This is actually a polite word for describing certain tendencies we have cultivated in our police. Like the tendency to believe that the most obvious truth can be spun into something completely different and more agreeable to…..the police.
The latest installment in the periodic chronicling we do here at Lawyers on Strike of this bizarre but dangerous phenomenon comes from Scott Greenfield. A police officer shot and killed the victim of a robbery/kidnapping in the course of attempting to foil the crime and rescue her.
I don’t want to be in any way glib about this. In the first place, it’s just an all around terrible thing. Second, believe it or not I have a lot of sympathy for the officer. I’m sure he didn’t intend the disastrous result, I’m sure he is deeply anguished over it. Or at least I assume that. It’s understandable that his fellow officers would be sympathetic as well. There but for the grace of God and all that.
No, it is not the event itself that prompts, and ought to prompt, a critique. It is the collective reaction of the police, a plain resort to cultivating some other more agreeable, albeit completely unsupported and presumably false narrative where popular blame can be fixed elsewhere despite the simple and obvious facts of the matter.
It has become an institutional reflex, and that is extremely disturbing. And really, it is due to one thing: it’s because they can, they do, and the overwhelming majority of the time they are indulged.
Who indulges them? Many, if not most prosecuting attorneys, yet it has always been my experience that there are some prosecuting attorneys about whom this is not the case. Then there are judges. Again in my experience this is the biggest part of the problem. The proportion of judges for whom this is not the case is far smaller than the proportion of prosecutors. And while their connection to events of this nature on the ground is more attenuated, higher up politicians such as legislators and governors are also part of the mix.
And not to be overlooked, because they too are a very significant part of the problem, are the media. When it comes to criminal justice issues the American media do a pathetic job. In the end they are little more than mouthpieces for the police. That they even participate in “perp-walks”, for example, speaks volumes. They can refuse to be used that way; they often adopt policies about how they cover stories – such as not naming rape victims – that are fairly strictly observed. They could do the same with respect to perp-walks or other prejudicial coverage of criminal justice stories, but they don’t want to. It’s not in their interest.
This confluence of consistent institutional self-centeredness on the part of the police and consistent institutional indulgence on the part of so many other players breeds more of the same, and one of the signs that it has gotten out of control is when, in this or that case, the obvious is buried or denied in favor of the preferred institutional narrative. Thus does truth, in the minds of some, become a function of power and not of evidence and reason. Thus does the descent into stupidity, cruelty and barbarism acquire a social death grip from which there may be no recovery.
“There are two sides to every story”. Not true, but a convenient dogma when you are possessed of a smug assurance that your side will always prevail. It’s not a coincidence that this is a frequent platitude employed by….cops.
So, in what should be an apparent evasion to all but the most heavily propagandized and dull-witted, the police engaged in a loosely coordinated effort to scapegoat the dead girl’s boyfriend to deflect blame away from the officer who shot and killed her. The boyfriend, who is apparently not dull-witted, stops talking to them. The sycophant press then obliges the police with a heavily slanted headline indicating that the boyfriend as “stopped cooperating” with “authorities”.
Still, unless they actually charge and prosecute this kind of circling the wagons is less troubling to me than when they do prosecute, or when they have prosecuted and as usual prevailed but then down the line the whole farce is exposed, as it has been with the Central Park Five, and unable to face the damage they have caused they persist in grotesquely false narratives.
We do not make truth through force and will, and that goes for the police too. And the media.
Update: Here’s the top story for a local television station. Here’s the next story. And the next. I guess it’s the Macedon Police Department’s turn to shine in this careful exercise of editorial judgment.
The prominence of these non-stories is indicative of a deep corruption in the media. As much as lawyers need to get their house in order, I sometimes think journalists need to more.
This example cropped up today but the same could be pointed out on many, many days.