I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System
December 17, 2013 10:16 AM   Subscribe

 
I went back to the entrance and handed the guard my driver’s license and a letter explaining what I’d done. Several police officers were speaking in hushed tones near the gates, which had been washed clean. I was expecting them to recognize me from eyewitness descriptions and the still shots taken from the surveillance cameras and immediately take me into custody. Instead, the guard politely handed me back my license, explained that I didn’t have an appointment, and turned me away.
It is rare I laugh out loud at a serious article... but really...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:20 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, and don't get me wrong... this is an appalling article all told. It's just that some of the details are so ridiculous that you have to laugh - it's that or weep.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:21 AM on December 17, 2013


Excellent, awful article.
posted by odinsdream at 10:29 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


“What are you, some kind of asshole?” he asked.

I stood quietly, wondering whether they would arrest me or write a summons. The officers grumbled a few choice curse words and then ran down the stairs in pursuit of the young man. Though I was the one clearly breaking a law, they went after him.


I will continue with my regularly scheduled afternoon depression at the world...
posted by sio42 at 10:29 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Obviously they smelled a provocation. And fell for it head over heels.
posted by hat_eater at 10:33 AM on December 17, 2013


To make an awkward metaphor: an unfair justice system is like climate change. Like climate change, there are winners and losers and overall a general unpredictability in the system. Saying the NYPD is oppressive, overreaching, anti-constitutional, is all generally true but it doesn't capture the all the other weirdness going on. So it is the same when we distill climate change down just to global warming, you miss the new weird reality of once-in-a-generation weather happening every year. Indeed, unfair police practices have reliably positive impacts on some groups in surprising, and yes, comedic ways.

So thanks to this guy for showing the surprising, somewhat positive subtleties of a broken justice system. In a way, I think this is more compelling and more damning than another stock story on how awful stop-and-frisk is.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:35 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


"...a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant."

What the blistering fuck? That's outrageous. I mean it's all pretty outrageous, but that is just... outrageous. Land of the Free? Are you sure?
posted by Decani at 10:35 AM on December 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges.

But why doesn't he list them.
posted by elizardbits at 10:38 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't process that one. I really can't.

What if you're not home? Will they knock your door down? What if they break stuff? Steal stuff? Leave your door open? Plant evidence?

I honestly can't believe that's a real thing and would love to see an FPP just about that thing and it's implications and effects on people.
posted by sio42 at 10:38 AM on December 17, 2013


Is this guy nuts? He's given himself a criminal record in order to write this article? In order to reveal the shocking truth that the American criminal justice system treats white and black people differently? That prison guards are mean-spirited and callous bastards? He's interfered with future employment and travel - for the rest of his life - to relate experiences that could have been gathered through interviews? I hope he feels it was worth it, because this is like gonzo journalism with maximum cost for minimum return.
posted by Dasein at 10:39 AM on December 17, 2013 [27 favorites]


Its implications and effects on people? How about the creation of a permanent minority underclass of people subject to rampant abuses by the system, the effects of which are felt by 2 or 3 generations removed from the initial alleged offenses.
posted by elizardbits at 10:41 AM on December 17, 2013 [22 favorites]


Land of 9/11.

I for one am regularly contrite and embarrassed that I did not speak out loudly (even as one that is never loud) in the winter of 2011. I (claim now) that I new the government was lying and overreacting for the benefit of lucrative contracts. But when the over built 'State Patrol wouldn't let me pull in to stop at the airport curb during a rush, did I protest? No, I take the blame for keeping quiet over the abuses of power, it was an inconvenience.
posted by sammyo at 10:41 AM on December 17, 2013


I'd hire him.
posted by aniola at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


Hahahahah what an idiot.
posted by Ghost Mode at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I laughed out loud too. He certainly got more than he bargained for! Haha.. if anything he can consider the protracted nature and exorbitant fines punishment for wasting everyone's time just to write an OK article and get some internet traction.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought warrantless searches were a given if you were on probation or parole. A search for "probation warrantless search" seems to indicate I'm not entirely wrong.
posted by desjardins at 10:42 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


"I am now going to give myself AIDS to prove how bad our health care system is."
posted by Ghost Mode at 10:44 AM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Holy crap. I had no idea those searches were a thing. Good lord.
posted by sio42 at 10:44 AM on December 17, 2013


And am I worried as a educated tall white guy that I'll be subjected to police abuse? No not even if I'm caught at a protest. Now, Parking tickets, erk, well I can even beat that online occasionally.

* well I fake the edukated part pretty well.
posted by sammyo at 10:45 AM on December 17, 2013


What if you're not home? Will they knock your door down? What if they break stuff? Steal stuff? Leave your door open? Plant evidence?

It's the NYPD; you can safely assume these are scenarios which have happened and will continue to.

Not that we give them any reason to trifle with us, but my wife and I have a standing house rule that no police allowed inside the apartment for any reason whatsoever unless they have a warrant.
posted by griphus at 10:46 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Nellie Bly approves of this.
posted by Melismata at 10:47 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


And fell for it head over heels.

Fell for it? I'd say they slam-dunked it. Probably did a little Google search and found out he was a reporter and decided to.. ahem.. make it rain a little.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:49 AM on December 17, 2013


Do you guys get this gleeful when anyone gets locked up, or just for this guy?

Either way it is gross as heck.
posted by helicomatic at 10:53 AM on December 17, 2013 [44 favorites]


He's interfered with future employment

Perhaps he figured, reasonably enough, that a white former ADA and public defender with a law degree and a current job as the executive director of a non-profit might have an easier time of it than an unemployed black man with a high school diploma.
posted by zachlipton at 10:54 AM on December 17, 2013 [57 favorites]


I can't help but notice the fact that as a "professional white male," he had to practically ram a petty crime down the throats of the powers that be to get busted, but once he did, they railroaded him all the worse because of it.

So, if I learned anything it is:

1) Racial profiling, and unequal treatment of civilians based on race, sex, and class totally and unequivically exists.

2) However, if you attempt to expose this in a way which makes the powers-that-be and the justice system look foolish by making yourself an example of of their unequal practices, they will bring the mutha-fucking pain down on you, regardless of your color or class.

Good to know.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:55 AM on December 17, 2013 [66 favorites]


Also: "I listened in disbelief as she denied my request—I’d worked with probation departments in several states, and I knew that regular family contact has been shown to reduce recidivism."

It looks like that "total, unquestioning belief in [the] narrative" he claims to have discarded by way of this experience is still very much there.
posted by griphus at 10:56 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let's suppose, for a moment, that the police and prosecutorial system don't, as a whole, actually want to be like this. Perhaps that's a stretch, but go with me. What are we doing as a larger culture that results in a system like this? War on drugs, certainly. What else?
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:58 AM on December 17, 2013


Seriously, what's with all the "LOLz, of course you are being crushed under the weight of the machine", as though that's a thing people deserve? On second thought, perhaps I'd rather not have that answered.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:59 AM on December 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


Is this guy nuts? He's given himself a criminal record in order to write this article? In order to reveal the shocking truth that the American criminal justice system treats white and black people differently? That prison guards are mean-spirited and callous bastards? He's interfered with future employment and travel - for the rest of his life - to relate experiences that could have been gathered through interviews? I hope he feels it was worth it, because this is like gonzo journalism with maximum cost for minimum return.

