The Price of Law and Order

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” –Fyodor Dostoevsky

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” –George Bernard Shaw

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” –Nelson Mandela

If we hear of a baby left in a hot car, we are appalled and outraged. If there’s footage of skeletal, neglected horses on the local news, dozens of watchers call in offering assistance for the abused animals. If people leave a dog or cat without water or food, they are prosecuted. A few summers back my mother, though she’s a lifelong snake-hater, still called my cousin to come and rescue a 6-foot rat snake hopelessly tangled in some bird netting.

And yet … things like this can happen, and we’re not even surprised. For decades, we’ve been encouraged to ignore the suffering of others, gradually growing accustomed to even extremes of violence and cruelty. Deliberately trained and conditioned. For money, for power, for social control. And we have let it happen, even the best of us.

The poor and powerless (and those in our prisons are overwhelmingly both powerless and poor) are non-persons now, considered unworthy of attention or respect, with no rights and little recourse. They’re just not like us, we’ve somehow come to believe.

But if we notice, they are in fact exactly! like! us! Like me, and like the people I know, certainly. I have family, friends and neighbors on both sides of those prison bars. Could you and I be pushed into jobs in law enforcement? Probably. Could you and I find ourselves on the wrong side of the law? We don’t like to believe so, but we sure as hell could! For any reason. For little or no reason at all. And once we thus become invisible men or women, it’s a whole other world. Not a world we want to live in — and we shouldn’t be content for any of our brothers and sisters to inhabit such a world, either.


Mentally ill North Carolina inmate held in solitary confinement dies of thirst
Associated Press in Raleigh, North Carolina, Thursday 25 September 2014 14.55 EDT
Medical Examiner’s Office said Anthony Michael Kerr died of severe dehydration in March of this year
A North Carolina inmate with mental illness who had been held in solitary confinement died of thirst, according to an autopsy report released Thursday.
Anthony Michael Kerr, 53, was found unresponsive in the back of a van on 12 March after being driven roughly three hours from Alexander Correctional Institution in Taylorsville to a mental hospital at Central Prison in Raleigh.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety subsequently fired a captain and four nurses at Alexander. A nurse and a staff psychologist resigned.
At the time, Public Safety Secretary Frank L Perry pledged an “an aggressive, yet thorough internal investigation” into Kerr’s death. However, nearly nine months later the agency has not made public any results of that probe.
In the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office report, pathologist Dr Lauren Scott says a senior prison official allowed a “witnessed review” of an internal review into Kerr’s death, though the medical examiner’s office was not permitted to keep a copy. Scott wrote that the report left unanswered key details about the circumstances leading to Kerr’s death, including when the inmate last had access to food and water.
Because of the lack of information, the pathologist wrote that she was unable to make a determination about whether Kerr’s death should be classified as natural, accidental or homicide.
“Mr Kerr’s psychiatric history was significant for schizoaffective disorder for which he was not receiving any treatment at the time of his death,” Scott wrote. “It was not possible to make any firm conclusions regarding the inmate’s nutrition and fluid intake, and whether or not his mental health and/or external factors played a role in the dehydration.”
Scott noted abrasions on Kerr’s forearms were “consistent with restraint devices.”
Public Safety spokeswoman Pamela Walker said she could not immediately comment Thursday on the autopsy findings or the results of the agency’s investigation into Kerr’s death.
In an interview earlier this year, Kerr’s sister, Brenda Liles, told The Associated Press she had repeatedly called prison officials in the days before her brother’s death trying to get him help. She said her brother had been struggling with mental issues since two of his sons were shot to death in separate incidents in recent years.
Records show Kerr, whose criminal record includes several convictions for larceny, was sentenced in 2011 to serve 31 years as a habitual felon after being charged with illegally possessing and discharging a firearm.
North Carolina’s prison system has long faced criticism for its treatment of inmates with chronic mental illnesses.
In 1997, a federal audit of Central Prison prompted by the death of an inmate found he died from dehydration after being held in solitary confinement for four days. Water to the inmate’s cell had been cut off after he’d stopped up and repeatedly flushed his toilet to cause flooding.
In 2006, Alexander Correctional came under scrutiny after a report that prison staff there routinely used a nylon strap similar to a dog leash to tether inmates whom administrators considered dangerous.
Two years after that, Alexander inmate Timothy E Helms was left paralyzed after he said he was clubbed by correctional officers. Medical records indicated Helm’s skull had been smashed while being held in solitary confinement. A subsequent state investigation failed to determine precisely how Helms received his injuries, and prison officials denied any wrongdoing. Helms, who had been previously diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders, later died.

