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Top Five Reasons “Our” “Justice” System Is An EPIC FAIL

September 4, 2014

[blows out dust] Is this thing on?

JUSTICE SYSTEM’S got me down lately. You most likely have heard of the case of Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown. The two African American men released from death row 31 years after they were wrongly convicted on the basis of coerced confessions.

This case, as well as the dumb “10 Books Challenge” that has been circulating on Facebook, put me in mind of Bertrand Russell’s take on social power and the justice system, which we covered here at Stump Lane in looking at this all too similar case of wrongful conviction, imprisonment, and threat of death.

Rather than paste the whole Russell thing here again, let’s just select the juiciest nuggets and place them alongside Democracy Now!’s coverage of the McCollum and Brown case. And I suppose we should do so as a list, since that’s where web content has gone since we retired from ‘long form’ blogging.

  1. The institutions of law enforcement and justice are by their very nature corrupt:
    RUSSELL: In every democracy, individuals and organizations which are intended to have only certain well defined executive functions are likely, if unchecked, to acquire a very undesirable independent power. This is especially true of the police.

    PROF. STEVE DRIZIN, via Democracy Now!: [The simple presence of] the death penalty can corrupt the search for truth. Clearly, police officers coerced and threatened these suspects with the death penalty at the beginning. The prosecutor wore his death penalty convictions like notches on his belt in this case. And even the death penalty lawyers, two of the best death penalty lawyers I know of, they felt compelled to pressure Henry to confess to an expert, because they figured that they were going to—that Henry was going to get convicted after his case had been reversed, and that they needed him to confess in order to save his life. So the mere presence of the death penalty corrupted the search for truth at every single process of this case.

  2. Police and prosecutors are incentivized to convict the innocent:
    RUSSELL: …a policeman is promoted for action leading to the conviction of a criminal … in consequence, it is to the interest of individual officers [to do whatever it takes to elicit a confession (or build their case).] … For the taming of the power of the police, one essential is that a confession shall never, in any circumstances, be accepted as evidence.

    DRIZIN: …once they focused on McCollum, they brought him in and they grilled him relentlessly for hours. And they threatened him with the death penalty, and they promised him that he would go home. And they prepared a detailed written statement for him to sign. And at that point in time, as he says, “I would have pretty much signed anything in order to go home.”

  3. The most able instruments of state power are exclusively brought to bear against the accused:
    RUSSELL: The whole of the resources of the State are set in motion to seek out possible witnesses against you, and the ablest lawyers are employed by the State to create prejudice against you in the minds of the jury. You, meanwhile, must spend your private fortune collecting evidence of your innocence, with no public organization to help you. If you plead poverty, you will be allotted Counsel, but probably not so able a man as the public prosecutor.

    ATTY. VERNETTA ALSTON, via Democracy Now!: …law enforcement had requested that a fingerprint … found at the crime scene next to sticks with the victim’s blood on it … be compared to Roscoe Artis, whose DNA was found at the scene and who committed a very similar rape [and murder] three weeks later. … that request was made three days before Henry’s trial and was never carried out. And based on what we know now, that request was never divulged to Henry’s trial attorneys by the state. … [T]hese cases, in 1984, were prosecuted by Joe Freeman Britt, who was a notorious, notorious supporter of the death penalty and who secured between 40 and 50 death sentences during his tenure as district attorney. … what we’ve seen as a pattern in those cases is that he was incredibly reckless, to the point where all but two of his convictions, his death sentences, had been overturned. And the only two that haven’t are folks who have been executed. … that should signal a huge problem with all of his cases, in terms of what he’s turned over, what he hasn’t, in his own rush to judgment, in his own priorities in getting a conviction rather than seeking the truth.

  4. The resources the state does allow for defense are insufficient:
    RUSSELL: If law-abiding citizens are to be protected against unjust persecution by the police, there must be two police forces … one designed, as at present, to prove guilt, the other to prove innocence; and in addition to the public prosecutor there must be a public defender, of equal legal eminence.

