Hardly a week goes by these days without a new headline concerning police mistreatment of a suspect or an exoneration of someone convicted for a crime that subsequent evidence reveals they did not commit. Allegations of misdeeds in our legal system are a reliable staple of media sensationalism and a veritable catnip buffet for social justice warriors.
Now I’m not here to deny that the police do mistreat individuals at times. The evidence for that is pretty clear. I’m definitely not going to deny that courts occasionally get things wrong either because the evidence for that is just as compelling. But, in my opinion, these are outliers rather than a downward trend in how our legal system metes justice.
In keeping with my oft-stated belief that 80 percent of the people in the world are diligent, hard-working and fundamentally decent individuals, I think that the same ratio applies to our system of justice. You show me a bad cop or a biased judge and I’ll show you four more of each who are as dedicated to their professions as any reasonable person could expect.
As far as I’m concerned, these statistics meet all of the qualifications for a miracle.
I’d like for you to put yourself in the shoes of the police and prosecutors who are currently dealing with Alex Whipple, the 21-year old Utah man accused of child rape and sodomy in the death of his 5-year-old niece. I’d like for you to think about you having to arrest and question this pumpkinhead without violating any of his rights. I’d like for you to think about having to be part of the legal team who will have to deal with him in court — especially the public defender who’ll get stuck with this guy for a client and have to defend him to the best of his or her ability.
All of that sucks. I’m telling you right now that I couldn’t do any of that and maintain my sanity. How you feel about it all is up to you, but I happen to maintain a reservoir of respect for those who do jobs well that I could not do at all.
Now, in those same cop shoes, I’d like for you to fast forward a month or so to a domestic violence call where a suspect, one with a record of domestic violence, does not respond to your lawful commands. Perhaps they run away. Perhaps they are fleeing a felony. You don’t know and you have only a split second to make a decision about what to do. You can talk training all you want, but at some point confrontations come down to instinct and reflex. And if you spend your days dealing with the dregs of society I can see how in that instant your instinct might be to not spare the rod.
It’s the same in court. I know many lawyers and judges, and I respect all of them. Like the police, these are not automatons but human beings. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must be to deal with issues that are as serious as a heart-attack every day with no room for error. Name me another field (besides medicine, which is also full of stress) where perfection is the societal expectation.
Again, I’m not here to defend every action by the justice system all of the time. There are bad actors out there in law enforcement and in the courts and they need to be dealt with. But for every breathless story in the media about police mistreating minorities or judges who are biased I’d bet more than I can afford to lose that there are many, many more examples of each who quietly and professionally perform a public service.
As far as I’m concerned even with the media hype the narrative generally favors the justice system after you get beyond the headlines. Almost every time I read or see a video about a traffic stop gone bad, for instance, it was prefaced by someone who refused to obey a simple instruction from the police.
The 2014 shooting of Michael Brown Jr., for instance, by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, is often cited in the media as a prime example of police misconduct. From what I’ve read about this case, it’s actually an extremely poor example of police misconduct. A local grand jury declined to indict officer Wilson and the U.S. Department of Justice actually cleared him after examining all of the evidence. The system worked as it is designed to do. The fact that the popular narrative is otherwise is more of an indictment of the media than our system of justice.
One last example of why I have faith in our system of laws and justice — even when it’s in a tough spot. I recently read all 400 pages of the Mueller Report and I’m here to tell you right now that everyone in this country ought to thank their lucky stars that people like Robert Mueller are a part of the system. Mueller might actually be a well-programmed automaton because his work under incredible pressure was simply gold-standard stuff.
I thank Mr. Mueller and everyone else, from cops to judges, who do their best every day in a difficult job. Salute.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time happily raising three children, llama farming and riding mountain bikes and motorcycles.