Monthly Archives: July 2013

“The Law is a Ass”

At least, it looks something like one at the moment.  To recap the furor–in case anyone reading has been hiding in a silo and missed it–George Zimmerman was acquitted on July 13, 2013, of second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin.  Results include protests in the streets, Zimmerman hiding from death threats, and various authorities demanding the review or abolition of so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws.

A brief news summary of the case is here.

Now, I don’t know what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.  Who swung first, who got scared, who over-acted and who over-reacted.  I do know George Zimmerman had no business in this world following Trayvon Martin in the first place.  He may or may not be guilty of murder.  He is guilty of precipitating the situation no matter the outcome, because he followed, when told “you don’t need to do that.”  He is guilty of Criminal Stupid.

Unfortunately, the law doesn’t deal well with Criminal Stupid.  Even manslaughter charges–what I would have preferred to see in this case–don’t always fit perfectly, given the legal wording.

In the end, the verdict has come down, but it’s not over yet.  Now there are calls for civil rights charges, and calls from people who don’t want any charges at all–just Zimmerman’s body hanging from a lamp-post.  A wrongful death lawsuit, perhaps more than one, may yet be filed.  The whispering undercurrent is “we’ll get him yet.”

There are times when we all find the law inconvenient, never more so than at times like this.  Inconvenient and uncaring; right or wrong in its principles; just or unjust in its application.  Blind.  Heartless.  Fragile.

It’s as fragile as the words and the actions of you and me.


It’s a strange, secure thing to live in America.  Most of us have no sense of walking on ice that cracks and trembles–of wondering whether our neighbors today will be our murderers tomorrow.  We have never lived through the bloodbaths of Bosnia, Rwanda, or Darfur.  We don’t look at peace as a fragile vessel of the moment, ready to shatter when passions rise.

We should.  History is telling us, time after time: the monstrous thing called mob rule is never far away.  It’s a death threat on the telephone.  It’s an unsigned note.  It’s a spawn of vile, anonymous threats emerging from the Internet.  It’s rioting in the streets.

We can shake our heads at all this.  They are few now.  They are not the majority.  The law remains.  So what, if George Zimmerman loses every piece of a normal life he ever had?  Doesn’t he deserve it?

Maybe he does, but we don’t.  And it’s ourselves who will pay the price for looking the other way, on the day that the majority becomes the mob.

Not too very long ago, as Eric Snowden escaped to spread National Security Agency secrets, President Obama announced that “I’m not going to be scrambling jets” to get Snowden back again.  It’s not worth it.  The potential costs are too high.

So are the costs of pursuing Zimmerman, by fair means or foul.  Costs to our understanding of what the law is.  Costs to our respect for it and its processes.

Change the law if it needs to be changed, but let Zimmerman go.  It’s not worth scrambling the jets.

*I’m having an intense amount of trouble getting links to work today, so if you don’t see them right away, they will hopefully be back up.


In the court of names

As I mentioned in my first post, “First they came for the Communists” is a choice among several versions of Niemöller’s poem.  It’s a choice with some baggage to it.  There are some affiliations–let’s face it–that are difficult to defend.  Make an effort, and you risk damaging your popularity, reputation, career, or what-have-you.

Back in 1914, the bogeyman of choice was “the Hun,” thanks to a nasty circa-1900 speech made by Kaiser Wilhelm that provided lots of material for Allied propaganda.  By 1944, “Jerries,” “Krauts,” and “Japs,” were the faceless but malignant enemy.  Less than five years later, “Commies” held the stage.  We’ve weathered the Korean War, the Cold War, the Viet Cong and Saddam Hussein.  Fast forward, and we’ve arrived at  splintered factions of armed ideologues bent on creating as bloody of a splash as possible, preferably on international television.  Designation: terrorists.

As words go, it’s not a bad choice.  Neither vulgar, nor racist; and an accurate depiction of aims and means.  A fair designation for criminal mayhem and murder.

Straight-up: I do not advocate for murderers.  People wrongly convicted of murder, yes.  People who commit cold-blooded killing, no–only the lawful due process that’s due everyone.  Neither do I necessarily oppose the death penalty, when it’s fairly applied.  I don’t have a problem with life sentences, also fairly applied.  In other words, call me a bleeding-heart liberal if you want, but the liberals wouldn’t lay claim to me either.

