies of drug dealers in the streets competing for a lucrative street corner to sell their wares, the same useful idiots will demand something be done to protect them from these atrocities. And they won’t be wrong, because the horror of a cop’s knee on a black neck isn’t much worse than a guy beaten by a gang of kids on the street for kicks and the $20 in his wallet.

But nowhere in the New York Times, or for that matter the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer or the Los Angeles Times, will anyone suggest we slow this train down, think things through, make sure what we’re doing will accomplish what we want it to and not leave more dead bodies in the streets. Of course, it’s not as if they care since they aren’t the ones who have to clean up the mess they leave behind. Then again, old guys like me won’t be here forever to clean up the mess they leave behind.

24 thoughts on “Cleaning Up The Dead Bodies of Change

  1. B. McLeod

    The very notion that anyone should stop to think things through reveals that you are not a proper “ally,” which inexorably leads to the further conclusion that you can only be a “closet racist” and an evil, change-resisting Shitlord, with an unshakable repose in the status quo. If you worked for the NYT, you would have to resign for suggesting this. “Think things through.” Harrumph! Pshaw! What do you take them for??

  2. John Barleycorn

    Damn, esteemed one you haven’t dropped socio-legal since 2014…

    For those of your back page readers who didn’t know Socio-Legal Studies is actually a thing.

    And here everyone thought SJ was a blawg when in fact Professor Esteemed One is just hiding in plain site while working on some syllabi without giving up the quiz answers, in case the next couple of occupants at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave take a pass and he gets down a dirty and answers a few of those woke visiting scholar inquiries.

    Who knew right???

    BTW, when do the 300 level classes start dammit!?

    P,S. If you can’t wear a different watch from the bench everyday are you gonna do so in class, and see if anyone notices? And are you going to have a cordwainer make you up a pair of chest waders regardless of which way it goes and, if so,  will you tuck the robe or jacket in with the suspenders on top or wear the chest waders under the jacket or robe?

      1. John Barleycorn

        You are out of luck… Sold that sucker the other day to get ready to pounce on a new 6-8 ton excavator.

        Volvo or Cat that is the question but that E85 Bobcat isn’t looking too bad either….

        Don’t worry, I will let you borrow my 1933 Ingersoll Mickey Mouse for your first lecture and you can borrow the new excavator anytime to dig your new moat, which ought to come in handy when the school district guidance counselors start taking over welfare checks and child protective services starts rolling on active emergency 911 auto theft calls.

        And if you get the bench nod I will rent you a D11 Cat Dozer for your fist day if you give me a 25% discount on the SJ URL.

  3. Jay

    Fair comments, except that you make the assumption that any of this reform will actually happen. If anything, the very forces your pointing to would imply at most we’ll see Camden NJ style reform in major cities. Just maybe we’ll see the police shed a few tanks. And things will move along from there like they always do. As for us lawyers, we still have our windmills and white whales. Some see QI as ripe for the taking. And why not? The Supremes can’t hold out against the hurricane forever.

    1. SHG Post author

      I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you approve, Jay. Now I just need to figure out what I got so terribly wrong.

  4. Jake

    Young people: “Hey that house is on fire, let’s put it out!”

    Old people: “Look at those kids, trying to put out the fire. They’re doing it all wrong! Hey! You’re doing it wrong!”

    Young people: “What’s the right way? This house is on fire Mr!”

    Old people: “I don’t know! I’ve been trying to put out fires for decades and nothing works!”

    Young people: “OK, have you tried this?”

    Old people: “No! But I know that’s all wrong!”

    Young people: “?”

    Old people: “Get off my lawn!”

      1. Jake

        Analogy police: “Sorry, we’re too busy beating the snot out of the pesky kids trying to put out that fire.”

            1. Casual Lurker

              “It’s rough out there in Analogy”

              I thought that Dept. was merged with Proctology?

  5. Erik H

    Are they asking for another Camden? Or are they dreaming the US will turn into Denmark?**

    “Close the police force entity as a means to remove the union; reconstitute the force under a different name; and put all the cops back to work on the streets” is (at least in theory) moving in the direction of a workable solution.

    “Transform the US to be just like a tiny yet globally independent, lily-white, oil-rich, no-gun, social monoculture, with a total population less than metro Atlanta,” not so much.

    **Or is this just a precursor to reparations?

  6. Eliot J Clingman

    The trouble with leaderless mass uprisings is that the demands are unfocused and irrational. The trouble with not having mass uprisings is that the powers that be resist needed reforms.

    Very rarely, you get a MLK who can square the circle and lead a movement with rational goals, but this time isn’t it.

    ( On the hopeful side, the small sample of defunders I know admit its rhetorical bullshit, and their fallback is “8 cant wait”)

  7. Joseph Masters

    Curious if there is a connection between the Minneapolis City Council vowing to disband the MPD and the spate of video released recently that proves police from multiple Minnesota agencies have been slashing tires of parked cars since the protests have started. How do elected leaders handle lawless police?

    Will following the union-busting methods of the 1980s work? Fire an entire department then require everyone to reapply? Given your well-documented hatred of such unions, would using the Camden, NJ police break down-rebuild model from last decade work on a larger scale?

    I’d wager it could, so long as the real change continues–the instances of police officers under indictment seems to have legitimately risen since 25 May. Six Atlanta cops stand charged of slashing car tires recently; that act apparently set the local district attorney over the edge and arrested the lot of them. If arrest, indictment, conviction and imprisonment have any deterrent effect at all, applying the system to lawless police officers and police departments would seem to be a good place to start–assuming the conviction rate of police defendants rises as prosecutors get more experience putting away badged miscreants.

    1. SHG Post author

      Since the announcement to disband preceded the tire slashing, the answer seems kind of obvious. Sequence isn’t that hard to figure out.

  8. Pingback: Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: Scofflaws | Fresno Criminal Lawyer

  9. Casual Lurker

    “I was on the verge of changing my daily read to TMZ…”

    I’m sure you and Harvey “I’m a Lawyer” Levin will be totally simpatico.

    In other news, you’ll be glad to know that a “Missouri woman prompts Merriam-Webster to redefine ‘racism’ amid national protests.”

    No doubt, others are working on submitting additional words for untethering ‘critical theory’ redefinition.

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