Black Lives Matter!

Cell phone video is a powerful force for Democracy.

Alton Sterling’s life matters as much as mine does. Philando Castile’s life matters as much as my wife’s does. The racial problems in US law enforcement are not new but they are becoming less deniable by the day.

This human catastrophe stems from problems that are deeper and more serious than the current debate suggests.

For further disturbing reading, see:

Racial injustice has played a decisive role in my life and in my legal career. I write to offer a few ideas and a prescription to address some of the most corrosive social ills of our time.

In the late 1960s, as a child I got to take some enrichment classes at Los Angeles Community College. Today it is hard to imagine the political ferment on college campuses 50 years ago. I remember being a 9 year-old kid, walking down a long row of tables at LACC, each one of which represented a political cause. I looked up at a tall black college student with sunglasses and a big afro hairdo.

“Why are you so angry?”

He took off his sunglasses and sat down to look me in the eye.

“We’re angry because the cops hurt us. We are getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. Do you know about little black kids, younger than you, getting arrested just a couple years ago for sitting at lunch counters?”

“I heard of it, yes. There is a lunch counter at the Thrifty Drug Store on Sunset and Fairfax. My dad says its too expensive, but I think black people are allowed to eat there.”

“America is a lot rougher than Hollywood. You should think about it.”

In the spring of 1984, I worked as a Certified Law Clerk for the Los Angeles County District Attorney. I got to appear in court and put on felony preliminary hearings. The first words I ever spoke in court on the record were, “Scott Pearce, for the People.” After reading dozens of identical police reports on different drug cases, I went to my supervisor.

“These cases have problems,” I said. “I don’t think the cops are telling the truth. Shouldn’t we be worried about putting on false testimony?”

“Sworn police officers are our colleagues. We have plenty of conflict with them over which cases to file, believe me, but we are confident of the cases we do file. You’ll see. No go back to court.”

A couple years later, I joined the office of the Los Angeles County Public Defender, proud of the work and looking forward to “working within the system” for justice.

Scott Pearce in Division 40

July 1986: A Dashing Defender of Just-Us, in Division 40 of the LA Criminal Court House

I was horrified by what I saw. Going into the central jail to visit clients, I noticed that I was a 27 year-old white man in an expensive suit. Walking down a long line of cells, dozens of brown arms reached out from behind the bars to shake my hand or touch my sleeve and ask for help or to make a phone call to a relative. “Is this South Africa?” My honest reaction was that about 95% of the people behind bars shouldn’t be there at all and the other 5% shouldn’t ever be allowed to get out.

My transactional experience in Hollywood legal work prepared me well for work as a Deputy Public Defender. I was a natural at plea negotiations. My colleagues and I would try to stack the trial courts with lots of cases that had to be tried that day or dismissed, and then go in and work out superb plea bargains.

It did not take me long to realize that pleading defendants guilty – even for a “superb deal” – wasn’t in their interest. At the same time, the trial courts did not seem preferable. Most of the judges were ex-prosecutors or insurance company lawyers, and the evidentiary decisions tended to go against the defense. Sentencing was brutal, even before “Three Strikes” laws led to the wholesale warehousing of criminal defendants.

I admired the tough public defender trial lawyers. I still do. Even so, I knew I coudn’t survive for long as a witness to the daily injustices, and the occasional good I could do for people didn’t seem enough to compensate. I told people I felt like the train conductor to Auschwitz. “This is systematic injustice. It can’t be cured or improved from within. What is the satisfaction in being a Constitutional patina of “due process” when the substance of the criminal justice system is a race war?”

Straight Outta of Compton came out in 1988, not long after I left the public defender’s office to practice on my own and to get into corporate bar exam review and teaching. N.W.A. earned its spot in the Rock and Roll hall of fame with “Straight out of Compton” and “F— the Police.” I spent a little time in the Compton Courthouse in the 1980s, and if anything the N.W.A. album is sentimental and optimistic. Listening to the first couple of cuts on that album felt exactly the same as the first time I heard the Sex Pistols.

30 years later, 1986 seems like a gentle, bygone era. Incarceration rates have exploded during these years. Inequality and injustice in many other forms are obvious, too. What is to be done? Well, for a start:

In the summer of 2002, a couple of videotaped incidents of police violence were global news. One of the incidents happened in Inglewood, California, where I worked as a law professor. I was interviewed on TV2, Denmark’s national television station. Here is the five-minute interview:

911 Comment from 2001

Here is a commentary I wrote about America in light of the events of September 11, 2001 less than a month after that tragic morning:

October 9, 2001

Greetings, Friends:

A new and dangerous phase of current events is underway. Our unelected President and his British butlers have unleashed the Dogs of War on a suffering world.