    ALSTON: The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission … function[s] independent of … any prosecutorial agencies or any defense organizations. They’re an independent agency that looks into claims of innocence to find, you know, evidence that hasn’t been uncovered and to verify claims of innocence. They got involved in 2010, following a letter from Leon Brown in 2009 asking them to look into his case. So, from 2010 up until basically Tuesday, they’ve had an active investigation going on in Leon Brown’s case, with the understanding that the evidence related to Leon’s case is identical to that for Henry McCollum. So that’s how they got involved. And they’ve conducted … an exhaustive investigation and have tested and retested many of the items of physical evidence that were found. They’ve conducted interviews. They’ve done a phenomenal job in this case.*

  5. Police and prosecutors aren’t meaningfully held accountable for wrongful convictions:
    RUSSELL: The defending police force should, moreover, become the prosecuting police force where one class of crimes is concerned, namely crimes committed by the prosecuting police in the execution of their “duty.”

    [cricket chirping]

BONUS #6: It has everything to do with race:
More and more it appears that the police are here to “hold the line” between the social and economic classes, disadvantaging the lower classes who lack a “private fortune” to mount a competent defense for themselves. In a nation where class lines have been drawn and enforced along racial lines, established largely through pervasive institutional racism, means these mechanisms of power and justice come to bear on people of color in a spectacularly brutal and unjust fashion.

* I said “insufficient,” but I’ll allow that 31 years late is slightly better than never, amirite?

Conclusion

March 14, 2012

THIS BLOG has documented a change. It was the development of some ideas clanging around in your host’s head.

  • It was the story of a Liberal whose liberalism became meaningless as new vistas of thought opened up.
  • Whose pacifist anti-war stance hardened into an all-inclusive anti-imperialism.
  • Whose pink capitalism, (a trust of laissez faire economics mixed with misgivings about every single aspect of the economy requiring petroleum, and the lack of a market metric for human dignity,) became economic disestablishmentarianism.
  • Whose environmentalism became environmental defeatism.
  • Whose “feminist” Nigel-ism became cultural nihilism or, mayhaps, Anarcha-Feminism.
  • Whose democratic electoral reformism became alienated non-participation which in turn became a conscientious objection to democracy itself.
  • And somewhere along the line your host started a midlife crisis, became obsessed with time, realized that time to do the things one wants, (to spend with one’s loved ones, to be creative,) is priceless, for everyone, and came to realize that valuing peoples time unequally when you ask force them to work, is evil.

Really, the recent Grid Not Goal series of posts pretty well sums up current political views.

So, here we are at the end. The site will remain, but Stump Lane will no longer be updated. The Tumblr site will continue, though under a brand new different URL, at Odoriferous Zephyrs. (Yes it’s a fart joke.) Montag — the internet handle, not the meatspace person typing these words — is dead. Still not ready for complete non-anonymity, a new moniker is born for commenting, and potential future blogging purposes, though hopefully in a more creative vein.

Kthxbai.

Grid Not Goal – Part 3: Capitulation

February 29, 2012

anarchism
DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO [Image via Anarchist Art]

Final of the series. Part 1 is here and Part 2, which seems to have gone over like a fart, is here. In any case, we’ll try and keep this last part brief. -M

ANARCHY, from the Greek, means without rulers. So what does it mean to be an anarchist? It’s certainly a striving to surrender to no authority above one’s own conscience, a desire to not be ruled. But to be ethically principled, recognizing the evil in imposing the absolute power of a truth, there must certainly be another component to this anarchism: to, in turn, not wield power over others.

Statelessness/lawlessness is only a temporary condition. Power Seekers see such a state of affairs as a power vacuum that, if they only play their cards right, can be taken advantage of and worked to their benefit. It’s only a matter of time before some assholes get going and start acting like a state.

An anarchist Utopia, egalitarian voluntary mutualism with a premium on individual freedom, or whatever, only works with a population comprised entirely of anarchists. What are we to do, then, FORCE people to become anarchists?

The system is a travesty, society a mob. But the part of me that looks first to our nature as human animals when putting thought to this kind of thing, recognizes the situation for what it is: an ecosystem. This is the environment in which I, a human animal, must strive to persevere. The state, despite what democracy lovers say, isn’t something for ‘the people’ to control, it’s something to cope with.

