Category Archives: Everything Else

The Rice Videotape: When An Unblinking Eye is Ugly But Necessary

HiResUnmanned, stationary video is a cold observer. It will not blink in disbelief. It will not turn away in horror. It will not cloud over with tears of pure, human empathy. But sometimes it’s the only accurate source for the truth about what individuals are capable of. Not monsters. Not demons. Just people.

In 2011, a Texas family court judge was forced to acknowledge the sadistic and brutal beating of his 16 year-old daughter who suffers from cerebral palsy because of a hidden webcam she set up in desperation. In 2013, a 14 year-old French girl compelled an admission of sexual abuse by her father through the same technology. These two children would likely never have been believed were it not for the passive, electronic observer that forced action, justice and- importantly- an acceptance of responsibility from the attackers.

Enter Ray and Janay Rice.

Ms. Rice considers her husband’s breathtakingly vicious attack of her, and then his dragging her body, skirt hiked up on a cold, hotel floor moments after, to be a part of their private lives. She seems yet to acknowledge a single act of wrongdoing on his part, instead characterizing what he did as “a moment in our lives.” She appears to be willing to support and stand by him regardless of what he did to her, what he might have done before, and what he might do again- even while she is pregnant with his child.

What are the chances, then, that Janay would ever have been forthcoming about what was done to her in that now infamous elevator- assuming she could even remember it accurately? Forget about the courtroom. What about the kind of honest detail that might have led to forcing Ray Rice to take real responsibility for a possibly permanent brain injury? What about the kind of detail that might have compelled him to examine his character and his choices, especially now that he will be a father?

Given her public statements, it is not likely that Janay would have spoken at all to anyone who might have made a difference, whether an NFL official, a judge, a counselor or anyone else. She’s in love. She’s made her choice.

But where criminal acts concerned, not all of the choices are hers to make. There are at least two entities that have an interest when a crime of violence occurs and criminal charges are brought: The victim herself (or himself) and the community as a whole. The community in this case- at least Atlantic County, New Jersey, the prosecutorial jurisdiction where this crime took place- has a right to the truth, as much as it can be ascertained, in order to decide what Ray Rice did to violate their laws and what he deserves because of it (no comment, for now, on how the case was legally resolved).

Without the video, it is highly unlikely that Rice’s brutality would ever be fully known- both in terms of the lightning blow he was willing to unleash into a woman’s face and the callous way in which he then dragged her around. Even assuming an out of character, mental snap due to rage, Rice could have knelt beside her and comforted her. He could have called for help and admitted a terrible, momentary wrong. Instead he dragged her like an inconvenient bag of garbage. We know that now, because we’ve seen it.

What Janay Rice is 100% correct about is that the repeated, for-entertainment viewing of the video tape of her abuse is exploitive and abusive itself; her pain should not be minimized nor her feelings invalidated. She is unfortunate with regard to being married to a public figure and now being at the center of a tragically public case. But given her unwavering support of a man who attacked her, given the child who will soon become a part of their dynamic, and given a desperate need for society as a whole to wake up to the undiluted reality of intimate partner violence, there is value in the videotape’s existence if not gross proliferation.

It’s awful. But it’s the truth. And the truth matters, even when love would conceal it.

Contempt of Cop, And That Might Be It

iStock_000004808004_SmallI’ve worked closely with police officers my entire professional life, and I find most to be decent, honorable men and women who do a difficult job with a surprising amount of professionalism. I’m far from anti-cop. But sometimes it appears obvious that breaking the law isn’t what will get you arrested. Simply disobeying a police officer, even with the right to do so, might do it.

That’s anathema to the rule of law.

A disturbing video posted by the African-American political and cultural opinion magazine “The Root” shows a black man arguing with police officers, one male and one female and both white, in St. Paul, Minnesota in January and eventually being tasered and then arrested. It’s news again in light of recent events, and race is an assumed factor. At one point in his filming of the incident, the man interrupts the female officer and says “the problem is I’m black.” The two are then joined by a male officer who immediately demands that he put his hands behind his back. A struggle ensues, he’s tasered and then arrested.

I honestly don’t know if race was a factor for the officers involved. I’d like to think it wasn’t, but I completely understand those who most certainly do. Regardless, what bothered me most about the exchange I saw was simply the illegality of what seems to be happening. Apparently charges against the man for trespass, disorderly conduct and disrupting the legal process were dropped.

Understanding that cell phone video is hardly an infallible source of context in a tense situation, watching this one will not yield a single explanation by the officers as to why the man is being arrested that cites Minnesota law or local ordinance. I watched it repeatedly; I don’t hear it. Reports suggest a store clerk called with some concern about his presence as a possible loiterer although he was in a public place. The responding officer demands he identify himself. He refuses, as is apparently his right under Minnesota law. She appears to follow him as he walks away, at one point explaining her demand saying “this is what police officers do when they’re called.”

That may be, but that doesn’t make the demand legal. And if it’s not legal, and no other crime is occurring, she needs to shrug and walk away. Period. But police officers increasingly seem not to want to do that.

In February, a California Highway Patrolman arrested a firefighter who refused to move a fire truck at the patrolman’s insistence while working a car wreck. The firefighter was ordered released and later filed a complaint. Details are in dispute, but it seems as if he was handcuffed and placed in a cruiser simply because he disobeyed the command of the CHP, regardless of the letter of the law.

Like any institution that provides for trappings of authority, deadly weapons and combat training, police agencies sometimes attract bullies and others with big egos and little patience. I believe this is not the norm in American policing but generally an exception. I’ve not only worked closely with cops all of my life, I’ve befriended many. I’ve heard countless head-shaking stories (that never reach the media) of cops who have not used deadly force despite the actions of belligerent and aggressive people who threaten their lives and refuse to obey reasonable commands.