They will fail to achieve their stated goals, but unless they are resisted at home they will achieve their unstated goals at our expense. Always, but especially from the morning of September 11, I have tried to be a voice for rationality and compassion – as opposed to joining the chorus of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A….’ In that spirit, I offer the following thoughts:

The Guilt or Innocence of bin Laden

The videotape released by bin Laden a couple of days ago has convinced millions of Americans that bin Laden is guilty of being the mastermind behind the bombings of September 11, despite the fact that he has denied responsibility and did not take credit for the attack in the tape. Certainly, our designated bad guy celebrated the attacks in NYC and DC and predicted more to come; he called on Muslims to fight America. What did you expect him to do, say he’s sorry and commit suicide on camera?

The US Secretary of State promised the world “convincing evidence” of bin Laden’s guilt three weeks ago. If they had it, we’d see it. They don’t. Prime Minister Blair’s long list of “evidence” comes with an up-front disclaimer that the contents aren’t good enough for court. I’m gravely unimpressed and deeply suspicious.

Suppose I’m a gangster. Suppose I’m sitting in a cave, and somebody, we’ll call him ‘Fred’, comes up to me and asks, “Should I kill Officer Bob?” I reply, “Sure, of course you should! Officer Bob is a pawn of the White Man and his Jewish masters. Go kill him.” Then, Fred goes and shoots Officer Bob. What crime am I guilty of? Answer: none, unless I do something to actively assist Fred, such as taking an active step to help him plan the murder or give him money to buy a gun. So if the State Department wants us to accept proof of bin Laden’s cheer leading as evidence of his guilt, I’m not satisfied.

Now please suppose for a moment that bin Laden is guilty. Let’s say he invited all the hijackers over for tea, and let’s say the get-together was video taped, so now we can see bin Laden standing at an easel pointing at a photo of the WTC with a big red X for where the airplane is supposed to hit. What then? The use of force, both in domestic law enforcement and in war, is carefully regulated. It is these regulations that draw the boundary between lawlessness and the rule of law. We ought to follow the law if we purport to “fight for justice”.

It is precisely at times such as these that we must aspire to our highest standards, as opposed to surrendering to our deepest passions!

A Million Casualties by Christmas

Our medal-encrusted “experts” and their civilian “leaders” are making much of the so-called humanitarian aid – less than 40,000 servings a night, dropped randomly into mine fields and elsewhere. What they don’t tell us is that the air strikes have mandated the evacuation of civilian aid workers who were helping feed several million people. I can already hear Tony Blair and his less-articulate American counterparts: “The million civilian hunger casualties are more blood on the hands of bin Laden and his terror networks. Our resolve will never weaken until the threat of international terror networks is ended…”

We’re hearing of “targeted” bombing. It’s nonsense. That’s why journalists are not allowed to cover the action in person, unlike WW2. Legally speaking, there is no such thing as an “unintended consequence” of dropping bombs – there’s just damage, and none of it is “collateral”.

What Are We Fighting For?

The stated objective of Bush and Blair is to “Root out and destroy networks of international terror.” This is not a coherent goal in the abstract; it becomes laughable when we notice that the American Administration is full of veterans of the Contra war, folks who waged a number of covert terrorist wars. The administration wants to have more covert actions. What does the covert arm of western intelligence do for a living? It funds and supports ‘unsavory characters’ (terrorists) who are tasked with the mission of murdering opponents – in Vietnam and in Latin America, many of our targeted victims were civilians who were sympathetic to or active in liberal politics. (See Operation Phoenix, etc.) Now, if Bush and Powell and Rumsfeld were serious about “destroying terrorists of international reach” they’d do something about the nut-case Cubans in Miami, wouldn’t they? Oh wait – those Cubans use violence to stop American Presidential Ballots being counted, so they must be lovers of freedom after all.

The true goals of the Administration are quite apparent: they want to further militarize American society and further protect the financial interests of the corporations and the richest 5% of Americans. Upon his “election”, the President called for a big tax cut for the rich because the economy was doing well. When the economy tanked, the tax cut became necessary because we weren’t doing well. Now the President is trying, cynically, to get another tax cut whilst spending emergency dollars on war. The result is as predictable as gravity: we’ll have deficits again, with higher unemployment and an accelerated transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, all in the name of Security. That’s the True Agenda of the Bush administration. They want to enrich themselves and entrench their power, and they want to do it at our expense. If they were opposed to terrorism they wouldn’t have spent their careers practicing it!