Yeah, what was he planning on doing, writing letters from prison as another form a civil disobedience? What a loser.
posted by deanklear at 10:59 AM on December 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


Though I was conspicuously casing high-profile public targets while holding graffiti instruments, not one of them stopped, frisked, searched, detained, summonsed, or arrested me.

God, the sanctimonious shit. The police dared to not arrest you while you were breaking the most minor of laws that doesn't actually matter, in a city with murder, rape, and assault? How terrible of them!
posted by corb at 10:59 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Great article.
Did anyone read beyond the 3rd paragraph?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2013


In addition to the drug war, I'm thinking maybe the prison-industrial complex and civil forfeiture laws... But those sound like symptoms, in a way. There's got to be something else, some core aspect of our society that makes it this way.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:01 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


"The police dared to not arrest you while you were breaking the most minor of laws...."

While white.
posted by markkraft at 11:02 AM on December 17, 2013 [17 favorites]


What are we doing as a larger culture that results in a system like this?

Making police almost entirely unaccountable for their actions and disciplining them entirely inside their own system when they transgress. I don't know how it works in other jurisdictions, but I doubt anyone with experience will disagree that both the NYPD as an organization, and all the individual members of it, are firmly above the law.
posted by griphus at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's like this, only true.
posted by markkraft at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The police dared to not arrest you while you were breaking the most minor of laws that doesn't actually matter, in a city with murder, rape, and assault? How terrible of them!

More like "the police chose to pursue an innocent bystander who was black instead of arresting the actual criminal who was white". So yes, how fucking terrible and fucking racist of them, actually.
posted by elizardbits at 11:05 AM on December 17, 2013 [62 favorites]


Maybe this will help if you can't deign to finish the article.

I do not relate these experiences to gain sympathy. I broke the law knowing there would be consequences. I tell my story because this is the side of the system we didn’t get to see where I grew up. In the wealthy suburbs of Massachusetts, our shared narrative told us that people who didn’t live where we lived, or have what we had, weren’t working as hard as we were. We avoided inner city streets because they were dangerous, and we relied on the police to keep people from those places out of our neighborhoods. Whatever they got, we figured they deserved. My total, unquestioning belief in this narrative was the reason I arrived in Roxbury, fresh out of law school, eager to incarcerate everything in sight.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's sad that the police in NYC don't have crimes to investigate and instead spend so much time frisking black people for walking around being black.
posted by rtha at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


The police dared to not arrest you while you were breaking the most minor of laws that doesn't actually matter, in a city with murder, rape, and assault? How terrible of them!

Yes, if the NYPD is known for anything, it's their completely reasonable priorities regarding who to arrest!
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:06 AM on December 17, 2013 [22 favorites]


God, the sanctimonious shit. The police dared to not arrest you while you were breaking the most minor of laws that doesn't actually matter, in a city with murder, rape, and assault? How terrible of them!

In a city with a long-running and well publicized practice of stopping and searching hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens every year.
posted by ghharr at 11:07 AM on December 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


I'd say they slam-dunked it.

First they ignored him to prove that the justice system doesn't treat everyone equally. Then they decided to show him how the justice system works for people it doesn't like. *

It's a slam-dunk into their own basket.

* Even from the other side of the globe things he proved at a pretty high cost are pretty evident to anyone with half a brain, but the author seems to have personal motives to do what he did.
posted by hat_eater at 11:12 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


In fact, arresting people for breaking "the most minor of laws" has been the driving criminology theory (really, ideology) for the NYPD for decades: Broken Windows Theory
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


I guess MetaFilter hates people who have principles and act on them even more than it hates police. Who knew?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:19 AM on December 17, 2013 [24 favorites]


griphus, I think you're right as far as it goes. In a larger sense I think the problem is the "othering" of both crime and punishment. Criminals are not us, not a failure in ourselves: crime is commited by "those people", and we just want it dealt with. By somebody who is also "not us", because we want no part of it. So what you're describing is our othering of the police, but the othering of criminality is the larger aspect of which it's a part, I think. If you're a criminal, you're a failure, and we don't own failures -- deal with them, brutally if necessary, and I don't want to see you do it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:20 AM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I was really hoping by the third trip back to City Hall that he would just whip out the spraypaint and stencil and tag the window of the guard shack while screaming "REMEMBER ME /NOW/?!?"
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:20 AM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


More like "the police chose to pursue an innocent bystander who was black instead of arresting the actual criminal who was white". So yes, how fucking terrible and fucking racist of them, actually.

By innocent bystander who was black, do you mean a person who was harassing and shouting at another person in the street such that police were drawn by the altercation? Because that would seem maybe to be not quite innocent to me, personally.
posted by corb at 11:20 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a lot of respect for the man, actually. It's civil disobedience with consequences, and he accepted them to know the truth of the matter and to make a public point.

What's not commendable?
posted by jaduncan at 11:21 AM on December 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


...do you mean a person who was harassing and shouting at another person in the street who was flagrantly breaking the law?

C'mon, corb, bring your "A" game.
posted by Floydd at 11:23 AM on December 17, 2013 [32 favorites]


What are you
Some kind of asshole?

What are you
Some kind of asshole?

What are you
Some kind of asshole?

What are you
Some kind of asshole?
posted by Teakettle at 11:25 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do not even fucking pretend that a white man in a white neighborhood yelling at a black man for preparing to commit a crime would be pursued by policemen in the same fashion that a black man in a black neighborhood yelling at a white man preparing to commit a crime was. Do not even fucking go there because that is bullshit.
posted by elizardbits at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2013 [72 favorites]


The sad thing is, the media pays a lot more attention when a white guy does something than when a nonwhite, non-guy does it. So this will get more traction than the flood of articles, protests, and personal testimonies by the people less fortunate than this guy, even though the subject is exactly the same.

Lately, I've taken to indulging in a symbolic protest against cop shows. Cop shows are like propaganda for the police state; cops are always good guys, they are constantly being stymied by inconvenient "laws" and "rights" protecting horrible monster criminals. We get sucked in by the whodunit, but along the way to finding out the myster you have to swallow a whole lot of pro-cop BS. The worst shows don't even acknowledge there are things like defense attorneys or the right to remain silent, or a fair trial, the suspects just crack and start revealing their guilt when the Good Cop talks to them sternly. Or maybe lightly roughs them up. It's poisonous stuff.
posted by emjaybee at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2013 [29 favorites]


corb: "such that police were drawn by the altercation? "

So the fact that they were drawn by the altercation is part of your metric in determining whether they were right to be drawn by the altercation.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


"What's not commendable?"

Well, the part where the city had to pay to clean his graffiti, pay to house him during his self imposed time out, and deal with him during his parole. That part is kind of shitty, though I guess worth the value of his voice to the city.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


like literally the shittiest shit a bull ever shat
posted by elizardbits at 11:26 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


The dude shouting at him on the street had a point too. Go graffiti your own neighborhood. (Well, then he did, so OK.)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:27 AM on December 17, 2013


I don't wuite get the point the judge was making by the sentence. Was it that if you fuck with us, we will fuck with you right back?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:30 AM on December 17, 2013


I guess, don't read the comments applies here?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:30 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Was it that if you fuck with us, we will fuck with you right back?