As I said, Old Montag would make a shitty anarchist. So this, I suppose I should admit, is my capitulation. My revolution is strictly… of the mind. For me, anarchism is a grid, not a goal.

Grid Not Goal – Part 2: Anarchy Grid

February 25, 2012

Dr. Who

WHAT IS MEANT BY “GRID?” Well, it’s an idea borrowed from Discordianism. Though intended as a way to describe opinions about metaphysical truth, I apply the term to opinions about the characteristics of Western society. Here’s what the Principia Discordia has to say about grids, in the section entitled “THE SACRED CHAO.”

With our concept making apparatus called “mind” we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us. The ideas-about-reality are mistakenly labeled “reality” and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently. It is only the ideas-about-reality which differ. Real (capital-T True) reality is a level deeper that is the level of concept.

We look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids. A culture is a group of people with rather similar grids. Through a window we view chaos, and relate it to the points on our grid, and thereby understand it. The ORDER is in the GRID. …

… Some grids can be more useful than others, some more beautiful than others, some more pleasant than others, etc., but none can be more True than any other.

The point is that (little-t) truth is a matter of definition relative to the grid one is using at the moment, and that (capital-T) Truth, metaphysical reality, is irrelevant to grids entirely. Pick a grid, and through it some chaos appears ordered and some appears disordered. Pick another grid, and the same chaos will appear differently ordered and disordered. [Principia Discordia]

Anarchy Grid

Why do people desire social order in the first place? Why do they disregard individual reason in favor of custom? Why allow their strengths and aptitudes to be appropriated and prostituted within a social order and take part in a system of alienated labor? Why allow hierarchical authority to bend their abilities toward its own ends? It’s a deeply ingrained, almost religious faith that those ends are the same, or at least in concert with their own natural drives and desires.

It’s obvious people need other people. We need other people to reproduce. And then, our infants are so helpless that a whole cooperative family structure makes sense in order to get youngsters to the point where they can take care of themselves. Beyond that, when it comes to meeting basic subsistence needs, cooperative social relations are clearly advantageous for groups of buddies helping their buddies out.

Well, this notion of cooperation and society has in a way taken on a life of its own. The culture that emerged to hold the cooperative together has been shambling on down through the centuries sloughing off generations of people like dead skin cells, developing and persisting in its own right. Today we have nation states, millions of people strong, and that seminal ideal of cooperative solidarity is writ large: every individual is responsible in their fair share for the well-being of the millions of people who occupy the borders of whatever nation they happen to have been born to.

So, if you are a Normal you might look at the current state of affairs and see that it’s bad. You might say that the US state has ‘lost touch’ with the basic purpose of ensuring people’s wellbeing. That corruption and profiteering are like rust and rot that eats away at the bolts of an ocean liner over time, which comes without regular maintenance, upgrades, necessary retrofits. You might even subscribe to Lawrence Lessig’s call to “build a system to fund campaigns in which all of us, or at least the vast majority of us, become the effective funders, [sauce,]“ as if the powerful could be called upon to enact laws to put an end their own corruption. You might think of politics in terms of “the common good,” or “of the people,” or “equality under the law.” If so, you are employing what could be called Benevolent State Grid.

The Malcontent might look at the current state of affairs and see that it’s bad, and realize that my friend Mr. Fundamental’s society-as-Titanic analogy is apt. That the very idea of an unsinkable ship, too big to fail, is pure folly. That the thing Normals fear when they think of anarchy, “a world where the biggest gang has grabbed all the guns and cowed everyone they can’t shoot,” where there is no authority strong enough to hold the gang to account, is precisely what we’re dealing with today. That the basic purpose of the US state is not ensuring people’s wellbeing; it’s the preservation of entrenched power. That society has developed a whole mythology that serves to cover up this fundamental untruth. This is how things appear through Anarchy Grid.

