Day three without PC connectivity. I’m posting from the sofa because of a declared brownie emergency (that is, an emergency need for brownies, not an industrial accident during brownie baking).
In the news today, a math teacher was threatening to turn in illegal aliens among his students on the basis that they were criminals for being here, and anyone he suspected he’d report to ICE. Having made statements to this effect on Facebook, his comments were screencapped and sent to the school administrators, and he’s backtracking on his statements now.
This isn’t a singular situation. It’s a fairly common sentiment The law’s the law!, which is how we get teens sexting with their boyfriends / girlfriends turning into registered sex offenders for producing and distributing child porn (specifically, their own bits to private recipients). But then there’s the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, what was Reagan’s response to getting scared by the movie Wargames. This law, made only worse since its inception (especially by the 2001 PATRIOT act) assures that Americans average three felonies a day just from doing ordinary things on the internet. Anytime you violate a website’s terms of service, you are likely violating the CFAA, and can get twenty-five years imprisonment for a single infraction.
If the law were the law and it were universally enforced, then we’d all be doing multiple terms in prison, especially children 12 and under who have Facebook accounts, or otherwise use any of the websites that don’t allow kids under 13 years of age (that is, almost all of them, since hosts don’t want to bother with the other internet-child-safety provisions necessary for US websites to allow kids on their sites, because sexual perverts).
More accurately, because our justice system isn’t completely stupid, these laws would be challenged as being unenforceable, and would be stricken the way we strike down laws as unconstitutional. This is part of the system, when we let it actually work.
But so often, we don’t let it work. We have a thing called prosecutorial discretion. This is an accepted DoJ policy of selective enforcement, saying that prosecutors can choose what cases to prosecute, thereby if someone is white enough and rich enough and not too offensively different enough, prosecutors and law enforcment don’t have to enforce our laws that are stupid because they’d make everyone a criminal. The whole Clinton email scandal was representative of how our aristocracy benefits from prosecutorial discretion. (The FBI review of the emails to determine the harm was a compromise to assure that no actual harm occurred. But still there was a lot of special dispensation that wouldn’t be afforded to us proles.)
Yet, if someone is politically unfavorable, they can be nailed with some of our more ambiguous laws (e.g. CFAA, espionage and conspiracy). If you are wondering why Edward Snowden doesn’t return to the States to face the music, it’s because these laws are so open that they’re difficult to disprove. Numerous whistleblowers who defied or embarrassed the Obama administration are in prison for long terms for exposing secret policies of the US that do not speak well of the United States as a nation or a people. (But then again, we have plenty of citizens who believe that torture is justifiable. Principles that I consider to be fundamental to the United States society, e.g. due process and equality under law, are not respected by others to a similar degree.)
But for the grace of God, or in this case, but for the awareness of angry malicious gods, the kind that bring droughts and pestilence when they notice us mortals (apropos, I suppose. The old gods of the Americas were often a cruel lot), we would all be prisoners of the United States. We are all criminals who have only so far skirted conviction. Feel lucky that no elected or appointed official covets your spouse or your property or your social status, and hasn’t taken offense at your clever tweets online.
For those of us who are not affluent, Christian, white and male, the problem is worse, because for them, their mere presence in society is enough to garner the ire of people who can command unreasonable searches, arrests, and long-term prison sentences. Living while Black isn’t directly a felony, but it’s impossible to live while black without committing felonies. And some people are eager to prosecute if it means taking another brown person off the sidewalks. This is how countless young black men are vectored from schools to penal facilities. This is how so many more non-whites are arrested for felonies than whites. When we ponder the high arrest and incarceration rates of non-whites over whites, this is how that is happening.
The United States has a nearly 100% indictment rate (law enforcement officers being a conspicuous exception) and an over 90% conviction rate… before we take into account plea bargains (which are still illegal. Be prepared to be forced to lie to a judge and claim you did not confer with the prosecution). We also have the highest incarceration rate and the most impacted prisons in the world.
And until we fix this, we don’t know how many of our convictions are false, or how many of them are on trivial charges. That means 100% of our prison population are political prisoners, since we cannot have any confidence in the legal system that determined their guilt. Every convicted black guy who just annoyed a police officer weakens the judicial foundation by which bank-robbers, serial-killers and drug-kingpins are incarcerated. When Bastille day comes for the US, there will be no difference between the false convict, the persecuted activist, the dangerous terrorist or the professional mobster. All will walk. We will have to risk they will become active again, the consequence for having failed to retain judicial integrity when we convicted and incarcerated them the first time.
So when we Americans speak of criminals who must be brought to justice, whether we speak of undocumented immigrants or unruly teens of color or drug peddlers or bike gangs or computer hackers, we are speaking of ourselves as well. Don’t wish incarceration and deportation on others unless you’re willing to suffer the same fate, yourself.