Yup. "You wasted our time getting arrested as a protest so we will throw the book at you." Like he said, it's not like it's an unfair punishment or outside the law, but is it justice? Regular upstanding white guy graffiti artists would have gotten light probation immediately, but someone getting arrested as a political statement gets the book thrown at them, while black people go to jail in disproportionally high numbers for the same crimes.

In NYC it's definitely a cultural thing. We'll see if the new commissioner changes the culture at all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:36 AM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


By innocent bystander who was black, do you mean a person who was harassing and shouting at another person in the street such that police were drawn by the altercation? Because that would seem maybe to be not quite innocent to me, personally.

This feigned ignorance thing annoys me. Do you honestly believe that if the guy with the spraycans was black and near Central Park, they would chase the white guy telling him to get out of his neighborhood?

I say this with deep sincerity, and I apologize for the foul language, but give me a fucking break. The only thing more loathsome than abuses of authority are the people who defend the abuse.
posted by deanklear at 11:36 AM on December 17, 2013 [32 favorites]


he accepted them to know the truth of the matter and to make a public point

He already knew the truth of the matter though, and he probably could have made his point better by making the story less about himself. The part where he purposely broke overly-harsh anti-graffiti laws to show that they aren't enforced against white guys in suits was probably worth doing to prove a point, but once he actually gets arrested the article isn't as informative as it would be if he had just reported on the experiences of people arrested for real crimes. The fact that the judge gave him an extra harsh sentence because he was purposely breaking the law to prove a point and that his originally-assigned parole officer was a jerk is not really that insightful into the lives of normal people who actually have their lives ruined by the criminal justice system. I assume part of the reason why he did it in the first place was because he felt that it was a minor enough crime that he wouldn't face any serious life-changing consequences from it, whereas for most people who face the same system it's a much bigger deal.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:36 AM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a person who has spent about a decade practicing criminal defense what pisses me off is this:

At my group probation orientation, the officer handed each of us a packet and explained that we are not allowed to travel, work, or visit outside New York City.

“Wait, what?” I blurted out. “This is true even for nonviolent misdemeanors?”

“Yes, for everyone. You have to get permission.”


As a prosecutor and a public defender he never learned this? When I thought he was a just a prosecutor I was going to rail about how I hate the very idea of a prosecutor's office and a public defender's office and how you should have to do both while you're working for the state to avoid getting tunnel vision and how his ignorance was a sign of the that tunnel vision.

But this guy was a public defender too. I don't know, do the public defenders there never talk to their clients once the plea is made or the trial over? Because, as a private attorney, I get so many probation questions it's not even funny. How could he not know this?
posted by bswinburn at 11:37 AM on December 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


Re: city had to pay to clean his graffiti

Didn't he give the city ~200 opportunities to arrest him before he painted the graffiti?
posted by aniola at 11:37 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb, as a taxpayer in New York City I consider this well worth the expense if it draws further scrutiny on the racist and unconstitutional practices of our local boys (and girls) in blue.
We pay for far more BS than this every day, and this (hopefully) yields some results, although I'm not optimistic.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 11:37 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


What are we doing as a larger culture that results in a system like this?

In a larger sense: We take these people and give them a prodigious amount of power. There are checks and balances but they are uniformly weak. They are told, both through the internal power structure and through culture at large, that they are the last bulwark of civilization against the forces of evil. And they see those forces of evil every day. I mean, cops are the ones who have to go into the bad parts of town that we avoid. They're the ones that have to keep showing up to domestic violence calls where the victim won't prosecute. We put them down in the worst parts of humanity every single day, except when we're making them do bullshit like run speeding traps because the city needs revenue. And mental health care for all that, pfft, what are you, some kind of pussy? Are you weak? Some urban departments can barely put enough guys on the street to answer 911 calls, much less have some kind of psychological support even if the macho culture permitted it. And remember "community policing" is an occasionally controversial strategy where officers have to actually go out and walk beats in their neighborhoods and talk to people, so they seldom encounter the people they're policing in other venues. And let's be fair: Nobody gives a shit about the people cops usually encounter. If you shoot a poor black kid reaching for his wallet, there may be an investigation but there's probably not going to be a massive public outcry.

We've got the system set up to reward depersonalization and othering of the population they work in, to make them bottle up everything they feel inside until they explode, to constantly remind them they could be shot at any moment (and they might), and to call them a pussy and impede their career if they say "Hey all this is getting to me". All wrapped up in a punitive, punishing culture where we think people that get arrested must've done something to deserve it and should be put away and preferably raped for a long time.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:41 AM on December 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


I don't wuite get the point the judge was making by the sentence. Was it that if you fuck with us, we will fuck with you right back?

I think in general if you go into court with an attitude of "Yes I did this crime and I think it was a great crime and if I could do it all over again I totally would" you're going to get a harsher sentence, even if you are actually in the right.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:42 AM on December 17, 2013


Cop shows are like propaganda for the police state; cops are always good guys, they are constantly being stymied by inconvenient "laws" and "rights" protecting horrible monster criminals.

While I like cop shows, especially the reality types (e.g. Scariest Police Chases), my favorite instances in watching these shows are the occasional segments they show where the voice-over announces some "good guy vs. evil doer" commentary, but my wife looks over (not a cop, but she works in law enforcement) and mentions that she heard about the fallout of the video being shown because the police officers involved were reprimanded, suspended, or even fired for their behavior, especially those actions involving endangerment of the public or excessive force.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:44 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait,

Two Intelligence Unit detectives arrived and testily walked me outside to a waiting unmarked police car. Court papers show that they’d staked out my apartment to arrest me, and that I unwittingly kept eluding them.

is this sarcasm or was something going on that I'm not getting? Was he identified as a protester and monitored in the hope he'd go away? Or was this an example of police cover up of incompetence? It certainly sounds like he was "made" as an annoyance many times.
posted by sammyo at 11:44 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


But this guy was a public defender too. I don't know, do the public defenders there never talk to their clients once the plea is made or the trial over? Because, as a private attorney, I get so many probation questions it's not even funny. How could he not know this?

I have absolutely no idea how the public defender system works in New York, but I know that in DC, the volume of work is so high that the actual public defenders focus largely on felonies and farm out most of the misdemeanors to private attorneys. It's possible he's never worked with anyone who's not facing felony charges.
posted by Copronymus at 11:46 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blame us (the individual voter and taxpayer). We love stats, especially stats that show crime going down and arrests going up. The NYPD has delivered for years and years, whether or not they deserve credit for these trends is another question we don't really care about.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:47 AM on December 17, 2013


Was it that if you fuck with us, we will fuck with you right back?

So this is speculation, but it's speculation stemming from 20 years of living in NYC: the NYPD absolutely adore making examples out of people and they love teaching lessons to the public.