To employ Anarchy Grid to evaluate the characteristics of Western society is to harbor what JR Boyd calls “skepticism toward authority … in the absence of justification.” Under this regimen of skepticism, one sees that the gang with the most guns, the state, is based on nothing more than the FAKE justification for it’s exercises of negative power, of domination. Nurturing, or the positive use of power, is its own justification, no state, no authority, no mythology necessary.

Grid Not Goal – Part 1: Parenthood

February 3, 2012

human reproduction
[Image via: legalizecrime]

FRIENDS, YOUR MONTAG WOULD MAKE A SHITTY ANARCHIST. I lack virtue. Without virtue, anarchists are nothing but governors, warlords, and cops.

[I wanted to respond to an ages old comment from Justin, before the real world intervened. (His comment came in right around the time I lost my job.) I also meant to respond to Abonilox's not-so-recent-recent-now post, and by way of chiming in on these, hoped to kind of save face with my friend Frederick on my anarchist leanings. Anarchism as "grid not goal." This will take three or four posts to lay out and then, aside from possibly tuning-up a couple of old posts, we'll see about winding The Stump down, and moving on to something new.]

What is virtue? I asked Justin a while back, in a pretty off-handed way, if being principled was a virtue, and he responded:

[Emphasis added.] I don’t think there is such a thing as being principled as a binary virtue. We all draw boundaries around what people should be treated with some list of rights, and what people can be disposed of in any way.

…[snip]…

Like right now, you think you are principled because you have a problem with Bin Laden being summarily executed. Those who don’t have a problem with that scenario presumably do have the same problems you have in others. The problems boil down to, it was morally wrong to do that to him (because that could one day be me.) For most people, being Osama Bin Laden, arch terrorist, master mind of 9/11, is so unthinkable, so alien, that he exists in a category of unPeople, that are not afforded consideration for what principles apply to the real people. [Justin

Have to admit I was rankled at that highlighted bit when I read it, and in a way still am. Though I am coming to terms with it here as I compose a post confessing my lack of virtue.

Well, following Badiou, who says ethical truths must be universal, and if I read him correctly, would characterize virtue as taking part in a truth-process, through militant fidelity to a universal principle. To be principled is virtue.

Take this notion of radical egalitarianism, which I daresay is a universal truth worth pledging fidelity to, (whatever that means living in the system that we do.) “No matter how powerful — regardless, even, of an individual’s utility to society — every person’s time is of equal value.”

The Abonilox asks, living in the system that we do:

…does it follow that we are obliged to remedy this inequality? That is, if you happen to have been rewarded (under this system) for the accident of being born a white male in the west, is there a moral obligation to diminish yourself in some way? [Abonilox]

To the first question, Badiou says “Yes!” As to the second, I’m guessing as a white male in the West, that the answer is “Probably.” Which is the curse of human consciousness! “Hey, I dreamed up a radical new paradigm for all human interaction. Are we now obligated to live by it?”

“Is it true?”

“I think it might be.”

“Then yes we are, goddamnit, if we are to call ourselves ethical beings.”

But here’s the problem: I bred. Ms. Montag and I have offspring to consider, and they are extremely compelling little fuckers when it comes to drawing Justin’s boundaries. Not that I would deny the people outside of this set {Montag's Loved Ones} consideration in my model based of radical egalitarianism, but despite that consideration, my closest peeps trump all. Blood is thicker that water, or whathaveyou. So, here we part ways with principled anarchist thought.

From Peter Marshall’s introduction to The Anarchist Writings of William Godwin, a passage on Godwin’s early strict utilitarianism:

…the principle of impartiality, which arises from the fundamental equality of human beings and is the regulator of virtue, Godwin’s view of utility led him to some novel conclusions. While all human beings are entitled to equal consideration, it does not follow that they should be treated the same. When it comes to distributing justice I should put myself in the place of an impartial spectator and discriminate in favor of the most worthy, that is, those who have the greatest capacity to contribute to the general good. Thus in a fire, if I am faced with the inescapable choice of saving either a philosopher or a servant, I should choose the philosopher — even if I were the servant. If the servant had been my brother, my father, my sister, my mother or my benefactor, the case would be the same. ‘What magic’, Godwin asks, ‘is there in the pronoun ‘my’ that should justify us in overturning the decisions of impartial truth?’

