LAW AND DISORDER BONA FIDES – PT. II

It happens more often than not.

Two days after Michael Brown was shot dead by a white cop in a predominately black neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri, 25-year-old Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police in South Los Angeles. That’s Rodney King territory. But I’ll wager dollars to donuts you know absolutely nothing about Mr. Ford’s untimely passing, probably haven’t even heard about it.

Like Brown, Ford was young, black and unarmed. Like police in Missouri, the LA cops did not immediately released the cops’ names that shot Ford or release the autopsy report. But there is no rioting or looting in South LA.

Why is one shooting covered relentlessly for a week and the other completely ignored?

It’s taken 20 years but in the wake of the acquittal of the thug cops who beat Rodney King senseless and the subsequent destructive rioting, police and black community organizers in South LA have learned something about detente.

Immediately after Ford’s shooting local police maintained a relatively low profile – no tanks or armored personal carriers or cops in full army combat gear; rather a handful of bicycle-riding cops in polo shirts patrolled the streets.

As you might expect the whole community was just as pissed as the one in St. Louis but in L.A. the Police Chief and other top-ranking officials showed up for a community meeting at the local church and did more listening than talking. When a private audience was demanded by one of the most prominent community leaders it was granted.

In many precincts in LA, cops stay in regular touch with major community organizers. Likewise, organizers and local church leaders have various cops’ phone numbers memorized. When protests are planned, seasoned organizers let police know, even when they’re the targets.

It doesn’t mean that policing is necessarily any better or different in LA than it is here in my stomping ground or St. Louis.

In fact, it happens way more in Los Angeles the most other places. LAPD police have shot and killed 12 people like Brown and Ford so far this year. Since 2007, 300 people have been shot dead during conflicts with the LAPD.

This time there was nothing for the media to shoot in LA. And there was probably some discussion about the unwillingness to put the Justice system in disrepute if two very similar incidents were sensationalized within a span of 48 hours.

Back to my bona fides:

I have so successfully infiltrated, investigated and written about police and prosecutors, their manipulations and motivations, their ineptitude and malfeasance the powers-that-be decided to make me the subject of an eight-year long investigation.

I was twice arrested and twice put on trial, first in early 1998 for three years and again in 2003 for another three. (On the first occasion I was charged with two or three counts of breach court order/ publication ban.

After a six-month investigation the police concluded that 18 pages in my book “Invisible Darkness: The Horrifying Case of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka” could not have been written unless I had seen the visual portion of the videotape evidence restricted by court order during the Bernardo trial in the summer of 1995.

I was acquitted of those charges in late 2000.

In 2003, I was criminally charged with 104 counts, disobey court order/publication ban, 5 counts of improper storage of firearms and the Attorney General of Ontario sued me in civil court as an “Enemy of the State.”

Years later, when they were blatantly shown (i.e. we had the goods on them) that they had committed gross “abuses of processs,” I agreed to plead guilty to one count, misdemeanor, breach of publication ban.

In return the firearms charges were dismissed along with the other one hundred and three court order breach charges, half of which were felonies each one of which carried a penalty of two-years plus a day i.e. hard time in the Big House. Also, the Attorney General withdrew the civil lawsuit.

And so it ended.

As a consequence, I have had more direct experience with police and ministries of the attorneys general than 99.9 % of the population in North America and that is quite remarkable, given my disposition: aging, middle-class, well-educated, law-abiding, white male.

Many of the larger writing assignments I’ve accepted over the years brought me into the ambit of authority. Then again, what is true for the majority of the population is also true for writers.

The majority of writers and journalists in North America do not have any direct experience or exposure to the courts, the offices of the district attorneys or their handmaidens, the police. Certainly not both sides. Certainly not as a thorough researcher and writer on the one hand and a criminally accused and prosecuted on the other.

I am also unique among the legion of talking heads and pontificators with their blogs, books, pedigrees and degrees, in law and criminology and what-have-you; I am not on one side or the other: Got no dog in the fight, no reputation to maintain.

Crime beat reporters might be thought an exception, except theirs is a symbiotic not a critical or even investigative relationship to police and prosecutors. And none that I know of have ever been arrested, criminally charged and prosecuted for almost a decade.

Most appear to be beards or apologists for police. Even so, even were Noam Chomsky and I wrong about how the media functions – or dysfunctions – in the world of daily reportage, crime beat reporters are a small minority of which I am definitely not one. I have never worked for any news media organizations. And I am at this time not aware of any who have ever been arrested and criminally charged with felony crimes.

As described, my expertise is rooted in a couple of the more difficult topics I chose to write about – the sexual homicide of a Toronto shoeshine boy, Emmanuel Jacques by four pedophiles in the late 70s and published in a magazine entitled “Sympathy for the Devil.

More recently, the crimes, trials and incarcerations of Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, a large, complicated case I wrote about exhaustively and definitively in two books, “Invisible Darkness” and “Karla: A Pact with the Devil,” both initially published in North America by the Random House Group.

