In A Nutshell – A Parable From The Attica Riots Of 1971 To…Yesterday

It’s one of those things you can’t effectively put into words.  It’s a truth you have to communicate indirectly with, say, a story, example or allegory.

I’m with Kierkegaard on that.

A story.  Like so many others.  We’re busy honoring “law enforcement officers” again:

The bridge across the Taconic State Parkway on Hosner Mountain Road in East Fishkill will be named the “Correction Officer Gary L. Mitchetti, Jr. Memorial Bridge,” after a decorated corrections officer who died in 2005 when his motorcycle collided with a car on that highway.

Before his death, Mitchetti earned various awards for his service, including the Correctional Services Medal of Merit and Valor, a Purple Heart from the New York Shields and a medal of valor from the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents.

And their dogs:

Cuomo also signed legislation on Wednesday to increase the charges against a person who kills a police dog or horse in the line of duty. Currently a Class A misdemeanor, the crime will be a Class E felony when the law takes effect Nov. 1.

“Police animals go where others will not in order to keep law enforcement officials and all New Yorkers safe from harm, and it’s a tragedy when one is killed,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This new law will hold the guilty parties accountable and offer better protections for these highly trained animals who are important members of our law enforcement community.”

For the record, I’m sure the Corrections Officer’s death was a great tragedy to his friends and family and I’m sorry for their loss.  And the wanton or gratuitous killing of dogs is also a cause for great sadness, although it certainly seems that stories of police killing the dogs of regular citizens far outnumber the stories of suspects killing police dogs.

And as an aside, I’ve never heard of the “New York Shields” or the “North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents” and suspect you haven’t either.  The list of organizations seeking to plug their snouts into the public trough is ever growing and seemingly endless.

But I digress.

Recognizing the heroism of “law enforcement” is the politician’s path to success.  There is no downside worth discussing.  Governor Cuomo signs these stupid laws, issues a press release and gets his name associated with a political constituency with the power and influence to deliver votes, as do the legislators who served them up.

In other words, this whole thing is just shameless pandering through a pliant and toadying press.  A minor fault in today’s political world, you might say, and you might be right.  Up to a point.

But here’s the thing.  Ever heard of John Edland?

In September of 1971 there was an inmate revolt at the Attica Correctional Facility.  You might have heard about this, or read about it in history books.

Attica’s right up the road from Rochester, where I am.

Without going into too much detail, a few days into the revolt authorities decided to put it down by force.  There was a lot of shooting by troopers, corrections officers and so on into a crowded prison yard where inmates and their hostages were camped out.  In the immediate aftermath of the battle – which might be better characterized as a turkey shoot – authorities announced their success in re-taking the prison, noted that the inmates had no guns (that would have raised a lot of questions) but had managed to kill a number of their hostages by slitting their throats.

Awful story, isn’t it?

Anyway, in due course the bodies were delivered to the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s office for autopsies.  The Medical Examiner’s name was John Edland, the subject of our little narrative here.  Edland determined that no one’s throat had been slit, and that all the dead – inmates and hostages alike – had been killed by gunfire.

As authorities had already gone on record stating that the inmates had no guns, this meant that the hostages had not been killed by the inmates, but rather by their would-be rescuers.

What happened to John Edland?  Read about it here.

Reportedly a conservative Republican and a Navy veteran, he was pilloried and smeared by law enforcement and the governor’s men as a communist and a liar.  Two other medical examiners were called in to second guess him, but they simply confirmed his findings.

Which were, of course, the truth.

Nevertheless, for the powers that be in New York, it was as if it was Edland’s fault that the hostages had died from gunshot wounds and not slit throats.  As if somehow he could make it otherwise.  And he was blackballed and his career was ruined and he died in 1991 a “broken man”, by some accounts.

This episode is very revealing.  First, because it shows that at least some element of “law enforcement” believes that “facts” can be made what we want them to be regardless of the truth and people who won’t go along are the enemy and are to be punished, shunned and cast into exile.

Think about that, and how dangerous it is.  To call it “corrupt” doesn’t really capture it at all, does it?  More like malevolent.  The truth is a big deal.  An obstinate refusal to acknowledge it is a serious, serious problem.

And second, this episode is revealing because no one is proposing to name a bridge after Edland, no one is building any monuments to memorialize his courage, his integrity, his adherence to truth and principle in the face of irrational, evil but very powerful opposition.

And apparently in life he paid a terrible price for his virtue, while many others prospered from the opposite.

If you want to know why the world – and especially the criminal justice system – can be so fucked up, you just have to remember the story of John Edland every time you read another press installment of some law enforcement officer or other being honored or recognized for this or that.

Police dogs are more important to the governor, the powers that be in general, and the press than John Edland was or will be.

That’s disgraceful.  Despicable, really.  Or it would be, if we knew how to be ashamed of ourselves anymore.


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