So I was standing near the top of chair 8 behind a tree to take this picture and a snowboarder rode up and stopped right in front of me and started peeing against the tree. Then his buddy rode past and yelled, “You’re letting this guy photograph you taking a piss?”
Now, first of all, these kinds of things are not isolated incidents. If you pay attention to the news long enough you find story after story like this of criminal justice gone to extremes. It’s not like these are the only stories I could have used as examples.
It is my belief that every person who supports the core concepts of criminal justice are in turn supporting, and putting their stamp of approval on all of these acts of criminal justice extremism. You may not like it, in the same way the average Christian does not like the Westboro church. You might wish things like this didn’t happen, but if you support criminal justice in general, you are also supporting the extremists of that concept, in the same way that all Christians are supporting the Westboro church, even if they don’t agree with the specifics of it. The real question is, is it worth it? Do the ends justify the means? At what point does it go too far? Is this kind of extremism a reasonable sacrifice to make for the feelings of safety that criminal justice provides? I say no, it is not but even if you don’t agree with me, we owe it to ourselves to ask these questions and to try to imagine a world where we don’t need to make these trade offs.
Now the first, the girl whipped to death for adultery, most of us in America would probably argue that it would never happen where we live. Sure, we don’t incriminate people for adultery, but we do for drugs, even though it could be easily argued that adultery is worse. The people whipping the Bangladeshi girl did not really intend to kill her, and sometimes peaceful drug dealers are killed in American prisons and nobody bats an eye. The prosecutors do not specifically intend for them to be raped or killed in prison, but that’s what happens occasionally and nobody seems to care. I don’t believe we as Americans have a right to feel that our system of criminal justice is fundamentally better when we have more people per-capita in prisons than any other nation.
Even so, it’s not hard to find someone who believes criminal penalties are not stiff enough. Just start talking about a teenager who committed a murder and you’ll quickly find numerous people who believe that the kid needed more discipline. The jail should have kept him longer. His parents should have hit him harder. When we put our faith in a system like criminal justice and it fails, our natural reaction is to take our faith to the next level. What we really need to do is reexamine our faith.
Now the second story, about the police threating rape, when you think about it from the cop’s perspective it’s really no big deal. Threatening rape is one of the most common and effective things that police do. Prison rape is one of the number one things that people fear about prison, so essentially police are threatening rape to nearly everyone they encounter. I once heard a radio show where there was a member of a group trying to expose and prevent prison rape and they received numerous callers who were angry over what they were doing, saying that people in prison deserve to be raped because it’s one of the biggest deterrents to crime. So why is it suddenly wrong when a policeman directly threatens rape? It’s not much different from what they do every day. The only difference is the identity of the rapist.
The third story, on the surface, seems insane. A girl is gang raped as punishment for her brothers crime. Now, obviously sex with an outside-clan member doesn’t seem like a real crime, but neither does marijuana, so we can’t really argue that it’s ridiculous on that point.
The fact that the person punished was not the person who committed the crime also seems wacky on the surface, but in a way it’s not too far from what we already do in America. It’s often the family members of a convict who are hurt more than the convict himself. When someone is charged a fine it’s the whole family who must make sacrifices to pay it off. When a man goes to prison, it’s his mother who collapses into hysterics because she isn’t going to see her son. It’s the wife who must take a second job to pay for the kids while dad’s in prison. The criminal knew what he was getting into and had time to prepare. His family did not.
So while these three stories may seem extreme, they are not fundamentally different from the things that criminal justice is doing here in America. If we didn’t have the resources to imprison people for years, what would we do with our criminals? Can we be certain it wouldn’t involve whips and rape?
Remember whenever you are on a jury in the US, you can vote not guilty simply because you don’t agree with the law. It was pivotal in ending alcohol prohibition, and is a right jurors should never forget. Jurors have this legal right in any situation where they believe the law is wrong. We need to start using it.
Another true story. This one rather dumb and pointless, but it shows how even totally common knowledge can go unknown if a person just by chance is never introduced to it.
I was drinking with some friends around 2002 at a pub on a crowded friday night when a peculiar song came on the jukebox. At first I simply noticed that it was an oddly mellow and distant tune. As the minutes passed, however, the song slowly built and became more complex, and for a moment I wondered who this was. It continued building and blended into something faster and more energetic, and somehow just continued building cleanly and smoothly from its humble beginnings as a half-hearted ballad to a pounding barrage of intricate and professional guitar and drum workings.