People do make me wonder sometimes. Looks like we really shouldn’t be shocked that duly tried and convicted adults are treated with brutality, when our friends the police now treat even children like this. The boy in this article was not identified, but it’s a good guess that he’s not the lightest-skinned student at his school. And I would absolutely bet no one in his family is on the school board, nor in any way socially prominent. Or am I being too cynical? Sadly enough, I think not. If we exceptional Americans still want to claim we’re the beacon of freedom and justice, and the pinnacle of civilization, we might want to buckle down and put more of our efforts where our ignorant mouths are. We could certainly do better than this — and we must do better than this! Otherwise we should just shut the fuck up, and crawl off somewhere to reflect on why we’d have to improve ten thousand percent to remotely deserve the name human beings.


10-Year Old Tasered By Police On Career Day As A Lesson
Crooks and Liars * September 27, 2014 6:30 am – 35
By karoli
When you don’t listen to the police, he was told, bad things happen to you.
What the hell? The days of friendly Officer Pete and career day fun are long gone. Now the cops bring tasers to teach kids what happens when they disobey.

block quote
A 10-year-old boy attending a Tularosa, New Mexico Intermediate School’s Career Day expected it to be fun and educational, but instead he ended up in the emergency room.
The boy, identified as R.D., blacked out after receiving 50,000 volts of electricity when struck by a police officer’s Taser gun.
Rachel Higgins, a guardian appointed by the court to protect the child’s privacy filed a lawsuit Oct. 26 in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe County against Police Officer Chris Webb and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety on behalf of R.D., claiming that Webb fired his electronic control weapon at the boy on May 4, 2012.
Webb has been charged with battery, failure to render emergency medical care, unreasonable seizure and excessive force.
Higgins will appear in court to represent the boy because the family members live in a small town and do not want to reveal their identities.
The lawsuit claims police officers drove their patrol cars onto the intermediate school campus, where Webb asked a group of boys which one would like to clean his patrol unit.
R.D. raised his hand to say he did not want to clean the police officer’s car.
Webb then said, according to the lawsuit, “Let me show what happens to people who do not listen to the police.” He then “shot his Taser gun at the boy’s chest,” said the family’s attorney Shannon Kennedy of the Kennedy Law Firm of Albuquerque.
block quote end


About l. l. frederick

I'm pretty ordinary, so I find any number of things in the world interesting, among them: books, music, flowers, food, social justice, politics and (sometimes!) people. As for my writing, I've decided that I can be subtle and tasteful when our only problems are esthetic ones. Or when I'm dead, whichever comes first. In the meantime, read at your own risk.
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16 Responses to The Price of Law and Order

  1. Jeff Nguyen says:

    “The poor and powerless (and those in our prisons are overwhelmingly both powerless and poor) are non-persons now, considered unworthy of attention or respect, with no rights and little recourse. They’re just not like us, we’ve somehow come to believe.”…this is the crux of the matter. We’ve been conditioned to identify more with our captors than our fellow captives. The wealthy slave owners divided the loyalties of the poor, indebted whites and African slaves to prevent any unified uprisings. As long as you’re face is turned up in fealty to the upper crust, you’re back will be turned towards the lower classes.

    Honesty and cynicism are sometimes one and the same. This is a passionate and articulate post, Linda.

    • Jeff, Thanks for your kind words, and for gently making the point I didn’t really get to. Articulate? Don’t I wish!

      Passionate — hell yes! How can I not give a shit about what we are allowing ourselves to become? People do still show kindness and compassion, which is encouraging. Yet it does seem that too many of us blindly accept the increasingly rigid “rules” (so useful to our ruling elite!) about who does or does not merit our kindness and concern. – Linda

  2. I’ve recently started reading Community: the Structure of Belonging by Peter Block for a class. Block blames our present indifference to this kind suffering on the shredding of traditional community ties that held us together up until five decades ago. There’s an automatic accountability that goes with the feeling of belonging to a community and caring for one another.