…sentiments like gratitude, friendship, domestic and private affections which might interfere with our duty as impartial spectators have no place in justice. It might be more practical for me to prefer my friends and relatives, but it does not make them more worthy of my attention. [Marshall, p.30]

And, where it’s my offspring in particular who compel this thoughtcrime, this break with virtue, we should note the parting of ways with the idea that all power structures should be challenged, as it relates to another fairly common Anarchist notion, expressed by Hakim Bey when he calls “the Family, those ‘misers of love’ who hold hostages for a banal future[.]“ To hold true to Anarchist ideals, to refuse to exercise power over, to allow the full freedom the human spirit craves, to let young people run wild to be raised by their own unmitigated experience of the world and its inhabitants, sounds beautiful and poetic. But it simply does not coincide with my experience of parenthood, which has been one of an unconditional love I never knew was inside me to give, and feeling a calling to the project of child rearing.

Whatever extent these feelings are owed to my being a white male product of the West in the society that elevated the nuclear family to a fetish, there is something genuine there, beyond mere cultural indoctrination. There is magic in the pronoun “my,” when it comes to my progeny. (Let’s forget the implications of using the possessive form here. I don’t mean to say, “Here are my young people, they have to do whatever I tell them.” But rather, “Here are my relations, their wellbeing is of the utmost importance to me.”)

It is in the interest of keeping a roof over their head and their sense of security intact that I don’t strategically default on the mortgage, or evade taxes to protest the war machine, or start a grow operation in the basement, or don a ski mask and throw Molotov cocktails at the Bank of America, or whatever it is Jack Crow would like to see happening next. ;-) In short, despite my freed mind, they do the job the nuclear fetish is intended to do, they keep me occupied and docile in a way that doesn’t allow me to act on anarchist principle. The experience of fatherhood has rendered me fundamentally incapable of virtue.

[Unstructured notes and thoughts that didn't make it into the post if you continue after this point.]
Read more…

NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, YOU FATHER FUCKERS

October 20, 2011
tags: ,

From:NPR Communications
Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 6:12 PM
Subject: From Dana Rehm: Communications Alert

To: All Staff
Fr: Dana Davis Rehm
Re: Communications Alert

We recently learned of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone’s participation in an Occupy DC group. World of Opera is produced by WDAV, a music and arts station based in Davidson, North Carolina. The program is distributed by NPR. Lisa is not an employee of WDAV or NPR; she is a freelancer with the station.

We’re in conversations with WDAV about how they intend to handle this. We of course take this issue very seriously.

As a reminder, all public comment (including social media) on this matter is being managed by NPR Communications.

All media requests should be routed through NPR Communications at 202.513.2300 or mediarelations@npr.org. We will keep you updated as needed. Thanks. [via: Corrente]

Simeone has been fired.

Causality of Death

October 15, 2011

HUMANS CAN DIE in any number of ways. The ways are infinite!

However, adopting the deterministic view, I say: I’m only going to die once. While it may seem there are a million different ways I could bite it, there is, truthfully, only one that is going to ultimately do me in. So, everything I do or that happens to me impels me toward that specific end.

It seems weird that human memory is so much more reliable than foresight if this is the case.

Memory recalls how I got here. ‘Here’ being like the death that dictates every “choice” and circumstance that leads up to it. The here that I experience–me, sitting, typing these words–is the only possible result of what came before, that which I remember. For instance, if I hadn’t read Timothy Morton’s post on causality last evening, I would almost certainly be working right now, as I should be! (I’m going to pay for this later.)

I have to admit, though, determinism isn’t very satisfying. I would rather know that choice is real. That, if there are instead an infinite number of parallel universes with unique time-lines of events, that somehow, through my choices, I might blunder onto the one where I die peacefully, at a reasonably advanced age, having not outlived my offspring, who will be there holding my hand.

Perhaps the unknowable possibility is enough impetus, to more than simply persevere, to strive to live well.

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