I've had a bunch of friends arrested as teenagers for relatively minor stuff (possession, trespassing) and they spent a night (or at least a number of hours) in lockup and were released when their parents came to pick them up and then sent through the "you fucked up, do X hours of community service, don't get caught again and your record is clean" system they use for, well, at least a bunch of white kids from Brooklyn. The goal wasn't to keep pot-smoking teenagers off the street; the goal was to scare the living shit out of them to make sure they don't get caught again.

You'll see a similar thing in protests and so on: they can't arrest everyone, so they pick a few people and make sure everyone sees them getting thrown down, cuffed, etc. If it makes it on the news? Even better. It's not like the NYPD gets their funding cut from bad press. They want people to know that you do not fuck with the police for whatever reason.

So I assume once someone Googled this guy's name -- and his lawbreaking was so fucking flagrant and bizarre the idea that this is some sort of scheme would occur to, well, just about anyone -- realized he was a reporter, and, hey, a new chance for the NYPD to show the people that you do not fuck with the police. Sure, it'll inspire a lot of outrage about how shitty the NYPD are, and they are, but I'm pretty sure there's a bunch of people in this thread saying "oh, man, this is worse than I thought" and that's great for the NYPD.
posted by griphus at 11:48 AM on December 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


like literally the shittiest shit a bull ever shat

So...literally Shitler?
posted by zombieflanders at 11:49 AM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


IT WORKS ON SO MANY LEVELS.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This feigned ignorance thing annoys me. Do you honestly believe that if the guy with the spraycans was black and near Central Park, they would chase the white guy telling him to get out of his neighborhood?

They may well not, because racism, but they should - harassment of other people is far more of an actual quality-of-life crime than simple "possession of graffitimaking implements" - a law which is relatively new, and actually severely flawed. Possession of spray cans and stencil should not a criminal make, and I think I'm bothered by the idea that people refusing to enforce that bullshit law - actually complaining about cops not going after this crime - is a problem rather than a positive.

So this guy, through his grandstanding, actually made less of a statement about actual racism than he thinks he made - in particular, by assuming that the problem with racist arrests in this day and age is about graffiti. Maybe he should have tried possession of drugs or illegal firearms - but that would have involved real jail time, not just a slap on the wrist and "oh no, probation."

I think I may also be frustrated on this particularly because as an activist, I really viewed the real race divide in terms of civil disobedience. A lot of white activists encouraged that everyone get arrested, while not being aware that the long term consequences were much worse for black and Hispanic activists than they were for white activists. White activists with a misdemeanor on their record are still going to get hired. POC activists with that same misdemeanor may not. It is a low-risk occupation for them, where they get to come out looking brave, with minimal actual risk. And it's irritating as fuck.
posted by corb at 11:51 AM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


He's not a reporter by the way, he is an activist.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2013


Griphus, I get that idea and concur, but this was the judge overruling the prosecutor who asked for 15 days. I guess the judge is cynical by now and in on it with the cops, but I am not yet so it all bothers me.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:52 AM on December 17, 2013


Dasein : Is this guy nuts? He's given himself a criminal record in order to write this article?... He's interfered with future employment and travel - for the rest of his life

I submit the possibility that these were precisely the kinds of problems that he was trying to draw attention to.
posted by quin at 11:59 AM on December 17, 2013


So this guy, through his grandstanding, actually made less of a statement about actual racism than he thinks he made - in particular, by assuming that the problem with racist arrests in this day and age is about graffiti. Maybe he should have tried possession of drugs or illegal firearms - but that would have involved real jail time, not just a slap on the wrist and "oh no, probation."

Whats the point of this? That he wasn't brave enough? That if he really wanted to do some good, he should just sacrifice everything?

Also, attempt to understand that he chose graffiti because it is, um, visible and out in the open. Walking around with a nick bag in his buttcrack and a gun in his pants wouldn't do anything at all.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:59 AM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I will also state that it's almost sad that this is being made out to be about the "evil NYC cops" instead of the vendetta pursuing political machine that was likely behind this excessive sentence.

Cops are people who civilians love to hate. The few peers who wield the authority to stop you, question you, and take away your freedom. I have yet to meet a police officer, however, who spends his off time dreaming up ways to fuck with Joe Public. Every cop I have talked to just wants to show up to work and get through the shift with as little hassle as possible. They have bosses to answer to, in a military-style chain of command, and most of the shit precedents that are set (harassing photobugs, protestors, or what not) are established by this command.

I wouldn't doubt that most people have eaten next to officers in restaurants, taken the train sharing the same bench, sat next to them in movie theaters, and shopped with them in stores. All done without realizing it, because most cops (the ones that can survive through probation, anyway) aren't out to tell you what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, but when on duty, it's part of the job they're charged with doing, and often times they are clearly instructed on what to "focus on" when they're in uniform.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:02 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Well next time a cop breaks the law without any punishment, or covers for one of his friends who breaks the law, I'll take some solace, I guess, in the fact that they also go see movies? I mean wtf no one is saying that cops live underground and come out at night to prey on people. Of course they're human.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:07 PM on December 17, 2013 [17 favorites]


I wouldn't doubt that most people have eaten next to officers in restaurants, taken the train sharing the same bench, sat next to them in movie theaters, and shopped with them in stores.

A majority of the police officers who work in the city I live in themselves live out in the far suburbs. So these chance encounters with off-duty police officers may be somewhat rarer than you'd expect.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:07 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, attempt to understand that he chose graffiti because it is, um, visible and out in the open. Walking around with a nick bag in his buttcrack and a gun in his pants wouldn't do anything at all.

People who do illegal graffiti don't walk around with their graffiti stuff out in broad daylight. More equivalent examples would be doing bong hits in front of cops or waving a gun around.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:09 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or spray painting right in front of cops. As they watch on the surveillance camera. From 10 feet away. Where he can see them watching him.
posted by sio42 at 12:13 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The moral of the story: Don't piss off the cops.

The addendum to the moral of the story: If you're poor and/or non-white you've already pissed off the cops.
posted by tommasz at 12:17 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just hope that before the next activist does something to point out an unjust system, he is able to assemble a group of inexperienced backseat drivers with no skin in the game to advise him as to what a fool he's being and how he's doing it wrong.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:28 PM on December 17, 2013 [29 favorites]


“What are you, some kind of asshole?”

Pretty much sums it up right there.
posted by Ardiril at 12:30 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


MetaFilter: “What are you, some kind of asshole?”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:35 PM on December 17, 2013


This guy is the right kind of asshole.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:35 PM on December 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


In NYC it's definitely a cultural thing. We'll see if the new commissioner changes the culture at all.

Are people optimistic about this?
posted by Aizkolari at 12:39 PM on December 17, 2013


1) Nobody is going to hassle a man with spraypraint in the middle of the day. Tagging is not really a crime one anticipates to occur during the daytime. Cops probably just thought he was an artist going to a studio or something.

2) Power does what power wants. This guy acts surprised that the cops came down hard on him for making them look so silly. He should not have been surprised.

3) He actually WANTED leniency for being white. Now he's upset that he didn't get it.
posted by Ghost Mode at 12:56 PM on December 17, 2013


3) He actually WANTED leniency for being white. Now he's upset that he didn't get it.

