Vilifying the “Criminal Class” in America: All Are Equal, But Some More Equal Than Others
While America is a country built on a number of ideals, the one which seems to fail most often is that of equality. Yes, we’ve made incredible strides in a short amount of time – given our tumultuous history – with respect to equality for all races, creeds, and others. For example, in a remarkably short time homosexual Americans who had to live their lives in secret, are able to live openly, serve in the military or public office, and are fighting for (and winning) their right to marry.
There is another class of people who “polite society” disapproves of, a class they believe creates their own problems because they lack something that “decent” people have, like they once felt about homosexuals. They are people who through a combination of circumstances beyond their control and some questionable judgment find themselves caught up in a system that would rather they simply didn’t exist. These people are the “criminal class,” and many believe they don’t deserve the equality that is their inalienable right.
With a focus on the protests happening in Ferguson, Missouri right now, we can look at how this plays out. For Michael Brown, the 18 year-old whose shooting death sparked the protests, the news of his possible involvement in a robbery and that he had marijuana in his system has led many in conservative media to suggest that he was “thug” with the implication that in some way he deserved to be gunned down in the streets.
The legitimacy of the protests that followed have been consistently undermined because of some instances of looting and aggressive action towards police (that keep their weapons trained on civilians). There have been allegations by police of Molotov cocktails, although many reporters on the scene have said they’ve seen no evidence of this outside of a single photo.
Those who think this proves that the police are acting appropriately are ignoring two important things. First, the police in Ferguson have, at best, obfuscated the truth and have limited the freedom of the press to call them on it. In one case Capt. Ron Johnson told CNN’s Don Lemon and Jake Tapper that they were not using tear gas, but after they said they were hit with some, he admitted it was used.
The second thing being ignored is what it must feel like to live in a society where it seems as if the law is a rigged game. Using dirty legal tricks like “nuisance bail” or the broad application of “disorderly conduct,” people can be arrested for literally anything. Yet, their options to fight false charges are severely limited. I am reminded of the JFK quote, “People who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Of course, this is not to suggest that criminals should go unpunished or that every murderer and rapist is the victim of a broken system. Instead, it should be a clarion call that the system needs to change. Today, the presupposition of innocence is more of an unfulfilled ideal than the keystone of our justice system. Who should we protect: the police or our own rights?