Martin Luther King and John Lennon

You don’t hear too much about these guys during times like these. That’s why Clear Channel, the corporation that owns about a quarter of US radio stations (thanks to the Clinton Telecommunications Act) “advised” its stations not to play “Imagine” after the bombings.

Now we see why those men are so beloved: they had the courage and vision to speak, boldly, of peace and compassion at a time of war. Hindsight shows that they were visionaries, as well as flawed human beings. It is not easy to keep one’s head and face an angry and frightened society with words of compassion and reason. We oppose war and corporate power because it is necessary, not because it is easy.

“I hope one day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” He was singing to you. Get busy.

Hope

The most potent drug is hope. It’s more powerful than any legal or illegal intoxicant; it fills one with energy and an awesome sense of the possible. Sure, I argue that American democracy has largely been thwarted by laws like the National Security Act of 1950 and the power of organized money. But during that same period we saw the Civil Rights movement come off the streets to lead the “leaders” – so even Ronald Reagan had to read scripts that spoke reverently of the memory of Dr. King and used phrases like “give peace a chance.” American society still is segregated and racist – but it’s a hell of a lot more integrated now than it was in 1950. Social activism ended Jim Crow, it ended our criminal war in Vietnam and it ended Apartheid.

Many of the causes that came to prominence in the 1960’s and 1970’s have moved from the fringe to the heart of today’s politics, and they are as vibrant and important today as they were ‘back in the day.’ Environmentalism, the liberation of women, the support of ‘liberation struggles’ of oppressed peoples such as the blacks in South Africa, the recognition of kinship in non-traditional family arrangements – these causes have done enormous good and offer a way out of our present troubles.

Since the Second World War, a lot has been done to try to codify – to put into writing – exactly what rights one ought to have as a birth right of being human. These are best expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document I have circulated in the past. These values ought to be at the heart of all international treaties, particularly those dealing with international trade and investment. Presently, these treaties are designed to protect corporate profits and investors. It’s not hard to fix the problem – all that is needed is the insight and political will.

Suppose I’m wrong about the administration not having good proof of bin Laden’s involvement with the bombings. Suppose I’m also wrong about judging them as being violent hypocrites. Let’s assume for a moment that they’re sincere human beings trying to do their best at a time of crisis, against a vague but deadly enemy. Okay, what should they do? They lead the richest and most powerful nation in history. It seems to me that the military buildup and the hugely expensive use of force is not likely to damage the terrorists nearly as much as it will damage our political and diplomatic standing in the world. I just don’t see how a million or two civilian casualties is going to advance the cause of freedom or hurt terrorism. Certainly it won’t be a very satisfying vengeance for the 6,000 dead in America. Even when viewed most sympathetically, our leaders’ actions fall far short of what is needed to protect us and to advance the cause of freedom at home and around the world. They need our help.

So, my friends, it’s up to us. This is our country, and even the least well off among us has been blessed with great wealth and freedom compared with most of the world’s population. To me, patriotism means standing up as an American and insisting that our nation live up to its highest ideals – because it is right and because it is in our best interest!

Peace, love and strawberries,

Scott

The Fall of Fall

OK, I admit it. I don’t like the holiday season very much. I’m also not highly impressed with modern California suburbia. At the same time, maintaining a humbug attitude is neither healthy nor considerate to others.

Orange SeedsThese bright orange seeds are as sticky as they are shiny. I don’t associate the last few days of fall as a time for fertility rituals, but here we have some evidence that it might not be a bad idea.

Black SeedsThese black seeds are as tiny as they are shiny, each one significantly smaller than an eraser at the end of a pencil.

Red FlowerThis is my favorite picture in this series. Here are some tiny red flowers that seem to be holding out against the encroaching desolation. (The smart money is betting against the flowers.)

Intro to http://passthebar.com

New Bar Exam Video

This is a glorious day! At last I have escaped from the bondage of months of devotion to duty. Happy Days Are Here Again.

I just finished extensive revisions to my two commercial web sites, http://passthebar.com and http://calbarexam.com. This project has consumed vast amounts of time over the last few months, but now the work is complete. Soon I will return to other endeavors, including actually helping people pass the bar exam.

