In the United States of America, in the State of Michigan, emanating from the County of Berrien, there is a crime being committed. The architects of this crime are not unknown. In fact they are hiding in plain sight, beneath black robes, behind ludicrous "immunity" doctrines, and within the walls of the governor's mansion. These criminals have moved lynching from the darkened woods to the pretentious courtrooms, and still dare to call it "justice." One of their victims is an African-American man named Floyd Caldwell.
Caldwell's case starkly exposes the "good-old-boy" mentality of America's criminal justice system. In 1975, a former Berrien County judge named Harry Laity and his wife Frances were robbed of two rings and approximately fifty dollars in cash by an African-American man. Caldwell was arrested for this robbery after admitting that he had tried to pawn one of the stolen rings.
But possession of stolen property does not a robber make, and Caldwell adamantly denied holding up the couple. The facts appeared to support him. The assailant was described as having a scar on his forehead, which Caldwell did not have. The victims identified another man in a line-up, and Caldwell passed a polygraph test. Perhaps most compellingly, fingerprints taken from the crime scene pointed to a perpetrator in possession of all ten fingers. Caldwell was missing two fingers from his left hand.
Despite these facts, Caldwell was charged with robbery. His attorney chose not to pursue a jury trial, thus leaving Caldwell's fate in the hands of a solitary judge. While legal ethics dictate that judges must recuse (excuse) themselves from a case when there is the appearance of bias, the judge in Caldwell's case, Chester Byrns, refused to do so, even though he had been friends with the victims for twenty-three years. Caldwell was predictably found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, where he remains to this day.
Approximately a year after Caldwell's trial, Frances Laity faced criminal charges herself after killing a twelve-year-old African-American girl with her car. Now that his friend was a criminal defendant instead of a crime victim, Byrns suddenly decided he could not be "unbiased," and recused himself from her trial. Laity ultimately received the "punishment" of probation and a thousand dollar fine.
While egregious injustices should be condemned no matter where they occur, Michigan's "legal" system gives such injustices a particularly rancid odor of hypocrisy. It was Michigan's "legal" system, after all, that was allegedly so concerned about the "sanctity of human life" that it prosecuted and imprisoned Dr. Jack Kevorkian for helping terminally ill people end their lives. Yet while Caldwell faces the prospect of dying in prison for a crime he did not commit, nobody in the "system" seems particularly concerned about the "sanctity of his life."
In fact, the American legal system is so corrupt that extortion, surreptitiously known as the "innocence penalty," is considered more important than truth. Normally before prisoners are granted parole they have to prove they are now "upstanding, honest, law-abiding" citizens. Yet in order to "prove" this honesty, innocent prisoners must either lie by confessing to a crime they did not commit, or face continued incarceration for their refusal to do so. This is how the system promotes its veneer of "infallibility," and how self-serving judges, prosecutors and politicians endeavor to assuage their consciences.
But these hypocrisies, these injustices and this callousness towards human life are not exclusive to America’s legal system, but are endemic to the entire political culture. For example, when Bill Clinton sought to send American troops to the Balkans, many "conservatives," like Texas Congressperson Tom DeLay, were particularly vociferous in their condemnation of Clinton's action.
Yet when the "neo-conservatives" sought to wage war against Iraq, suddenly it became perfectly acceptable for "chickenhawks," like DeLay, (who had once claimed during the Vietnamese war that so many minorities had enlisted there was no room for "patriotic folks" like him) to send America’s youth to fight and die. In fact, two of the primary instigators of the Iraqi war, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, received deferments (Cheney receiving four) to avoid serving in Vietnam. Cheney's excuse for avoiding the military was the arrogant assertion that he "had other priorities," as if those who did serve did not have other priorities as well. Radio personality Rush Limbaugh (who often castigated drug abusers until his own drug abuse was exposed) avoided military service because of an "ingrown hair follicle" on his posterior. And Limbaugh is just one of many commentators, celebrities and other assorted hypocrites who avoided military service, yet promoted the Iraqi war from the confines of government offices, television and radio stations, recording studios, editorial desks and movie sets. Even George W. Bush avoided serving in Vietnam by enlisting in the National Guard. So if the "Love it or leave it" slogan is to be directed against anti-war activists, a slogan proclaiming "Support it, then go fight in it," would be equally applicable to the "chickenhawks."
It would seem that Americans would be outraged by the hypocrisies and injustices that dominate their lives, by seeing their young people sacrificed by cowards who were unwilling to fight themselves, and by the propaganda of those more concerned with ratings, profits or political gain than truth. Unfortunately this has not been the case.
