Sunday, January 17, 2010

Our Obligation as Attorneys.

‘First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.’

- Pastor Martin Niemoller

When I graduated from law school, I clerked for a criminal judge for a couple of years. I would be in the chambers when Detectives would come to see the judge, hoping she would sign off on a warrant. They would sweat. They would pace. They would nervously make small talk with me, telling me how long they have been working on this particular case and how they were certain that this defendant was the "One." More times than not, after meeting with the judge, they would leave the chambers in frustration. It was very hard to get the judge's signature. If she didn't think you had probable cause to obtain a warrant, she wouldn't give it to you.

Then everything changed. The Patriot Act was passed and the judge's chamber's became a revolving door. She would sign warrants she didn't wholeheartedly support because she felt her hands were tied. It was frustrating to her, but very exciting for law enforcement. It was a free pass to tap a person. Their email, cell phone, text messages, pages, land line, etc. It was a momentous time in history that went unnoticed because it came under the guise of the War on Terrorism. Many of the police officers I saw on a daily basis were dealing with street crime, but it didn't matter. The law is the law. And the law was on the side of the law enforcement.

I'm not even sure on the status of the The Patriot Act anymore. But I know that a police state culture has become a part of being in America. I only need an evening of watching television to see that.

On Saturday night, I caught an episode of COPS that enraged me. In this particular segment, an out-of-state vehicle is broken down on the side of the road in Arkansas. An officer sees the vehicle and pulls up behind it to "help." He runs the license plates and they come back clear.
He walks over to the two black gentlemen and asks them what's happening. They say that their car broke down. He asks them for their licenses and goes back to the patrol car. They both check out clear. Then he notices, as he walking back to the two men that there is a lot of cash in the car. One guy says, "it's not that much." Then he starts asking them if they had been drinking. He could tell apparently. The man doesn't look drunk at all. Aside from that, he wasn't driving. Instead of doing the normal test on the guy (the walking test and the ABC backwards test--which I can't do sober btw), he does some kind of weird test involving following his fingers. After a few second, he accuses the guy of being on a stimulant like marijuana. "I can tell," he says.

Once again, it's not illegal to smoke pot. It's illegal to buy it and to sell it. Then he starts patting down the other gentleman, asking him if he has anything in his pocket. He comes clean and says that there's pot in his pocket. It was a nominal amount. The cop takes the man's hands to his back as if he is going to arrest him. So, coming clean and being honest got him no where. And like so many black men on COPS, the guy runs.

I have watched this show enough to know that this type of behavior is frequent. At first I wondered why they did it, but now I understand. It doesn't matter if you're cooperative or not. If you come clean or not. If you're actually engaging in something illegal or not. The officer will figure out a reason to arrest you and it fucks up your life. The cop takes arresting a person very lightly. The arrestee doesn't, and shouldn't. I have never been treated that way. It never gets that far with someone like me. But I can understand why you'd risk running because you have a slim chance of getting away verses a certainty of getting arrested.

At this point, there are two officers on the scene and one goes chasing the other. The one that remains admits he wanted to buy pot. I don't give a shit. The ends do not justify the means.

We all remain quiet when we see this type of harassment run rampant on television shows that air during prime time. Some people think that they deserve it, because they were doing something illegal. Some people may think that their particular race would never be treated that way. But if we don't fight this fascist type of policing when it only affects poor black men, who will be there to save us when it affect us all.

If we, one day, allow the police to tap our phones for the sake of fighting crime. Even if they are looking for drug dealers and terrorists, you too will be arrested if you discuss potentially evading taxes or leaving you sleeping child alone for a minute while you ran to the corner store for milk or driving home a little tipsy last night. I don't care that you may be doing something wrong, it's not about that. It's about your rights to live in a free country.

With all of the many attorneys in this country, why haven't we tackled this issue? We have record numbers of unemployed and underutilized attorneys in this country and we are a record low with personal freedom. Something needs to change.


  1. try opening up a practice in haiti.