Glorious Sunset

2009_1009_pescadero_sunsetWho said the California Dream was over? Today my cell phone jumped out of my pocket and started issuing demands. The first was that I hold it up high and push the correct series of buttons in just the right way. The result was the image you see before you, which was the view tonight from the front door of my office.

It’s easy to be impressed with the quality of cell phone pictures. Not to be outdone, the phone insisted I capture the scene with video, too.

Southern (CA) Cooking

I’ve cooked a number of successful meals lately. Here are two recipes you might be interested in experimenting with.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

1 cauliflower  –  2.5 cups 2% organic milk  – 1 cup plain organic goat yogurt  – 3 tsp ‘better ‘n’ bouillon’ chicken  – 4 tbs butter  –  1 onion  –  3 tbs flour  –  parsley and Parmesan cheese for garnish (I left both of these out.)

Steam a head of cauliflower and set aside. Chop up the onion and fry it up with 3 tablespoons of butter. Take your time. When the onion is cooked, add a fourth tablespoon of butter and blend it in. Add the flour and blend it evenly with the buttery cooked onions, then cook it for a while (3-5 minutes). I did this slowly too. Then blend in all of the milk, cook for a minute or two, and then blend in all of the goat yogurt and the bouillon. Once again, I worked slowly. My tendency is to rush white sauce, with disappointing results. When I say ‘blend’, I used a small metal spoon with a long handle, and the cooking surface was a fancy stainless steel skillet. Once the white sauce is smooth and hot, chop up the cauliflower and throw it in. Cook until cauliflower is hot and fully saturated, then throw into blender and blend to taste. I made it as smooth as possible, which took some patience – but it was worth it! Return to skillet and heat very warm to serve. This was an enormously popular soup and other than steaming the cauliflower I don’t think it took me much more than half an hour. Most of the recipes I consulted used about half a cup more milk and a little less yogurt and/or butter. I imagine a lot of people would make this soup a bit more thin than I did, but I figure my recipe is healthy enough to justify making it a little more rich. Yum.

Roasted Kale (stick with me on this for a minute)

Get a stove and a bunch of kale. Heat the oven to 400. Wash the kale thoroughly. Spread each big leaf out on the cutting board and separate the fluffy leaves from the stems. Get rid of the stems, they’re disgusting. Spin dry the leaves or shake them around in the air for a minute to get rid of the excess water. Then put the leaves in a plastic bag with some olive oil and shake them around to distribute the olive oil. Dump the oil-tainted leaves onto a oil-sprayed roasting pan or cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt. Throw in the hot oven and roast about ten minutes. Take out the kale and flip the leaves. Add more salt. Throw them back into the hot oven for another eight or ten minutes. The goal is to get the leaves crisp but not burned. Elana, Alexis and I ate every bite of my first effort, even as we acknowledged I didn’t get all the leaves as crisp as would be ideal. Done properly, roasted kale leaves are like some kind of weird, demented ‘potato’ chip. Anyway, this was an idea Alexis found in the newspaper a while back and I decided to surprise her with it a couple of days ago, as a side dish for Pad Thai. (That was a nice success too, but it doesn’t count because I used jar sauce.)

Great Radio from Australia

You’ve obviously got a lot of time on your hands. Admit it. You wouldn’t be reading this if you were doing what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s cool. I’ve got more important things to do than write this. But if you’re going to be a slacker, you might as well be a zealous, all-out slacker, right? Or would that be applying a Protestant Work Ethic to laziness?

Sorry, if we’re going to waste time together, we shouldn’t concentrate on philosophical issues.

Maybe you’re busy at your job while you’re reading this. If so, congratulations! You are getting paid for screwing around. Pat yourself on the back my friend, you’re living the American Dream. Of course, if you had shown a little more initiative and made it higher up the food chain, you’d be reading this on your iPhone or Blackberry while kicking back at some island resort or ski lodge, but never mind.

Regardless of your social status, good music will improve your life. You should be listening to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation right now. They provide better radio than you have. I find I do some of my best work – and slacking – with one or another of their brilliant stations going in the background.

Join me right now and listen to one of these two stations.  The link will play the audio through your default player. ABC Classic FM is one of the most fun and intelligent classical radio stations on Earth. Dig Music is a great jazz station that will have you stretching toward the speakers like the RCA Victor Dog. Enjoy! You can thank me later.