Friday, June 5, 2020

Would you? Could you?

The overall title of this blog comes from a question I've been asked several times over the years in connection with my work as a criminal defense lawyer. Truthfully, it is rarely posed as an actual inquiry seeking an answer. It is almost always a rhetorical accusation flung out to express the person posing its disgust and disdain for my representing the people I do.

Understand that over the last 25 years or so, I have represented people charged with things that most other people can barely imagine. Truly awful things. Indeed, I am currently involved in what is probably the most challenging case of my career, with charges that are hard to even fathom. Despite this, I've never hesitated to accept a case. My immediate response to those who have posed the inquiry/accusation about the soundness of my sleep is that I sleep just fine. I've always said that it is my firm belief that if I fight as hard as I can to insure that the worst of the worst get a zealous defense, then the system stays fairer for everyone. I've had that immediate response even for people like Dylann Roof, who was welcomed into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and proceeded to shoot and kill nine people in some twisted white supremacist rage. 

But what of Derek Chauvin, the man charged with the murder of George Floyd? That one caused me to blink. What is my true answer? Chauvin appears, in the video footage of the incident I have seen, to embody everything I most loathe. Everything I've spent my life fighting against. He is a card-carrying member of the oppressor class. Certainly not the oppressed. Not, it would appear, an isolated maniac caught in the tangled, fevered webs of a tortured mind. A smirking bully, unconcerned enough about the damage he was causing to not even bother to take his hands from  his pockets as George Floyd begged for his life. 

But. But. I've always said that my hero is not Atticus Finch, the noble lawyer of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird". Finch represented a man he came to feel certain had been wrongly accused. Who was, in fact, innocent. That's always struck me as the easy part of the job. No one asks how you can sleep at night for defending the innocent. The far harder task is to stand up for the worst and say, "No, you must give this person, no matter what they've done, the rights to which they are entitled before you can punish them, and you have to go through me to do it." My hero has always been Darrow, "The Attorney for the Damned". But, only some of the damned? Is Derek Chauvin not one of the damned now? No. That cannot be the answer, at least not for me. The more I've tossed this about in my mind, the more clear my answer has become. John Adams defended the British soldiers accused in The Boston Massacre. America has done a poor job of it sometimes over the years, as much recently as ever it seems. But we must all stand equal before the law. That has to mean something. My phone is not going to ring with a call from Minnesota. But if it did, and the question was "Would you? Could you?", my answer would have to be "yes".

Friday, May 22, 2020

Of Masks and Men

When I go out of the house these days, I have a bandana or shemagh tied around my neck that I can pull up over my mouth and nose when I'm around other people. It's not that hard and, to the extent it either helps in some way to lessen the spread of this virus and/or makes those around me less anxious, it's certainly worth the exceedingly mild inconvenience of tying it. 

It seems, however, that my doing this is, to some, a sign of weakness. Cowardice. Compliance. People have been accosted as such by others who go about "maskless". People expressing outrage and hostility at establishments requiring masks to enter. The editor of the influential religious journal "First Things", R.R. Reno, caused quite a stir when he took to Twitter last week to harangue those who wore masks in public as cowards and morally lacking (he has since taken those posts down and issued a tepid apology). The President of the United States takes great pains to not be seen wearing a mask, and most of those at the White House followed suit (until at least two of those working there tested positive for Covid-19), since it is well-known that he views it as a sign of weakness. 

I marvel at what passes for "toughness" in 21st Century America. I've worked construction. I've been a bartender/doorman/bar manager at everything from a bikers' bar to a fern bar. I've trained/fought/sparred at dozens of fight gyms with very good amateur and professional fighters. So, while I make no claims individually to be tough, I've certainly been around tough people and am pretty good at spotting them. The blowhards and the blusterers? The ones who carry on about their "freedom" to do whatever they want whenever and wherever they choose? Nope, that ain't it. If you don't want to wear a mask while you're out, that's on you. But if others choose to, or places you wish to go require it, that's too damn bad for you. Shut up. And take it like a man. 

MISCELLANEOUS OTHER STUFF: 1)I'm reading Nassim Taleb's "Incerto" series of four books, which includes "The Black Swan". Some brilliant stuff that will make you think. I certainly don't agree with all of it, but it's worth the pretty significant time sink required. 2) Lucinda Williams' new CD "Good Souls Better Angels" is the truth. Check out this link for a sample. 3) The proper proportion of gin to vermouth in a martini is 5 to 1. You can differ if you wish, but you'd be wrong.