Orwell Was An Optimist

9 11 2009

“Justice” system, my pasty, white, lumpy, asymmetrical ass!

In yet another example of how far astray from its alleged purpose our “justice” system has wandered, here are a couple of articles about some journalism students at Northwest University getting harassed by an Illinois prosecutor. Their crime? Glad you asked. It turns out that a Journalism professor at Northwest has, for the last ten years or so, tasked his advanced students with learning if anyone currently in prison might actually be innocent. Evidence uncovered by these student-journalists is turned over to the relevant attorneys, and a total of eleven innocent men have been freed as a result of their efforts. This has apparently raised the ire of the Illinois State Attorney, who seems to be trying to intimidate the students and their professor by launching an investigation into … the students’ grades.

I’m reasonably certain that somewhere in a prosecutor’s job description it is written that justice is the goal. Far too many prosecutors seem to have forgotten this, judging by the extravagant mental gymnastics several prosecutors have used recently in attempts to keep demonstrably innocent men in prison.

Despite the supposed focus on justice required by their jobs and oaths of office, far too many prosecutors across the country are more interested in their conviction ratio. The more convictions they get- especially in high-profile cases- the more pay and bennies they earn. This is doubly true for those prosecutors who are elected to their offices.

For those of you who failed to pay attention in civics class, here’s a hint: Prosecutors are public servants. We (the People) are the public. I fail to see how we are being served by political hacks more interested in promotions, re-elections, and pay raises than in justice.

Back to the case at hand. A prosecutor, when given evidence that someone has been wrongfully convicted and sent to prison, should examine the evidence, re-examine the case in light of the new evidence (if it has any value), and either get the convict a new trial or immediately get him or her released from prison. Alas, this ideal state does not exist except (possibly) on paper. In reality, prosecutors have been trained that more convictions means more money and power for the prosecutors, so penny-ante subjects like the actual innocence of their victims doesn’t come into the picture.

I don’t know about you, but I was always told that it was better that a thousand guilty men go free than one innocent man be deprived of life or liberty. Our so-called “justice” system is supposedly set up with this principle in mind. It is the price of a free society. There is no excuse for sending innocent men or women to prison. If there is a reasonable doubt, they must be found “not-guilty” (note that this is not necessarily the same as innocent). If they have already been convicted and sentenced, the presentation of new evidence which may provide “reasonable doubt” must be looked at dispassionately by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys alike with justice in mind. If the new evidence had been presented at trial, would this convict have been found guilty? Does this evidence provide “reasonable doubt” of the convict’s guilt? These are matters of Law and Justice, and the political status and professional pride of the prosecutor should have no bearing on the decision.

I am a firm believer that some crimes merit the death penalty. That said, the death penalty must only be invoked for truly heinous crimes about which there is no doubt of guilt. Not “reasonable doubt”- no doubt whatsoever. A sentence of death should be a separate decision from that of guilt or innocence, and any doubt should immediately drop the maximum penalty to that of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Given the shenanigans prosecutors around the country have been pulling lately, a blanket suspicion of doubt has effectively been cast over all convictions. The actions of a few prosecutors are tainting the very heart of the judicial process. If prosecutors are willing to allow innocent men and women to languish in prison or even be put to death if it might further their career, then the criminal justice system in this country is broken beyond repair.

And now, we return to my catch phrase: the Four Boxes. There are four boxes which must be used- in the following order- in defense of liberty. These are Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo. This subject demands that we (the People) use those first three boxes to correct these injustices, now and forever. If we fail to immediately and permanently deal with the application of injustice by our public servants with those first three boxes, then our Republic is doomed. We will be forced to open that Fourth Box, in the aftermath of which the United States of America will be no more.

So, start paying attention. Use that sloppy grey goo between your ears for a change. Take the time to learn the facts for yourself, from multiple sources whenever possible. When you find the putrid smell of injustice, root it out. We cannot afford to let it fester, for that way lies madness and destruction.

Current status: Pissed off

Current music: On My Way Home by Enya

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… Cheaper to Die by the Vote

17 12 2007

I read an Op-Ed piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by an ex-NBC correspondent (and current University of Georgia Associate Professor of Journalism) named Dan Hazinski. Mr. Hazinski is apparently peeved about the wild and unruly nature of what he calls “citizen journalism”. You can find the article in its entirety here.

Mr. Hazinski then goes on to describe the manifold potential horrors from such unregulated “journalism”, and calls on the major news organizations (his words, italics mine) to apply discipline and monitoring of free speech and free press. I’m pretty sure freedom of speech and freedom of the press are what the 1st Amendment is designed to help protect. Of course, the 1st Amendment applies only to actions of Government. Mr Hazinski seems to want his “major news organizations” to (somehow) regulate everyone else’s free speech and press- that makes it all better.

