A friend of mine once got himself elected district attorney in a border-South state. On his first Monday in office, he asked for a rundown on the weekends mayhem and was told: "Not much, just another stabbing down in N—–town."
It was an eye-opening moment. My friend discovered upon inquiry that for as long as anyone could remember the office had never treated Black-on-Black violence seriously: premeditated murders were pled down to manslaughter, manslaughter to battery, battery to disorderly conduct, domestic violence to sleep-it-off-in-a-cell.
This was the early 1980s, which many of us (rather strangely) considered post-Dark Ages. My friend changed the policy, as well as the workaday vocabulary of the office, and even managed to serve two full terms before being voted out. But the attitudes he discovered in the woodwork of the DAs office were by no means unique, and they havent remotely died out. Theyve just camouflaged themselves.
(Really, check out that last link to Desiree Palmens site.)
Theres more than a trace of that attitude in the unthinking vaguely-liberal view that judges are "assisting minorities with positive measures" when they make it easier for the violent to hurt others without risk to themselves. (See post 325.) Werent the racist prosecutors in my friends office equally assisting Black men who killed other Black men? The underlying idea isnt very far from "life is cheap in the Orient."
Fifteen years ago, there was a much-publicized rape and murder in Santa Fe. The unusual thing is that each offense involved a different victim. This is how the Tenth Circuit described the basic events:
At approximately 3:00 a.m. on August 8, 1992, [pharmacist Chester] Radecki awoke to the sound of a woman screaming outside his bedroom window in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He looked out the window and heard more screaming and the sound of someone walking around outside. Shortly thereafter, Deputy Barela arrived nearby in a police car with lights flashing. Mr. Radecki left his home, got in his car, and drove to the scene.
When Deputy Barela arrived on the scene, a motorcycle lay on the side of the road. Eric Trujillo drove up in a tow truck. Deputy Barela detected a man in the bushes, and with his flashlight recognized him as Daniel Martinez. Martinez staggered out of the bushes. Martinez, who appeared to be intoxicated, told Deputy Barela and Trujillo that his girlfriend had run him off the road, causing him to wreck. Deputy Barela began to look around the area for other vehicles or injured persons.
Mr. Radecki arrived in a robe carrying a flashlight. He told Deputy Barela that he lived nearby, and that he had heard screams, as if a woman were being raped. Deputy Barela and Radecki explored the scene with their flashlights, with Martinez close behind. When Deputy Barela shined his flashlight on a car in the bushes, Martinez tried to grab Deputy Barelas nine millimeter semiautomatic pistol. The two men wrestled for control of the gun. Deputy Barela yelled to Radecki, "Hit him with your flashlight. Hit him. Get him off me."
It is unclear whether Radecki hit Martinez with his flashlight. In response to Deputy Barelas command, however, Radecki approached the struggling pair. At that point, Martinez wrested the gun away from Deputy Barela, who then fled to the bushes. Martinez turned and shot Radecki in the chest, killing him.
Im not absolutely sure if fleeing to the bushes is a technique taught in the Academy. Be that as it may, Martinez was acquitted of both the murder and the preceding rape – although the state paid half a million for supplying the gun that killed Mr. Radecki.
(Martinez learned the only lesson a violent thug could possibly learn from his acquittal: getting arrested isnt something to be feared. Predictably, he almost immediately got himself arrested for an entirely unrelated offense, and this time the dice came up snake eyes.)
Thats an extreme (and notorious) example, but in general Santa Fe juries are very reluctant to convict. One reason, Im convinced, is that the place is crawling with well-to-do, vaguely liberal newcomers. Santa Fe Countys population has tripled since 1960, which is pretty remarkable when you consider the cost of moving in – the average house costs $81,300 more than the average for the state as a whole (and the latter figure, of course, is inflated by Santa Fe Countys contribution). The people who move to Santa Fe can afford their Land Rovers.
"Tolerance" can mean respecting the beliefs of others, but it also means "the allowable deviation from a standard". When Santa Fes newcomers serve on the juries that allow people like Daniel J. Martinez to indulge in their deviations from the standards of behavior established by the criminal law, its in part because they perceive the violence as part of the cool indigenous culture with its unique traditions. "You have to respect their customs, man. You cant judge them by the same standards as us."
Which, of course, is much easier to say if youre living on three acres on the east side.
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