As a consequence of getting the back story right and bringing facts into the public domain that the authorities spent enormous time and money, I was taken down like a drug dealer in the kitchen of my old farmhouse at 6 AM Sunday morning by a dozen heavily armed cops, spent a weekend in jail, was subsequently raided and put out of my house for a 24-hour period while the goon squad ransacked the place.

Both my wife’s and my computers, backup and voluminous files were seized, and in spite of the eventual favorable outcome, never returned, I was relentlessly prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Both criminally and civilly, although there was nothing civil about it.

This sort of thing brings back ugly memories and I’ve never been at all convinced that writing is a cathartic excercise. For me, it’s just hard. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. There’s one more section on this topic to come.

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LAW AND DISORDER BONA FIDES – PT. I

Here we go again: Another unarmed black man in an amazingly racist America shot dead in the afternoon by another white cop, buried in Missouri in August, amid rhetorical old-timey black gossip preacher ellipticisms “calls for yet more action and civilized behavior”.

Reminds me of David Wiffen’s great, wholly unappreciated song “More Often Than Not”:

“Well, have I not been quite far enough
How many times do you have to die now
How many sets has it been
Not another one, oh no
And would you believe
That it happens more often than not…”

What about all those other (legion) calls for action in Los Angeles after a posse of cops beat the living shit out of a defenseless Rodney King and, in spite of the fact it was all caught on video, (then highly unusual unequivocal evidence of mindless racist authoritarian violence) a white jury acquitted the whole bloody lot, inciting the most extended, nightmarish race riot in the City of Angel’s history.

What about Montgomery and Mobile and Mississippi? One thing history tells us: It happens more often than not, and will continue to do so.

There are the mourners and celebrities and community activists, not necessarily the same ones or as many “A” listers for Michael Brown, but reasonable facsimiles.

I met Rubin Carter once. I heard Bob Dylan’s anthem. Carter died a bitter man, estranged from the Canadian “family” who “saved” him and betrayed (at least in his eyes) by James Lockyer and the organization for the wrongly convicted Carter endorsed and worked tirelessly for up here in the Great White North, land of hewers of wood, drawers of water where the rallying cry is not “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” rather “law, order and good government”. A nation shaped by an anomaly, Rubin should have known he would never be entirely at home in a Hypocracy.

Another black man (or boy), unarmed, shot dead in the street by a white cop in broad daylight. At Kent State it was white children shot dead by white National Guardsmen. At Sandy Hook the child killer was indiscriminate. He didn’t care what color the children were.

Yesterday it was Michael Brown they eulogized in St. Louis at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church.

“There is a cry being made from the ground, not just for Michael Brown, but for the Trayvon Martins, for those children in Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Columbine massacre, for black on black crime,” is how the Rev. Charles Ewing, Brown’s uncle, put it at his nephew’s funeral last Monday afternoon, August 25th.

“Something is rotten in the State of Denmark,” is the way Shakespeare put it. And indeed there is something rotten at the heart of our democracy.

It is by no means immediately evident. If it were that short litany of recent outrages would not have been available to Rev. Ewing.

Like Henry James “figure in the carpet” or an Escher drawing, it takes proximity and close scrutiny to discern. But when the configuration of seemingly discordant shapes and patterns yields a picture, as it invariably does, it paints a nightmarish panorama and tells a story both disturbing and revelatory.

Perhaps because it points to something that is fundamentally wrong in how we recruit, teach, instruct and configure the minions who man those institutions responsible for seeing Justice done, the “figure” that reverses out has never been closely examined, at least not in a sustained, accessible way. Thus its recognition brings out ennui not revolution.

Or perhaps the deep, structural fissures and systemic anomalies in our institutions of law and order have been, by virtue of the very impenetrability of their thick, institutional carapaces, impervious to investigation.

These are institutions and individuals sworn to “serve and protect” but they are among the least devout and most secretive in the world. They have been allowed to evolve that way. And it seems that our collective willpower and attention span are even shorter than news cycles. We are a society of social amnesiacs.

Whatever, I decided to try and configure the patterns in an intelligible way in this blog called “Law and Disorder: Analyzing Disorderly Conduct” as much to corral my own disparate thoughts and ideas about the topic as for whatever readership it may garner.

You may well ask, as Penny Wharvey McGill did in Oh Brother! Where Art Thou about Everett, (played by George Clooney) when she says to him “Vernon here’s got a job. Vernon’s got prospects. He’s bona fide. What are you?”

Indeed. What qualifies me to add my voice to the cacophony of all the other stutterers and pontificators out there? What are my bona fides?

Simple. The melodious lyric of Joni Mitchell‘s “Both Sides Now” – I’ve seen them, I’ve been up close and personal on both sides of the law for decades now and therefore uniquely qualified to analyze and criticize. And until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes don’t doubt it.

If you do doubt it stay tuned. Part 2 in the next day or two.