I had to get to the jukebox. I turned to my buddy Peter. “Let me out!” I shouted over the music and crowd. “I gotta find out who plays this song!”
“This song?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “This song kicks ass.”
“This is Free Bird, Dude!”
“Free Bird?” I shouted back. “Who are they? Do they have anything else I’d recognize?”
“No, Free Bird is the song.” He looked at me with a scowl, as though I were a fool for not knowing this.
“I’m not up on new music these days,” I said. “I’ve pretty much only been listening to classic rock stations for the past few years. So do you know who did this? Are they new?”
“This is Lynard Skynard!”
“Lynard Skynard? The Sweet Home Alabama guys?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“They’re making new music?”
“This is a classic Dude! What the hell are you talking about?”
“If this is a classic, how come they don’t play it on the classic rock stations?”
“It’s one of the most overplayed songs in history!”
I shook my head. He was just messin with me. “Come on–Seriously, man. Our society could never agree that much with my taste in music.”
So I wrote this post several months ago and have been sitting on it, afraid to post it because I feel guilty for not talking about this earlier and also because I’m embarrassed that it might all be totally false, someone just pulling my leg, and because some of my facts may be wrong. Then last night, April 2, 2011, I saw a news program talking about The Arctic Rose Tragedy:
So I guess it’s been ten years as of yesterday since this occurred, so I think this is a good time to finally publish this post.
Around the turn of the century I was working for an all-you-can-eat fish and chips restaurant, up in Bellingham Washington. We had some of the best and the cheapest fried Alaskan cod in the city.
One day I saw on the front page of the local paper a tragedy had occurred up in the Bering Sea. A ship called The Arctic Rose went down, killing all 13 on board. The ship had been from Bellingham. If you look at this link you’ll see it’s considered “the worst fishing tragedy in U.S. waters for 50 years”.
However, at first I didn’t think anything of it. People die on the highways every day. There’s no reason to think arctic waters are any safer. But then, the manager mentioned the incident, and seemed surprisingly upset about it, and said, “we don’t know where we’re gonna get our fish now.”
“We were buying our fish from the Arctic Rose?” I asked.
“Yup.” He put his finger to his lip. “But don’t say anything. It’s kinda hush-hush… we kinda… well… it’s kinda our fault this happened.”
“I don’t remember reading anything about this place.”
“Of course not. It wasn’t on the books.”
“I read they got way off course or something.”
“Nope. They were right where they were supposed to be, fishing for our cod. Officially though, they were supposed to be miles away fishing for Sole. How do you think we keep our fish prices so low? By not paying taxes or obeying fishing laws. John and the captain of The Arctic Rose had a special agreement.”
“So the investigation is completely off base?” I asked.
“They’ve spent like $100,000 on investigating this, and they don’t even have the basic information about what was going on. They’re probably gonna say officially it was a navigation error which sent them into stormy waters, which is just ludicrous. What we think happened was they over-filled their hull with a big catch, the freezer went haywire and the ice accumulated and they didn’t want to call for help because their hull was filled with illegal fish. They got greedy. But we’re certainly not gonna say anything. John would have a fit if he knew I was telling you about this.”
I payed attention to the story after that, but kept my mouth shut about what I’d been told. In fact, I haven’t really talked about this until now, and I still don’t know what to think. The manager may have been talking out his ass, making up stories. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d seen him tell a lie, though I had never seen him lie simply for the fun of it. I certainly never discussed this with the owner. However, we did have problems getting fish after that, and we raised our prices shortly after.
I knew if I talked about this, and it wasn’t just a lie, I would lose my job. I was just a prep-cook, and certainly didn’t have the programming skills I have now so keeping that kitchen job was necessary for my well-being.
So over the years since this I’ve thought about what it means to my anarchism.
If not for our system of capitalism I could have talked about this years ago without the fear of destroying my ability to feed myself. If not for our economic system, they never would have had a motivation to fish in such a dangerous and environmentally damaging way in the first place. If not for the fear of governmental retribution, we all could have been open and honest about this incident.
Then I think about all the people out there who think conspiracy theorists are all wackos, that it’s simply ludicrous that, for example, someone in the White House may have known about 911 before it happened, or that the average police officer occasionally frames innocent people.
I was a prep-cook, making $8.50 per hour, and I was–possibly–a part of a conspiracy where 13 people died. Just imagine what kind of conspiracies are possible with people who are trained in the art of deceit and dealing with millions of dollars.