Is that really the message you're taking away from this?
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:58 PM on December 17, 2013 [26 favorites]


Will they knock your door down? What if they break stuff? Steal stuff? Leave your door open? Plant evidence?

They might smash open your door, shoot your dogs, ransack the house, and hold your elderly mother-in-law at gunpoint.

If you are home, they may taunt and insult you before killing you outright.

There are hundreds of examples, and those are just the ones that are publicly documented. It isn't just the NYPD - the traditional lack of accountability plus increasing militarism are making many police forces a serious threat to the communities they supposedly serve.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:59 PM on December 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


The number of comments in this thread that totally missed the point of the article is astounding.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:02 PM on December 17, 2013 [16 favorites]


kitty (pryde), the white girl rapper, was talking on twitter earlier about how she purposefully tries to look shady on the train when cops are around to see if they're still just profiling. she's never once been stopped and frisked.
posted by nadawi at 1:03 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nobody is going to hassle a man with spraypraint in the middle of the day. Tagging is not really a crime one anticipates to occur during the daytime. Cops probably just thought he was an artist going to a studio or something.

And you didn't even stop to think that maybe they would have hassled him if he wasn't white? Or the reasons why he would be identified as "an artist going to a studio" instead of a criminal?

Power does what power wants. This guy acts surprised that the cops came down hard on him for making them look so silly. He should not have been surprised.

I see you didn't bother reading to the end...

He actually WANTED leniency for being white. Now he's upset that he didn't get it.

...or, I guess, any of it.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:04 PM on December 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


she's never once been stopped and frisked.
well, perhaps if she wore a fancy pinstriped suit, they would.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 1:04 PM on December 17, 2013


"The moral of the story: Don't piss off the cops."

But that's not the moral. It's don't piss off the prosecutor's office. The cops had almost nothing to do with it. They investigated him and stuff, but that actually makes sense given how weird his behavior was.

I'm not going to defend the police the way that Debaser626 is, because I agree that there's a lot of things wrong in American law enforcement culture. But in this case, the heavy hand belonged not to the police, but to others.

Now, that they just ignored him and clearly saw him and others purely on a racial and class basis to the point where they bizarrely ignored a crime occurring right in front of them that they would have pounced upon if it had been some black kid? Yeah, that's abhorrent.

The important thing in this is how his personal experience so vividly demonstrates how unequal and unjust the law enforcement and criminal justice system is in the US, not just in New York. Let's revisit that second paragraph:
But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:04 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


And you didn't even stop to think that maybe they would have hassled him if he wasn't white? Or the reasons why he would be identified as "an artist going to a studio" instead of a criminal?

My friends and I do shit all the time and we have the good sense to do it during the day time when it can be assumed we're not breaking the law.
posted by Ghost Mode at 1:05 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The number of comments in this thread that totally missed the point of the article is astounding.

Disagreeing with this dopey white guy's prank isn't "totally miss[ing] the point" of anything. On Metafilter, it seems that any white moron can do a pious social justice stunt and get fawning praise, regardless of how ill-advised and pointless it actually is. His gist is 1) white people are less likely to get stopped by police 2) jail is crummy 3) the justice system can be vindictive. Revolutionary. World-changing.
posted by Ghost Mode at 1:10 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


she purposefully tries to look shady on the train

What exactly does this consist of? How "shady" is it possible, really, for this person to look?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:11 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't doubt that most people have eaten next to officers in restaurants, taken the train sharing the same bench, sat next to them in movie theaters, and shopped with them in stores.

If this is supposed to comfort me, it didn't work.
posted by winna at 1:12 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


My friends and I do shit all the time and we have the good sense to do it during the day time when it can be assumed we're not breaking the law.

Are you even aware that people in NYC (and elsewhere), mostly those who aren't white, are stopped all the time during the day for not doing anything at all? That it's a well-documented problem that has received a ton of attention, including being a large part of the NYC elections? Because it seems as if you are reporting to us from, I dunno, before 2010.

Disagreeing with this dopey white guy's prank isn't "totally miss[ing] the point" of anything. On Metafilter, it seems that any white moron can do a pious social justice stunt and get fawning praise, regardless of how ill-advised and pointless it actually is. His gist is 1) white people are less likely to get stopped by police 2) jail is crummy 3) the justice system can be vindictive. Revolutionary. World-changing.

First of all, that's not the gist of his post. Since you obviously haven't bothered reading the article, I'll emphasize it for you:
But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.
[...]
I do not relate these experiences to gain sympathy. I broke the law knowing there would be consequences. I tell my story because this is the side of the system we didn’t get to see where I grew up. In the wealthy suburbs of Massachusetts, our shared narrative told us that people who didn’t live where we lived, or have what we had, weren’t working as hard as we were. We avoided inner city streets because they were dangerous, and we relied on the police to keep people from those places out of our neighborhoods. Whatever they got, we figured they deserved. My total, unquestioning belief in this narrative was the reason I arrived in Roxbury, fresh out of law school, eager to incarcerate everything in sight.

And second, for millions of people in the US, it actually is revolutionary and world-changing to realize that law enforcement and the judicial system are very much on your side based merely on the color of your skin, and what happens to those who don't have that advantage. Again, if you'd bothered reading, you would have seen that this guy was one of them.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:19 PM on December 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


How "shady" is it possible, really, for this person to look?

That's the thing, as illustrated by the fact that (as nadawi pointed out) she's never been stopped and frisked.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:21 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Ghost Mode, cut it out with the fuck you stuff, period.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:26 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are you even aware that people in NYC (and elsewhere), mostly those who aren't white, are stopped all the time during the day for not doing anything at all? That it's a well-documented problem that has received a ton of attention, including being a large part of the NYC elections? Because it seems as if you are reporting to us from, I dunno, before 2010.

zombieflanders did you even stop to think that my friends and I are black? I HAVE BEEN STOPPED AND FRISKED. This is the most shockingly racist thing I have ever seen on metafilter.
posted by Ghost Mode at 1:27 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't doubt that most people have eaten next to officers in restaurants, taken the train sharing the same bench, sat next to them in movie theaters, and shopped with them in stores. All done without realizing it,

I don't know, those ridiculous mustaches are usually a dead giveaway.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:28 PM on December 17, 2013


What are we doing as a larger culture that results in a system like this?
I wonder about this, myself. I think so much of it has to do with, as you say, an Othering (which is largely systemic racism and contempt for lower socioeconomic classes) and a persistent belief that the majority of criminals are fundamentally bad and/or wired to do things that are fundamentally bad, and that punishment is better than rehabilitation. It's a common enough attitude in the US to just be downright spiteful toward prisoners, demanding harsher conditions and fewer "luxuries" like television, internet, exercise, education, libraries, clean facilities and basic human dignity. Race and class being as tangled as they are in the US doesn't help, nor do privatized prisons or treating incarcerated populations as a free labor pool.

