• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Besmirching the Law

The News:
As half the world has read and seen, a young black man was shot point blank in the back by a transit police officer in Oakland California. The transit officers -- dressed in the now usual flak gear -- had detained four youths for rowdy behaviour on a train. The four were kept seated against the wall on the ground while the officers "investigated." A cell-phone video taken by a passenger on the train showed Oscar Grant, hands up front, being told to lie face down on the ground. Grant complied whereupon Johannes Mehserle, 27, pulled out his gun and shot him in the back. The victim died shortly thereafter.

Mehserle immediately resigned from the force, thereby immunizing himself from having to answer questions during any internal investigation. As a (now) ordinary citizen, Mehserle can invoke his Miranda rights against self-incrimination. Meanwhile, the local District Attorney's Office announced that it was proceeding with a thorough investigation into the matter in order to decide whether or not to charge Mehserle.

Outraged Blacks took to protesting, during which three were arrested and charged forthwith with resisting police officers.

The Note: The incident illustrates, yet again, the lawlessness of the cops and the utter bankruptcy of the US criminal (in)justice system.

There can be little doubt that rancid racism pervades US police forces. Blacks are routinely harrassed and brutalized by cops beyond whatever may be necessary to enforce the law. But the underlying and more important point is that, in doing so, cops show themselves to be a law unto themselves. This in turn points to a still yet greater evil: the prostituted corruption of the justice system that is supposed to supervise the police.

By statute, police are given special license to carry arms and use such force as would otherwise be prohibited to the rest of us in most situations. But license is not the same as carte blanche. An officer's use of force must always conform to limits and standards set by the force and, ultimately, to the mandates of the law.

Police have always resisted any notion of supervision. They have resorted to the excuse that determining whether force was properly used in any situation requires a specialised expertise that "ordinary" people do not have. The analogy used is that it requires a military man to judge military tactics. There is some merit to the argument, but not nearly as much as cops would pretend. As much as they may want to para-militarize themselves, civilian law enforcement is not war and involves far simpler and ordinary considerations. Ultimately, the plaint that police conduct should be investigated internally is simply a demand to be the judge of one's own case -- a claim that has always repugnant to the univerally fundamental notions of justice.

But it is precisly that repugnancy that politicians and the judiciary have connived to perpetuate. Across the land, every attempt to set up citizen-oversight boards has been watered down to the point of meaninglessness. A host of privileges, exemptions and procedures exist to embarrass any serious investigation by third parties. Mehserle's self-immunization is an example.

Certainly every ordinary citizen should have the right to refuse to answer police questions. But Mehserle was not an "ordinary" citizen. He was a special licensee and agent of the state. He undertook a special oath to uphold the law and he was granted a variety of benefits in exchange for his commitment. The idea that a police officer could unilaterally abrogate all his duties and undertakings simply by walking away from them is offensive to fundamental notions of responsibility. Certainly Mehserle could shield himself from investigation for events that took place from and after his resignation; but it is sheer repugnancy to law to say that he can shield himself ex post facto for events occuring before his resignation. And yet a debased law allows precisely that.

The trump card in the argument for police self-patrolling is that local district attorneys will exercise ultimate oversight and will bring criminal charges when appropriate. But the present case illustrates what a farce that argument is.

The unfortunate fact is the most district attorneys, far from regarding themsleves as custodians of law think of themselves as no more than the legal arm of law enforcement. The cops handle the case up to the court house door, the prosecutor takes it on from there. But that is not correct. Obviously, police and prosecutors must collaborate; but they do not do so as equals or as team-mates. Over and over again the highest state and federal courts have said that a prosecutor's paramount duty is to the law and to see that justice is done. A prosecutor (as all attorneys) is an officer of the court not a law enforcement officer. Disgracefully, far from hewing to their fiduciary duties to the law, most prosecutors act no better than water boys for th team.

Again, the present case serves as an example. The local District Attorney had no problem arresting and charging three protesters who were said to have assaulted crowd control officers. And yet, that same office announced it would take two or more weeks to investigate the shooting incident. Baloney. With a video showing one man shooting a prostrate man in the back, there isn't a prosecutor in the land who would not be at clerk's desk at eight in the morning with a complaint charging first degree murder. .... provided, the suspect was not a cop.

The excuse dished up by the Oakland District Attorney -- that they needed to investigate whether the shooting might not have been a mistake -- is slop worse than SOS. "Mistake" is a defense; it is brought up by the accused. To be sure, prosecutors routinely take into consideration potential defenses that could be brought up during trial. But a case consisting of an unprovoked shooting of a prostrate man, is not one of them. With evidence like that, any prosecutor would be more than eager to file charges, delighted at the prospect of seeing a defendant trying to argue "ooops".

What "we have to investigate" really means in this case is "we have to two-step and shuffle" to see if we can't figure out a way to plausibly argue "insufficient evidence" to bring charges against Mehserle. That's all there is to "investigate" because the case-for-murder is otherwise patently visible. The notion, being leaked and floated, that Mehserle thought he had pulled out his taser is just as patently absurd. An experienced officer mistakes the feel of a gun for the feel of a taser? Oh puleeze.

But aside from the ludicrousness of the hypothesized defense, is the fact that the "prosecutors" are spinning their wheels trying to dream up utterly risible excuses. Step back. Mehserle has resigned from the force and refuses to talk . Faced with a situation where the prime suspect in a homiced refuses to talk and refuses to make known his excuse or explanation, so called "prosecutors" are sitting around trying to figure out what possible defenses the suspect could maybe come up with if and when he stops not talking.

It is beyond belief; and the only explanation for this prosecutorial conduct is that they are foot-dragging and trying to figure out how not to charge Mehserle with murder. Law and Justice are utterly besmirched.

©WCG 2009