Perhaps one reason for this is because America’s two-party system subscribes to the unwritten "rule" that injustices and hypocrisies are "wrong" only when the opposing political party engages in them. Minnesota’s former governor Jesse Ventura recently remarked how this double-standard was applied during California's recall election, when the very same individuals and organizations who condemned Bill Clinton for his sexual escapades, suddenly adopted a "boys-will-be-boys" attitude, or cried "foul," when similar allegations were directed against Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But perhaps the most compelling reason for this lack of outrage is simply the overwhelming sense of powerlessness that many Americans feel. I can speak about this sense of powerlessness from personal experience. I used to be disturbed by stories of wrongful convictions, of corruption in high places, and of abuse of the less fortunate. But as disturbed as I was by these stories, it was even more frustrating to be unable to do anything about them. After all, I was a mere laborer, with no particular skills and certainly no access to the power structure committing these wrongs.
To gain this access, I decided to go to law school. But upon entering the law practice, my frustration only increased. Now I had access to the system, but the only "benefit" I derived was the ability to witness injustices first-hand, and to see the cavalier hypocrisy of those committing them. I recalled how the late columnist Sydney Harris once opined that the paradox of power resides in the reality that those who desire power are usually undeserving of it, and those who deserve power usually do not want it.
Perhaps this is why the "cult of celebrity" that I discussed in two previous PRAVDA articles (THE ESSENCE OF HISTORY (October 8, 2003) and AMERICA'S FAST FOOD POLITICAL CULTURE (October 24, 2003)) inundates American culture and media. There is some truth to the adage that "ignorance is bliss," because a mind cannot dwell upon injustices it knows nothing about.
Unfortunately, what this ultimately creates are people without principles and a relative "morality" where a self-serving power structure arbitrarily decides what is "moral" and what is not. The greater the injustices, the more this power structure will endeavor to defend or rationalize them, secure in the knowledge that nobody will ever be held accountable for the wrongs being perpetrated, as long as those wrongs continue to benefit those in power. Some of these injustices will not even be recognized, since people reluctant to admit they were duped will continue to embrace the lies they are told.
So the concept of "morality" in America is frequently focused on "adult" (sexually oriented) materials. Attorney General John Ashcroft (another "chickenhawk") finds nothing immoral in his quest to destroy the Bill of Rights, viewed by many as the cornerstone of American freedom, yet covers a statue with a drape to conceal its bare bosom. Floyd Caldwell's continued imprisonment generates little outrage in predominantly white Berrien County, yet a local pub owner's request to stage a "burlesque" show results in obstreperous protests. While reasonable minds, of course, can differ over the merits or detriments of adult materials, it is repugnant when such materials are used as a "bogeyman" so those in power can present a facade of "morality," while they fight unjust wars, ignore wrongful imprisonments, and tell outright lies.
Of course this alleged "concern" over the exposure of the human body does not translate into a commensurate concern for the body’s health. Millions of Americans (including myself) have no health insurance, and millions more find the costs of such insurance increasing. Employers are finding "creative" ways to exploit part-time or "temporary" workers so they don’t have to pay health benefits, and countless Americans are only an accident or disease away from having their life savings wiped out. But apparently allowing millions to suffer pain and disease because they cannot afford a trip to the doctor is not "immoral."
In recent times there have been reports that some individuals who murdered civil rights activists during the 1960s expressed regret for their deeds while on their deathbeds. There are also those who once hawked the war in Vietnam who are now expressing regret about doing so. While some may find this inspiring, I find it hypocritical that those who profited from, or evaded justice for, the abuses of their fellow human beings now want absolution when they can no longer right the wrongs they have committed.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that "No lie can live forever." While I have the utmost respect for Dr. King, the truth is that some lies do live forever. Fortunately the liars do not. And the lesson these liars often forget is that the only difference between morality and mortality is the letter "T," which I believe stands for "time." While mortality does not always bring morality in a timely fashion, perhaps it does bring justice, so those with "blood on their hands," those who permit, rationalize or ignore the Floyd Caldwells of the world, and those who ask of others what they do not ask of themselves, will ultimately be recognized for the criminals, thugs and hypocrites that they are, and hopefully the powerless of the earth who dared to speak knowing that none would listen, will come to realize they were not so powerless after all.
David R. Hoffman, Legal Editor of PRAVDA.Ru