Back to “terrorists.”  Fair word, fair use.  When it’s fairly used.

When it’s not, it’s a weapon all by itself.  A black slash across someone’s name, and Heaven help the journalist, lawyer, or layman trying to erase it in the name of justice.  Pardon my phrase, you get tarred with the same brush.  You must be out of your mind to advocate for a terrorist.

I didn’t use to think I was out of my mind.  There was a time when I’d rather other people didn’t think so either.  Now I’m so angry, I don’t care.

Eighty-six people have been cleared, some for a long, long time, by government authorities of the United States, to be released from Guantanamo Bay.  The decision has been stated: they are not threats.  They are not a danger.  Probably, they never were.  At least fifty-five, or more, are still there.*

Of the last men left, some are considered not prosecutable, but “too dangerous” to release thanks to years of cruelty and mishandling; some are so-called “active cases” still grinding through a Sisyphian system;** too many have been cleared and told “you can go–but you can’t.”  And of all these leftovers, the flotsam and jetsam of “enemy combatants” who never did get the rights of prisoners of war, too many have decided to die because there is no hope to hope for.

They went on hunger strike.  They’ve done it again.  They’ve attempted suicide.  Again and again.

Now, the U.S. government says that they have no right to die.  Not a right to a civil trial, not a right to be treated as POWs, not a right to protest by dying.  They can be force-fed.***

If comments all over the Internet are any indication, that is just fine by a whole lot of people.  Who cares what happens to terrorists?  Didn’t they–well, whatever it was they did?

No.  They didn’t.  Some of them were cleared for release back when George Bush was president.  If one reason had existed in the world not to clear them, believe me, that’s an administration that would have found the reason.  Except there wasn’t one.

No protections of being war-prisoners.  No civil trial.  No open court.  No release.  A life sentence passed by default.  No right to die.  In only one court, the court of too great a segment of the public opinion, they are terrorists.  Trial by insanity.  God help us, what are we doing?

I remember the Cold War.  More, I remember the time when Natan Sharansky was just newly freed from Soviet prisons–the stories of solitary confinement, cruelty, forced feeding–yes, the Soviet Union did that.  And what an unspeakable thing we thought it was.  Such a violation of basic human rights, human dignity, human decency.

I ask again, what are we doing?  What have we come to?

Endless imprisonment, life by force, not even the right to die in protest.  That’s as un-American as it gets.

*For an article by Josh Gerstein on fifty-five names of prisoners cleared for release, with a list of the names, click here and here.

**For the NBC news article on Judge Kessler’s decision, click here.

***For the Guantanamo Review Commission’s final report, click here.

Because it’s time

…to speak up about a few things, but first, the title of this blog, which comes from Martin Niemöller’s famous words–whether or not he ever used those exact words.

First They Came

” First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

  ” Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

    “Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    “Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
    “Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The above is one version of several attributed to Niemöller.  See a little history of the poem here.

I’ve chosen this version, featuring “the Communists” for two reasons: one, there was a time when Communists, capital-C, were the evil in the minds of many Americans.  It was a time when something like the McCarran Internal Security Act could actually pass over President Truman’s veto.  A time when appearing to be pro-Soviet could land you in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or just cost you your job.  When “pinko” marked anybody who wasn’t sufficiently anti-Communist.

Two, this attitude was, sadly, an improvement on another national defense initiative: the circa 1942 idea that if we–ahem, locked up all the Japanese people living on the West Coast, they wouldn’t betray us to Japan.  Opposing the internment policy wasn’t considered patriotic by any means.  Colorado Governor Ralph L. Carr is noted as one of the few courageous voices at that moment in history who spoke up to say, “this is wrong.”  Ralph Carr wasn’t rewarded for speaking up.  It cost him his political future.

We now know it was wrong to lock up the Japanese.  We’re even learning that it pays to take a more balanced approach in dealing with Russia.  We’re a little slow on a few other things.  This blog is about the other things, with digressions about “other things” in other countries, because wrong is wrong, wherever it happens.

This is me speaking up, because, you know what, I don’t want to be the last one standing when there’s nobody left to say anything.