Some aspects of the attitude are just naivete, too: a belief that the US' justice system is fair and works to preserve order, dignity and autonomy for all people. Those aren't bad ideals to hold, especially after you find out how little they're applied in the US.
posted by byanyothername at 1:29 PM on December 17, 2013


I think it's a mistake to focus on this guy, frankly. He is not really worth focusing on. What's worth focusing on is this: most people have no idea what it's like to be arrested and go through the justice system; and this article presents a pretty clear and cogent description of what that process is like.

I mean, I understand some people might be annoyed at the implication that he's a hero for going through something lots of people go through without being able to pick themselves up and move on to the next job. So let's get that out of the way: he's no hero. Whatever. He doesn't matter at all. What matters is: there is good, descriptive information in this article; and the world will be a better place if more Americans are educated about the arrest process and how it needs to change.
posted by koeselitz at 1:32 PM on December 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


he is able to assemble a group of inexperienced backseat drivers with no skin in the game

I think if nothing else, Metafilter skews a little heavier towards the "seasoned organizers of color who have been hassled by police" than anything else. Backseat driving we may be, but largely inexperienced or "no skin in the game" is inaccurate.
posted by corb at 1:33 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Disagreeing with this dopey white guy's prank isn't "totally miss[ing] the point" of anything.

This is not a thread about a dopey white guy's prank. You seem to be in the wrong thread altogether.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:34 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


[A few comments removed. Fuck's sake, Ghost Mode, cut it out.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:34 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


What exactly does this consist of? How "shady" is it possible, really, for this person to look?

yeah - that's the point. no one thinks a sweet girl like kitty can look dangerous. she can look shady by pretending to hide drugs or covering her bag when cops walk by or leaving the train with a panicked look when they get on or any of a million little things, but because she looks like she does she'll never look as "shady" as a black guy her same age just riding the train.
posted by nadawi at 1:36 PM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think we just had an FPP about how women are consistently, due to inherent sexism, treated as less culpable by the justice system.

Also, I personally have no idea how to "look shady," so I'm not surprised she is bad at it. What do you even /do/? Twirl your moustache and talk about tying ladies to train tracks?
posted by corb at 1:38 PM on December 17, 2013


she is bad at looking shady because she is white. If she were black, it would be easy for her to look shady, because all she has to do is look black to look shady.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:39 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I personally have no idea how to "look shady," so I'm not surprised she is bad at it. What do you even /do/? Twirl your moustache and talk about tying ladies to train tracks?

Act nervous near cops, pretend you're concealing something under your coat, make your body language like you're drunk or high, stuff like that.

My subway station often has one of those 'random' bag search checkpoints and I've often wondered what I'd have to do to get them to search me. I'd probably have to walk right up to one of them and call them a pig.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:41 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


zombieflanders did you even stop to think that my friends and I are black? I HAVE BEEN STOPPED AND FRISKED.

I didn't assume anything, actually. Your previous statement stated that you "do shit all the time and we have the good sense to do it during the day time when it can be assumed we're not breaking the law." So I can't tell if you're being stopped and frisked in NYC, or if the police are assuming you're not breaking the law. Your race has nothing to do with how you can't be consistent in your descriptions of events, are showing pretty blatant ignorance of current events, and have an inability to read an article before going off on it.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:47 PM on December 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


If she were black, it would be easy for her to look shady, because all she has to do is look black to look shady.

wow
posted by banshee at 1:53 PM on December 17, 2013


I think that if people in this thread had been going on and on about how brave this guy was or whatever, then angry pushback from corb and Ghost Mode and others from the person of color side of things would be justified. But that's not at all what people were saying in the thread.

And Ghost Mode's and corb's criticisms weren't, initially, about how he's not really a "hero" when many other people live this every day, but rather were basically justifying the police and prosecutor response (both ignoring him and then excessively punishing him) which is absolutely, unequivocally defending a racist system. In that context, then, the racial status of these two commenters doesn't matter, it doesn't give them a pass for the substance of their comments which defend racist policies and practices and push attention away from what he demonstrated and toward his character or whatever, which is basically how, say, Fox News would respond to this story.

If you don't want to be criticized for defending racism, don't defend racism.

I understand that it's really goddamn annoying that some white guy can do something like this and suddenly we're all talking about racism in the criminal justice system. But, you know, it's not like we don't talk about this here at MetaFilter when it's about persons of color who are victims of such injustice, MeFi isn't really an appropriate target for anger at this hypocrisy.

But being angry about the disproportionate attention paid when a white person does something like this is like being angry at the racism in the system. The anger should make you support the fact that he did this and we're reading about it because the solution for damn sure isn't that we don't talk about it in cases like this along with not talking about it the rest of the time, either. I'm glad that he's focused attention on this, what's important is that he has. Is it about him, a white guy, and how's he's been treated unjustly? Well, no, and the thing is that he makes it very clear that he doesn't see it that way. He talks about it, but that's all in service to the point that someone up-thread made so clearly — that the system can react so viciously and arbitrarily should prove that it, being demonstrably racist, probably does this every goddamn day when some black kid pisses-off a prosecutor or a judge. That's what he's proving, what he's telling us, by including his own unfair treatment.

They wanted to ignore him because he was white. When they realized what he was doing, they went radically in the other direction. That's not justice. It's very far from justice. Anyone who is a person of color who has experienced this in their daily lives should be pleased that this white guy has demonstrated it so clearly, that it's about power and not justice.

But if your argument is all about how we should laugh at this guy and good for the cops and the prosecutor and the judge and the probation officer for screwing this guy, then you're cheering on the injustice of a racist system. I don't care if you yourself are a minority and have experienced racism in this context, if you're cheering on this system, you're part of the problem.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:54 PM on December 17, 2013 [21 favorites]


I don't believe that was meant to say that black people inherently look shady. I read it as representing the fact that for a lot of people, New York cops in particular, their (unquestionably racist) default in seeing a black person is to see someone suspicious and potentially criminal.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:54 PM on December 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


Ghost Mode: “His gist is 1) white people are less likely to get stopped by police 2) jail is crummy 3) the justice system can be vindictive. Revolutionary. World-changing... I HAVE BEEN STOPPED AND FRISKED.”

I think I see where you're coming from, but I get the feeling you might not understand just how little-known this issue is in some quarters. I know it seems like this doofus is just stating the obvious, and a doofus he may be, but a lot of what he says in this article is actually news to a lot of people. And I think that makes it kind of valuable, in the sense that I think (as I said above) the world would probably be improved if everyone in America simply read a brief description of what people go through when they are arrested.
posted by koeselitz at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I personally have no idea how to "look shady,"

Wear a hoodie
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:05 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


And I'm supposed to feel proud of, patriotic to, and loyal to this?
posted by Slackermagee at 2:05 PM on December 17, 2013


and let us not forget - hoodies are things others shouldn't wear, buty they're just fine for the person who says it's a problem.
posted by nadawi at 2:09 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's a mistake to focus on this guy, frankly. He is not really worth focusing on. What's worth focusing on is this: most people have no idea what it's like to be arrested and go through the justice system; and this article presents a pretty clear and cogent description of what that process is like.

