Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lindsey Graham and Tsarnaev: Almost Racist

A friend who worked for the U.S. government in an agency which oversaw international trade once remarked, with a Cheshire smile, "We worry a lot about whether or not we are racist in this country; we don't hold a candle to the Europeans."

He spent a lot of time in England, Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia, so I thought he probably knew of what he spoke.

Today's New York Times carries a stunning article by Jonas Hassen Khemri, the first generation son of an immigrant to Sweden. 

He details what is was like growing up dark skinned in Sweden: being stopped on the street, questioned, asked for government ID, thrown into the back of a police van, then told only , "You may go now." Listening to government ministers defending racial profiling blandly by saying, "Oh, well, they are the guilty ones." Watching his father sweating out interrogations by Swedish officials, who looked at his government ID dubiously--this guy says he's Swedish, well he doesn't look Swedish. Hearing of friends beaten up in police vans. Followed about in stores by security guards with walkie talkies, who assumed if you are dark skinned, theft must be afoot. 

It all sounds like stuff we have put behind us in the United States, having faced our own different modes of racism forthrightly. Of course, until now we haven't succumbed to that special terror of government power--the National ID--which some of us remember from the old movies in which the Gestapo stops Lauren Bacall or some other heroine and says, "Unt now, I vould like to zee your papers." Red staters rage about the indignity of background checks for gun purchases, but they have no reservations about the indignity and huge leap in government control embodied in a national ID card. You want to see real terror and oppression: Just vote for a national ID card.

We've gotten by that sort of thing here in the USA. Well, mostly.

Of course, not all of us. When the Boston bombers turned out to have been born in Russia, and, damn it, one was dabbling in Islam, well, Lindsey Graham is right there with the "Suspend the Constitution!" cry.  Hey, why should we give this ungrateful foreigner any rights? Let's just hang him now without a trial (a South Carolina specialty) or put him away for life.

Well, there's precedent for life imprisonment, no trial--Gitmo.

And also Stop and Frisk in New York City, the city of Michael Bloomberg a semi liberal mayor, who apparently is not disturbed by racial profiling, if it happens in zip codes where people don't have much money or power. Mayor Bloomberg worries about allowing people to drink gargantuan soda pop but he does not worry about people thrown up against a wall by his own police.

Mad Dog would like to humbly suggest: The reason we go through the dance of doing things within the Constitution is not out of respect for heinous criminals; it is for ourselves.  We do not take the pains and expense of trials for the sake of the accused, any more than we do funerals for the sake of the dead. We do funerals for the sake of the living and we do trials for the sake of the citizens who do not stand accused, that we may all demonstrate our respect for a little mentioned and oft ignored idea: The Law.

We are better than the guys who set off bombs and blow legs off people because we think hard and long before we do harm to anyone.

Having cared for wounded accused in emergency rooms and on the wards, Mad Dog was struck by how surprised they were by the kindness, or at least by the absence of hostility they saw in the nurses and doctors rendering care.  In some cases, Mad Dog had the impression these men had never experienced human kindness and it was disturbing to them.  They were suspicious at first, then tentatively responsive, but often they withdrew again, as if they knew responding to kindness would make them vulnerable, so they retreated into indifference. Some of them could not help themselves, however and they were the ones most often psychologically damaged--by all the respect and fairness.  So Mad Dog doesn't buy the approach of the Lindsey Grahams of the world. Just beat those miscreants like dogs.  No, if you really want to make them suffer, treat them with respect and they begin to feel a connection to humanity. That's the greatest pain.

You want to really inflict pain on the surviving Boston bomber?  Once you have him reasonably stable and comfortable, once you have shown him care and concern and made him feel well again, bring around one of those girls who knew him in high school, or from college, one of those girls who called him a "sweetheart" who thought of him as a kind, funny, caring person, and simply allow them to visit; allow him to return to that person he once was. As Mephistopheles says in Faustus, the greatest hell is remembering happier times.  The greatest hell for this 19 year old will be remembering the person he was before he was transformed. 

So, with our system of laws, of treating the accused as innocent until proven guilty, we honor not the accused, but ourselves. We worship at the alter of "justice." 

Well, mostly--unless you are a villager blown up by a mistaken drone attack.

But, at least, most of the time, outside of Gitmo, and drone attacks and Stop and Frisk, we try.

Nobody's perfect.  

One way to feel better about yourself today: Consider Lindsey Graham. Consider his whole ridiculous state. If you have done something lately you think was pretty stupid or ill considered, just think of Lindsey Graham.  Compared to him, compared to the several million people who voted for him and live their smug little lives in South Carolina, you are a tower of intelligence, discretion and moral fortitude.

1 comment:

  1. Mad Dog,
    I like your little Lindsey Graham exercise-maybe his photo should be taped to one's wall with the caption "this could be you"-a surefire way to brighten even the dreariest of days.... As for denying the nineteen year old his full rights under the law I agree with you -we do as much damage to ourselves as we do to him in that scenario. With all the information from cell phone records, computers etc. it doesn't seem law enforcement feel he presents any imminent danger so what's the reason we suspend his rights-because we can?