    He also has some great ideas for rebuilding communities, but I’m just getting that that bit.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, and for sharing what sounds like an interesting book. I hope you’ll let us know what’s suggested for re-creating our lost sense of belonging and community. Think about it — what can we even call ourselves these days? Working class has been made a dirty word. My stepdaughter says no one in the States is poor or working-class any more — we now regard ourselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires”!! Quite a successful con job. The elites have stolen the vital understanding from us — that we’re all oppressed and must work together in solidarity or remain slaves — in addition to so much else. As Jeff reminds us, this serves our rulers’ interests very well, but never ours. – Linda

  3. carolahand says:

    Thank you for reminding me that remaining human and compassionate is a never-ending heart-wrenching challenge. I’m still contemplating a political advocacy event I went to where the focus was on fighting to enact paid maternity and sick leave. While I think these are important issues, how does this challenge corporate control over people’s lives and the future of the earth or the increasing use of police violence to enforce conformity and docility? How does this create caring communities?

    I appreciate the important questions you raise with such passion and eloquence 🙂

  4. Pingback: Jeffster Awards #34 | Deconstructing Myths

  5. Congratulations on your Jeffster Award!!!

    Of course silly me had originally typed in “Jester Award” but thankfully did a double take and corrected the mistake. I really need to get with it!

    Great work Linda and well deserved!!!

    • Shelby, Thanks so much –you (and Jeff) are too kind! But I like your ‘Jester Awards’ idea — it sounds like something Tubularsock could do justice to. I’m afraid to think what his criteria might be for them, though! – Linda

      • LMAO!!!! Linda, please don’t take this the wrong way but with your penchant for wit and humor, you would win that award, hands down! And I do mean that in a really good way! I always wish that I was as sharp and witty as you and Tube are! In the WordPress world, you both are my heroine and my hero! Never doubt it for a minute!

        I love you both!

        • Shelby, you’re embarrassing me here. When I look at so many excellent blogs, I feel like a fraud. There are such splendid, creative writers and artists out here! And then … there’s lame and lazy me, limping along, careening between sputtering outrage and sophomoric smart-assery. I’ve pretty much given up on mastering the well-crafted, solidly reasoned, serious essay — it’s just not the way stuff comes out of my brain. Now I’m groping toward what I think of as a ‘stream of social consciousness’ approach. Whatever that may turn out to be. I seem to need to do it, and I only hope it will help spread the contagion of hell-raising and resisting the system even a tiny bit here and there.

          As for wit and humor, you must know you’re one of my major role models and inspirations! I love your passion and compassion, and your gift for getting to the heart of any issue, with absolutely no quarter given to bullshit or hypocrisy. I’m truly grateful for your generous thoughts and kind words. Only trouble is, now I’ll have to try to deserve them! – Linda

  6. tubularsock says:

    An excellent post Linda. What you say is all so true and really sad when it comes to people who no one sees. Makes Tubularsock angry, very angry and then you throw in Nina and then comes my rage. Tubularsock is going to have to go on a night run “. . . just to be released!” Three miles usually does it. Then to bed in the bunker.

    • Tubularsock, Yes, we are sad specimens indeed. It seems that no one counts for shit these days unless they’re obscenely rich, pretty or powerful, with their own reality show and a herd of popparazzi in their wake. Or at least they’ve gotta have a hot Youtube video going viral, or a trending Twitter feed. We’re a whole damned country of shallow, mindless twelve-year-olds.

      Thanks for your generous words, and I hope the run helped … and that the cops didn’t spot you en route. Take care! – Linda

  7. dougstuber says:

    Enter the US twilight, or dusk or complete darkness. Someone read Frank Miller or saw the Dark Knight movies and presto,the USA has been converted,I wanna say since 1980,into a completely fascist,SS, boot kicking,club toting,tazer tazing,”high school as day jail” (see Lakeside High, Durham NC and many others) racist,rich dominate the poor,homophobic, gated community MESS. Small scale victories are alol that can be accomplished. Form small communities that are human and communal, and hope the authorities leave you alone. That’s what we’re down to In figure.

    • It is sadly looking that way. I still hope we’ll wake up and decide this is not the world we want, before it’s too late. Might be a nail-biter though. Thanks for your interest, and for your comment. – Linda

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