But it really doesn't get into many details about what the process is like for most people, at all. For example, he talks about having to wait 34 hours before going in front of a judge to be arraigned, but completely skips over the concept of bail and how huge of a factor it is for normal people. The case went on for 9 months after that, and the number one reason why most people arrested on suspicion of putting up graffiti are stuck taking whatever the prosecution offers them is that they would have to spend that whole time in jail because they can't make bail.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ghost Mode if your point was: "It is so stupid that this guy gets to made a big fuss about this issue and seem like some sort of hero, while remaining a rich white guy in a system that is tipped unimaginably in his favor, breaking the obvious news that the system is oppressive to complacent internet readers, while actually benefiting his career by purposefully getting busted for something that could literally kill people that are not of his background," than yeah, I do see your point. It is stupid. But if he didn't do it, some people wouldn't believe any of that goes on, and even more would mostly pretend that it isn't happening even when it does. They (we) are stupider.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:20 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The case went on for 9 months after that, and the number one reason why most people arrested on suspicion of putting up graffiti are stuck taking whatever the prosecution offers them is that they would have to spend that whole time in jail because they can't make bail."

I made $5,000 bail by giving a bail bondsman my $150 stereo receiver. Try that as a non-white-guy.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:23 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: Thing that you thought was good is actually bad
posted by Sebmojo at 2:49 PM on December 17, 2013


>>> How "shady" is it possible, really, for this person to look?

>> If she were black, it would be easy for her to look shady, because all she has to do is look black to look shady.

> wow

Wow? Are you truly surprised by "all she has to do is look black to look shady"? I see it as a (justifiably) snarky response to the "How 'shady'?" question. Whether "how shady?" is about the poster's prejudice or society's, I can't figure out.
posted by morganw at 3:05 PM on December 17, 2013


If people really do not get the "all she has to do is look black to look shady", please refer to this handy instructional video.

The statement was not condoning that this occurs, but 'cmon trying to pretend that racial profiling does not exist in America is telling a lie, not when it is frequent enough that comedians refer to it constantly as essentially a "fact of life"... (Have we all also forgotten the common "DWBB" car-stop technique from just a couple years back?)
posted by jkaczor at 4:51 PM on December 17, 2013


Constantino adds new meaning to "trolling the system".
posted by Ardiril at 4:57 PM on December 17, 2013


meh.
posted by jpe at 5:00 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


In addition to the drug war, I'm thinking maybe the prison-industrial complex and civil forfeiture laws... But those sound like symptoms, in a way. There's got to be something else, some core aspect of our society that makes it this way.

A class-war that the middle and lower classes don't even know they're losing.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:08 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Potomac Avenue: But if he didn't do it, some people wouldn't believe any of that goes on, and even more would mostly pretend that it isn't happening even when it does.

Yeah. I'm forcibly reminded of this passage from the epilogue of Black Like Me:
Even well-disposed white men tended to be turned off and affronted if black men told them truths that offended their prejudices. For years it was my embarrassing task to sit in on meetings of whites and blacks, to serve on ridiculous but necessary function: I knew, and every black man there knew, that I, as a man now white once again, could say the things that needed saying but would be rejected if black men said them. In city after city we had these meetings to attempt to communicate, and in each one my function was to say those things that the black men knew much better than I could hope to know, but could not communicate as yet for the simple reason that white men could not tolerate hearing it from a black man's mouth. Dick Gregory and I once made an experiment with this. We agreed to say essentially the same things to a lecture audience at the same school. I got an ovation for "talking straight." He got an uncomfortable silence for saying the same things.
Published fifty years ago and the only thing that's changed, as far as this particular point is concerned, is that a lot of that affront has turned into dismissal and rationalizing away, which are just politer terms for not giving enough of a shit to listen.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:30 PM on December 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


It sounds like Constantino was hammered for a first-time misdemeanor because of a perfect storm of things: (1) he is a former prosecutor and a lawyer who should know better, (2) he embarrassed the NYPD, (3) he acted like a fool in court more than once, and (4) he claimed to want to accept responsibility for his civil disobedience but sought to avoid responsibility at trial through showboating and a bad statutory argument.

See this artcle and this article which include unflattering details conveniently left out of Constantino's article. His treatment of his legal aid lawyer is particularly disgraceful, especially considering he used to be a public defender.

Some quick googling reveals Constantino has a huge ego and is prone to exaggeration.

For example, on his blog, he writes that he resigned the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office in 2005 after working there for "two years." I imagine that it must have been less than that, given he was only licensed in December 2003 and probably graduated from law school in May 2003. This less than two full years stint he describes in his article as "my career as an assistant district attorney." No way he was trying anything but the most petty misdemeanors---and then under supervision---before he got licensed.

Though he claims to have prosecuted a man for sexually assaulting a waitress at a nightclub, I call bullshit and more exaggeration. Maybe in a rural DA's office you'd have a kid nine months out of law school trying a sexual assault, but in a suburb of Boston? I doubt it. My guess is that "sexual assault" means that he had a misdemeanor case where he tried a drunk patron for groping a waitress at a topless bar or, maybe, that some real felony prosecutor let him sit second chair and direct an officer during a felony sexual assault trial. My money's on the former because the things he claims he did the "most of" during his time in the office sound like misdemeanors: "riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed." And besides, an honest-to-god felony sexual assault of a waitress at her job(!) would be highly unusual, likely a media case, and, again, probably not tried by someone fresh out of law school in between his dirt-bike-riding cases.

Makes me wonder if his resignation was really as a result of his newfound convictions or it came after a couple of negative performance evaluations.

I am so tempted to make a public records request for his personnel files for when he worked at the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office and whichever agency he worked for as a public defender. With someone who casually exaggerates like this guy does, there may be some Stephen Glass-like gold in there!

You listening, The Atlantic?
posted by saslett at 7:53 PM on December 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, I'm not a MA lawyer but Constantino refers on his blog to practicing in "Roxbury Court" which appears to be a municipal court that, like all municipal courts I'm familiar with, handles fine-only offenses according to the Massachusetts Court System website.

More evidence his guy is--as a literary critic might kindly put it--an unreliable narrator.
posted by saslett at 8:15 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


My guess is that "sexual assault" means that he had a misdemeanor case where he tried a drunk patron for groping a waitress at a topless bar

That is, in fact, a sexual assault.
posted by elizardbits at 10:16 PM on December 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


--an unreliable narrator.

He may or may not be an unreliable narrator. Either way, the things he points out in his article are really happening to real people. Our criminal justice system is in serious need of reform. I guess what I'm trying to say is that yeah what you say may be true, but that has fuck all to do with the reality of our racist criminal justice system. Which, warts and all, is the point of the op. It seems you are engaging in a form of ad hominem so as to cast aspersions on author, and for what? Do you deny the reality of what our criminal justice system has become...you know the one where we imprison minorities at much higher rates than their representations in larger society....you know the one where we imprison more people per capita than Russia or China...
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:28 PM on December 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


> See artcle and this this article which include unflattering details conveniently left out of Constantino's article.