  2. I saw that episode too, and I thought the exact same thing. A car - clearly with its hood up and obviously broken down – and the cop pull up behind it. To me, there is zero reasonable suspicion of any crime having taken place. None whatsoever. A good cop would have got out, confirmed that the vehicle was broken down, and offered to call a tow truck if the owners could not get it started. End of story.

    Yet this idiot cop, clearly playing for the cameras, was looking for an arrest where no cause existed. He went on a fishing expedition, and happened to get lucky by discovering a tiny amount of weed. His “street testing” for alcohol was weak, and since when was it illegal to have drunk a couple of beers and gone out in public? There was no evidence that the guy who had drunk a couple of beers was the driver.

    I once wanted to be a cop, but this is the kind of behavior that put me off. Cops tend to be very simplistic people who see things in black and white (often literally). They see a guy who has drunk a beer or two and “Warning! Criminal!” lights go off in their heads. They have little concept of crime on a spectrum, with some “crime” being less important or more heinous than other crimes. This is, of course, part of the whole policing process – departments like to have recruits who are rather robotic in their outlook, and departments train cops to be even more robotic. There are plenty of people who want to be cops, but who don’t progress through the process too far because they don’t fit the “cop” profile that departments are looking for.

    Getting back to the point, I thoroughly agree. The cop grossly overstepped the mark, but happened to get lucky in this instance. My concern is what happened to the twenty other similar aggressive and unnecessary stops the cop made off camera that didn’t end so dramatically, and in which he infringed upon the civil liberties of twenty innocent individuals who had also done nothing to warrant such intense attention from a wannabe television star cop.

  3. We are reaching a police state in this country, as Americans apparently like the militarization of the police. The general public has been taught since infancy to submit willingly to authority. We put up with restrictive measures because of images on TV, film, and the nightly news, i.e. constant portrayals of rampant serial killers running loose.

    The gasbags on talk radio also harp on crime run amok and "liberal judges being soft on crime." (Obviously, these dolts have spent too much time in the studio, and not enough time with the general public - or in a real courtroom.)

    As a result, we value safety more than freedom, in this country. The average man, for some reason, relates to the police. It's disgraceful. Thanks for posting this entry.

  4. I forgot to add that most lawyers are mealy-mouthed, spineless, gutless rats. They don't want to upset the status quo. This is why you will see some poor lost souls defend this pathetic industry (even though they KNOW the system is broken).

    Lawyers are afraid of hurting their professional standing, among the elders of the bar.

    I had an undergrad professor who addressed the law school at the University of Utah, a few years ago. He asked how many supported the idea of people being charged with DUI/OWI, for sleeping in their cars with the ignition off. Everyone raised their hands, including all those who said they wanted to be criminal defense lawyers.

  5. And there, Angel, in a nutshell, you have illustrated a big part of why I, despite all of the naysaying, am going to law school...(but on a scholaryship--I'm not crazy).

    I was a cop for almost 20 years, and I saw such things all the time in recent years, but never participated in them. I never saw anything that was outright criminal or that anyone in my department would actually do anything about, but the fact that I didn't support such behavior was not very popular.

    That's also why I've said I will never work for the DA's office. I can't even imagine how much of their cases are built on tainted evidence and lies, but I know that I couldn't, in good conscience, prosecute one.


  6. errm, i'm pretty sure "possessing" marijuana without the intent to sell, so not only "to buy it and to sell it," is illegal.

  7. I worked in a DA's office for a summer. The "end justifies the means" is often heard. It's disgusting what goes on, and very scary.

  8. anon @ 12:23
    you are missing the point. it should have never gotten to the point where the officer would find out anyone was in possession. he shouldn't have even run their drivers licenses. he should have called them a tow truck when he found out there vehicle was junked.

  9. Welcome to the crime of DWB (Driving While Black), closely related to DWM (Driving While Mexican) and DWOOSP (Driving With Out Of State Plates). Had cases like this presented for charging all the time.

  10. anon @ 1:35 - i'm not missing anything. i'm pointing out something that's factually incorrect and offering absolutely no other opinion about any other part of the post.



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