Still, there is justifiable criticism being leveled against the militarization of American police forces and the rise of the “warrior cop.” Engaging the community from behind barricades with automatic weapons is largely counterproductive and stupid. But what’s worse is ignoring the law and putting people in chains and cages- regardless for how long or to what eventual end- simply because they’ve made a cop angry. It doesn’t work that way. It can’t work that way.

As a young prosecutor I practiced before an old and quirky but wonderful judge named Dan O’Flaherty. He showed me once how he kept a copy of Virginia’s contempt of court statute (the one that allows judges to jail people on the spot for in-court behavior) actually taped to the bench where he sat. His reason? When he was insulted or otherwise disrespected by someone before him, he took time to read the statute and think very carefully before even threatening the person with contempt. Because sometimes what they were doing was infuriating, but not illegal.

Anyone with the honor of wielding a badge and a gun needs to understand that as well.

To A.J. Delgado: You Might Be Dumb Like a Fox. Or Just Dumb. But Wow, Are You Wrong.

DelgadoA..J.,  I get it.

You’re attractive by Western standards (white, thin, pleasing bone structure, etc). You speak well on camera. But of course, so do plenty of us.

So maybe you’ve been clever enough to realize that your best bet as an aspiring media star is as an iconoclast. That’s great- we need them. The problem, though- assuming you see it as one- is that iconoclasts aren’t always the voices of reason, or the till-now ignored prophets from the wilderness, screaming the truth in hopes of overcoming a cacophony of nonsense.

Sometimes, with their slick, favorable, TV features, they’re just cynical charlatans. Or perhaps worse, they’re sincere but mis-informed, useful idiots.

You’re one or the other, AJ; either deeply cynical or grossly, happily misinformed. It really is that simple. I read your National Review piece on what you seem to believe is an imaginary “rape epidemic” on American college campuses. Typically, and within 60 words of your opening, you echo this oft-quoted and infantile meme: “…the term “rape” or “sexual assault” is thrown around almost effortlesslyaccusations easily made [emphasis added] and lives easily ruined.”

Utter. Nonsense.

Your characterization of the terms “effortlessly” and “easily,” as applied to the disclosure of sexual violence, might be sardonically funny were it not so dangerously stupid. I’m a former prosecutor who spent a career working with the rare woman (or man) who took the almost unimaginable step of actually reporting a sexual assault or a pattern of abuse.  I’d be happy to give you a long, sad list- with their permission- of the tiny minority of people who did report to some authority that they were sexually violated, and who were ripped apart like meat left for wolves as a result. Nevertheless, people like you are always ready to claim- on baseless grounds- that women will regularly “cry rape” to avoid whatever consequences sexual congress might bring.  Since you’re admittedly “not a scientist,” I can point you to the research of some actual scientists who can demonstrate with a strong foundation that very few complaints of sexual violence are false, and that the usual person the victim of sexual violence points the finger at is herself or himself.

Still, to flesh out this silly piece, you spewed examples that should shame you as a lawyer with any training in logical argumentation. The example you give of a defendant who was mis-identified in a rape case (i.e., a rape did happen- the wrong guy just got convicted)? That’s a tragedy of course, but what does it have to do with your completely unrelated claim that the straw-man “Left” is creating a rape myth?

Oh yeah. Nothing.

And then there’s your attempt to draw some connection between the decline of traditionally defined violent crime in the U.S. over the last 20 years and the (finally) growing intolerance of rape on college campuses. This isn’t even clever. It merely exposes remarkable ignorance with regard to the reality of sexual violence as it usually plays out, both on and off college campuses.  Sexual violence has always been a sickeningly, ever-present aspect of college life- and indeed life everywhere. Yes, we’re more aware of it now, and some of us are fighting back. But why should you? Armed with your one dubious anecdote and your ambition, why look behind the curtain at all?

Instead, A.J., continue your rise to stardom within the morally scolding circles promoted by the National Review that will, among other things, insist that rape in the college environment is the inevitable result of promiscuity and intoxicants.

Goodness me, if only women would behave.

Never mind those who are raped after a study group meeting in the light of day, or by a church-going friend on a religious retreat.

And certainly, A.J., never mind the effect of the insidious and arbitrary rules you’re imposing on the young women and men who will be victimized with even more impunity because of your finger-wagging nonsense. I’m talking about the ones who may or may not break your rules, but who will be damned to either silence or shame because of ignorant hawkers like you who give them 1) unfair standards to uphold, and 2) false senses of security to boot.

We’re lawyers, A.J. We never had to professionally take the “first, do no harm” oath that physicians do. But seriously? You should consider it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iowa, and 47

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The Cedar River at sunset, Waterloo, Iowa, after a child abuse prosecution training last week.

The one (and perhaps only) important thing I didn’t have to learn the hard way is this:  Never fail to appreciate small moments and simple beauty.

A railroad crossing, a grain elevator, a farm stand, an AME Baptist Church.

At 47, ain’t that America?

If you’re listening, Lord, forgive me my petty complaints. It’s all a blessing.

 

 

Bigotry Is Bad. And Bad for Business

Anti-black bigotry in the American South, persisting with political cover well into the latter half of the 20th century, was an utter disaster for an economy already struggling to overcome unindustrialized, agrarian roots.

Anti-gay bigotry, led in part (again) by misplaced religiosity, will now further damage the same region, and perhaps with it parts of the Southwest as well.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’d tentatively add that it also bends toward intellectual growth and common sense. Environments where bigotry thrives will inherit the wind. And little else.