Mr. Hazinski, how should your “major news organizations”  enforce this regulation? More to the point, how could they? Viewers and readers are abandoning the “major news organizations” in droves- driven largely by the lack of substantive content, pandering to the lowest common denominator, and sheer unprofessionalism exhibited by mainstream “journalists”. I suggest removing the beam from your own eye before mentioning the mote in ours.Here are Mr. Hazinski’s actual recommendations, copied directly from the article linked above:

  • Major news organizations must create standards to substantiate citizen-contributed information and video, and ensure its accuracy and authenticity.
  • They should clarify and reinforce their own standards and work through trade organizations to enforce national standards so they have real meaning.
  • Journalism schools such as mine at the University of Georgia should create mini-courses to certify citizen journalists in proper ethics and procedures, much as volunteer teachers, paramedics and sheriff’s auxiliaries are trained and certified.

Let’s take a look at the first item. “Major news organizations … establish standards … substantiate citizen-contributed information …

That sounds like a problem belonging to the “major news organizations” not the citizens. If you- as a journalist- received a tip from an anonymous source claiming that Barack Obama was a direct lineal descendant of Ethelred the Unready  and was therefore by right King of England and the United Kingdom, you would not immediately rush to your editor yelling, “Stop the presses!” Would you be more likely to do a little basic research to see if there was even a vague possibility of accuracy first? Why aren’t your journalistic brethren and sistren doing this now with “citizen-contributed” content? If your “major news organizations” are already failing to police their own behavior, why should anyone rational consider allowing them to police anyone else?

On to Number 2: “… clarify and reinforce their own standards …

Hmmm. I thought that was what we talked about in Item #1. If you want your mainstream media organizations to clean up their own acts, I approve. They (and you) have no business trying to clean up mine- except by setting a good example.

… and work through trade organizations to enforce national standards so they have real meaning.

Might have to run that one through the English-Greater Obfuscese  translator. To what “trade organizations” do you refer? Writer’s unions? Editor’s unions? Aunt May’s Guide to Professional Speaking? Blogging for Dummies? How are these “trade organizations” supposed to enforce these notional (not a typo) standards? If Uncle Wiley from East Armpit, Alabama wants to write a blog about how Jimmy Carter was the greatest President ever, will Aunt May’s Professional Speaking Enforcement Team descend upon the ancestral Wiley tar-paper shack and lock Uncle Wiley away for failing to properly use a semicolon?

Item number 3: “Journalism schools … certify citizen journalists …”

Let me see if I got this straight, Mr. Hazinski. You want Journalism schools to determine who does and does not have the right to free speech or free press? Did I miss some of the nuances in that third item? What the Hell have you been smoking?

If you- as a former journalist by profession- want to enforce standards of journalistic integrity, perhaps you  should begin with the “major news organizations” you would permit to regulate the free speech of others. If you do not like the content or doubt the accuracy of something written, broadcast, published, or blogged, there are several remedies at your disposal. Among these remedies:

  • You could ignore the subject
  • You could ignore the author/speaker/whathaveyou
  • You could take legal action for libel or slander

Note that none of these options  involve depriving the author/speaker/blogger of his or her rights to free speech or free press.

A side note for those of you who have not been paying attention: The Constitution of the United States does not grant rights to the people. Government cannot give you rights- it can only limit them or take them away … until you (the People) forget about your rights and vote to limit or remove them. The Constitution is mostly involved in limiting the actions and powers of the Government. Those rights you think you get from the Gummint are inherent, inalienable, and part of your birthright as Americans.

Whatsoever, for any cause

seeketh to take or give

Power above or beyond the Laws

suffer it not to live!

– Excerpt from MacDonough’s Song, by Rudyard Kipling

Mr. Hazinski is- of course- entitled to his own opinion. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is- of course- entitled to accept or reject any material according to their policies. I am also (despite Mr. Hazinski’s apparent disapproval) entitled to my opinion, and I can publish it on my blog. I can even urge everyone who is taking (or considering) courses in Journalism from the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia to seriously reconsider that choice. Any “journalist” who proposes such monumental poppycock does not- in my opinion- understand his own profession well enough to be a good teacher thereof. For those of you who wish to delve further into how the “major news organizations” got to be major news organizations, I highly recommend a thorough study of early American History. The “major news organizations” of the late 18th and early 19th centuries bear uncanny resemblance to the political bloggers of today.

But Mr. Hazinski does not approve.

Current status- Flabbergasted

Current music- Storms in Africa, by Enya