So, his former co-worker had words of praise for him and he was willing to walk to Florida to protest the killing of T. Martin?
"I'm not surprised that Bobby would stand his ground like that," said Adam Foss, who was Constantino's opposing counsel for several cases in Roxbury District Court in Massachusetts. "He's a very passionate person. He'll do what it takes to be heard."
...
"If they hadn't arrested Zimmerman, he would have walked all the way to Florida," Foss said.
My opinion of Constantino has improved! Set him free, for sure.
posted by kuatto at 10:42 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I appreciate saslett's research and it's a good thing that MetaFilter is moderately skeptical and seeks to know the full story. It doesn't hurt for us to get a fuller picture of Constantino.

But I agree with AElwine Evenstar that this doesn't change the essential facts, even if he's not the most reliable narrator (and I don't think it's established that he isn't, but it's okay that he's been called into question). He personally demonstrated a serious problem in a way that shined a lot of light on it, and that's a very good thing. It doesn't sit well with me for anyone to make a huge effort to discredit him, that's effectively another way of doing what some of the earlier comments did, and that was to defend the indefensible and excuse the unjust.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:42 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Instead, the guard politely handed me back my license, explained that I didn’t have an appointment, and turned me away.

Wow. It's like an excerpt from Znarf Akfak's book The Lairt.
posted by forgetful snow at 4:46 AM on December 18, 2013


but rather were basically justifying the police and prosecutor response (both ignoring him and then excessively punishing him) which is absolutely, unequivocally defending a racist system. In that context, then, the racial status of these two commenters doesn't matter, it doesn't give them a pass for the substance of their comments which defend racist policies and practices

If that is the read you take, you are absolutely and completely misreading, and may want to look again.

Currently, NYC exists under an enormous police state. The NYPD has a budget greater than the military budgets of some small countries and surface-to-air missiles. People in many areas of town live in a state of fear, while all too often, police spend too much time arresting innocent people for trivial "crimes" (such as the possession of spray cans, or turnstile-hopping, ffs) instead of doing the jobs people actually want them to do, and arresting real criminals that actually make everyone's lives worse. The NYPD also uses "fear of guns" as an excuse to flagrantly violate the civil liberties of a significant number of their subjects - I say subjects, rather than citizens, because we are not treated like citizens like rights in this city, but like subjects of a mayoral god-king. Often, this gets away without much comment, because the people who are stopped and frisked are brown, and everyone hates guns anyway, so clearly everyone is better off, right? Or at least, that's what they say.

I in no way endorse this system. My statement that refusing to arrest for trivialities in a city with quotas for police officers and latent corruption in the departments is not the terrible crime some might think it is. Refusing to arrest, in a culture that rates police officers by their arrest quotas, is an act of bravery, and I wish more police officers would engage in it.

There are two ways to go, when one population is being arrested and criminalized more than another. One way - the better way - is to encourage that everyone be arrested less - to lower the arrests to the level that the population with the lower arrests is being arrested at. The other way it to encourage that everyone is being arrested more - to raise the arrests so that everyone is being arrested at the same rate as the more heavily targeted population. That way makes it worse for everyone.

By making his protesting focus being about not being arrested, rather than about the actual processes of the criminal justice system - which he would have gotten a more accurate read on if he hadn't identified himself as an activist - he encourages the latter. "Arrest away, boys! You never know when the person committing a trivial crime might be a journalist who will slam you for not ruthlessly arresting more!" rather than "Wow, the inside of the criminal justice system really sucks."

So yeah. I have a problem with stunt activists making everyone's lives, and work, harder. I have a problem with activism tourism in poor communities, where white activists go into brown communities with no community connections just to make a point - as though there were no one working on Stop and Frisk that might have had a few ideas that did not involve spray cans and graffiti.
posted by corb at 6:21 AM on December 18, 2013


He tried to shave off half of the counts by pointing out that his charge sheet named the City Hall graffiti tags by name, but not the Tweed Courthouse ones. This oversight, he said, constituted a "major constitutional failure" by "moving the target" in what he called a "trial by ambush." (link)
I don't understand this bit at all - can someone shed some light on it?
posted by rebent at 6:21 AM on December 18, 2013


With someone who casually exaggerates like this guy does, there may be some Stephen Glass-like gold in there!

Speaking of hyperbole and exaggeration...

Stephen Glass invented the premises of his stories and made up people, places and meetings out of whole cloth; yet the premise of Constantino's story is well-documented, and the events are actually backed up by the same third-party sources you provided. There's a grain there about how he describes himself, but I don't see anything that makes this story ring false. Saying there are inconsistencies with the way he presents himself is one thing, but accusing him of being a wholesale liar when the main thrust of the story he wrote checks out is pretty sketchy itself.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:24 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


By making his protesting focus being about not being arrested, rather than about the actual processes of the criminal justice system - which he would have gotten a more accurate read on if he hadn't identified himself as an activist - he encourages the latter. "Arrest away, boys! You never know when the person committing a trivial crime might be a journalist who will slam you for not ruthlessly arresting more!" rather than "Wow, the inside of the criminal justice system really sucks."

That is not the focus of his article. That is the focus of your desperate attempt to be "right." He explicitly states why he engaged in this form of protest at the bottom of the article. You should consider reading it.
posted by deanklear at 6:40 AM on December 18, 2013 [5 favorites]


Would you willfully misread the article if say, Constantino had a gun in his pocket?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:51 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


corb: “By making his protesting focus being about not being arrested, rather than about the actual processes of the criminal justice system - which he would have gotten a more accurate read on if he hadn't identified himself as an activist - he encourages the latter. ‘Arrest away, boys! You never know when the person committing a trivial crime might be a journalist who will slam you for not ruthlessly arresting more!’ rather than ‘Wow, the inside of the criminal justice system really sucks.’”

Hm. Well – a couple of things. I don't think he's precisely "making his protesting focus about not being arrested." He spends the vast bulk of the article describing the process of being arrested, the process of being sentenced, etc. And he says explicitly that his focus was on that experience, on highlighting it for those who haven't had it.

But even if this article were primarily about the fact that he had a hard time getting arrested – it's still a useful illustration of the viscissitudes of the stop-and-frisk system. It shows that cops will ignore obvious and direct evidence of a crime being committed, even when they notice it – the police in the story actually noted it verbally – and instead choose to go after people they deem "look suspicious," often based on subconscious notions about particular races being "suspicious." We know this, because there is hard data on the fact that minorities are much more often the target of stop-and-frisks, even in more affluent neighborhoods where there is less crime. My own non-scientific sense is that 90% of NYC cops are not explicitly racist at all; but everybody has subconscious biases, and people who interact with dangerous criminals regularly tend to develop more pronounced subconscious biases than other people, I think, simply as a matter of survival. The problem with stop-and-frisk isn't that it's just flatly racist; it's more complicated than that. The trouble with stop-and-frisk is that it basically requires cops, as a matter of policy, to engage their subconscious biases and to impose themselves on the public based on those bases. And that's going to cause problems like this.

Now – maybe you're right that he's just sending a message to cops that they should be more active in making arrests because guys like this may be lurking around. But virtually any form of activism surrounding police work will send that message. The police department often will not welcome criticism, even if it's meant as friendly criticism. That's okay. It's more important that society as a whole talks about this stuff.
posted by koeselitz at 9:47 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


This Year in Bad Cops
posted by homunculus at 9:49 AM on December 18, 2013 [2 favorites]




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